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I’m doing some computer work and watching Homicide Hunter on ID Discovery. It’s just on as background noise, but I perk up when the shot includes Lt. Kenda looking into the camera asking about some dysfunctional family behavior that involved murder. He answers his own question with this witty answer,
“I don’t know ’cause I’m not crazy.”
Reasoning with unreasonable people.
Trying to relate to crazy when you’re sane. Trying to influence foolishness with wisdom. Trying to combat hatred with love. Battling sadness with humor. There are many paradoxes.
“I don’t know ’cause I’m not crazy.”
It implies that if Lt. Kenda were crazy then perhaps he could better understand the crazy behaviors he observes.
I catch myself sometimes. Saying things that seem habitual. You know, those phrases or sayings you say all the time on auto-pilot. Without even thinking. Until one day you realize, “I say that an awful lot. I should quit doing that.”
We all have them. Some of us more than others. Mine, at least on this occasion, was, “What do I know?”
What do I know?
I most often say it when I make an observation – not from certainty, but from uncertainty. That is, I really don’t have much of a clue if I understand something or not. Then I say, “…but what do I know?”
Kenda has extensive knowledge of murder and crime. And criminal behavior. But he still doesn’t understand it because it contains a level of crazy. And he’s not crazy.
Don’t we all know that sensation? That feeling?
Two people find themselves needing money. Desperately.
One scrambles to think of what he has that has any monetary value. Something he can sell. He thinks about what he might be able to do to hire himself out. Clean gutters. Rake leaves. Anything.
The other one doesn’t think of any of those things. Instead, he thinks of who has what he wants – money. And how can he take it from them.
I see that first fellow and understand. But I don’t understand the second fellow at all. My mind just doesn’t go there.
Right and wrong. Those are heavily involved in these notions. Kenda can’t relate to the criminal mind. Hopefully, neither can we.
Hopefully, we can’t relate to the immoral mind. The person, who when faced with some serious challenge, thinks that bad behavior might somehow make things better. That alcohol, drugs, and sex just might provide the remedy to make their lives better. It never does. But I don’t know ’cause I’m not crazy enough to think so.
Crime. Immorality. Human degradation.
Degradation is the act of lowering something or someone to a less respected state.
Would a person intentionally lower themselves to a less respected state? Of course. People do it all the time. Some don’t think they’re lowering themselves. Some are too self-centered and just don’t care enough about themselves to increase their respected state. Still, others are plagued by addictions. Some others, by untreated or undiagnosed mental illness. Degradation is a complex issue.
The significant factor here is knowledge. Knowing. More accurately, it’s about understanding, but as Kenda observed – that’s impossible when you don’t suffer the same crazy. Or the same delusion. Or the same foolishness. And honestly, do you want to? Of course not.
It makes solving these problems more challenging. It makes helping – serving – some people almost impossible.
“You can’t reason with an unreasonable person.”
“You can’t want it for somebody if they don’t want it for themselves.”
So many truisms. What should we do then? I wish I knew, but I don’t. ‘Cause I’m not crazy. Or disposed to chasing foolishness. Or bent toward committing crimes or pursuing doing the wrong thing. That doesn’t mean I’m immune from these things. Neither are you. I suppose we could all fall into the wrong things – degrading things. Thankfully, most of us don’t. Because most of us can and do keep our wits about us to prevent us from sliding off the edges.
Then there’s Charlie Sheen. Just yesterday I saw an article entitled, Charlie Sheen took over the internet 10 years ago. He has serious regrets. It was a horrible scene that became a cultural phenomenon with the hashtag, #Winning. In 2010/2011 Sheen was the highest-paid actor on TV at $2 million an episode of CBS’s hit show, Two and a Half Men. But he had serious personal issues including drug and alcohol abuse. The meltdown was very public taking the Internet by storm. I remember thinking at the time, “Nobody can help this guy.” It seemed apparent that he wasn’t in any frame of mind to listen to wisdom. Or accept help. But I didn’t know any details. Here’s a snippet of the article.
