Advice From the Trenches: Not So Great Expectations

Dear C and Dr. B:

When I was a kid I was 100% full of expectation and enthusiasm. Not a bad thing – it really motivated me to get out there and try to do something. But as an adult I find that those same expectations seem to be working against me. Whether it’s my relationship with my wife, dealing with the kids, or my job, things just don’t go the way I expect and I seldom get the results I want.

I know that the Buddhists say the road to happiness is to form no expectations but I can’t distinguish that from depression? I am confused can you help me out here?

Dr. B says:

I read Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh, ten years ago and it offers some interesting ideas in simple form. I am paraphrasing, but I recollect that it says something like, “be that of like a child.” It does not say “be a child.” The difference is that as a child, everything is about you. As an adult it is not. If you replace expectation with awe, as it suggests in the book, then forming no expectations works toward joy.

The difference is in learning how to look at what is really there and appreciate what it is. Expectations are just about you. Awe is about everyone and everything else. You will find that you also need skills such as listening, appreciation, humility, and mindfulness in order to achieve this. If you do the work, transformation from happy child to happy adult is possible.

As this is not usually a part of our education, few adults understand this and as a result many get depressed or buy sports cars.  If you just let go of your expectations without acquiring the collection of skills listed above, it can certainly cause you to fall into depression or turn to immediate gratification as a diversion in order to cope.

C says:

The various Buddhist sects say many wise things, but you skewed this particular phrase a bit. Expectation itself is not the culprit. Rather, it is the attachment to expectation that causes suffering. If I were you, I would break myself of the habit of making a mountain out of a molehill over your own interpretations of other’s words. Please keep in mind that every blogger on the web and every book on the shelf has ideas, and few of them coincide or make sense together. What does any of it have to do with managing your own life and the problems you encounter with your job and family? Where did you get the idea that you must distinguish some abstract idea from your own depression before you can act? 

No wonder you are confused. I’ll make it easy for you.

First simple law of figuring things out: You don’t know if something works until you try. Apply your approach with intelligence and common sense. If it doesn’t work, try something else. 

It doesn’t sound to me like you have tried very hard.

There is no need to turn this into a big philosophical dilemma. You are having real world problems, they are not in theory. Stop trying to make things more complicated than they are! Save the mental gymnastics for getting drunk and gabbing with your friends. That is where it belongs.

I will repeat this, in case it wasn’t clear the first time: look at what is front of you and see what works. If what you are trying doesn’t work, try something else. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Dad is Getting Weird

Dear C and Dr. B:

I saw your column on my dad’s computer, and I am hoping maybe you can answer my question.

I am 15. Last summer, my parents separated and now my mom lives someplace else even though both my parents still work at the restaurant they own. My mom has started a new life and doesn’t seem too unhappy. Her new apartment is small but much newer and nicer than our old one, but my little sister’s school is right across the street here so we stay with dad most of the time, especially during the week.

Our problem is that dad is acting weird and we don’t understand it. He won’t sleep in his bed anymore but he won’t let anyone else sleep in it either, even when a guest visits and I have to stay in my sister’s room so the guest can stay in mine. When dad does go to bed, he sleeps on the couch. When we ask why no one can sleep in his bed, he won’t tell us, he just changes the subject.

Why is he doing that? I don’t think my mom knows. Should we tell her?             

– George 

Dr. B. says:

I have no idea what’s going on with your dad, but yes – you should tell your mom. It’s part of your mom’s job to access the living conditions you are exposed to at your dad’s. 

Because your loved one’s mental health affects your own well-being, you need to speak up. Unconditional positive regard can only be truly present between a person and their dog. You are not betraying dad by asking for help.

It is good to get used to asking for help.  Everyone needs it. 

