Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Foxes and Owls

September 23, 2018

I spent the past week in training to learn a new data/case management system being implemented by my employer. We were a mixed group of current employees and newly added imports from a former quasi-competitor, all of us working in care coordination as either first level case managers or second level supervisors. To simplify my referents here while maintaining a degree of anonymity for the companies I will refer to my employer group as the Owls and the newly integrating staff as the Foxes. Both groups previously provided services to Medicaid recipients under contracts with our state government. The Foxes contract was not renewed and its clients needed to change providers effective January 1 2019. In a negotiated arrangement, the entire caseload and some 300 employees were transferred into Owl as of September 1. The Fox staff thus has had to learn not only the case management system new to all of us, but also to adapt to the Owl corporate culture which is notably different from their own.

That difference in corporate cultures seems to me to be reflective of somewhat divisive differences in our wider society these days. It also seems linked to my observation of a worldwide and concerning repetition of a trend from the early 1930’s. Following the world wide repercussions of the 1929 stock market crash, economic differences between classes of societies in many countries became exaggerated. The relatively small number of economic “haves” were resented by the large number of economic “have not’s” in a fashion similar to the current anger of a large portion of U.S. society against the “1%” – or the 10% depending on which metric you prefer. Now, as then, reaction is taking the form of both scapegoating on some defined “other”, and a movement toward more authoritarian leaders. Recent election results in several countries suggest the phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. Resentment of immigrants, a rise in nationalism and parochial views, and growing intolerance of difference seems to mirror that experienced in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

The voices advocating “going high” are increasingly drowned out even on the so-called liberal side by strident demands for forceful counter measures. I do not have TV reception in my home by intent. Spending a week in a motel while at the training, I did turn on the set in my room one evening to watch the 6 PM news. I did not see the program through because I was so appalled by the viciousness of all the political ads peppered throughout the show. Not one presented a candidate’s platform, views, aims. Every single ad – all funded by political pacs, rather than individual campaigns – was an ugly, twisted and negative attack exaggeration of some opponent’s purported position. As little as I care to imitate anything in the conduct of our current president, I did find myself scolding the TV for “fake news” as I turned off the set.

Our instructor for my training week is now an upper level Owl manager with whom I have worked for five years. We started together and while I have chosen to remain a front line worker, she has advanced in well merited fashion to my supervisor, then my manager, and now up yet another level to program management. (I have 20 plus years of management in health care behind me and have less than no interest in ever again being responsible for anyone’s work product other than my own.) Holly did an outstanding job of both teaching the Fox staff the procedures we Owls follow to manage our cases, and teaching all of us how to get the work done in the new computer record system. Inevitably, usually in the question sessions, differences came out between how the Foxes had handled some of the work and the way they would now be expected to handle it as Owls. Many of the differences were minor tweaks to procedure (we were after all both subject to the same mandates in our State contracts) but some revealed a deeper difference in corporate culture which may well have contributed to the Owl’s State contract being renewed while the Fox contract was not.

The Owl company originated locally early in the last century. It has grown steadily and is now one of the largest employers in the state. Throughout, it has espoused and manifested a culture of open communication and of caring both for its clients and its staff. It is not perfect – no large business will ever be flawless – but it does consistently get high satisfaction ratings both from its customers and its staff. The Fox company is a regional branch of a major national corporation. It is continuing to do business in our state, just not any longer providing Medicaid managed care here. I have interacted with current and former Fox staff over several years, and learned much more about their operating culture during this past week of training.

What seems most salient to me as a difference between the two companies emerged in a lunchtime conversation I had with a Fox supervisor who was stressed by what seemed to him to be a conflict between what he had been told at the general orientation he had attended just two weeks prior to our training, and what Holly explained as a step in the Owl case assignment process. At issue was whether staff preferences for types of cases could/would be respected. In the general orientation, a presenter had stated that Owl management strive to enable employees to work in the areas for which they feel a passion and commitment. The supervisor heard this statement as supportive of Fox structure which allowed case managers to choose to handle only adult clients, or specialize in children; take on long term care cases or work only with clients needing links to physical health providers. Holly explained that Owl new case assignments are given on a round robin basis, and the case manager is expected to work with a variety of types of clients, with assistance from subject matter experts.

The supervisor could not reconcile what he heard as directly contradictory statements. Either case managers could specialize according to their preferences or they could not. Which was it to be?

I am aware of Owl company efforts to encourage staff to find their niche even as I work a caseload that includes members whose needs are quite far afield from my areas of expertise. I have not felt this to be a conflict because I know if I feel strongly enough that I am unsuited to managing a particular case I can discuss the issues with my supervisor, and either receive the necessary outside support or have the case transferred because it is in the best interests of the client to have a more knowledgeable coordinator to work with. I am also aware that an underlying expectation of Owl employees is that we will stretch and grow rather than stay locked in predetermined boxes doing only the same things over and over. And I have experienced the spirit of cooperation, interaction and helpfulness to one another that is a basic performance expectation in the Owl world.

Trying to explain to the Fox supervisor why I do not hear the two statements he cited as being in conflict, I suggested that he has been functioning in a “black and white” culture, with defined guidelines coming down from the national level and little if any room for discussion or interpretation. “Do it this way” because that is how it has been decided at corporate headquarters, where the responsibility for maintaining standards is held.  He agreed that was the essence of Fox corporate culture. I described Owl culture, by contrast, as a “rosy” culture where guidelines are more fluid. Our standards are clear and expectations communicated, but individuals are encouraged to take more responsibility for their own performance as they contribute to the group’s overall achievements. Flexibility, adaptation, change and growth are the norm for Owls. If those changes start to feel like they are coming too fast, we can speak up, be heard, and know that we will be offered support to adjust.