‘If I could go back in time…’
“There’s a moment when [former CBS CEO] Les Moonves and his top lawyer, Bruce, were at my house and they said, ‘OK, the Warner jet is fueled up on the runway. Wheels up in an hour and going to rehab, right?’ My first thought was sort of like really … there’s some comedy value to what my first thought was,” Sheen says. “In that moment, when I said, ‘Oh, damn, I finally get the Warner jet.’ That’s all I heard. But if I could go back in time to that moment, I would’ve gotten on the jet. And it was that giant left turn in that moment that led to, you know, a very unfortunate sequence of public and insane events.”
He has many regrets about what he did during that time, especially demanding a higher salary. He says now that he wasn’t being a team player.
“There was 55 different ways for me to handle that situation, and I chose number 56. And so, you know, I think the growth for me post-meltdown or melt forward or melt somewhere — however you want to label it — it has to start with absolute ownership of my role in all of it,” Sheen explains. “And it was desperately juvenile.”
He says he had agreed to do things their way, and he wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain.
“I think it was drugs or the residual effects of drugs … and it was also an ocean of stress and a volcano of disdain. It was all self-generated, you know,” Sheen says of what prompted the incident. “All I had to do was take a step back and say, ‘OK, let’s make a list. Let’s list, like, everything that’s cool in my life that’s going on right now. Let’s make a list of what’s not cool.’ You know what I’m saying? And the cool list was really full. The not cool list was, like, two things that could’ve been easily dismissed.”
He sums it up as, “I was getting loaded and my brain wasn’t working right.”
Charlie observes that the media’s view of mental health today is quite different than it was when he was going through his ordeal.
“I was really a guy that needed someone to reach out to and say, ‘Hey, man, obviously there’s a ton of other s*** going on. How can we help?'” Sheen says. “And instead they showed up in droves with banners and songs, all types of fanfare and celebration of, you know, what I think was a very public display of a mental health moment.”
Sheen is like so many others who survive the mayhem of their poor choices and behavior. He has regrets. He can’t believe he behaved so poorly. What’s done is done! He hopes he’ll have a third act – one that’ll allow him to be remembered for his acting prowess and not his oh-so-public meltdown. Time will tell. I wish – like he seems to – that he’d have made better choices. I hope he’s doing much better.
Hulu has a new movie out. An oddball affair but one I found rather captivating. Nomadland. The Atlantic describes it as a “gorgeous journey through America’s promise.”
During the great recession following 2008, in 2011 a gypsum mine and plant out west closed after 88 years. The place became so desolate that even the zip code evaporated.
From The Atlantic…
Though Fern is the fictional center of the movie, her backstory is rooted in reality—she is from Empire, Nevada, which once served as a company town for the United States Gypsum Corporation, before it closed its local mine. An opening title card reveals the toll this shutdown took on the actual community’s livelihoods: The town emptied out so quickly that its zip code was discontinued.
America has a segment of our population who are nomadic. They venture from place to place often taking seasonal work, like Fern, the main character in the movie. Restaurant work, Amazon fulfillment centers, state or national park work. Whatever they can wherever they can to keep pushing further up the road.
I was already pondering Lt. Kenda’s statement when I sat down to watch Nomadland. I couldn’t help but think that I don’t know what it’s like to live as these people do. Some by choice. Others by circumstance. And still others, perhaps like Fern, because of both circumstance and choice!
This is far different than not knowing because I’m not crazy. It’s not knowing because I’ve not experienced it. Watching the story unfold, about Fern and a cast of others who live on the roads roaming from place to place, I felt as though I could understand it a bit. She’s not crazy in the sense that Lt. Kenda meant it. Or the way I mean it. She’s making a choice I wouldn’t make, but that doesn’t mean anything other than she’s living her life, and I’m living mine.
“And my doing this affects you how?”
I say this to myself. Rarely, but on occasion, I have uttered it out loud.
My son started a full-time business a couple of years ago. He’s got a successful home inspection business, RyanInspects.com. He left the field of education after about a decade. A fellow who knows us both asked me what I thought about him leaving education full-time to start his own business. Clearly, he didn’t approve. And I thought to myself, “This affects you how?” but instead I said, “I think it’s great.”
Fern’s decision to live this nomadic life doesn’t affect my life at all. I can feel sadness for her. I can project and feel the loneliness of that kind of life.