C says:

This is not a normal time for any of you, so it is not unusual for your dad to be acting a little weird. Divorce is very difficult and he probably has a lot of painful feelings inside. I’ve gone through 2 divorces and seen many friends go through them too, and I have never seen anyone deal with it by acting like life is business as usual. Your dad shared his bed for many years with your mom and it probably reminds him of unhappy things. No wonder he doesn’t want to sleep in it.

It would be a big mistake to report this to your mom and I’ll explain why. In real life, when parents go through a divorce they sometimes get into legal struggles with each other over stuff like custody of the children, and they look for “ammunition” to use against each other in court. When this happens, each parent will have their own lawyer whose job is to gather evidence to fight against the other parent. A lawyer will try to use any excuse they can find to make a parent look “unfit” to the judge, and a really crafty lawyer can twist something like your dad and the bed into looking like a form of mental illness. Why would anyone do that? Well, I don’t want to bring up stuff that you are too young to process, but sometimes parents have secretly done things to betray each other and they can get really mean and vindictive when they split up. There might be a truth here that you don’t know about.

If your dad was coming home drunk, staying out all night and leaving you alone, or if he was abusive in any way, I would advise you to tell someone immediately, for your own protection. But aside from not wanting to sleep in his bed, he is not endangering anyone and he’s not hurting anyone. So unless it means that you and your sister are forced to sleep on the floor, I’d leave it alone.

Right now your mom is taking care of her own life. It is not her job anymore to take care of your dad, and I am sure she already knows he is unhappy. This news about the bed will probably not be a surprise and besides – there really isn’t anything she can do about it.

In the meantime, you should take care of the stuff that you can and just accept that some things aren’t going to be normal for a while. When parents break up, it’s not just hard for them, it’s hard on everyone. If you feel sad, or scared, your sister does too. You are the big brother, so an important thing you can do is make sure you are there for each other. Grandparents and other family members can be very helpful and understanding too. 

Divorce is never something that families process in an orderly, neat manner. But eventually, new routines will form and after a while, it will all be your new normal. 

It is important to understand something – divorce and other big changes are seldom things that families process in a neat, orderly fashion, but there is a big difference between people who get a little weird when they have problems and people who fall apart and hurt themselves or others when they have problems. Your dad is not falling apart or hurting anyone. He’s just acting a little weird. I’m pretty sure he’ll get over it in time…and so will you.

Advice from the Trenches: Bad Bosses

Dear C and Dr. B;

We have a new boss at work and half the people there are ready to quit after listening to her for a week. When it comes to straightening out problems and keeping things on course, she has the diplomacy of a water buffalo in heat. She has this totally negative approach! 

Here’s my experience with her yesterday – first, she calls me into her office. Then, she opens with: “You punched in over 5 minutes late three times this week!” So, I got prepared to get reamed out for my attendance, and it really pissed me off, because in addition to being a couple minutes late once or twice, I’d also brought in 2 new accounts that boosted the department average considerably. In fact, I thought that she’d called me in to congratulate me! But no. 

So, I am inwardly seething over the unnecessary dressing down, and barely hear what she starts in on next. Then she suddenly ends the session with: “By the way, good job on the new accounts, keep it up!” Did I feel appreciated? No. I am surprised as hell and I feel like slapping her.

I know she’s screwing up, but if I say anything, I am pretty sure my suggestion will go over like a lead balloon. Thing is, I think she’s going to lose our best workers, and we all liked our jobs before. No one really wants to leave, but we just can’t stand her. What do I do with someone like this?      – Burned Betty

Dr. B says:

Americans are not known for diplomacy, etiquette, or subtlety. We think out loud, or we think internally and start a conversation in our head, then fall into verbal conversation in the middle of our thoughts without realizing that others didn’t hear our first thoughts. We also say one thing when actually meaning another – or our tone of voice might be out of sync with the message we are trying to convey.   

The way to deal with anyone is neutrality. Do not take it personally. Let them have their say, nod, or, if appropriate, summarize: “What I hear you saying is.…..”  You shouldn’t agree or disagree with it, simply acknowledge it: “Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” Then, walk away and go back to whatever you were doing.    

