The Defuser

photo (3)How many fires could be extinguished with the careful incorporation of a few reassuring words? How often do we choose to escalate an argument or disagreement, as opposed to neutralizing the issue with empathetic understanding? Why does it feel so good to win, and why does arriving at a mutually-beneficial compromise seem like defeat?

Those who have been engaged in a heated debate with me will surely disagree, but I have found that a keen understanding of what makes people tick will allow cooler heads to prevail.

I can credit my communication courses at Ithaca for building a foundation that has helped me navigate a world of blundering inefficiency and repetitive false expectations with relative ease.

Granted, there is generally more success found with strangers than loved ones, but the tools required for the job are the same. The implementation varies wildly, and that mostly has to do with the level of secession I’m willing to grant.

It’s not about sucking wind from sails or puncturing balloons. The beauty of disarming a bomb lies in the subtlety of the technique. People simply want to be heard. They like to feel that their words have weight.

It may be important to identify with another viewpoint or particular stance to establish common ground, and this is often the most difficult and most uncomfortable part. But, when two staunch debaters are face to face with opposing beliefs, there can be little accomplished in the way of progress or resolution. No one responds to shouting or antagonism.

Remaining even-keeled and not allowing yourself to get rattled will prevent the altercation from escalating, but playing into the other person’s hands will also pull some steam from the ship. No middle ground is found when two people are sprinting in opposite directions.

It’s also important to know your audience. Screaming at a customer service representative over some piece of miscommunication does very little to accomplish anything other than release tension through personal venting. These people don’t own the company and they have no great interest in the value of the stock. They’re simply doing a job and trying to pay the bills. Let’s not make their days miserable for no reason.

Open ears and an open mind can do wonders when it comes to a squabble. We need to give a little to get a lot. It’s not always pleasant, but it feels a lot better than the alternative.

Winning isn’t winning when someone’s left in tears.

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Take Two

clapperboard1 2For more than a year, I have been burdened with the weight of lost opportunities, disappearing days, and a sense that I have made some very wrong turns on the road of life. I started to become acquainted with the lack of passion and the repetition of carbon copy weeks, but the last few months have brought some more pronounced realizations into focus.

I am not the person I wanted to be, the adult I envisioned, or the man fulfilling the dreams of my youth. I am merely existing, walking a line of straight, colorless paths with no discernible destination.

There is a buzz in my brain like the frequency of a guitar amp someone left humming in the corner of the room. That white noise has been there for years, but the murmur used to be a higher pitch, and it would fluctuate when life threw a curveball or offered a piece of good news. Now, it’s more of a drone,  whirring without variation in volume or tone. A flatline.

Luckily, I don’t get depressed, or this situation could get sticky. But, the fact that the current state of affairs is offering little in the way of options or progress is certainly a concern.

I am no longer a wily, wide-eyed teen with a long list of life’s adventures waiting to be checked. But I’m also not a twenty-something with ample time to make mistakes on the way to self-discovery. The blisters on my feet from spinning in circles on the road less traveled are starting to bleed through the socks.

Current technology doesn’t allow us to roll back the clock for another chance to do it right. I used to think that every situation and experience are specifically put on our plates to teach us lessons and make us who we are today. But, I have started wishing for another shot at living life the right way.

Like an adult do-over, I’ve been thinking about clean slates and going back to the starting line. I don’t mean this in a “if I knew then what I know now” kind of way. I’m talking about a true reboot. I want to begin the whole process again, without squandering my talent, wasting my time, and getting in my own way.

Reincarnation is probably my only viable shot at this plan, so I suppose I just have to cross my fingers and wait for round two.

I’m reminded of this quote from one of my favorite films, “Rounders,” and it hits home now more than ever:

“You don’t hear much about guys who take their shot and miss, but I’ll tell you what happens to ’em. They end up humping crappy jobs on graveyard shifts, trying to figure out how they came up short.”

Luckily, I’m not punching the graveyard card clock just yet, but I can certainly identify with the sentiment.

The future is not entirely bleak, and I’m taking the steps necessary to generate momentum. But, hitting a giant reset button doesn’t feel like the worst idea.

I suppose I’m stuck in this skin until it wrinkles and sags, so I may as well make the most of it.

Puppet Shows for All the People

photo (2)Is life an illusion?

Now, I’m not asking this in a Matrix-y, alien-controlled consciousness kind of way. But, the more I step back to observe modern society and the dance we all do for each other, the more I see the green screen.

There’s an inherent irony in the fact that we crave reality and authenticity, but seem to do everything in our power to present ourselves in a wholly contrived and artificial light. This goes beyond stiffly posed selfies and the artifice of our various social networks. There are examples everywhere.

I spend a lot of time on sets, so I get to see the wizard behind the curtain on a regular basis. Still, each time I watch an actor or product in extreme closeup, only to see an army of disinterested crew members sleepily checking their phones or watching the clock, it’s hard to invest in the emotional stock of an actress with tears streaming down her face.

It’s all about framing, but I suppose we crave this type of art forgery because we keep buying. Audiences at live tapings coaxed to holler and scream at the most mundane jokes, the epilepsy-inducing graphics at sporting events, or “reality” shows cut and edited to the point of absurdity have all become so commonplace that any version of something substantial is merely a filtered illusion.

We are hyper engaged and video crazed, and real life moves way too slowly. Instant gratification at breakneck broadband speeds and temporary comprehension are the trends of the day.

Now, I admit I’m the first to jump on a technological bandwagon, but this is only the roller coaster climb. We’re not slowing down and we’re not asking for a return to accuracy or purity. We hunger for the fireworks and we like to believe people can be superheroes. But if the gimmicks get us through the day, who am I to argue? Life is tough enough.

I guess it’s time to go live vicariously through more of the French Open.