She visits her sister and brother-in-law. They don’t understand her choice. Or her circumstances. It’s not like she sold her possessions, got a van, and hit the road. She got caught in the economic crush of the 2008 recession. In time, necessity became her choice. Her family didn’t experience what she did. They didn’t face her circumstances. Perhaps they’d have handled it differently. Maybe not. We’ll never know. We only know what she did – and what she’s doing. She’s not trolling the highways murdering people. She’s doing whatever she can to keep moving on down the road.
Judgment is easy.
Compassion is hard.
All of us are prone to assumptions. Judgments. Harsh critical judgments. Few of us are bent toward deeper understanding though because it’s uncomfortable. It means conversation, even confrontation. You have to go find out if you’re able. You have to ask questions. Easier to sit in solitude and draw conclusions. Fill in all the gaps of what we don’t know with what we think.
Pay attention to the media you consume. For me, it’s weekday radio dubbed sports talk, but it’s really more guy talk. This week Tiger Woods had a bad car crash in L.A. Much is still unknown except that it was a horrific crash causing extensive injuries to both legs. Major surgery. A long rehab schedule awaits.
I listened to this station – my very favorite – and began to notice just how assumptions rule the day. For over 2 straight days each show went on lengthy “what if” conversations. The hosts wondered if substance abuse might be involved. They wondered if he’d had any sleep the night before. They wondered if he’d ever walk again. Or if he’d ever play golf again. They wondered why it took so long to extract him. They wondered why he left his hotel around 7 am to make an hour-long drive to a 7:30 am photo shoot appointment. They wondered why he didn’t have a driver.
Along with all the wondering, numerous conjectures were made. Don’t mistake conjecture for conclusions.
an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information
That’s conjecture. Lt. Kenda made a conclusion when he observed criminal behavior and confessed he didn’t know why people did such things.
a judgment or decision reached by reasoning
That’s a conclusion. You can take issue with Kenda’s reasoning on why he can’t understand – “cause I’m not crazy” – but it’s a logical conclusion.
As for Tiger’s car wreck, I’m not qualified to draw a conclusion beyond the fact that he was driving too fast and was clearly running late. Conjecture is pointless for me. For talk radio, it burns segments and gets people listening. Sadly, it fuels our collective urge to keep on forming opinions with woefully incomplete information. Mostly, it seems conjecture is steeped in assuming the worst.
As a young business leader I knew from experience coming up as a teenage worker that if the boss (a’hem “leader”) didn’t provide a narrative where I could make sense of my work, then I’d write my own story in my head. And it wasn’t good. Ever. So with my co-workers. None of us assumed we’d be getting a raise or some other good benefit. We figured we were in trouble, or we’d have to work late, or come in early. Our assumptions were always – 100% of the time – that the boss would impose on us. And you know what? We were right! 😀
By the time leadership was thrust on me I already had my mind made up that it was important for me to give people a better story. A true story. One where they could clearly and easily see how they made a positive difference. A story where they better understand how they fit into a bigger picture. Because I knew if I didn’t give them that story, they’d write one of their own — and it would be terrible. So it goes with conjecture.
Lt. Kenda doesn’t know – and I don’t know either – ’cause neither of us is crazy. Not yet.
Does it mean in order to understand you’d have to be crazy? To properly understand why a drug addict would kill somebody in order to get more drugs, do you have to be just like him? I’m thinking about these things because of one thing – a quest – to understand.
Don’t focus on Kenda’s reason for not knowing – ’cause I’m not crazy. Instead, focus on the first part of what he said, “I don’t know.” Neither do I, but I wonder if it’s possible.
I’ve got some people on my mind, but I have one particular person on my mind. So let’s see if we can help each other because I know I’m not alone.
Any time I see somebody in a bad way I think of the people in their inner circle. Their family. The people who love them.
TV shows about hoarders, homeless, murderers, drug addicts, and others in all sorts of distressing situations often show friends and family. The stories are often told through their eyes. At least partly. But these are 30 or 60 minute TV programs. I wonder what life looks like for them once the cameras, lights, and microphones are gone. And life goes back to whatever normal is for these people.