Everyone has a right to their opinion, no matter how misguided.   But you do not need to agree with it.   Also don’t wait for the cookie. You don’t need affirmation – you are doing a good job, let it go at that.  Waiting for affirmation and not getting it will diminish anything you have done. 

You can’t ever assume that someone is on the same page as you, or that they have all the information as you have it, or that they see or experience the world the way you do.  Two people can be saying the exact opposite things and both can be 100% absolutely right. Reality is ambiguous and imperfect. Context and relationship matter. 

Your boss may have the verbal abilities of a 5th grader but studies show that’s where most Americans are with their verbal skills. You can be the adult in the room and role model for others.  If you are consistent, it may actually change the flavor of the office over time.

C says:

So it’s the worker’s job to coddle the boss and make sure things go right when the boss is screwing up? I’m glad I don’t live in that world. Here is a freelancer’s point of view; I can say what I really feel because I can’t get fired for it. I could possibly lose a client, but who wants to work for an asshole anyway?

If your boss is making everyone in the company want to quit, she shouldn’t be coddled, she should be canned. A good boss does not alienate every employee until they loathe what they do. A good boss knows how to bring out the best in every worker.

I am a teaching artist and I have seen the damage a bad teacher can do to a child’s creativity. Those who teach by criticizing mistakes and berating boisterous enthusiasm can turn out kids who are literally afraid to move for fear of getting yelled at; or they can become students full of simmering rage.

Don’t passively role model and hope things improve. You have a new boss – somebody hired the bitch. Find out who that is, and clearly communicate the effect she is having on the business. A bad boss can ruin a company. Protect your own ass, then do everything you can to get rid of her. 

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the trenches: ADHD or brainwashed

Dear C and Dr. B;

My wife Maeve asked me today, “Do I have ADHD?” 

I am a doctor and we should never diagnose friends and family, but I considered the question. Yeah – she had traits. But then, I have some of the characteristics of Asperger’s, and nearly every medical student meets the criteria for schizophrenia when in training. Everyone has traits of something – but that doesn’t mean that everyone has a psychiatric disorder.  

By definition, in order to have a real diagnosis there has to be functional impairment, and this is a subjective land mine in itself. I don’t want to send my wife for testing – she completed a masters degree and has been running a nonprofit organization for 16 years without medications. But every time I send a patient for testing, they come back with a diagnosis of ADHD and a prescription for stimulants. My wife doesn’t sleep for 2 days after 1 cup of coffee. I fear she will end up in the hospital as a consequence of testing.  

The problem is that Maeve is convinced from watching ads on TV and the internet that she has ADHD and now she wants to try medications.  

I can’t convince her she is just a normal overworked, over-stimulated, overly hard on herself, aging American.  What else can I do?                                               

– Exasperated Edgar

Dr. B says:

Every symptom in the diagnostic book (DSM5) is on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, all symptoms are normal human experiences. At the other end, the symptoms are functionally impairing and impart some imbalance.  

Not every emotion or symptom needs professional treatment. In fact, many of our “symptoms” are necessary for the survival of the individual or of the species group. For example, anxiety’s function is to warn the individual of some danger; it also serves to alert the group. Complete removal of anxiety makes a person incapable of adapting to change and can cause stagnation.  Many people suffer anxiety because they live or work in an inhospitable environment and their bodies are telling them to leave. Failing to leave can result in panic attacks over time. 

Although your wife has traits of ADHD, she probably doesn’t meet the criteria for an actual disorder. But I agree with you – someone will diagnose her and try to treat her. 

Diagnosing in order to push medications is the backbone of American medicine. Doctors seldom take the time to understand the specific situation. However, I would not recommend starting medications in this case. I suggest going on vacation away from work and stress. Then, after a few days, have her reassess. If she has a real disorder, it goes with her. If her symptoms are situation-based, they will stay behind. 

