2016: My Year-End Review – Filters and Anchor Points

(Blogger’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts looking back at 2016, and ahead to the new year. Thank you so very much to everyone who read the posts at Pilgrim Strong this year. Your encouraging comments and friendship are so much a part of what’s real in my life. We really are “just walking each other home.” May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May He lift up his glorious countenance upon you. And give you peace. I hope you’ll join me for a new and different kind of writing adventure next year at noteaday.com. )

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When the final numbers come in, these are the likely top 10 movies of 2016:

1) Finding Dory
2) Captain America: Civil War
3) The Secret Life of Pets
4) The Jungle Book
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6) Deadpool
7) Zootopia
8) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
9) Suicide Squad
10) Doctor Strange

Notice any trends? It’s all fantasy. More and more every day, we’re living a very real life in a make-believe world driven by fantasy and conflict. We’re losing touch with reality at unsurpassed momentum. And so many of those whose public professions you hear about making things great again, are really just driven by self-serving motives best advanced when you’re kept in a fog. I’m imploring you not to be part of the shell game.

It’s never been more important that we take responsibility for ourselves, especially as it relates to how we formulate important, fundamental opinions. To a great extent, civility’s survivability depends on how successful we are in knowing what we believe, and why.  I’m challenging you to be as shrewd as Kido the cat as you face the bait-and-switch shell game ahead in 2017.

You watched that video didn’t you? Admit it. I knew you couldn’t resist.

In 2017, please don’t let your reality be based on people or media conglomerates or commercial businesses whose self interest is to manipulate every part of your brain. Just say no.

You can help yourself with two things: filters and anchor points. These are my working definitions:

Filter – methods, personal experiences and hands-on techniques you can use to sift fantasy from reality; lies from truth.

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Anchor Point – a solid, unwavering, fixed point of reference reminding you of your identity, purpose, and direction. A practice creating a north star-like quality.

I think a lot about those two things this time every year. Isn’t it wonderful how every 365 days, we sort of get to imagine new beginnings, second chances, and do overs?

On pilgrimage in Spain this year I felt the strongest calling to make 2017 a time when I’ll take my eyes off myself and be ever-aware of the motives behind my actions. In 2017, I’ll launch a new blog designed to do just that. (You can sign up to follow that blog by email here). I’ll travel a lot – it’s high on my priority list for understanding a world outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. There will be an extended adventure/walk somewhere, most likely on the first one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, and I’ll walk upwards of a thousand miles getting ready, and actually doing it. I’ll start fishing again. I love fishing, and have missed it for years. I’m going back to stand in cold streams and feel the thrill of a taut, jerking line. And I want to spend a lot of time thinking about how my giftings can help others. Those are some of my plans for the new year.

In all the things I’ll do, I’ve resolved to do them with more vigor, deeper passion, greater gusto. I want to take deep breaths of fresh air, stand in awed amazement at breathtaking vistas, listen intently  to birds singing at the dawning of a new day. And I never want to stop having laughable dreams. They’re among my greatest personal anchor points.

As we close out this frenetic year and look to a clean start, I wanted to share with you some possible ideas for thinking about your own filters and anchor points.

FILTERS

  • When it comes to social media, learn to recognize bait, and just don’t take it. It’s easy enough to spot certain trigger words that immediately create ascreen-shot-2016-12-24-at-5-53-20-am “we vs. them” forum. Don’t get caught up in the false idea that your participation in these discussions advances some convicting cause or that you’re making a difference. You’re not, and no one’s really listening anyway because everyone’s talking and thinking about what they’re going to say next. Don’t take the bait.
  • As a general rule for social media, limit your time there, and don’t use it as a babysitter for your boredom. I have a lot of work to do here.
  • Limit your time watching television. I haven’t watched network news in almost 80 days and life is better. The world isn’t nearly as bad as they’re telling you.
  • Resist the comfort zone you perceive in being around people just like you. Yesterday, I received the nicest note from a man who’d read one of my blog posts in this series and he asked for some clarification on a religious matter I’d raised. We had a wonderful genuine exchange about some things on which we disagree, and yet further advanced the respect we have for one another. Isn’t that so refreshing?
  • Do your best to look at situations through the eyes of others, and realize that very few things are truly as they seem. There’s usually much more to the story.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. And calm down, for crying out loud.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Be present. Again, I speak to myself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve laughed at myself more in the last couple of years than in all the rest of my life combined.