I remember watching an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer’s dad, Lionel. He admitted that other than extreme shyness, Jeffrey seemed like any other kid. Later, after everything came to light, they learned that Jeffrey admitted riding his bike around collecting roadkill and saving it in bags. He was 12 to 14. Mom and dad knew nothing about that. Friends didn’t either. He hid it. As an adult, Jeffrey made an admission that he knew he was sick or evil…or both.
Lionel wrote a book in 1994 entitled, A Father’s Story. He observes that Jeffrey is a much, much darker version of himself. Both are horribly shy, insecure, and controlling. Lionel went on to be an analytical chemist while Jeffrey suffered a string of failures. People are quite interested still in how a person can end up doing what Jeffrey did. Lionel seems to have tried to help other parents by facing the realities of what his son had done. He appeared in interviews, documentaries and wrote this book. Skeptics might claim he was hoping to profit from his son’s sins. I think that’s horribly cynical and wrong. But that’s just me. I don’t know for sure.
And there it is again. A lack of understanding. Still working to figure things out. Still trying to understand, but not with some voyeuristic curiosity, but to better understand how I might improve. Yes, to first help myself. To understand what I can learn from the past. To understand how to better cope with the present. To understand how to improve moving forward. Like Lionel, I figure if more of us were willing to share such struggles, we all might learn something. And find our own path toward understanding.
As a Christian, most of my understanding stems from my understanding, belief, and conviction about God. In the past decade I often myself going back to look at the life of King David. Nightly I’ve been reading aloud about him to my wife as we study hoping to learn what we can from a person acknowledged by God as being a man after His own heart.
Even unbelievers know about David’s sin with Bathsheba. We wonder how a man after God’s own heart could betray God so severely that he ended up murdering Bathsheba’s innocent husband so he could have her himself. I understand it though because it’s how selfishness and sin work. We’re all capable of being blinded by our own desires. From kings to the impoverished, we’re all capable of suffering from delusions of our own making. King David proves it. Jeffrey Dahmer’s depravity proves it.
The Bible also teaches me that God created us with the capacity to make up our own minds. To do what we choose. God wants us to choose Him because He wants to provide redemption from our sins. He’s the only being capable of that. We alone have the capacity – given to us by God, the Creator – to resist God. To rebel. To instead serve ourselves. Just like David did.
Fortunately, David was sent a close friend and prophet, Nathan, who confronted him with his sin. Immediately, he confessed his sin and begged God to forgive him. Like the famous parable of the prodigal son in the book of Luke, King David “came to himself.” So many don’t.
I think about Lionel. I think about the parents of murdered children. I think about the parents of the murderers. I think about all the people I know firsthand who are enduring grief, sorrow, and sadness because they don’t understand how foolish they’re behaving. Because they lack the capacity to have regrets. People who suffer due to their own selfish choices.
I think about my own regrets.
I think about what Lt. Kenda said and realize there are some things I likely won’t ever understand.
Like how a person can go from one thing to something completely different. From having so many advantages to having none. From having a good reputation to being despicable. From behaving with integrity to behaving with blatant immorality. From being reasonable to being unreasonable. From being a good person to being a terrible person.
Yes, I smirk whenever I hear people claim that “you’re not what you do.” Yes, you are. That’s exactly who you are.
In an old 1980 movie called Carny (I only watched it ’cause Robbie Robertson of The Band was in it, along with Gary Busey) there’s a crazy old carny who utters a great line, which still makes no sense, but I’ve always loved it anyway…
If I had all day, I’d be an astronaut.
Gary Busey responds to the old man’s declaration, “Well, we don’t have all day and you’re not an astronaut. 😀
Indeed, we don’t have all day and I’m not an astronaut.
That’s how I feel about people who utter such nonsense as “you’re not what you do.” Well, then, am I what I think about doing. If I think I’m an astronaut, am I? Am I whatever I say I am.? What makes me an astronaut? Oh, I know. Being an astronaut is doing the work of an astronaut. It’s putting in the work that qualifies me to be an astronaut. So, no, I’m not an astronaut.