I suggested to the Fox supervisor that the challenge facing him was not to resolve a seeming contradiction in case assignment guidelines, but rather to shift from hearing things from a black and white mindset to hearing them in a rosy mentality. He thought for a few minutes and agreed that making that shift, and helping his supervisees to do so, would be a big part of his new responsibilities.

What does this employment environment discussion have to do with the near century old cycle of political movements with which I began? For me, Fox culture mirrors the have/have not, missing middle ground rigidity and authoritarian patterns that relieve individuals of personal responsibility but which almost inevitably lead to conflict and war. Owl culture seems to embody a more interactive and democratic model that demands flexibility and willingness to change, as well as taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, but offers a road to negotiated settlement of disputes.

Not everyone is comfortable within Owl culture. Employees resign because they need a more clearly structured environment, with very specific duties that they know they can complete. Or because they are unwilling to put in the overtime sometimes required, or to keep adapting to procedure changes implemented in an effort to further enhance customer experience. I can relate to their frustrations with Owl culture. I understand their need for more control as an extension of my own unwillingness to be promoted to a supervisor or manager role because I want to “only be responsible for my own work product.”

Despite that preference of mine, I know I would not last in a Fox corporate culture. I don’t take well to a highly structured, “my way or the highway” environment. I value the give and take, openness-to-suggestions approach that I have experienced as an Owl. Which is why I labeled the environment a rosy one, rather than the traditional gray  contrast with Fox black and white.

What I don’t know is how to bridge the divide between the two cultures.

The Fox supervisor was oriented to changing his own view. “I’m grateful to have a job instead of being out of one at my age.” He said he has been encouraging that attitude of gratitude in his peers, many of whom were finding it hard to accept their sudden transfer of employer coming after 9 months of uncertainty about Fox renewing its State contract. Over the next months, we will see who can adapt and who decides to leave and seek different employment. Those who remain will obviously be those who can accept, perhaps even welcome, the change of culture. Those who leave will seek the culture they prefer, and for their sake I hope they find it.

Can a third generation coal miner adapt to building solar panels? How do we help a worker on an auto assembly line feel comfortable living in a different state and manufacturing wind turbines? What steps have not been taken as/when they should have, to facilitate maintaining a middle between the 10% and the rest of us? As some of us continue to push for environmental protections, more equitable sharing of resources and social supports, and genuine equality of opportunity, how do we facilitate transitions for those who see themselves losing out in the change?

We are not all Owls. Our societies need Foxes, and need to include them in determining how there can be a place for them to feel productive and important., working alongside Owls. Otherwise, I see more and more countries torn by internal strife, and society as a whole repeating the century cycle ending, God forbid, in a World War III.

Old, New, Newer and Older

September 2, 2018

I think I have the beginning of an understanding of the stereotype of older people, particularly older workers, as rigid and inflexible. Not saying the stereotype is valid, but that I am seeing in myself some qualities of resistance to change that could, if taken to an extreme, become a rigidity not conducive to continued employment.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is only one expression of a mindset that I recognize can be attributed to older people, older workers, including myself. “Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again to know it doesn’t work well” is another. As is the certitude that having explored a variety of ways to complete a task over years of  trial and error, and settled on the best alternative for myself, I am unlikely to welcome the suggestion that I shift to a different option.

This preference for patterned behavior shows in the sequence with which I complete member assessments for my work, and the place I like to keep the salt shaker by the stove in my kitchen. Not that I can’t do the work in a different order, or find the salt when I need it after my husband has left it where he last used it, but I know I am more efficient and sure of the outcome if many small bits of my daily life follow the consistent, established routine.

I don’t think that’s a preference unique to older people. Though I’ve lived amid accumulations of things in relatively small spaces most of my adult life, I’ve nonetheless kept an order to the piles and know exactly where to lay my hands on whatever I need.  And I periodically go through the stacks and discard or give away. Rather it seems to me that one of the benefits of growing older is having had the time and experience to understand the value in routine, consistency, and a personal sense of order and rightness to how things should be done.

Which isn’t to say that I refuse to change. My life has been mostly about change these past 6-7 years. New work, new marriage, new friendships, new style of cooking, new patterns everywhere I look.  And now a whole new database system being introduced at work that I have embraced to the point of volunteering for the work group implementing the transition and will be serving as one of the “go to” mentors for my coworkers when they have questions about how to function after “go live” in October.

I do see, however, that I am inclined to notice what the new system will not do as well as the old, or to identify likely points of friction for myself in adapting to the new process requirements . This attitude is in contrast to (mostly all much younger than I) management’s persistent, cheer-leading enthusiasm for how the new system will solve all the problems we have had with the old one. I do see advantages to the change – but I also see disadvantages, as well as the load of work for each of us getting our caseload records switched over.

One apparent benefit to the new system is the way it tracks mandatory contacts and schedules for the worker, so that deadlines are much less likely to be missed. For many of my coworkers this structure seems beneficial. Never having had a problem with keeping track of and organizing my workload, to me it felt like objectionable micromanagement until I understood the system well enough to know how to address the “to do” list in a way that gives me back my sense of being the one to control my workload.

The older-person me first perceived the objection. A younger-person me (as I usually experience myself) understood that I needed to learn enough about the new system (cooking style, living arrangements, income sources) to adapt its methods to my needs and also to adapt myself to its structure. Which is what reducing the stress of change is all about. Adaptation.

