“Well-Done!”

La Tour Eiffel:
independent.co.uk

I notice and appreciate any kind of advertising that credits consumers with being able to react and respond to cleverness and wit. Especially when use of language (not just catchy music or jingles) involves more creativity than just repetitive slogans. There’s a popular clothing company, brick and mortar and (of course) online that has adopted a phrase that the French would call a “double entendre” —  double-meaning in English. The phrase is in fact in French, “Bien Fait”, and can translate as ‘well-made’ or ‘well-done’ (as in an accomplishment, not a piece of meat). Bien Fait is clever because it implies that the clothing and accessories made by the company are of quality. But it also slyly compliments the purchaser on her taste in selecting whatever item(s) from the company.

Golden Gate Bridge: jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk

Which got me thinking recently, how important, yet how rare positive recognition can be in our society. I’m speaking specifically of Life in California, which I’ll acknowledge may not be similar to Life anywhere else on planet Earth – in terms of our social interactions. In fairness to my home state, however, this phenomenon may actually be more of a Big City affliction. I think of it as an affliction because, very often, there’s a deliberate effort in our personal interactions as well as professions to refrain from too much positive affirmation. Compliments. Praise. Recognition. Aside from promotions and pay bumps, how often do people in positions of power extend meaningful ‘kudos’:  eye contact, a smile, a handshake or pat on the shoulder; a Thank You ?

independent.co.uk

I have colleagues who, for one reason or another, have been unable to find employment in the field of organizational consulting or human resources in California. But other states in the U.S. are more than happy to hire them. These other states have lured my friends with higher salaries and better benefits. But more importantly, my erstwhile colleagues report feeling enthusiastically welcomed and treated like rare professional “gems” by companies outside of California.

Closer to home, I’ve observed that in both personal and professional settings, many people are almost hyper- judicious in their praise and gratitude for hard work. Why is this? We’ll “gush” over a new baby or a new puppy, but perhaps not so enthusiastically recognize a fellow human who creates or receives a standout moment in his or her life. Are we jealous? Are we in the belief that offering recognition or praise somehow compromises our own ‘standing’, in relationship to the person who’s experienced a triumph? Do we let our egos get in the way, when someone deserves and would really flourish with a “Well-done!”  from us?

canstockphoto.co.uk

I’m often in a hurry and distracted by my various projects. I’ll admit that I have to make a conscious effort to slow down, make eye-contact, and offer authentic gratitude and praise to those who make my life easier; and to those who’ve accomplished meaningful growth or tasks, large or small, in or outside of my immediate purview. I can see what a difference a simple “nod” can make, in the way even strangers’ faces light up; their shoulders relax, and they smile. They feel, for a second, connected and included through their value. Bien Fait.

“Talkin’Bout My Generation…”

(Channeling The Who to begin this Post…) Here’s my question for today:  Other than for sociologic discussions, why do we need to isolate, characterize and compare Generations of human beings? It seems to me that we’re already in our ‘corners’ on all kinds of topics, ready to advance with fists up, to argue, fight and defend. Or, we’re ready to cower meekly when others shove us into one-size-fits-all boxes.Why is it that birth generations have become fodder for even more discord? I mean, do we need more?

The Greatest Generation (aka, The Silent Generation). Baby Boom-ers. Generation X, Y and Z (how insulting that Mainstream Minds have so far been unable to create more flattering ‘tags’ for those born after 1965). What purpose do these labels serve? How can they possibly be representative of all people born into certain timespans?

Yesterday I read an editorial by a prolific journalist, commentator and author who writes for the New York Times. His piece was titled, “Will Gen Z Save the World?” Fact: you’ll get no argument from me that our Earth and the people on it need saving. But the implication of the editorial was that everyone else prior to Gen Z has already screwed-up or given up. So now the survival of our planet and its inhabitants rests on the shoulders of those born after 1995. No Pressure, right?

Not to say that 24 or 25 year olds aren’t up to the task; but, what does this say about everyone not in this group? Are they, like the Roman emperor Nero, just blindly playing their fiddles while Rome burns? I don’t know about you, but I’m more aligned with the character Howard Beale, in the movie “Network”. His famous rallying cry  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still hailed as a pivotal moment (righteous tirade) in U.S. film (and social) culture evolution. (Especially appropriate, here in the States, right now.)