C says:

Just how susceptible is your wife to suggestion? I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell her.

Message to Maeve: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Come on, Edgar! This is a no-brainer. Your wife never felt like she needed medication until she saw an ad for it – and that’s your answer right there. She doesn’t need it. But the pharmaceutical companies can’t keep up their profits if they don’t recruit more patients, so they invest heavily in advertising to make everyone think they need medications they don’t really need.

In the US, our health system seems to believe in better living through chemistry. We have medications for stuff like Restless Leg Syndrome that no one even heard of until the ads came out. But every pill we pop puts a strain on the organs that filter those drugs, and every medication we take has side effects, and the more pills we take, the more interactions there are, the greater the strain on our systems and the greater the chances that our treatments will hurt us or even kill us – or, in some cases, induce life-destroying addictions.

No, Edgar. No, Maeve. Just learn when to say no.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

The People Speak

I spoke with Dr. Jane Chen, a professor of sociology in Taoyuan, Taiwan, about how the people of Taiwan are reacting to the ongoing conflict with China that has been making headlines for months in the global media.

Cathren Housley (Motif): Do any of the people or political groups in Taiwan actually support reunification with China?

Dr. Jane Chen: There are some, though very few, people in Taiwan who support reunification. They tend to be older, mostly the first generation children of the mainlanders who came when Chiang Kai Shek and his government retreated to Taiwan from China. There’s an active political party here that wanders around with Chinese flags and gets into fights with various anti-Chinese groups, but there are only a few dozen people in it and they’re all over 60. Supporting reunification is definitely a fringe thing, and given that it’s mostly old people, growing ever more fringe.

CH: How are the people living in Taiwan reacting to the recent military threats?

DJC: It’s hard to say how many people see Chinese military drills as a real threat. Most people have a ‘we’ve seen it all before’ attitude, and don’t take it seriously. Some are angry, some are indifferent, some are worried, but very few people see the threat of war as real.

CH: How do the main political parties in Taiwan view these acts of aggression?

DJC: The relationship with China is a huge political football. The ruling party of Taiwan, the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party, has a support base of people who hate China and the Chinese. The DPP was formed to fight against the KMT (Kuomintang) government in Taiwan, one of the oldest political parties in Asia. The DPP regards them as Chinese colonists who took everything from the people and this hatred extends to mainland China itself. The main support base of the DPP, maybe 10-15% of our population, are really Taiwanese ethnic nationalists. They jump through lots of historical and linguistic hoops to try and prove their culture is completely separate from that of China (which it isn’t) and that they are not descended from the Chinese (which they are). They would love a war with China tomorrow, which the godlike Japanese, and less-godlike Americans would fight on their behalf, setting them free! 

These are mostly older people too, but there’s a small but significant movement among young people towards this ‘Deep Green’ political faction of the DPP. [editor’s note: the DPP’s party color is Green and the KMT is represented by Blue] Their opponents sometimes call them the Daluban, which is how you say ‘Taliban’ in Chinese, but substituting ‘green’ for the middle character. It’s a play on words in Chinese, to indicate they are crazy fanatics. Crazy young Chinese patriotic fanatics are called ‘Little Pinks’ in Chinese, and these two groups often have spirited and pointless shouting matches on the internet – Little Pinks vs the Green Taliban. 

The official DPP position for the Non-Deep Greens, whose support they need to win elections, is that they will protect Taiwan from China. They will be tough on national defense, get foreign politicians to group through Taiwan, and rally international support against the evil Chinese who are banging on the gate. The more of a threat the Chinese are perceived as, the stronger this argument, so they constantly try to get a rise out of the Chinese, which isn’t hard. The current president, Tsai Ing-wen, owes her reelection to this. 

CH: So the increase in Chinese aggression has a silver lining?