ANCHOR POINTS

  • Be someone’s cheerleader. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter. This is SO important. One of the things I believe most about life is that we’re at our very best when we’re cheering for others. I have a few specific people already picked out for 2017.
  • Do some very difficult things all ALONE. I’d never discount the immeasurable value of sharing life experiences with a loving, trusted partner, but some of my most profound anchor points also come from times when it was just me, mentally and physically depleted, and when I had no idea what came next.

“You can’t accomplish ANYTHING without the possibility of failure.” ~ Gary “Laz” Cantrell, founder of the Barkley Marathons, the race that eats its young

  • Meditate regularly on why you believe what you believe. The ability to answer this simple question is important for you and everyone you touch.
  • Keep an understanding inside your head that the current world economy is driven by fear and conflict. Don’t be afraid. Is it any accident this phrase is mentioned 365 times in the bible?
  • Consider a daily journal and the lasting power your written words can have on your outlook.
  • Develop some new hobbies that actually require a lot of time. I mentioned fishing as one I’ll bring back next year. And I love watching Bob Ross videos and trying my hand at painting, even though the outcome is always laughable.
  • Read. Pretty simple.
  • Do some good deeds that remain a complete secret. Don’t tell anyone.
  • View life through the lens of time. So much of my thinking now is shaped by the realization of how short my time is on earth.
  • Invite people into your home. I think this is so important, and it’s such a shame that the “dinner party” is less a part of society than it once was. We’re designed for communal fellowship. Three years ago we began hosting a New Year’s Day Feast for as many friends as we can get to come. I love this day, and it gets my year off to a great start surrounded by people I care about. In fact, I’m planning the menu this morning for our fourth annual event.

In fact, it’s time to go do that now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 3 of 4)

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(Blogger’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead to challenges in the new year. Tomorrow in the final post, I’ll share some thoughts about ideas and approaches we can adopt (filters and anchor points, if you will) in what I view as a post-truth world).

What a year. My, my, my, 2016. What got you so stirred up?

During the last three days I’ve written about personal observations and takeaways from 2016, and the foreboding potential for the “perfect storm” I think it creates next year. Never before have we been better poised for a complete unraveling of a civilized society. No, sadly I don’t think that’s a dramatic overstatement.

We’ve been told the following:

“Unfortunately, there are no longer any such thing as facts.” ~ political surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of (the president elect’s) supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …  Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” ~ Hillary Clinton

“Look at that face.” (a negative reference to opponent Carly Fiorina) ~ the president-elect of the United States.

Seriously, how did we go so low, so fast?

One of the most important revelations occurring to me in 2016 is this: At a certain point in life we’re responsible not only for what we say, but what people hear. This requires looking outside and beyond ourselves – more practically – taking our eyes off ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote about what I see as six of the most serious circumstances that weave together and create the most ominous set of domestic challenges in my lifetime. I believe they are the new invisible enemy of American society. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m adding to that list of unfortunate 2016 circumstances that may very well establish nonsensical, bizarre behavior and a complete absence of civility as the country’s New Normal. In 2016 we also witnessed the following:

  • We’re living in a “news” environment that wants to “bait” you, much more than it seeks to inform you. Even though the results are long counted and official, have you noticed how the mainstream media just can’t let the election go? The latest completely irrelevant debate is whether Obama would have defeated the new president-elect in a contest between the two. Have you noticed when it’s not the election, it’s black vs. white or christian vs. muslim? When you take the bait, it drives the ongoing conflict, and the conflict is necessary for the media’s survival. Stop taking the bait.
  • Increasingly, we are living with, (and buying into) our own perceived image of ourselves as opposed to who we truly are. It’s part of the evolution of social media, has been going on for years, and it’s the worst possible thing for personal development. A solid foundation of knowing who you are, that in which you believe (and why), and where your truth is anchored, is the key to everything else in life. Don’t lose your ability to look into an introspective mirror. Brand yourself if you must, but cast yourself in refreshing reality.
  • Our convictions have never been more shallow. It’s so easy to brand ourselves as a staunch advocate for this cause or that purpose. Words are cheap. Want to really convince people of your convictions? Go out and get your hands dirty.
  • We love making public declarations of our charitable endeavors. We’re literally shouting our good deeds from the mountaintop. Self-awareness of your motives has never been more important. May I recommend this book as you consider your own motives in the new year?

    A book recommended by my friend Jay Gunter that has really shaped some of my thinking.

    Or just meditate on this: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Those words are so important to a fulfilling life.
  • The irony of creating a false image of ourselves, and the public pronouncement of our good deeds in a world that’s more accessible and smaller than it’s ever been is that we are lonely. In the absence of deep, meaningful, real relationships, we are crying out for friendship and attention.
  • Also ironic is that in an increasingly small world, our knowledge about the world is shallow. We’ve furthermore begun replacing an intrinsic desire to know more about the world, with our preferred ideas about what we want the world to be. Of all the things in the last election cycle that troubled me outside the public mocking of a disabled reporter was the widely circulated “fake news” article suggesting Pope Francis endorsed the future president-elect a month before the election. Anyone with any degree of world knowledge whatsoever knows a pope would never endorse a political candidate. It would never happen. No matter how much you wish things like this to be true, they are not, and never will be true. If you’re going to “share” news, share responsibly and, quite frankly, know what the hell you’re talking about.  Want an interesting place to begin your world knowledge? I came across this video in 2016:
  • This may stir some people up, no doubt. I don’t understand the obsession we have with national pride and the insistent belief that the US is the best at everything. No disrespect to military sacrifice intended – that’s an entirely different topic, but news flash. We’re not the best at everything. Want to see a cohesive family unit? Go to Latin America. Quality engineering? Try Germany. Extraordinary high standards of living? Norway. We are not the greatest at everything under the sun, and we could learn some things if we weren’t so obsessed with fear, walls, a minuscule fraction of crazy people, and the insistence that we’re the greatest. Personally, I don’t think God looks out and sees borders.
  • By now, we’ve taken enough bait, and allowed the media to lead us down enough roads of conflict that we’ve surpassed the highest levels of intolerance. Our default reaction is now an intolerant one. This intolerance has stifled productive conversation and is a root cause for bringing any greatness we have to a complete standstill. We’ve become a “what about this” or “what about that” society. At the slightest mention of a candidate mocking someone, the next person will say, “well, what about the deplorable comment?” Well, what about it? Both actions were wrong, and neither justifies the other. Stop getting so caught up in a label or a “side” that you can’t see the bigger picture. Talk for crying out loud. If we can’t talk to one another and learn from one another, I hope you like where we are right now, because we’re not going anywhere. This place and these circumstances are your home forever. Welcome to chaos.
  • As part of the obsession with labels and “we vs. them,” we’ve bought into the false idea of things like “binary choices.” If you live in the US, you enjoy freedoms because some magnificent advocates for change preceded you. Advocates for change don’t always get to see the change they valiantly pursue. Look outside the system. The possibilities are endless.
  • A final thought: As long as everything is about who gets the credit, there’s nowhere to go but down.

As I wrote yesterday, this is all way more negative than I prefer. So many of these circumstances you cannot control, but you CAN take responsibility for yourself, and that responsibility has never been more important.

In tomorrow’s final post, I’ll offer some ideas about filters and anchor points that work for me, and that you may also consider for 2017.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 2 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a series of year-end blog posts focusing on milestones and challenges in both the old year, and the new.)

“Never get into a fight with a pig in the mud. You get dirty, and the pig loves it.” ~ unknown

It’s not easy to say something that’s practically contrary your very nature, so at the beginning I should first say this:

I have peace. Never have I felt less conflicted about priorities, truth, and the pursuit for growth. And I wish the same peace for you.