According to a nationwide Pew survey conducted in 2018 (as noted in the editorial I’m referring to), thousands of American citizens were asked what, if anything, brought meaning to their lives. An overwhelming number of respondents (of all ages, btw) reported feeling besieged by depression, drug and alcohol dependency; a bit fuzzy about meaning and purpose; and struggling with a nationwide moral-compass spinning cartoonishly, out of control.Once again, you’ll hear no disagreement from me about the confusion and chaos, despair and divisiveness coating our hearts and minds like toxic sludge. But – how far back do we go, to arrive at the beginning of how this current situation evolved?

Looking at the way we put people into buckets, we tend to start with The Silent Generation:  stoic, penny-pinching Depression-era survivors who, incidentally, also heroically joined with allies to defeat Hitler. They came home from World War II and celebrated by creating a tsunami of babies:  These Baby Boom-ers were raised in households focused on Exsitential Lessons. Finding some kind of work (e.g., mowing lawns) just to have pocket money was a motivator starting at around age 10. The drive continued, to college or trade schools; making money and busting all kinds of materialistic moves in the world. Their actions may seem a little selfish in hindsight, but such were the expectations.The common belief now seems to be that this group has done little beyond consuming too much and trashing the earth. To add insult to injury, Boom-ers are also showing remarkable longevity.

Pros and cons are debated and on-view ( books, articles and on the Internet) about Boom-ers and subsequent generations, with finger-pointing and labeling in all directions. But the truth is, each generation is unique in the challenges it faces, growing up and then entering the world. No single group of people can or should take all of the blame for our society’s dysfunctions;  nor should “X, Y, or Z” be assumed to be the only groups in possession of the morality, sensibility, intelligence and motivation needed to get-moving on fixes (as the writer of the editorial directly claims the Z-ers are).

Most people feel anxious when confronted with significant, or unwelcome Change. This is especially true now, with so many high-stakes topics to deal with globally, and all at once. But for each generation of human beings so far, there’ve always been challenges to navigate. It seems to me, that humanity has much more to concern itself with in the Now than calling-out past or current generations.

Our world is more complicated and dangerous than it ever has been. This we know. What are the Forces at work, causing us to focus so intently on our differences, rather than on our commonalities? Not one of us can go back and re-write the time or circumstances of our birth. We just have to “Deal”: whatever it takes. Spoken like a True Boom-er, I know; but it’s a lesson I learned from The Silent Generation, and feel it’s pretty much worth passing-on.

Blaming & Shaming

My father was a French professor and total Francophile. It wasn’t that he thought so highly of the French as individuals; his personality type just gravitated toward French culture’s well-known celebration of its own opinions and beliefs about the human condition. From my perspective (parental influence and my own travel experiences), the French have the most wonderful way of “nailing” a situation with an economy of words; or, silence and a raised eyebrow;  or, silence and the classic Gaelic Shrug (while the lower lip turns slightly out, and down). Even miniscule changes in a French person’s body language can convey that the topic (whatever it is) is probably unworthy of serious consideration.

The Eyebrow speaks volumes.

 “J’Accuse!” (first proclaimed and penned by French author Émile Zolà, author and journalist in 1898), translates as ‘I Accuse You’, or, more colloquially, This Whole Situation is Your Fault. Over many years, “J’Accuse!” has become an enduring trope in movies, television program dramas and sitcoms, and even animated ‘adult’ cartoons. In whatever context, the exclamation’s usually shouted with an attempt at a French accent, and accompanied by a dramatically-pointed finger in the face of the wrongdoer. “J’Accuse!” came into my mind today, after a couple of major ‘This is Your Fault!’’ moments in the media (print and recorded conversations) that feel, as I mentally compiled other recent moments, like indications of a developing Tsunami of Blaming and Shaming in Western culture.

In the United States, we’re in the throes of our 2020 presidential election process. During a recent debate of hopeful candidates, verbal fireworks erupted when one accused the other of making “hurtful” (racial bias-related) comments. The verbal blast (shaming) went on for some minutes, while the accused hung his head and looked contrite. Regardless of whose side might be considered more correct or sympathetic, the spectacle was deliberate in its assignment of blame, and its effort to demolish an opponent’s credibility and worth as a potential Leader of the Free World. This “J’Accuse!” moment clearly came from a place of pain, for which there was no immediate balm. Blame, with a large dollop of Shame on the side; called-out in public, and reverberating around the world.