DJC: Tsai Ing-wen’s domestic political agenda was a huge shambles. She couldn’t get any of the policies she’d promised during her campaign implemented in any meaningful way, and the people saw her as useless, the worst thing to be in Taiwanese politics. Then came the Hong Kong crackdown and she managed to ride the wave of anti-Chinese fear it caused here all the way to reelection.

That’s the DPP’s main game plan now: “The Evil Chinese are ever-more threatening! Only we can protect you from them! The KMT are traitors who will sell out Taiwan! Don’t worry about stagnant salaries, crazy real estate prices, the fastest aging population in the world, the electricity shortage, air pollution from the biggest coal fired generator in the world, and all the other problems we promised to solve years ago – and the fact that all our government officials are getting suspiciously rich. It’s the Evil Chinese!!!”

The KMT, whose main goal is for themselves to become the people getting suspiciously rich again, try to portray themselves as patriots who are also tough on China, but would go another route and talk to them to manage relations. They condemn Chinese military actions, stand firmly with the armed forces, reject one country / two systems etc., but say the DPP are causing trouble for their own political ends, and that they would manage things more calmly.  It’s a stance that didn’t do well in the last presidential election – it did not help that their candidate was a bizarre idiot who was mysteriously popular for a while, then mysteriously unpopular, even though he was the same corrupt drunken idiot the whole way through. But their message seems to have some more resonance now. There are local elections coming up soon which will be a good test of how public opinion is shaping.

CH: How much faith does Taiwan have in its own military readiness?

DJC: All politicians express complete confidence in the heroic men and women of the Taiwanese armed forces! Some patriots are similarly supportive. Lots of people see our military as incompetent and pretty useless though. Most Taiwanese men have done some compulsory military service, and they generally tell you it was a huge waste of time. There’s a general sense that the Chinese are stronger, and getting ever more stronger by the year. Taiwan could not resist them militarily by itself.

CH: How do people view America’s commitment to Taiwan and these recent political visits? Do they see this as strengthening Taiwan’s global standing as an independent country? Or do they see it as poking a sleeping tiger that they do not want to wake up?

DJC: The two main parties portray US visits according to their positions on China. For the DPP it’s proof that it is their strong relationship with the US that keeps the Chinese at bay. For the KMT, the US visits are pointless provocations that annoy the Chinese for no concrete results. Among the population there’s a general cynicism towards US relations. They believe that money is changing hands during these visits, and there are rumors that sleazy Mike Pompeo tried to pressure Taiwan into investing government funds in a company in which he is a partner, and that another Republican scumbag used a diplomatic visit to pressure Taiwanese airlines into buying planes from Boeing. However, these rumors remain unproven – and for the Deep Green faithful, the visits from US officials are amazing diplomatic achievements. Other Taiwanese aren’t so sure. The phrase ‘using Taiwan as a bargaining chip’ is often used.

CH: Do the Taiwanese people get as heated about politics as we do in the US? 

DJC: Elections always have pretty high turnouts but most Taiwanese are pretty cynical about politics and politicians. There are numerous attempts to create third parties because people, particularly young people, have no faith in either the DPP or KMT, but so far they have gained little traction. There’s a new party now, the TPP (Taiwan People’s Party), which was formed by the popular mayor of Taipei as a ‘third force’ in Taiwanese politics positioned between the other two parties on China, but it’s hard to say how popular this will prove in the long run.

CH: Do young college kids have different views than the older population on the China situation?

DJC: My students and other young people are generally more “Taiwanese not Chinese” than the older Taiwanese. This includes the fanatics who want “war with China now!” – but most will feign bad backs that prevent them from actually fighting, should it happen. It also includes most younger Taiwanese in general who don’t want a war, but definitely don’t want to be part of China, and resent being classified as ‘Chinese Taipei’ at the Olympics; they want UN recognition as Taiwan.

CH: how do the Taiwanese people feel about the Chinese people?

