dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.

Self-Defense, In Theory

War.  Capital punishment.  Self-defense.  Protecting someone else from a deadly attack.  When is killing another person necessary?

In American culture, on a near daily basis, we hear or make comments jokingly threatening to kill someone or be killed: “Man, my wife is gonna kill me when she finds out I forgot to go by the bank today!” or “I could just strangle that kid!”  It’s so common we think nothing of it.  The idea of actually killing a person for some trivial offense is humorous, because committing murder is so serious of a crime, we obviously wouldn’t act out our off-hand remarks against some who has frustrated us.

But often, behind every joke is at least a little truth.  I know as a man, I sometimes have to calm my own emotions in events where a person offends or frustrates me.  Because in reality, I am wired to kill, as most men are.  It sounds more melodramatic than it is, and I’m not just saying it because Dexter is one of my favorite TV shows.  Since the beginning of time, men have been engaging in and defending themselves in war.  There is an “execution switch” in a man’s body that once it is turned on, it prepares the man for one sole action: Terminate the enemy.

In Capital Punishment, In Theory, I admitted that I don’t know that I have what it takes to fight in a war: I don’t know that I could kill another person, the enemy, when other than trying to kill me because I am trying to kill him, he could be another  law-abiding citizen who will do anything it takes to protect and care for his family because he loves them, including killing me.  In a way, the dictator of his country is forcing him to kill me.

Yet many men I’ve talked to told me they would be willing to kill someone in war before they could be an executioner of capital punishment.  Not me- I would be willing to pull the trigger, flip the switch, whatever necessary to kill a man who is a murderer or rapist; therefore preventing them from hurting other potential victims.  Other men are wired to terminate soldiers of enemy nations; therefore preventing them from hurting weaker nations, what I call “group self-defense”. And I’m sure there are some men that could do both.

There’s also the scenario of a man defending himself and/or his family- what if an armed man breaks in the house?  Is the man of the house willing to kill that armed shadowy stranger to protect himself and his family?

At some point, taking another human life has to be justified.  Whether as a nation or as individuals, if we never defended ourselves, we would be weak, foolish, defeated, and possibly dead ourselves.  It’s important as a man, who is wired to kill when absolutely necessary, to know which lines another person must cross in order to be worth losing his life.  For me, a man loses his right to live when he murders/attempts to murder or sexually assaults/attempts to sexually assault another person.

Because our nation has basically been fighting most of its wars on foreign land, the thought of “a good man killing a bad man” is pretty much a concept reserved for our military; on a different continent.  But I can’t just look outwardly; I have to look within our borders as well, at the men of the same race and religion as we are who prove they can’t live their lives without hurting their neighbors.  When is killing necessary?  Unfortunately, “never” is not a valid answer in the world we currently live in.

“Kill or be killed” is a tough law to live by; but mankind has been doing it for a long time now, premeditated or not.

The Blog Sniper (or, The Classic Case of the Compliment Intertwined with Condescending Criticism)

Um… thanks?

I’m convinced there are certain people in the world who truly can not (or will not) simply compliment another person- they feel they are doing the person a favor by also incorporating some sort of condescending criticism which picks at a minor detail to negate the positive vibes of the compliment itself.  Sort of like the way certain people can not (or will not) truly apologize, by saying something lame like this: “Well if I did something to hurt your feelings I’m sorry…”  That kind of apology translates as “I’m sorry you’re such a baby and sorry that you’re trying to make me look like the bad guy.”

Just last week when I published What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101, one of the points I touched on was “Knowing How to Actually Compliment Someone”.  Then ironically yesterday a random stranger acted out exactly what I had just mocked a few days before.  Click here (healthnutshell: Ketchup Vs. Mustard) to read a post I wrote which contrasts the types of food that ketchup and mustard are generally paired with.

In case you didn’t click on the link and haven’t read the comment I’m referring to, here it is again: Bahaha… you make a good point, but I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily. XD This is good stuff to know, but I also feel that it is a little fanatical. Thanks for the information, though!”

Here’s a breakdown of that comment:

“Bahaha”- A condescending laugh which translates as “that’s ridiculous”.

“You make a good point.”- An honest compliment.

“But I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily.” – A correction of my quirky lifestyle.  Totally missing the point, since I didn’t write the post in a tone of absolutes: “Because ketchup, in most cases, is paired with unhealthy foods that are either processed or fried.” Throughout the post I downgrade ketchup, yes, but I never say I refuse to eat it or that I don’t ever eat it.  Nor did I say that I am trying to eat healthy by simply avoiding ketchup.  Instead, I said: “So my general rule of thumb is, I stay away from foods that are enhanced by ketchup.”

“XD”- A slang symbol meaning “big smile”, an attempt to lighten the mood back.

“This is good stuff to know…” Another compliment.

“But I also feel it is a little fanatical.” – A call to put me on the defense.  Really?  I’m a fanatic just because I made an observation that typically ketchup is a condiment for less healthy foods, namely processed and fried?

“Thanks for the information…”– A expression of gratefulness.

“…though.”- In other words, “Thanks for the info, despite how laughable most of it was.”

Looking through each line of the comment, it is interesting the way this reader used the pattern “negative, positive, negative, positive…”  In fact, this may be the most perfect example I’ve ever seen of the classic case of the compliment intertwined with criticism.  That takes talent.

I literally laughed out loud when I read the comment.  Because it’s so tacky.  I think, “Make up your mind, either insult me, or compliment me, but don’t do both at the same time.  Commit.”  I totally respect someone’s opinion if they truly disagree with mine and don’t have a subtle motive to undermine my efforts.  But they have to be cool about it.  Etiquette still exists.