Just a few hours later, scanning the latest print headlines, I came across an editorial claiming to be written “on behalf of Millennials”, by a self-identified 30-something person. The title of her piece was,  “The Baby Boomers Stole My Future!” The editorial began with a presentation of  trends and statistics related to significant life choices being made by Millennials. But it continued in its speculation that those choices were, and are, the direct result of Millennials feeling impacted (impaired, thwarted, highjacked) by the decisions of those born between 1945 and 1964 (so-called Boomers). It was a scathing rebuke (“J’Accuse!”) of the collective (as she viewed it) greed, selfishness, disregard, and ignorance of the Children of The Greatest Generation. According to the editorial, but for the Boomer generation, the vast majority of “dysfunctional” Millennials wouldn’t be so nihilistic about their futures, so anti-social (about jobs, marriages and babies) in their commitments, or living like gypsies (or in their parents’ basements). Regardless of whether or not these accusations are accurate (read the autobiographical book “Sea Stories”, by Ret. Admiral William McRaven, for a polar opposite view of Millennials), the editorial stands – recorded for posterity — in its potency of Blame and Shame.

Most of us have felt, at some point in our lives (maybe even repeatedly), hindered by people and circumstances beyond our control. We may have been born into unloving families or raised in the midst of violence, addiction, or severe mental incapacity. One of the most poignant and angst-ridden Blues songs (all about pain)  I’ve ever heard is Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”. As the songwriter says, “I’ve been down since I began to crawl; If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Sometimes simple survival in the Arena of Life can feel like a miracle in itself. Lies, betrayals, abuse & neglect, bullying, persecution, or just idiotic decisions on the part of someone else may have stunted our growth, diminished our sense of self-worth, stymied our ambitions, or kept us locked in a prison of despair.

Is there any value in assigning Blame for what others may have done to us? Is there something worthwhile to be gained through Blaming and Shaming people who’ve harmed us? Is there an expiry date for either, or both? After a while, even those with the most legitimate-seeming complaints may feel like scolds, whiners, weaklings – being told to Just Get Over It – compounding the hurt. An injured person who blames and shames usually wants acknowledgement (no guarantees there!), and often seeks some kind of justice or reparation (maybe, maybe not). Some injuries can be tended-to, even “fixed” in some way; but most can never be undone except through the decision to Forgive.

I lived my own life, for many years, in the clutches of the need to Blame:  primarily, family members whose impactful behaviors ran the gamut from thoughtless and hurtful, to truly vile. I eventually realized that Blame (and its partner Shame) is like a dead-end street: you’re not going anywhere unless you turn around and re-trace your steps, back to yourself, and choose a different path.

The “Sell-By” Date

So, I thought I’d just let this go, but my mind kept circling back to it. With me, that means, Time to add my two cents’ worth of commentary.  I’m referring to a recent Instagram ‘flap’ (creating a collective gasp and flurry of chat in our cyber world) over 53-year old model Cindy Crawford’s decision to Post “racy” (her word) photographs online. Nicely done, Cindy. I mean that. The pictures are tasteful, yet undeniably sexy. Crawford’s still a beautiful woman, regardless of how much air-brushing or photo-shopping was done:  The Bones are there.

I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve taken what used to be called “Boudoir Photos”, feeling the urge to capture for all time a fantasy-like beauty and sexuality. Most haven’t posted them online, however. Crawford’s reasoning for doing so – she was vocal and righteously snippy about it – is that she wanted to speak to the fact that women should not feel they have “Sell-By” dates, when it comes to their sexuality. I couldn’t agree more. Especially if they look like Cindy Crawford. In her statement, Crawford implied that the photographs were also sort of a ‘gift’ for her husband. Not going to argue with that either; but there’s a bit of a weird mashup here:  a political statement and a little eye candy for her spouse? On Instagram? You claim to be speaking for me here, Cindy, so I just want to make sure I’m understanding you.

In my view, a woman’s beauty and her sexuality are inextricably intertwined. In using the word ‘sexuality’ I’m not referring to sex, or the ability to conjure sexual feelings in anyone else. Feeling beautiful is something every woman on the planet is entitled to, and she should get to define what that means to her, and for her. But there’s a particular aspect of beauty that all women share, and that is our sexuality. Our sexuality is based, first and foremost, on the simple fact that we were born female. If we choose to embrace this (feel comfortable in our birth gender), our sexuality as females blossoms as we age. Our sexuality originates as a sense of self, a knowledge of self, a celebration of self and the ancient power inherent in being a woman. A woman’s sexuality does not , nor should it, require a male’s attention or validation in order to flourish.

