The New World: A Better You

It’s been a long time.

A long, long time.

Since my World was normal. We did it all. Social distancing. Mask wearing. Shuttered businesses. Now things are starting to look more and more normal. Places are slowly getting the green light to operate (with safety modifications of course).

As things start to reopen, I wonder what the world will reopen as. This seems like a good time to try and come back into the world a little better. I know I sound crazy but shouldn’t we walk away having learned something more then we should be better at personal hygiene?

I think we should. So how can we do it? Let’s talk about some ideas.

Let’s talk about respect and let’s start with this idea, You have to earn respect. I think the word respect in this saying is a poor choice. I think respect should be extended to people and continue until they do something that would cause respect to be lost. I think you have to earn trust, loyalty, and true friendship but respect should be a given. I know you want to argue my point, there are people who are despicable. I get it and you are correct. Some people are awful and evil but you can’t always tell who that person is. So as a general rule give respect until you see a real reason not to. A difference of opinion is not a reason to disrespect people. A difference of skin color is not a reason for disrespect. Here is a list of other differences that should still get your respect: gender, birthplace, who they love, net worth, the school attended, the job worked, what they want to be called. For the record, unless they have done something really bad it’s best to just treat people with respect.

Social media: Why the heck are we so mean on social media? There is name calling and verbal attacks on people for sharing an opinion or something they found humorous. That isn’t something anyone should be proud of. We need to learn to talk with each other in a respectful manner. Our goal should be to better understand each other instead of proving who is right. The urge to prove yourself the victor of rightness, is causing you and everybody to not bother getting outside of own own ideas and thoughts. A lot of the time we base our beliefs on things we’ve heard without really figuring things out ourselves. We are stagnating as a society because we only want people to agree with us and when people challenge those ideas we resort to dismissive and insulting responses. So then we only want to have friends that believe the way we do. That way no one insults us and dismisses our words without truly hearing them. I often question people’s sanity when I read certain posts but I try not to write an insulting response. I either skip responding or find something I can add that might make them see something differently. I am still working on this whole good response thing and I think it will challenge all of us, but all things require a certain amount of discomfort to learn. How can we get better if we still aren’t willing to sit down and talk like sane, respectful people? How about if we are free to share ideas and opinions but first make sure they aren’t breaking the respect rule? To improve our world we need to learn to talk about, listen to, and be willing to find a compromise. Act like adults and make sure you aren’t just passing along things you have heard from someone else or read on another post. If you are going to share a post from someone else make sure it’s true, do your research first. Don’t just repost. When you see a post you don’t agree with resist the urge to belittle them. Learn to read what is written, ask clarifying questions, don’t assume, and then deliver a respectful counter. Then if they or someone else attempts to escalate you can disengage or attempt to continue in a respectful manner. I think it’s okay to respond to an insult by saying something like, “I simply stated my thinking. I am interested in your opinion about the topic not my intelligence.” Remember you should feel free to share your view and your evidence but they still might not change their mind. That is okay, they still should be treated respectfully by you. This way you can be worthy of the respect you expect from others. I think putting people on a social media time out (some sites have this) is okay but maybe we should tell them prior to doing it. What about the people that just keep coming back to argue and name call? Well some people think this is the way to change your mind. They are not becoming better people because they are too invested in who they are and what they feel. So I say feel free to let them stay blocked or unfriend them. Your choice. Now, if you have someone who is offensive simply to be offensive feel free to jump the time out and go straight to see ya later. We don’t have time to go back when we are working on becoming better people.

Goal setting. I never used to set goals and nothing ever changed. Then I started setting goals but I kept them to myself, locked in my head. Nothing changed. If you want change you need to set realistic and achievable goals. You also need to share them with people that can help you achieve them. The trick is to make goals part of the routine. I made a goal to walk at least 10,000 steps a day and I told Michelle. She encouraged me and often walked with me. Now that is part of my self-care routine. Recently, I added daily pushups to the goal. I started with 10 and now I do more but it’s not a routine yet. I told Michelle and she asks me if I’ve done them almost daily, it helps to remind me. My personal non physical improvement goal is not to growl at her when she reminds me. We are still working on making the push ups a part of the routine and I’m still working on not growling about being reminded. We aren’t always going to be good at achieving our goals and that is okay. We can always do better next time.

