Tuesday, April 12, 2011


At some point, we all want to walk out of work-related meetings, mostly because 99.99999% of them are useless, ridiculous, and annoying.

I usually stay for the duration, partially out of optimism that maybe I’ll find something valuable, but mainly because I’ve had to give presentations myself and I know how difficult it can be.

A recent workshop I attended was called, “Empowering Students to Make a Difference,” and it was supposed to help teachers instill leadership skills in students.

Before it began, one colleague told me that this speaker was “tremendous.” I can now add that word, along with “amazing” and “phenomenal,” to my list of Words People Use to Describe Things When Actually the Opposite is True. Consider yourself warned, my friends.

This workshop began with the speaker, who was a dead ringer for Ned Flanders on “The Simpsons,” explaining that we will be moving around a lot and getting in groups during this session.

That’s like going to a play that forces the audience members to be part of the performance and interact with the characters. My feeling is: I’m in the audience, you are on stage, do your job and leave me alone.

But I stayed anyway, hoping to see something “tremendous.” Plus, I was giving my own presentation later that day and therefore didn’t want to create any bad karma.

On the walls of our meeting room, Ned had placed copies of Time magazine covers portraying famous leaders. We were instructed to write descriptive words (“Determined,” “Sincere,” “Inspirational,” etc.) on post-it notes and walk around the room and place our notes on the portraits. We were then asked to share what we wrote. (My portrait was of Abe Lincoln, and 24 of the 25 post-its said “Honest.” Wow, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.)

What was the point of this exercise? How the hell should I know?

One of the magazine covers pictured Barack Obama. As we shared what the post-its said, Ned pointed out as a side note that he didn’t vote for Obama.

I thought that was a weird thing to say in this setting, but OK. I am friendly with people of various political persuasions, but at work, I usually keep my political opinions to myself.

Ned couldn’t help himself, though, and his comment stuck in my craw. (Where exactly is one’s craw, anyway?) Because if he didn’t vote for Obama, that probably means he voted for… Sarah Palin!

Wait a minute. He’s conducting a leadership workshop and he voted for Palin?! (Yeah, I know John McCain was at the top of the ticket, but it was still a vote for Palin, and if he voted for a wacko third-party candidate, that was worse.)

Say what you want about Palin, but the truth is that the Time magazine covers showed people from a whole other (intelligent) universe: Einstein, JFK, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, and the like.

So, that was the first chink in his armor of credibility. Still, I stuck with him.

A few minutes later, Ned mentioned that every Friday, his wife, a teacher, would show her students a movie that provides a good example of leadership, “such as ‘Braveheart.’”

Wait a minute: Isn’t that a movie directed and starring Mel Gibson, the anti-Semitic, racist, girlfriend-beating, drunk-driving jerk-off?

Keep in mind that this is a conference about leadership, in which Ned listed Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope as the four reasons people follow others.

Does Gibson display any of these? And why exactly is Ned’s wife showing movies to her class every week, especially R-rated ones?

That was it for me. I’m thinking to myself, “I’m 54 years old. How many more ridiculous meetings am I going to sit through in my life, instead of doing the right thing and leaving?”

So I left, just as we were getting ready for another fascinating group activity. As I made for the door, Ned loudly bid me a sarcastic “Oh, OK, goodbye.”

And that was when I flung my feces at him. Hey, he wanted an evaluation!

Monday, April 11, 2011


“God is a concept,
by which we measure our pain.”

--John Lennon

It seems like most people have it all figured out.

The majority of people find a way to process and explain everything that happens by filtering it through their chosen belief, whether it’s God, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Earth, Allah, Yoga, Scientology, the Mystic Chicken, or the Shadow Government.

Whatever comes their way, their one all-encompassing philosophy of choice seems to apply and explains everything.

Is that because drinking that particular Kool-Aid makes life easier to cope with and understand, like some sort of cosmic security blanket?

Struggling to comprehend the overwhelming injustice, violence and evil that exists in the world (in people?) can make you feel lost, alone, and frustrated. Isn’t it much easier and convenient to just have one answer—one size that fits all?

I have no such singular answer that I can stretch and manipulate to easily explain away every incomprehensible event that occurs. I wish I did.

Sometimes I envy those people because it boils life down to a much more manageable experience. Yet, most of the time, I am just too skeptical of any quick fix.

As an example, let’s take a common belief in God. Some recent events will help me illustrate what I’m talking about.

Event #1: In God We Trust, Despite Evidence to the Contrary

You probably read the horrific story last week about the Brazilian nut who killed 12 children at point-blank range, and wounded several others, while shouting, “I am going to kill you all!”

One girl was shot in the leg, and her mother wonders if her child will ever be able to walk again. Here’s her quote:

“She’s such an active child. That’s the biggest fear I have, her not being able to walk again. But we have to trust in God.”

Amazing, isn’t it? She is still able to “trust in God” after what happened to her kid? I would imagine that she has been placing her trust in God before this happened, and yet look how that worked out! Yet, she still hangs on to this.

Is it just too scary to think that there is no superpower (Daddy?) that will take care of everything for us?

By the way, the gunman, before killing himself, left a note with these instructions:

“A follower of God must visit my grave at least once. He must pray before my grave and ask God to forgive me for what I have done.”

That’s right, he believed in God, too, and since God will forgive him, he won’t really suffer for his actions.

You might be thinking that this guy is just mentally ill…but then you would just be proving my point, wouldn’t you?

• Event #2: God Knew Drugs Were Good for Me

One week into the season, baseball player Manny Ramirez tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance and decided to retire rather than face another drug ban.

“I’m at ease,” Ramirez said. “God knows what’s best for me.”

Hmm. So, if God knows what’s best for Manny, why didn’t God step in when Manny was first considering using these drugs?

The argument, of course, is that God gave Manny free will, and it was his choice to use the drugs in the first place. I actually would tend to agree with that.

But I don’t think Manny would agree with that. And yet, when he gets busted again for the same thing, he conveniently brings in God’s name, as if He has been guiding him all his life.

• Event #3: God Made Me Lose

Matt and Christa are contestants on “Survivor” this season, and both are very Christian. Before their final one-on-one match, they each prayed to God for victory.

Matt beat Christa in the competition, and she was sent home.

Does this mean that God liked Matt better? Didn’t they both pray for victory? Will Christa now become an atheist? I’m sure these cool kids would answer “no” to both questions, and they will find a way to twist their views so that they are at peace, there is no free will, and that Santa Claus is watching over all of us.

To Sum Up:
Considering these three examples I have described here, in which peoples’ beliefs in a higher power seem to backfire on them—and yet they still continue to believe—I can come to at least one conclusion, even though it may be a cliché:

You can’t have it both ways, people.

Life is made up of your own personal choices, and it’s a cop-out and a shirking of responsibility to attribute everything to God…or Allah…or Buddha…or whomever.

And if you have never heard the song, “God,” by John Lennon, by all means seek it out immediately.