Despite the “Swinging 60’s”, the brief illusion that women could truly celebrate being female in ways that suited their own bodies, minds and spirits, all women have faced a narrowing of the definitions of ‘beauty’ and ‘sexuality’ over time. Yes, faces on glossy magazine covers have become more diverse (a good thing), but many of the images we see – within the pages of the top fashion sellers —  still project a version of femaleness that is unrelatable to most women. There are also plenty of examples (movies, music, social media) guiding us in how we should feel about our sexuality; defining what it means  for us. No wonder that, as women age, many begin to feel what Crawford called out as the “Sell-By” date fears.

I’m cheering for Cindy Crawford and her nude photos, regardless of the reasons they ended up on Instagram. (I’ll be curious to see if the next decade brings a new photo shoot). I’m just longing for the time when an Influencer like Crawford’s proclamation includes a shout-out empowering  all women, of all ages, shapes and sizes. She has a right to do her thing, for as long as she chooses to. I’m just not convinced that the 53 year-old women she’s talking to are the same ones I know.

Don’t Rush Me…

Yesterday I was out running errands – not the fun kind, but out doing ‘essentials’. I had Sirius on as a distraction. The politics of these days are nothing, if not ‘distracting’! Anyway, it took me almost two hours to finish up what I had to do, and in that time, in between pundits discussing the spin-cycle we’re in until at least 2020, I noticed a different kind of insistent messaging assaulting my brain.

When I was fresh out of college and not yet employed as the teacher I would soon become, I took a summer job working as a sales rep for a rock station (I feel old, just saying that). I actually did pretty well in the role, and was fascinated by my learning about how station ratings are dependent upon ratios of advertisements and music; the difference between “drive time” and “quitting time” ( we called it Happy Hour); and how messaging that is repeated so often as to be crazy-making, is actually extremely effective in shaping consumer behavior (purchase habits).

Back to my errands. The advertisement that stuck in my mind (good work, Sirius) repeated itself three times in less than two hours, which is a lot, for a 60-second ad. It featured a female voice-over and the message was half-praise, half warning, which is a super- effective advert tactic. The lead-in was, “Good news:  you’re taking such good care of your body that it’s going to outlast your brain!” (My own paraphrasing, by the way, but the overall gist is accurate). Being the visual person I am, I saw myself on a tennis court, strong and fit…not realizing that I don’t play tennis until a ball smacked me in the head. As you would expect, the message was designed to make me feel that I needed to forget about my errands and make a beeline for the nearest pharmacy before my brain did any more deteriorating.

I wouldn’t give these commericals any thought at all, if there wasn’t such a proliferation of them. They all begin with, “Research shows…”, which many people I’m sure are tempted to accept as Truth. Brain health, bone health, gut health, stability issues, digestive issues. I can hear and see that companies are creating and marketing products, based on the fact that people are living longer and better lives; and this fact needs to be addressed, they think, with medication. “If you don’t have it yet, you’re in line for it, trust us.”

 Back when certain congressional hearings dominated an entire news day, I had the television on in the background while I did some writing and housework. Nearly every “break” was punctuated by an advert for a medicine thought to be needed by “older adults”. By the end of the day, not only was I saturated and disgusted by the hearings, but I realized that the product messaging had invaded my brain and I found myself actually thinking…Is all this s*** (the symptoms and actual ailments) inevitable??

I’m trailblazing here, and maybe I’m alone, but I don’t think so. I don’t take medication and don’t like taking it even when I absolutely have to. I exercise every day and try to do the hydration and clean-food things. The last time I saw my doctor (whom I truly love), he laughed as he said, “It’s a good thing I’m retiring – people like you are about to put me out of business!” (A compliment to my age and relative health). I thought so. We are a healthier group, mid-life, than ever before. But companies know that this has us feeling just a wee bit insecure, as in, “I wonder how long I can make this last?”

My answer to that question is this:  it’ll last a helluva lot longer if we don’t pay attention to the Reaper brain-washing from media. I can’t totally avoid hearing the ads, without giving up the media services I enjoy; but I can, and do, talk back to them. In my opinion, we all should.

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