More about goals…

Professional – At the moment there is a lot of time spent at home. This includes the “essential workers” because when you aren’t at work there are few places to go; with the probable exception of health care providers who just need to sleep before the next shift. (We love our healthcare workers, stay safe and healthy!) It’s times like these that we should think about creating and achieving professional goals. Once we have a goal in mind, we should start figuring out steps we can take to achieve them. In the past people would go back to a college or university to get trained but that is not something I recommend. There are usually other options and paths to improving that do not require thousands of dollars spent on unnecessary classes. A lot of online options are available these days to get accreditation in certain aspects of different jobs. Some are dodgy and should be avoided but that doesn’t mean everything is best avoided. I have mentioned Udemy and Coursera before. I know Coursera partners with colleges for a lot of the courses. I also know that both have started offering free classes in response to Covid19. These are the two I have some experience with. I have had a little experience with Skillshare, Skill Success, New Skill Academy, and Whizlabs; but I do not know enough to give an opinion. So to recap: Step 1. Figure out what knowledge or certification would help you. Step 2. Find all the providers. Step 3. Eliminate the ones from disreputable sources. Step 4. See if there is a free class to try first or a way to audit it and pay later if it’s valuable. Step 5. If the certification and course are valuable and worthwhile, pay for it and complete it.

Language: Those of us who only know one language well enough to communicate are at a disadvantage. Instead of yelling at people to learn your language how about learning their language? Not interested in their language? Then how about you think about somewhere you’d like to go when all this is over and learn that language. Even if you don’t quite learn enough to be fluent it is still a worthwhile endeavor. Learning other languages helps you understand why people that are learning your language say funny things. Languages have their own grammar and ways of expressing ideas. The more you understand that and think about it in your interactions, the better a person you become and the more friends with different world views you make. The other benefit is when you show up in a foreign country and try to communicate with them in their language the better your reception will be. Sometimes an attempt goes so well they assume you are fluent and start rapidly talking to you. Just smile and explain you are learning. When I go somewhere new I try and learn about food. I want to read a menu and know what I am ordering if I can. Then it’s fun to order in the language (I always point as well just in case I slaughter the pronunciation). Language learning can help you in travel, daily interaction with people from other cultures, and can help you in your career if you stick with learning long enough to become fluent. If you didn’t already know, the world is now a global community and people too stubborn to learn about other cultures and languages are just allowing themselves to be left behind. A small confession, my Chinese language skills are atrocious. It’s embarrassing how little time I put towards learning the language considering the time I have been here. All I can say is I will do better. I am learning baby Chinese along with Carter for starters. I can say ya ya, ji ji, wa wa, and hua hua as a result.

Personal growth: I want to talk about mental health. I think as people are home more and going out less they are facing some things about themselves. Normally we can bury things we don’t want to face by doing something else. Going to the bars, going to the movies, or going to dinner with friends. When we are social distancing, and a lot of our go to distractions are closed, we feel overwhelmed by our own thoughts. Taking care of your mental health does not mean going on a “me day” shopping spree. I think that is simply a bandaid on a bigger issue. It’s time to face things we don’t like about ourselves and work toward changing them. I’ll give you an example. I am often impatient with people. I feel irritated when they don’t understand my explanation and I tend to growl, gripe, or snap at them. It’s not something I like about me but it is something that I am working on. It is not something I think will ever really go away but it is something I believe I can learn better responses for and get in the habit of using the better response. When I lose my battle for patience or get grouchy with people I care about, I feel pretty bad. In the past, I would just expect to move on and that they would let it go. Now I apologize. I do it as soon as I take a breath and just as importantly I stop myself from following up with “but…” Own your mistakes and truly be sorry. I also try to explain my reaction and ask for their side as well. You see, I have internal dialogues in my head a lot. I always have, but now I try and listen to the nice and caring side more then the snarky jerk that I may have been known for in the past. I try and think about why they may have not understood and I try and stop the blaming (not listening is usually my go to). Then I try and see what made me react that way. I tend to have some go to reasons (not feeling heard, being dismissed, and just plain “I’ve said that 5 times already!”). Then I compare the two ideas in my head and try to learn a better strategy or a way to not get upset the next time. I am in a job that has me working with little English language learners, my wife is a language learner, and I have a 19 month old baby who is also learning the language. So often I find that what I think is clear really isn’t. I have so many colloquialisms and stupid idioms in my head that my message sometimes comes out muddled. It’s a constant battle to not only be patient but also to speak plainly. To be understood, I must first be understandable. The reality is as we delve into our issues we find that they aren’t a simple fix. We have to figure out where they are coming from and address these things too. Sometimes the things we need to address need professional help. Someone to talk to and help you train your brain to change and adapt better to those challenges. Seek help when it is needed and work to deal with the issues, don’t just use it to find your next excuse. Remember your issues are yours and you should stop telling people what to do. A lot of us feel we need to offer advice to others despite not being asked for the advice. An example is anxiety. We all feel anxiety about things but some people have some severe anxiety panic episodes. Telling them to be calm, something I have done in the past, is not helpful advice. If they are sharing with you, your job is to listen and be there for them. I think it’s okay to ask if they want you to help put things in perspective (after you have truly heard them). The perspective should be based on real things; facts and real silver linings. When they are ready to hear suggestions keep it to things that will help them occupy the mind and hands. I am not an expert on any of this and I think it’s best if you ask them how you can help. Asking them when they are in the middle of the issue is probably not the best time, but it might work. I think just be in there for them is a good first step. Ask them when they are able to handle a question about how to help, they may know what you can do and they may not. You can also read posts online from reputable counselors on how to deal with people going through a rough patch.