If living long has taught us anything at all, it must be that life is inevitably about change and adaptation. Failure to change and adapt is, essentially, death. Maybe not instantaneous, but certain.  Most interviews with people who have exceeded normal lifespan expectations include mention of continuing to engage with life interests and learning, continuing to seek new stimulation even if the level or extent of options is reduced by physical frailty.

The most productive workplaces, then – indeed the most productive communities, groups, social organizations – would seem to be those that have recognized the importance of balancing the energy and enthusiasm usually associated with younger people against the wisdom of experience offered by older participants. In simpler societies, even in our U.S. culture not so very long ago, that value was recognized and respected.

Is it just my jaundiced old lady view, or am I accurately seeing yet another exacerbation of polarization in U.S. society, and a deepening divide between young and old, each group believing for example the scare headlines about cost of, loss of, social programs and a resultant mistaken belief that here again we are faced with “us” against “them.”  

My still young mental self, the part of me that embraces change and declares itself ready to adapt as necessary, is seeking to find commonalities between generations, and encourage the valuable cross-pollination of ideas that benefit us all, just as it has been ready to learn the new work database system, simultaneously appreciating its benefits and questioning how we will manage its shortcomings.  My older self can be heard repeating the voice of the 70 something protester against the effort to impose a Muslim ban (and the broader reintroduction of blatant discrimination that many of us fought against in the 60’s and 70’s), “Didn’t think I’d have to be here protesting this yet again.”

Another adage, about those who do not learn from history being condemned to repeat it, comes to mind. Unfortunately, on a societal level, the unpleasant repetition also imposes its negative effects on those who have learned the lessons and done their best to prevent the country from falling back into old ways. Living long enough to see this cycle around and back again becomes both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity to teach but only if there is someone ready to listen and learn.

It has never been different. I am reminded, almost too frequently these days, of the translation of a tablet excavated from the ruins of a Greek village, in which a father lamented the laziness and reluctance to work of his teenage son.  The writer who shared that tidbit of information concluded, as I will here, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I therefore do my best to detach, discern where balance can be found, place  my attention on those things that matter in the long run, and cultivate an attitude of patient acceptance, doing what I can where I see myself able to be effective, and letting the rest slide by.  

“I am here. I am alive. I am trying.That is enough.”

Changing Direction

April 7, 2018

With a frequency perhaps greater than experienced by some of my peers, I come to a point in whatever I am doing professionally that is not burnout, but close to boredom. When the challenge of mastering a line of work wears off, I find myself looking around for what to do next or differently. Over the years, that point has come in conjunction with other changes in my life circumstances, enabling me to shift from education research to paralegal, program manager in state government to college psychology teacher, home health manager to trainer to care coordinator with an MCO. Along the way i’ve had a private practice as a licensed mental health counselor, become a CPR instructor, written (but not published) three books, published 4 years of weekly columns in local newspapers and sold my jewelry designs at craft fairs. I’ve also plastered houses, laid flagstone floors, raised various animals for food, and at one point was making 40 loaves of bread a week by hand, for sale to an established list of customers.

The position I’ve held longest was as regional manager of a home health agency. I was simultaneously a case manager for one of the Medicaid programs the agency served. It still amazes me that I kept at it for more than 12 years, the second time around (I built the branch for 5 years, left for three, then accepted the urgent request to rejoin the agency.) That second twelve year period was a lesson in endurance, and set me a challenge of finding new ways to engage in order to keep my interest intact. It also exhausted my willingness to be “in charge” of anyone else’s performance.

My present employment meets virtually all my recognized requirements, enabling me to continue with full time work at an age where most of my peers have retired. I work from home, I am engaged one on one with clients, I am not subject to onerous supervision so long as I complete my work by the required deadlines, and I can set my own schedule within the broad guidelines of being “at work” the common Monday to Friday week. I’ve been able to participate in pilot studies of new technology and had my recommendations welcomed, for the new database support system being developed. I’ve been satisfied with the work for more than 4 years, and expect to continue with it for several more  – but I also recognize I’ve come to another of those “it’s getting to be same old same old” points.

I have read the many studies that stress the importance of pursuing a passion into one’s older years to support the retention of health and to encourage enjoyment of later life. From my early childhood, I have carried within me an awareness that I am fated to be long lived.  My relatively recent assumption of new family responsibilities gives added importance to being productive and engaged through those years.

Most of my choices of employment so far have been limited by my decision to respect requirements imposed by others in my life. When I would, for example, have sought work outside the U.S., I did not feel free to pick up and go. There are similar constraints now on my choices, though not anyone telling me I cannot do whatever it is I decide I want to pursue.

Instead, my challenge is to identify what might catch and keep my interest for a long enough period to see me through my remaining years. Several friends from whom I’ve solicited input have posed questions to help me.

a. “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but the time wasn’t right?”

b. “What does your spiritual path tell you about how to move onward?”

c. “What floats your boat?”

I’ve also been gifted with observations from those who know me well.

d. “You come alive in the classroom, or any teaching setting.”

e. “For you I sense that the answer lies in one on one relationships.”

f. “You are uniquely skilled at channeling your spiritual awareness in ways that benefit others.”