Because it happened to me for three long years, and because I’ve lived up close and personal with chronic depression, no one hates a gloom-and-doom outlook more than me. At the slightest hint of gloom and doom, I run. So, there is no great pleasure in the paragraph that follows:

The New Year forebodes the makings of a perfect storm. It reveals a potential like never before to rob us of the things we’ve always claimed as important – things like civility, truth, kindness, charity and an overall goodwill toward humanity.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-5-46-09-amIt has the potential for a complete societal reset, destroying decency and bringing new vigor to a shallow, watered-down life of meaningless, labeled identities. And if the New Year takes us there, further than we’ve already gone down that path in 2016, it’s a long road back home. The Prodigal Son had to walk that road when he found himself wallowing with pigs.

Cults have thrived on less well-developed story lines than the one already coming together for 2017. And lest I remind you of a place called Jonestown in 1978. It didn’t turn out well for those who got caught up in the story. There was a devastating metaphor that evolved from that tragedy. It’s now known as “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Whether you realize it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, even if you immediately deny it as true, as many will – it is true. We’re ripe for a breakdown. I hate writing those words from which I’d normally run.

All this comes not from some lingering frustration over an election, not from loyalty to any polarizing labels that dictate false ideas like “binary choices,” not from any agenda at all, but rather from my own experience in public service and a lifetime of working in, and studying mass media communication. And if you know me, I’ve been writing with melancholy about a deteriorating media for years.

Everything I’ve seen and experienced in the world of public service and mass media points to six foundational components that warn of a seismic societal shift. There are many others and I’ll write about those tomorrow, but the six that follow are critical:

  1. New leadership in the United States is gifted at mass media manipulation like no leadership we’ve seen. Void of substance, it’s based on a keen understanding of bait and switch techniques and preys on demographic vulnerabilities and emotions that couldn’t be further removed from our best interests. It’s the ultimate exhibition in distractive technique. The product, just as intended, is polarizing conflict and division.
  2. By and large, mainstream media lost its objectivity 20 years ago when the economics of survival dictated the need for demographic-directed programming. Pure, pristine news coverage that allows consumers to evaluate world affairs for themselves is long a thing of the past. What mass media now requires is the perpetuation of an ongoing, drama-infused, conflict-driven story. And it needs you to keep watching.
  3. The two circumstances above create a parasitical relationship as never seen before.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-2-28-59-amWhile the leadership and the media want you to believe there’s a dramatic, enemy-like tension between them, nothing could be further from the truth. Each feeds off, and perpetuates the other. They are bed partners. Don’t play into the false narrative of their check and balance system. This dysfunctional relationship is the most dangerous thing, foreign or domestic, the US has ever faced. Truth is, it’s the new enemy.
  4. Self-centered, self-interest is now modeled for us at the highest levels. Do you know what creates big changes over time? Exposure. The more we’re exposed to certain behaviors, the more acceptable and adoptive they become. Modeled behavior shapes both the good and the bad, and can do so in big numbers.
  5. If you love words as I do, you might notice two rapidly growing trends: (1) the shifting perceived definition of words that have generally been foundational to an American society (e.g. evangelical, Christian, marriage, truth, man, woman, gender, sex, etc.); and (2) a new kind of empty language aimed at diffusing certain historically narrowly defined truths  (e.g. May the Universe send you light, love, positivity and special vibes today.) These new definitions and the new evolving language speak nothing of substance outside a desire to be gods and goddesses of self. It’s thus consistent with the modeling cited above.
  6. We’re having great difficulty distinguishing patriotism from religious fervor.

I’ve written a lot lately about our need for information filters and anchor points. They may be the two most important foundations for a meaningful and happy life in 2017. Never has the simple idea of “responsibility for self” been more important. A new world demands that we rededicate to some basic, yet important decisions to help us guard our hearts and our heads.

In the next two days, I’ll expand on the challenges I see in 2017, and some practical ways I believe we can anchor ourselves in the blowing winds of a post-truth world.

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