The physical self. I keep hearing about the Covid-19 15. People openly talking about the weight gain they are experiencing or are expecting. I don’t get this. I have been social distancing and working from home since January and I am not experiencing this issue. Why? I am not just sitting around watching Netflix and snacking all day. I am teaching, playing with a baby, walking, doing push ups, and cooking at home most of the time. If you know me you know I’m not lean and muscular. I am chubby and out of shape. I have been for a long time. That being said, what you might not realize is that I am slowly losing weight. It’s not a whole new me but clothes are bigger on me then they were before. I have set goals for my self and have been largely sticking to them. One goal that I can’t stick to was to play basketball with staff and students from my school on a weekly basis and that sucks (thanks stupid virus). I am keeping my walking goal going (I think it contributed to the slow melt of excess weight). I made a goal about 3 years ago to eat less meat and more vegetables and I have stuck to that (to the point that I enjoy certain dishes more without meat then with meat, example of this is the red curry dish I make). I am not completely satisfied with my results because I want to be in better shape. So I am adding things to my goals. I try to do this one at a time because it’s seems more manageable to me. I am doing push-ups now and will soon add sit-ups or something else. I am taking baby steps because I know keeping the goal simple and making it a routine makes it easier to keep. You may be able to handle more then a goal at a time and feel free to do what you can handle. I just think that a lot of us have failed to make a change because we try and take on too much all at once. Breaking it down to one eating goal and one physical goal is bite sized and easy to focus our mind on. What is weird is it really does give you a feeling of accomplishment as it begins to move into a routine. Soon you will feel off when you don’t walk or you overindulge in junk food. Every time I get less then 10,000 steps, I feel terrible physically and mentally (I am restless without the minimum steps met). So start working on healthy habits now. I believe you need a schedule. I set an alarm on my phone that goes off and reminds me to do the push-ups (or poushups as I mistyped for the alarm name and decided to keep because it made me laugh). Once it becomes normal add something new. Having said that, I plan to add something tomorrow. Some sample eating goals: reduce the soda intake (base this on how much you drink), reduce the days you are allowed to have a sugary junky treat, eat more vegetables, cook more than you eat out/order in, etc. Some sample physical fitness goals: 10,000 steps every day, walking to jogging, jogging to running, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, etc. Find a way to remind yourself and try to make a schedule where it is just a normal thing you do. There are a lot of different dietary and physical regiments out there but do your research before committing. Just because it worked for someone you know doesn’t mean it will work the same for you. Some people find something that really works and have amazing results and it’s okay to hear about it and try it. But you should know all the information instead of just diving in without a clue. Knowledge is power. You should also not let slow results stop or discourage you. Sometimes things take time to work.