My spiritual Teacher instructs that, to implement a new direction, I should not get too specific. Better to create a framework and then be patient and let the Master fill in the details. That is essentially how I landed in my present employment, after 18 months of searching and applying for whatever became available. So I am now seeking to identify the elements of the new framework. I already know they include at least the following:

  1. Something I can prepare for while still employed in my present job
  2. Something that in one way or another involves teaching
  3. Something that gives me the opportunity to travel, though not necessarily requiring that I live for an extended time elsewhere – I really do like living in northern New Mexico!
  4. Something that stretches my mind, requires me to learn a new skill, or significantly deepen my understanding of a topic I’ve studied
  5. Something that lies within my current physical capacities and can be continued if/as these slowly diminish with age

More than a hobby, but not such a new career as to require years of study to make the switch.

I’m mostly pleased that the question “what have you always wanted to do but not been able to?” doesn’t seem to have an answer. Pleased because I recognize that I have in fact done most of the things I really wanted to, slightly dismayed because I am not helped now with any nudges towards my next steps.

Whatever emerges as my eventual new passion, the process of seeking it has already brought benefits. Where I had been thinking that most of my choices have been constrained and limited by others, I now recognize that at the important points I have pushed through obstacles and gone for what I wanted. Just a few examples include: finding a way to continue horseback riding while living in the heart of Paris, making my way to New Mexico despite strong parental opposition, committing to relationships that have enabled my growth despite societal pressure to avoid them, and not letting lack of formal training in an area keep me from taking on work in that discipline.

Asked in a survey of alumni from my college what was the greatest benefit of my Swarthmore education, I answered immediately that it taught me how to learn anything I wished to. It taught me to think. It gave me the opportunity to experience accomplishment and to know that I have a good mind I can use to master any subject I wish to learn.

That mind will have its role implementing the details of whatever new direction my life takes. Mind will have to wait, however, until my heart, spirit, Soul perceives the direction the Master will prepare for me. And the ego-I must wait patiently for the frame outlined above to have its details filled in by a Soul much wiser than the most highly trained mind.

In the meantime, today was a sunny spring day and perfect for a trip to Santa Fe to do errands and to take a walk up Canyon Road. To everything its appointed time.

Baraka Bashad, may the Blessings Be.

Building a Better Habit

March 4, 2018

Both Musings from a Tangled Mind and Time Goes By writers occasionally start a post by announcing they are going to rant, the latter under the heading of Crabby Old Lady as the writer. I don’t recall having posted a rant before, and I don’t have an “alter” to credit as being the complainer. It’s just me, out of reflective mode and full force into objecting to conditions imposed by a combination of circumstances and thoughtless behavior.

I recognize that, in the larger view, what I find objectionable is minor, especially when compared to:

  • ongoing abuse by ICE
  • hideously frequent massacres of school children in the U.S.
  • kidnapping, rape  and enslavement of children and teenage girls in many locations around the world
  • dire poverty and lack of health care that is pervasive.

So many ills one cannot begin to encompass them all, let alone respond.

Maybe that’s why I feel able to post this rant – it is one that can be responded to by individuals, one here and one there, accumulating into a movement toward greater civility from which we will all benefit.

I already know that my feelings are shared by some of my age-mates, and I have read of the “expert” advice to parents to impose discipline on their children with regard to … banning cell phones at the dinner table, but that is only a small piece of the problem. Cell phones have, to my mind, magnified both positive and negative behaviors and are, mistakenly, made the target of praise and blame that belongs more properly to the users of those cell phones.

Hmm – I hear how that statement could be thought to echo ones by NRA supporters, about guns not being the problem when people are killed. I need to state clearly that my position is that, where human behavior is not well controlled, the tools for expressing that behavior – when it is harmful – MUST be controlled. Guns MUST NOT BE AVAILABLE to people who have not been proven to be able to handle them responsibly.

And cell phones should not be always available to people who misuse them. We then need to define what misuse means, which gets back to the underlying values and conduct which are the true target of my rant. Governments wishing to control and suppress freedom of citizens define misuse as any action that shows the government in an unflattering way. In those circumstances, using a phone to show the world pictures of torture and abuse makes the phone a tool supporting human rights. Uploading and posting a snuff video makes the phone a tool of pornography and human degradation. Cutting off ability to access the Internet and post pictures becomes either a step towards suppression of rights (as in Cameroon where the English-speaking regions are being systematically cut off from the world by a government in denial of the legitimacy of the regions’ grievances), or a step towards increased respect for human dignity (when sites regulate and bar degrading or abusive posts).

Hmm, I didn’t intend to get so much into a “big picture” analysis of the issue that is bothering me. But I guess it’s unavoidable, since my small issue is ultimately also a question of competing values, and what actions do or do not support dignity and respect for individuals.

Circumstances have forced me to tolerate a degree of uncertainty, of hanging around and waiting, and of being constantly interrupted that I am unable to experience as anything other than profound disrespect. Understanding the reasons for the experience has slightly mitigated my anger, and helped me to minimize directing it at an inappropriate target – but I remain angry. I suspect precisely because my little issue is not , as writing this essay is revealing to me, readily separated from the big picture abuses of individual, group and government actions that show  disdain for basic human rights.

If you say you will call me in an hour, call me in an hour. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call, tell me you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call. If you reach me, keep your attention on me, talk to me, listen to me – and if something comes up on your end of the call that requires your attention, either postpone it until we’re done, or take a moment to tell me you have to end the call and say goodbye. DO NOT just turn away and deal with the other issue without any explanation, leaving me talking to empty air, or hanging on the line not knowing what has occurred or how long you’ll be distracted. And if, as has been the case for me lately, making a connection is difficult then when one is finally achieved, give it priority. Otherwise you must want me to believe you really don’t much care whether we are in touch or not.