Otherwise, like in this case, it just becomes a joke to me.

But it’s evident from that comment that the person probably makes a daily habit of correcting everyone else, likely with a sarcastic tone, in an subconscious effort to feel in control.  Similar to the case of Some People Like Being Offended and/or Taking Advantage…

Be excellent to each other.

This event also reminds me of an excerpt of Christian Lander’s book, Stuff White People Like.  He is explaining that some white people let a little bit of positive feedback go to their heads too easily and that it eventually can get out of hand.  Therefore, he gives this advice to prevent that from happening:

“Do not dole out your praise like pinata candy… it is best to tease them with little bits of praise, balanced with a few barbs: ‘I have to hand it to you for putting KRS-One on that party mix.  I mean, you went with a pretty well-known song, but still, good job'”.

It’s just funny that in the Internet world it’s somehow more acceptable to go around criticizing people for the sake of trying to sound smarter than someone else who was creative enough to invent.  But I guess with the wave of online writers come just as many online critics.  And my guess is that the critics aren’t themselves inventing any original content- just looking to start a sophisticated food fight about ketchup and mustard.

I say let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  And when possible, find ways to truly compliment people, not find perceived fault in their creativity.  There’s not enough of sincere complimenting going on in the world.  Especially when “compliments intertwined with condescending criticism” are so popular.

Sammy sings praises, not pious put-downs.

Sometimes, Being Dressed as a Wolf in Public at the Right Moment Can Have Its Benefits

I cried wolf.  And it didn’t end badly.

In high school I played a wolf in the senior class play (1999), Beauty and the Beast. One afternoon during school hours, dressed in full shag-carpet costume, I had just left from a photo shoot for the local newspaper, as class had just gotten out.  There happened to be two girls getting into a fist fight, as a crowd was gathering accordingly. I was faced with a decision:

A) Enjoy the fight.

B) Break up the fight by simply making a scene.

I rushed up near the girls and began growling and howling, similiar to the transformation process on the TV version of The Incredible Hulk. The crowd started laughing at me instead of paying attention to the girls pushing each other around. The two fighting girls both looked at me with confused faces. It’s difficult to continue a fist fight when there’s randomly a 5’ 9” wolf waving around his claws at you, who is making so much racket that the fight itself is no long interesting.  The fight was over.  Both the crowd and the fighting girls walked back to class like nothing ever happened.

Reading (and Leading) People

 There’s a mighty power called “being able to read people” that can be used for good, to lead others… or for bad, to manipulate them.

A sign of a person’s self-confidence level, as well as their amount of natural leadership skills can both be measured, to a great degree, by how often (or seldom) they are in defense mode.  While there are most definitely times to stand up for ourselves, confident in our stance on whatever issue is at stake, if a person is constantly feeling they have to prove their worth by acting and speaking in a default of defense, then there is a problem.

In theory, a person should only have to be in “defense mode” when they truly need to stand up for themselves or for their just cause.

Therefore, I can’t help but have a respect for people who fight for what they believe in, who turn an apathetic cheek to things they don’t feel passionate about by staying out of it (meaning they don’t think they have to be right about everything), and who are savvy enough when it comes to “reading people” that they don’t have to second-guess what a person is thinking. 

Definitely ironic.  Reading people so well that there is no need to try to predict or figure out what someone is thinking.  Because good “people readers” already know what other people are thinking, yet they NEVER admit it or tell the person they are reading.  No one wants to feel that they are being manipulated because someone has figured them out- though their fear is often indeed true.

So I’d rather be the one in the driver’s seat instead of the sidecar when it comes to the issue.  I’d rather attempt to become a leader (when there’s not already an established one) than become a follower of a corrupt or weak leader; one I don’t respect. 

That’s the whole brilliance in reading other people- the way to manage other people is to steer them into the desired direction without having them realizing what’s happening.  A secret self-taught art that entertainers, politicians, CEO’s, teachers, managers, and pretty much anyone in any type of leadership position learn to master: Do unto others or they will do unto you.

A leader who is a good “people reader” knows the limits of others- what can be asked of them and what they are willing to do to accomplish the goal.  Leaders also know what motivates their team members- how to let them thrive in their skillsets, talents, and creativity. 

To make sure I speak in confidence, not in doubt, I am very specific in the phrases I chose not to say (and type).  In my own vocabulary, these are blacklisted:

“My point isn’t that…”

 “Wait, I know what you’re thinking…”

 “Let me explain, you see…”

 “Here’s what I meant…”

 “See, what I believe is…”

All of those phrases seem to preface the rest of sentence in a way that negates its own validity.  Often when I write, I am making a point based on my own opinion.  As I do this, I have to carefully address the exceptions and any naysayers’ concerns by building on them (You Missed a Spot).  In other words, by “reading people” to where they don’t even get a chance to heckle me with a “yeah, but what about?…”

For example, when I was writing the “sleeper hit” post Must Not Mustache (currently my 5th most popular, surprisingly), I was explaining that most men under the age of 40 can’t be taken seriously if they have a mustache.  Yet, there are exceptions and I needed to be the one to address them.  So I did.  And instead of the exceptions taking away from what I had to say, they complimented it instead.

I keep this original proverb in mind daily:

Speak with authority and direction.  And if you may be wrong about the issue or haven’t done your research, just shut up.  People often mistake silence for wisdom. 

My inspiration to write this post?  This past Sunday night’s episode of The Celebrity Apprentice.  I like learning from other people’s follies and successes- even if it comes from a reality TV show.