That doesn’t answer what I am though. There are many things I’m not. Hopefully, I’m not crazy even though I often feel as though I could be. Like Lt. Kenda, I just don’t know sometimes.
Let me tell you what I do know.
People – including me and including you – can do whatever we please. And mostly, we do.
Yes, I know others impose on us. Jobs, bosses, situations, circumstances, obligations and the like. But each of fundamentally can choose any and all of these. Like water, we mostly find the path of least resistance where we can be most comfortable. Never mind if it’s a profitable direction or not. Never mind if we’re growing or improving. That’s not the purpose of the day. The purpose is usually to get through it and we don’t always do that in ways that ideally serve us. Or others.
It mostly is about us.
“Don’t prepare. Begin. Our enemy is not lack of preparation. The enemy is resistance, our chattering brain producing excuses. Start before you are ready.”
– Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. In it, he talks extensively about “the resistance.” It’s that thing that gets in the way of you doing something difficult, challenging, daring, better. Creative.
Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.
Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.
I’ve learned that some people, however, avoid resistance. They don’t resist themselves. The criminals Kenda encounters don’t resist either. If they think they’ll rob somebody or commit violence, they do it. Where most of us (thankfully) resist thinking such actions are even a possibility, these folks not only think they’re possible – they’re doable. It’s called self-control. Discipline. Temperance. Not everybody is willing to let that kind of resistance work in their best interests.
Pressfield uses resistance while writing about fears in creative pursuits – the war of art, specifically creating art (and art is very loosely defined because it could be a book, an article, a poem, a blog post, a podcast, a video, a drawing, a song, a movie, a script, a job, a task…anything productive). I don’t know Steven but I promise he’s not urging people to ignore their fears of murdering people. Or doing anything else that’s destructive to themselves or others.
I’ve also learned that you can’t want it enough for somebody else. Because we each basically make our own choices, we have the capacity to resist influences, especially those we don’t agree with. Watch any episode of Hoarders or Intervention and you’ll see what I mean. The hoarder and the addict don’t care what their friends and family think. Mostly, they don’t listen to them. Not all influences come from a place of others wanting to control us. It often comes from a place of care, concern, and wanting what’s best for us. But it doesn’t matter how much their loved ones want it for them. Nobody can want it enough to bring about positive change if the person doesn’t want it.
Consider your life. Can anybody want something for you – enough to do it for you? I’m not talking about a gift or a prize. I’m talking about a choice, a behavior, or an action that only you can make. There is no human being who can want it for you enough. God can’t want it enough for you. We all know God doesn’t want people to do some of the horrible things they do – but they do them anyway.
Everything is hard until it’s easy. And mostly, we prefer easy.
But sometimes easy grows increasingly more difficult. A person is well-educated. They have a terrific career. And a family. Including kids. Over time it becomes increasingly easier and easier to think of themselves as a victim, deserving of whatever they want. It leads to cheating on their spouse. And more cheating.
There’s alcohol and drugs. Who knows which came first. It doesn’t matter. It’s a choice. They sing the popular refrain, “I deserve to be happy.” We watch the trainwreck they seem unable to see – the one that is THEIR life – and we think, “This is happiness?” Colossal selfishness and destructive behavior too often pose as the pursuit of self…of happiness.
The marriage is broken. Give it time and so too is the career. Next stop, homelessness. Boundless immorality. Unbridled drug use. A daily devotion to avoid resistance of all types. “I’m gonna do whatever I want to do and nobody is going to tell me differently.”
Maybe it’s just me, but it sure looks hard from where I sit. Nothing about that nose dive looks easy, but it is self-centered, undisciplined, irresponsible, and unbridled.
A scripture always leaps to my mind.
Proverbs 13:15 “Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.”
This is why I’m rather obsessed with improving understanding. It’s why this pursuit of wisdom – getting it right in real-time – is important.
I know it’s hard to have a great marriage, but it’s much, much harder I suspect to have a bad one.
I know it’s hard to have a productive career, but it’s much, much harder to have an unproductive one.
Sometimes the path forward requires us to let go.
Maybe it’s a past. Maybe it’s a thought of what might have been. Maybe it’s a person. Perhaps even somebody we still love very much.