Okay, ego, you’ve had your say. Now recognize that you are not all that important. If I, the true I that is Soul, am in charge and living fully in the present moment, then whatever anyone else is or is not doing is irrelevant. You are not keeping me hanging, waiting – I am allowing you to do so. I can hang up the phone, keep the connection open and spend the time in contemplation, or choose to get angry at what feels like disrespect.

What I don’t have an answer for, is why that last emotional response is so powerful and hard to set aside in favor of one of the other more pleasant and healthful responses. Or more truthfully, I do know why – long habit and indoctrinated learning. I do not know as clearly why I continue to persist with a habit I don’t like, and wish to be rid of.

My spiritual teacher instructs that if you want a habit to fade, take your attention off it. Attention is food, and giving something attention encourages it to grow. I see that readily enough in others, and I recognize it in myself in this instance. I do hope that writing out the irritation will prove to be a means of separating myself from it and not a form of enhancing my attention to this grievance. The fact that I have already set it into the context of a broader values issue encourages me to think the separation is beneficial.

And in the way that shows me that I am graced, no sooner had I completed this analysis than a call I had been waiting for arrived.

Now, as to the troubles of the world filling that bigger picture with so much ugly news, it would seem a similar answer is available, and has been touted here and there but never adequately implemented. Give attention to the good, kind, caring things people do instead of the vicious and ugly ones. Find the Schindlers in today’s troubled world and broadcast their positive efforts. Do as one parent of a murdered school child requested – never again mention the name of the shooter. Instead speak often of those who rescued or saved their classmates and students, making those names known world wide.

Just as negative emotions grab my attention from a habit that has been hard for me to break, negative actions grab world attention in an equally rigid habit pattern. But as I, and others, one individual and one habit at a time, break the patterns by shifting our attention, so too we should be able to cumulatively shift attention on the broader issues, “accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative” and moving ourselves away from violence and hatred, towards mutual respect and greater harmony.

Baraka Bashad, may these blessings be.

 

Quiet Blessings

February 25, 2018

Exhausted, coming home from several hours spent on a family intervention, being a mediator for parents, their older-teen daughter, and the couple who have taken the daughter in since she ran away from home and reported her parents to youth services. So much anger, so much pain, so much misunderstanding, a microcosm of the macrocosm of mistrust, fear and hatred reflected in the barrage of daily news thrown at us.

I couldn’t decide what would best restore me. Were my husband at home, talking with him would rapidly help re regain balance. But he is not only not at home, he is not in the country and not in a place where the “wonders of modern technology” are sufficient to ensure communication. Had I an “inside dog” companion, I know from past experience a Scottie or Shih Tzu cuddle would also restore me. But I only have an assertive excellent outside guard Akita who does not do cuddle. Jump up on me, demand treats, fiercely protect me and our herd from predators, horses, neighbors working in their fields – all those she barks away with determination. I appreciate her for her skills. They do not easily restore me to a place of rightness in my world.

It as become apparent that one of the best benefits I derive from my marriage is the easy, quiet togetherness of evenings spent with my husband, he studying and me reading or writing. Not many words exchanged, just a restful companionship. With most everyone else in my vicinity, whether clients or acquaintances, I have to be “on” in some fashion, engaged, accommodating to their level of energy, finding topics of conversation when I would prefer to not have to think.

Why do we make it so hard on each other, to just “be”?

What finally brought me ease was an Andrew Wyeth painting posted on Facebook by Leslie Mason. Copied from I Require Art, the picture entitled Off at Sea is of an empty bench before a window with a view of distant clouds, mostly shades of white. I saw in it the welcoming silence of a Quaker Meeting about to begin, and immediately settled into an inner contemplation focused on all the quiet blessings in my personal life.

No, I’m not going to enumerate them here. Instead I encourage you to seek out your own. They are often tucked into corners, small and easily overlooked. Many different prescriptions have been offered in recent days for the ugly violence that permeates not just our culture in the US, but too many others in the world. My background is Jewish and members of my extended family perished in the Holocaust. I do not think it right to criticize an Olympic  skater for using the Schindler’s List score to perform to, just because she is German. Did anyone inquire if perhaps she is also Jewish? Or wanted to honor those who did what they could to oppose the horror unleashed by Nazism? Have we become so conditioned to intolerance and rejection that we are unable to allow a dancer to interpret a beautiful piece of music, only because of her nationality?

None of the prescriptions for preventing recurrence of types of violence featured idaily n the headlines seem to me to be directed toward reducing tensions. Instead they fall  mostly in the “meet violence with violence” category, or they cast blame on all adherents of a differing viewpoint regardless of the moderated, mediated, seeking to meet in the middle tone with which those viewpoints are offered.

Which brings me back to the unhappy family mediation effort I engaged in today. No one wanted to, seemed willing to, consider finding common ground. Each participant was totally vested in being right, and justifying their every outrageous action by some equally outrageous behavior on “the other side.” I was only able to suggest a mild disengagement, a cooling off period, with severely limited interaction, in hopes that the high emotion level could thus be brought down to a more manageable level.

Scientists are discovering that our brains are permanently altered by extensive amounts of “screen time”, most of that spent on social media. I haven’t yet read through the details of the studies, but I will not be surprised to learn that the alteration pushes us toward requiring ever greater levels of drama and stimulation, in order to feel engaged. The unavoidable result is that what was once outrageous is now commonplace, catching our attention for a few days, at most a week, and then fading away, needing to be replaced by something yet more fear or anger inducing. We seem to have forgotten, as a species, how to value calmness, serenity, satisfaction, balance, centeredness, peace.