Creative arts: I am so tired of hearing people tell me they aren’t artistic. You can learn skills and techniques to change that. You can learn about art in general to better educate yourself. There is a lot of different kinds of art out there and you may find something really appeals to you. I always encourage you to learn before diving in. If you learn about things you may find something that appeals to you. Let other artists inspire you. When creating art it is okay to copy as long as you are honest about where it comes from and you aren’t passing it off as yours. So if you love comics and want to draw Batman learn from your favorite artists. One thing I think is important, is to learn fundamentals of art. Start at the basic and move forward even if it isn’t something you really plan to create. Learn about art that you don’t usually do. When I was an artist in hiding, I started figure drawing in addition to my usual photographic pursuits. Now I regularly experiment with things I know nothing about just to learn. The more I experiment and fail, the better my art gets. I am not a great figure drawer but I try to do it because the practice and focus of improving that skill has a benefit of training my eye and brain. You can’t become an artist by doing nothing so pick something and start. Then as you improve that skill, challenge yourself to learn a new skill. Trying something unfamiliar and being ready to suck at it will cause you to improve at the original skill. There are some great Youtube videos from artists that you can watch and learn for free. There are also courses in the places I’ve listed several times already (Udemy, Coursera, etc.). I can’t express this point enough, surround yourself with people of like mind. I was lucky enough to find my crowd here in Shenzhen (ISZAF.com) and they have encouraged my growth and continue to do so. I have made very good friends and have learned so much (mainly the amount of stuff still left to learn). Community is important and you can find it if you look for it and if you don’t find it, why not be the person who creates it. I know some amazing people who started a community here. I believe so strongly in this community that I even took on a roll to keep it going. Although it’s been challenging lately because a large part of what I do is get people to come out and see art in the community as a group.

Reading: We should all find time to read more. Read for enjoyment and knowledge. A lot of the knowledge I discuss up to this point is also available by opening a book or three. I know a lot of people don’t make time to read in their normal lives. Now is your time to change it. Stop wallowing in, or celebrating, your ignorance and start reading. The libraries have downloadable e-books that you can just borrow and not buy! The bonus to digital books is they return themselves and you don’t get late fees. Free knowledge people! Well sort of, I mean you do fund it with your taxes. So use it.

Writing: Oh my goodness do we need to get better at written communication. Reading more is the first step. The more quality writing you read, the better your grammar will become. If there was ever a time to journal, it is now. Start putting all those thoughts and feelings down on paper or in some electronic medium. This is a weird time that people will look back on and try to understand. You may even want to remember your thoughts and feelings one day. Share your thinking now, or later, if you are feeling brave. Feel okay with not sharing things that are private and for you only. If you are writing electronically, let the spellcheck help and consider getting Grammarly. I use Grammarly with my work emails and I see that I usually make a lot of the same mistakes. I am slowly becoming more aware of them and getting a bit better at spotting them and not making them. Once you’ve written your entire brain and heart out onto the paper or into the word processor, reread the dang thing. Get ready to edit and revise. Then reread it again. Be as clear as possible. Do this even if it’s your private journal. When you look back on this you will not remember what you meant unless you spell it out. You should strive to be clear.

I think we all need to start learning again. I thing society is stalled because we are so unwilling to learn and become better. We need to learn and practice empathy for others. We need to be ready to accept harsh truths about ourselves and learn how to deal with or change them. We need to learn to compromise. We need to learn to listen and not just wait for our turn to monologue. We need to choose to do the right thing because it’s the right thing and not for some reward now or in the afterlife. We need to give respect even when people don’t earn respect. We need to stop deciding who is essential and what job is important. The reality is a lot of people that fell into the “unimportant jobs” category have proven they are anything but unimportant. That also applies to people who do jobs deemed to be nonessential currently. It boils back down to everyone being worthy of respect. So be respectful and maybe, be wild, by trying to be friendly to the people you encounter as you go through your day. A greeting of some sort and a smile go a long way to achieving this. Weirdly it is also a good way to improve your mood. Smiling and being friendly help you feel better. Prove me wrong, be friendly and smile more and see how your month is.

Lots of shade has been thrown at artists, athletes, musicians, and actors lately but yet everyday I listen to music, enjoy some art, or watch a show. I’m willing to bet you do too. They shouldn’t be revered above others but they should be seen as contributing to our world. I have never felt like the money they make is fair. I think there are a lot of people involved in making and distributing their product. Those people should make a good amount too. Yet the millions made is crazy. I think the reality is, we have allowed the studios and owners to set the price of viewing and consuming entertainment too high. I would love if that would change and become less of a chasm between them and their audience. I think a move away from mega-studios might help that. Consumption of smaller productions might help and for sure supporting artists (any type) directly will help that artist continue to create.