There’s an auxiliary point to this one and that is, we all – every single one of us – must know our limitations. We have to know who and what we are when it comes to our ability to serve others.
I know people who are flathead screwdrivers and to them, every problem – every situation – looks like a flathead screw. They happily insert themselves in every situation, with everybody, because they think they have some obligation to be the fixer or they think they can fix it. Quite often, as you might imagine, they make matters much, much worse. But they rarely see it. Because it’s mostly about them and if they can walk away after inserting themselves they feel better about themselves. It doesn’t matter so much if the person they impacted is left more damaged. They’re not responsible for that. They’re the hero in their story and the story is always about them.
We have to let go by understanding our limitations. None of us are exempt.
Lionel had to let go of Jeffrey. Jeffrey’s crimes aren’t Lionel’s. People can judge him. I’m sure many people have and will continue to. I hope Lionel has figured out how to let go to a large enough degree that he’s been able to move forward. He’s in his 80s as I record this so I wish him all the best.
Millions of parents have to learn to let go of grown-up children. Some are controlling and they need to learn to let their kids be adults because…well, the kids are adults.
Some parents of wayward adult kids have to let go knowing that holding on isn’t helping. The son who is a criminal isn’t served by parents who hold on. The parents just get dragged down with their misbehaving son.
Every summer there are many drownings in area lakes. Very often the story involved multiple victims because somebody jumped in to save a drowning person…only to drown themselves. I’m not saying efforts shouldn’t be put forth to save somebody. But I am saying whatever the situation, we all have to be careful. Two deaths aren’t better than one. No deaths are ideal, but sometimes that’s not possible.
Sometimes people are too far gone. Some have been traveling for years down the wrong road. Do you chase them? If so, you’ll have to follow them because they’re not moving toward you. They continue to move away from you and what’s right. You have to stop. Let go.
We also have to let go of thinking we’re the solution for every problem. Recently, I witnessed a person going down the wrong road, but I said to another concerned person, “I’m not the right person for that job (the job of helping this person find their way back).” I once was, but no more. I had enough wits about me regarding this situation and this person to know that I was no longer the right person for the job. It’s not an easy thing to let go of. I’d rather think – like you – that I have some capacity to be of service. Age, experience, and wisdom have taught me better! That’s delusional to think we’re the right person for every job. We’re not. None of us.
I have a few very unsafe people in my life. I intentionally keep those relationships as shallow as possible. For both of us. No point in enraging people by intentionally demonstrating that I’m breathing the same air they do. 😉
I have other people who are very safe for me. People I trust. People who have, over the years, proven they have my best interests in mind. People who know I feel the same toward them.
Which ones do you think are able to serve me best? Which ones do you think would do more harm to me if they inserted themselves in any effort to serve me?
Well, brace yourself. You are unsafe for some. You are safe for others. Still, others don’t much think about you. You’re a non-factor. All of us have to learn to let go of thinking we can serve people at an individual, confidential level unless we are safe for THEM.
All of this letting go is hard. The thing that makes it easier is to get our minds off ourselves. Too much focus on ourselves prevents us from doing it better.
There are times when we need to turn the page.
This is different from letting go. I only know this because letting go is easier for me than turning the page. Well, sometimes.
When it’s somebody I care for deeply, it’s insanely hard. If it’s somebody I don’t much care about, it’s easy. 😉
Let’s define turning the page. For me, it’s more like closing the book. It’s got a finality to it that I resist. I’m optimistic that things may turn around. They may come to themselves. Maybe they’ll change their mind and change their behavior. Make better choices.
Then I look at the wake of destruction and sometimes I just have to conclude that the damage done is so severe I’m powerless to influence any repair. The self-inflicted harm and the harm done to others is just so vast and extensive, my optimism wanes. All the king’s men were unable to put Humpty Dumpty together again. And I find myself inching toward the point where I suspect we all must get to if we’re going to move forward and save ourselves from drowning in the problems of those we love. Like Lt. Kenda and every other homicide detective who is able to close the murder book on a case, I have to turn the page – close the book. But for me, it’s not because it’s been solved. It’s because I don’t understand.
I don’t know ’cause I’m not crazy.