I am very aware that, were I younger, living in only slightly different circumstances, more engaged with social media, I might well have gone from the mediation to a bar, seeking noise and loud music, alcohol and high energy to replenish the depletion I felt. I can envision how that sort of ‘cranking it up’ could seem appealing. But I do not see how that response can be beneficial in a larger sense, since it seems only to tilt the emotional turmoil meter ever farther to an extreme.

I know I am not the only one to feel that pushing to the extreme in so many dimensions of life is dangerous, threatening an entire spectrum from individual well-being to the functioning of our national democracy. I am also not the only voice speaking out for moderation, balance, a cooling off period, some healthy silence. A recent post by Neodivergent Rebel discusses several aspects of modern office space/work conditions that are difficult for those with unique neurological functioning to manage. All these “innovations” strike me as quite intolerable. Open office space – i.e. cubbies in a huge tank of a room – super bright neons instead of natural light, frequent reassignment of desk space, pop meetings rather than scheduled ones… A la Snoopy, my response is Arrrrrgh!

Just as generations of younger people require ever louder volume at the movies to compensate for their hearing lost to blasting music, apparently generations of over-stimulated brains require more and more arousal to  feel at ease, and hyper-emotionalism is the new norm.

World wide? Or just in the West, and in those countries (so many of them now) subjected to the constant stress of warring factions, religious persecution, ethnic cleansing? Why is the trend toward agitation, unrest, dis-ease, noise and disruption spreading so widely?

What will it take for Bhutan to lead the way to more places monitoring gross national happiness?

I have no answers for anyone but myself. For me, now, it is to sit in contemplation of Off at Sea, while I review the quiet blessings of my life.

(I tried to get a copy of the picture uploaded here but can’t seem to manage it, due to my unfamiliarity with the functioning of the Chromebook I’m still learning to use. You’ll have to Google it. Sorry!)

 

Moving Forward

June 11, 2017

If I were required to give a theme to my present set of priorities, it would be what I’ve taken as the title of this post – moving forward. Not necessarily by conscious choice, and not without some rather bumpy road to traverse. Rather, recognizing that the bumps are jostling my state of equilibrium and pushing it towards a new place, way of perceiving/being.

Not coincidentally, this is my marriage anniversary period, and also the start of a new way, for me, of accessing the “larger world” of technology, Internet, etc. Coming from a weekend MasterPath seminar with my spiritual teacher into a dramatic challenge, on Monday, of the theft of my purse, with driver’s license, credit cards and phone necessitated an immediate implementation of the lessons reinforced on Sunday. Regaining the critical items – driver’s license and phone – by Wednesday, through the attentiveness and caring of three strangers, demonstrated to me how protected I am from any serious harm.  Experiencing also the thoughtless and even ugly corporate responses of Walmart, MVD and La Quinta has pointed me toward engagement with “speaking Truth to power” that I have avoided in recent years. Moving forward in this arena means being clear in my intention, such that there is no anger in my communication. I’m not out to force changes that somehow “put things right”, only to point out clearly the values which are being trashed by blind corporate policy. If changes result, find. If they do not, so be it. I’m not attached to the outcome, only to the truth.

Being without my phone for most of a week was enlightening. I was made tangibly aware of the extent to which I have come to rely on it for access to news, as well as for the distracting pastime of playing various solitaire game. I already knew that I needed better access to email and various internet sites – including this one – and that I would have to get some sort of replacement for the recently deceased laptop I had been using. Without really any research, I went to Best Buy and came out with a Chromebook. It fits my financial limitations, and seems to actually fit my needs well, if I can just figure out how it works! Being old school and accustomed to printed materials, I feel the lack of a manual to teach me how to use such a different device. It helps that I’ve decided it’s about half way between a smart phone and a laptop. At least I have a frame of reference for thinking my way through accomplishing necessary functions. I have not yet figured out how to print a web page, if that is even possible? Yes, I know I can access manual sections on line, and will have to do so for the time being. And I can also use my husband’s computer (when he’s not busy on it) to find and print the manual. So why do those options feel unsatisfactory? Obviously, because they represent yet another way in which I am being pushed to move forward, away from familiar methods of doing things and onward into the new world order.

Caring without being attached, trusting without fear of being misled, speaking out without anger or other negative emotions, communicating clearly but without engagement with results… all avenues for moving forward into yet another new way of being, implementing yet another level of the fascinating path of spiritual evolution.

Thanks be.

 

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Passing

July 4, 2016

One aspect of the current inter-connectivity of social life that I’ve noticed, without being able to integrate it into my sense of place in the world, is how the absence of someone from that ethereal network can become a prominent feature of daily existence. Over the past 18 months I developed a relationship with Cheryl, following her blog at Artzzle, as she followed mine here. Through comments on postings, we got to know each other a bit – certainly as well as I know some of my coworkers in my day job, given that we all work from our respective home offices and only meet in person on a quarterly basis for training events. Cheryl has been “offline” for several months now; one of her last posts mentioned awaiting the results of pending medical tests, without specifying whether they were her own or for a family member. I can only suppose the news was not good, and that there is now no room for blogging in Cheryl’s life. I don’t know if she still reads my posts – or if she is totally off line and not able to know that I would offer support if I could reach her.