Higher education is another concern of mine. The price of educations in America are way higher then they should be. The tuition keeps rising and people are continually expected to have a degree for a lot of jobs. Even jobs that don’t truly need one. The jobs you get with that new degree, have a salary that is way too low to pay all the new bills, including the school loan, and have any sort of savings or investment plan. Most people are told since they are little that going to college is the only way to make a good living and have a good job. It’s not the only path to a better life. One thing we should change is acknowledging that you can make a good living by skipping university and learning a trade. People that pursue the trade skills often have a good paying job long before anyone who gets a university degree. University makes sense for some jobs but not all jobs. The fact that school costs so much and results in a job that just barely pays the bills is a problem. I do not think higher education should be free but I definitely don’t think the price should be as high as it is and the damn interest on the loans shouldn’t keep you paying it off forever. So I am for school tuition and loan reform. Every kid also needs to learn about other paths that do not involve college. They need to be educated about all options including trades. I also believe that certain jobs should be given only to employees who work hard and are dedicated to moving up in a company. I became an assistant manager at a couple restaurants straight out of college but I don’t think I was nearly as good at the job as I would have been had I worked my way up. I understood all the thinking behind it but knowing exactly how to run my kitchen wasn’t something I could learn from a book. I think part of taking an entry level job should come with clear paths to advancement. You can couple on the job training with more formal education. Gear the required classes specifically to the job you are wanting done, I think jobs should invest in people as much as they expect people to invest in the job. Every employer wants the employee to see a job as a career and it is usually hinted at with stupid interview questions about where you see yourselves in 5 years and you have to concoct some form of phony but sort of real answer. Only to find out they have no intention of showing they value you and want you around in 5 years. It should be a two-way street.

I have already spoken about healthcare. It should be affordable for every one. I have been wondering about our side, the user side of it. the fact is some people need more healthcare then others, the elderly do for sure and, hey, they are old and most are pretty cool, so let’s take care of them. The thing is I think the younger people, myself included, should be expected to work toward being healthier. Maybe once we have affordable healthcare we provide incentives for people who work on eating healthy and working on keeping healthy. Currently some health care plans have free annual checkups now to encourage you to keep an eye on your health before it is a big issue. I think that is a great, being aware of potential issues and steps you can take to become healthier should be taken seriously. I have said before that I don’t like things being completely free and I think you should put in work for things. Working out, eating healthy, and getting checkups should be part of earning a slightly better price. People that are working to be healthy will usually end up needing less major medical procedures throughout their lives. Obesity is a huge problem in our country and guess what, it’s making all of us fat, chubby,and festively plump people more likely to die from things that won’t kill healthy people. The more we can encourage ourselves to work hard to get and stay healthy the better we all will be. One thing I heard a lot when I moved to China was how fat I was. This was said by kids, parents, Chinese staff, and doctors. It hurt at first but it was and is true. I could be offended and try to change them and for a while I did. Now I am using that simply stated truth to change myself. I don’t want to be seen as fat and I sure as heck don’t want to actually be fat. I am working at changing my physical self, and in my world I’d have a better price point then the fatter me but not as good as the future skinnier and healthier me. The reality, the scary reality, is that by not working to lose weight and change your bad eating and physical habits you are killing yourself. It is like a super slow form of suicide. I believe that people lie to themselves sometimes about how they have tried hard and failed. I say this from experience. It is surprisingly easy for most people to gain weight fast but it is also surprising how long it takes to undue the damage and learn better, healthier habits. Nothing is quick about being healthy. Nothing is easy about being fit. Stop expecting it to happen quickly and easily, just put in the work. In fact, I’d love to help and encourage you if you are willing to do the same for me.

That was wordy and opinionated. I hope it helps you make a change toward becoming that better person you want to be. Feel free to share this if you would like to. Feel free to reach out to me and share thoughts, good or bad about this piece. I am open to a difference of opinion stated respectfully. I feel like if we start talking we can both benefit and learn. Until the next time…

Stay healthy.

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