Upon reflection, the tenuousness of this sort of online link is not greater than that I have with face to face (or at least phone call to phone call) friends who live in distant places and whom I only see a few times a year, if that. When we do get together, or have a long phone conversation, the friendship seems not to have suffered any interruption. And I think we take for granted that it will continue as well into the future. Only rarely, as some years ago, have I been brought up short by the discovery, after the fact, that the other person is gone. Not just out of touch, but out of this world, moved on to another plane of existence without my having an opportunity to say goodbye, or even to know that a transition was impending.

It has been the pattern of my life that my closest friends are not usually found in my physical proximity. Partially, perhaps, because for the first half of my life I moved around so often. Although I’ve now lived many years in one location, the majority of my close friendships continue to be with people who live elsewhere. Not sure why, not sure that why matters.

What does matter is that all these relationships – physical or online – have inherent within them the risk of an ending occurring without my knowing about it. My discomfort is not that there is an ending – that is inevitable – but that the other person can cease to be and I not know it for months or even years.

When my father died, some thirty years ago, I knew that – like me – he had friends all around the world with whom he stayed in contact by letter and phone. I didn’t know who those people were, but I projected from my own sense of ‘wanting to know’ that they would also care to be told he had passed away. With no other guide, I turned to his Roladex and sent a death announcement to every address I found there. I received a heart-warming number of replies. The expressions of sympathy were equaled by the appreciations of my effort to inform.

Most of my dearest distant friends have family members whom I trust will inform me if there is a change in status affecting our ability to interact. A few do not. My main communication with these individuals is email. Will anyone trouble to go through a record of email exchanges to send me the sort of notice I mailed out about my father?

With social network links as the primary basis for many friendship interactions (no comment at this time on the “reality” of those friendships), won’t someone please invent – or make me aware of – a mechanism for informing “in the ether” friends of a death or serious restriction on ability to communicate?

Or am I one of too few for whom out of sight is NOT out of mind? No matter – if money can be made out of creating a social network death notification system, someone will set up the site. In the meantime, perhaps I should attempt to develop a sufficient psychic sensitivity to be directly aware when there is a hole in my net of linked relationships.

What I know I can do is assure that someone close to me knows to post an announcement on my blog, should I cease to be able to be here to do so. Do not worry, therefore, if I seem to disappear from sight for a time, as I did when my day job overwhelmed my time. I’m fine, and will be back, unless/until you hear otherwise, here.

And thank you, all, for liking and for following 1eclecticwriter.

Not One Ding-a-ling

July 26, 2015

One of the blogs I follow, Musings from a Tangled Mind, is occasionally a rant against some stupidity of daily life – usually on a subject I agree deserves a tongue lashing. I’ve not seen, there, my target today.

I am rarely able to nap during the day, no matter how tired I feel. This afternoon, I succeeded to drop off – and scarcely half an hour later my phone rang with an automated call from Walgreen’s Pharmacy, a reminder about refilling a prescription that:
1) doesn’t have refills on it, and
2) I never signed up to have reminders about.

I grew up in an environment which functioned largely without telephones at all. My recollection is that we were on a multi-party line in Washington DC, before my father entered the Foreign Service and we decamped to Vietnam in 1956. There – and later in Paris – there was a phone in our home, but it was solely for my parents and for official use only. I did occasionally use the Paris phone to arrange to meet a friend, but tying up the line to chat was forbidden, the cost considered prohibitive.

Returned to the U.S. for college, I lived in a dorm with one phone for the entire floor, or pay phones in the lobby for calling home. Again no habit of phone conversation developed. By the time I was out of school, married and living in my own space, the telephone had become a tool for necessary contact and nothing more. Thus, when I moved to New Mexico and into an area with no phone lines available, I was not disconcerted. In the one instance when my parents urgently needed to get hold of me, they had me located by the State Police, who came out to my house to deliver the message that I needed to call back East.

With time, I moved to a more developed area and met phone lines in place. I was still on a system that was small enough for us to give out our numbers with only 5 digits (Santa Fe was either 982 or 983 prefix, so my phone number was 33474, although one had to dial the initial 98). By the time I moved to the Las Vegas area, Santa Fe had 988 and 471 also in place, but Las Vegas had only 425 or 454. Five digit numbers remained the norm until the late 1990s.

Over the past 15 years the entire state has “upgraded” its land lines and sprouted a plethora of different cell company connections. In order to have service in my “second” house (the land line only goes to the main dwelling) I’ve signed up for T-Mobile, upgraded to a “smart” phone and now get calls via WiFi.

None of which justifies Walgreen’s disrupting my nap with an automated call to alert me it is time to refill a prescription!

Especially when I did NOT ask for that service. In fact, I’ve opted out of it twice already. Apparently, each time I fill a new prescription, the refill reminder is set for thirty days out, no matter what the content of the prescription says – and each new prescription requires a new opt out.

Lesson learned – no new prescriptions will be filled at Walgreen’s unless/until their system allows me to put a block on unwanted calls.

Which brings me to the true topic of this rant – the presumption that we all want/need to be connected all the time, that if we miss a call we are expected to return it immediately, that it is okay to repeatedly troll for business even after being told not to call again and even when the number dialed is on a national do not call list. We have to opt out of everything we don’t want, rather than being invited in and allowed to not participate unless we request inclusion.

A similar presumption underlies online tracking of preferences, of sites visited, etc. so that “ads can be tailored to meet your needs.” Except that no ad ever meets my needs, because I’ve learned to ignore them. They are an intrusion into my time and space, or into my spam folder. I do not have TV reception and, though I do miss the occasional drama series and a few PBS programs, the amount of advertising I thus avoid more than balances the small amount of worthwhile content that I forgo.

At what point did we cease of be people with brains, worthy of respect and entitled to be asked our preferences? How did I miss the turning point where personal space, rights to solitude and to privacy disappeared from everyday interactions?

I am not so “old fashioned” as to devalue the benefits of having a cell phone. I do appreciate being able to text and to email and reach out to people more quickly and easily than when I had to walk from my home in Lamy to the train depot to make that call to my parents, using the only pay phone in the village. I am so old fashioned as to mind that, with the advent of easy connection, has come a culture of disregard of – nay disrespect for – those who are on the other end of the connection.

Yes I realize there were people, shortly after Mr. Bell made his revolutionary invention, who said then what I’m saying now. They had it right, to some extent. Cultural norms do need to be adapted to changes in technology but not to the point of eliminating basic respect for individuals’ privacy and control of their home environments.

Just because you want to contact me does not mean I am obliged to be available to you!

There is a time and a place for communication. During church service in the morning, and again when I am napping on a Sunday afternoon is neither the time nor the place for Walgreen’s to pester me about a prescription refill for which I am not even eligible!

What’s that old parting line after a job interview? Don’t call us, we’ll call you?

If I want information I’ll seek it out. If I need a refill I’ll ask for it. If I intend to purchase an item, I’ll find the stores or the online sites with the items I’m interested in. I know my own mind, what I want and when I want it.

If you want my business, show me the simple respect of allowing me to initiate the contact, and to choose what reminders or new information I desire.

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

How does one go about finding motivation to continue working at an impossible job? What enabled Sisyphus to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain?

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

Vacations are meant to provide rest and relaxation, a break in routine which allows one to return to work refreshed and with new energy and purpose. So far, completing the middle of three days of work between two four-day weekends, I am only seeing a great reluctance to return to my too-full-time job in January.

Not because I don’t like most of the work. Not even because the computer data base we must use is so extremely user unfriendly. My reluctance comes from knowledge that the caseload is too large for me to meet my own expectations of performance. Working ten hours a day, seven days a week, I would not get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working an average of 55 hours a week I most certainly do not do so. More importantly, just keeping track of everything I should be doing is virtually impossible. The size of the job is beyond control.

I’ve tried telling myself that doing my best on the cases I reach is all that I should expect. I’ve attempted to focus on the successes I’ve achieved, the clients who are happy with what I’ve been able to do for and with them. Just today I had a call from one of these, a woman who wanted me to hear the latest challenge she faced and overcame. She wasn’t looking for validation or approval, just for a listening ear so she could hear for herself what she was accomplishing.

But now another day has passed without needed services for a client who lost them due to the mistake of a state agency. I’ve spent time every day for the past eight weeks, first trying to prevent the termination of services, then trying to push someone in authority to recognize and correct the error. I did hear, today, that steps are finally being taken to right the wrong – but I’m typing with crossed fingers. After two months of no one hearing or caring, I’ve moved to Missouri. I’ll believe the situation is corrected when I see it fixed and my client is once more getting services.

Also today I dealt with the case of a client who is having difficulty accessing services from the only provider in the state who can care for her – because my employer (an MCO) does not contract with the provider’s employer (a hospital complex). Procedures needed to get her services include access to levels of review in the MCO that I am not familiar with. I do know whom to ask, and have already been given suggestions on what steps to take next. Teamwork and support are positives in my workplace.

I’ve tried to set myself a standard of doing a complete and to-my-best-ability job for each client with whom I have contact, and not worrying about the ones I’m supposed to check in on, but do not reach. Whenever a client’s needs raise issues with which I’m unfamiliar, I require more hours to meet that standard. More time means more clients I don’t contact, more items on the not-done list, and another trip up the mountain, pushing my boulder.

I, like most people, need to feel some control over my work and some sense of completion. The size of the caseload and the imposed expectations of performance erase control and eliminate completion. Sisyphus and a restaurant dishwasher and I share an unending task that is never done. I can’t ask Sisyphus how he persuaded himself to keep on keeping on. Maybe I should inquire of a few local dishwashers?

Management is trying to hire more staff, to bring the caseloads down. They are also going to replace our nightmare software system – in another year (2016). I’m hardly the only person trudging endlessly up the hill. Too large a number of my coworkers have transferred, not out of the company because it is quite a good employer, but to different departments where the work expectations are achievable.

I don’t easily have that option. So I need to learn to love pushing my boulder endlessly up my hill – and I don’t know how to go about that challenge.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

What I do know is that everything that comes into my life can be a source of learning. Maybe my question should therefore be, what will I gain from a stint as Sisyphus? Is this whole experience just about me learning to let go of the need for control, on yet another level of existence?

If the details of such an enormous load are too much for mind to manage, perhaps I need to learn how to set my priorities, move through my days, meet my clients and complete my work based on the dictates of some other part of my persona. I’ve had some of my most satisfying work days when my schedule is totally overturned, and I end up just doing what’s brought to my attention, item after item, into the evening. My more frustrating days usually involve trying persistently to accomplish something I’ve determined as a priority, despite computer glitches and multiple petty distractions.

Sounds like maybe the lesson is, once more as so often, Thy Will not mine, Lord.

In which case I don’t need to figure out how to push my boulder up the hill. I only need to be ready to put out whatever effort each day calls for, perhaps to find myself riding a roller coaster, or sliding downhill on skis, and only occasionally carrying a small pack up a mountain trail.

I can do that. Yes I can. Happy 2015.

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead


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