DJC: In general, Taiwanese don’t like Chinese. Or people from Hong Kong. Or Koreans. Or Singaporeans. Or Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Malaysians, etc. They see the Japanese as godlike beings who are almost the same as Taiwanese in every way, although I lived in Japan for 7 years and must confess I can’t see this similarity at all. 

The Taiwanese don’t like any Asian countries that are richer than Taiwan, and look down on any that are poorer than Taiwan. But these are just general prejudices. They don’t go around attacking these people or starting fights with them. There are many Chinese who live in Taiwan, and they generally get along OK. I’m sure there’s some friction in daily life, particularly if they have strong northern Chinese accents and don’t queue up in lines, but it’s often said that long-term Chinese residents are often more accepted in Taiwanese society than those of other countries. Taiwanese in China are in a similar situation. They are different, and treated differently. But not as differently as other ethnicities. Tourists didn’t seem to have any real problems in either country, back when there was tourism before COVID. There were no fights in the streets, or even people shouting at each other.

CH: How involved are your two countries with each other in business and financial investments?

DJC: The two economies are massively intertwined. Taiwan has a huge amount of money invested in China, and China is our biggest trading partner. Taiwan’s economy is very dependent on exports – they’re about 70% of GDP, as opposed to the US where exports are about 10% of GDP. Over 40% of Taiwan’s exports go to China, and there’s no market that can replace this. Trade with Taiwan is a smaller % of GDP for China, but they’re mostly hi tech goods that Chinese companies need to make things and that they can’t buy anywhere else. Without the Chinese market, Taiwan’s economy would collapse. Without the hi tech imports from Taiwan, China’s economy would collapse.

CH: so, would China be shooting itself in the foot if it invaded Taiwan? 

DJC: A war between China and Taiwan would be disastrous for the world economy, a hundred times worse than the war in Ukraine. Every government knows this, so they want to avoid a war. It’s in absolutely no one’s interests. But it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If anyone’s planes or ships get attacked, domestic politics would mean they would have to retaliate so as not to look weak. Then things can easily spiral out of control. This is the real danger of the current situation.

CH: Thank you, Dr. Chen.

Advice from the Trenches: Fat not fun

Dear C and Dr. B:

My friend Adam is a really wonderful guy. He is always cooking for other people and he makes incredible food. He even won a cooking competition on a local TV channel. The problem is that he is about 100 lbs overweight and refuses to do anything about it but eat even more.

I have a hard time with this. I know what the extra weight is doing to his health – he has already had two heart episodes, and he has diabetes. His doctor told him he had to lose weight and Adam fired the doctor and found one who wouldn’t lecture him.

He actually gets angry if anyone tries to talk to him about it, or expresses concern. Everyone who loves him, and there are many, either has to accept his slow form of suicide, or just stay away.

I have been staying away, because for me, watching someone eat themselves to death is like watching someone drink or smoke themselves to death. It upsets me so much I can’t watch.

But I really care about him and don’t want him to die! Isn’t there anything I can do?

-Not Eve

Dr. B says:

Probably not. You can be honest and express what you said here, but ultimately it is his life to do what he wants with it, and it’s up to him to choose how he wants to do it. Food is his life and his possible death. But if it is his love, who are you to try to limit it?  

Many people who are hyper-focused die of their passion. If it was race car driving instead of eating would you still feel the same way?  He has free will and is an adult, he has been informed and he is choosing this as his life and death. 

What in any of this is about you? 

C says:

I get it, Eve. It is awful to watch people we care about hurt themselves.

I had a mother who chain smoked 3 packs a day. From the 3rd grade on, after the school nurse showed us films about what smoking does to your lungs, my mother’s smoking upset me so much that it ruined my life at home. Because I was just a kid, all I could do was watch – and try to avoid the second hand smoke that constantly filled the house. In winter it was especially hard because I couldn’t leave the windows open for long. 

Mom finally quit after having a stroke at age 54. But the slow suicide didn’t stop there. She’d always been overweight, but after she quit smoking, she started eating herself to death. A heart attack finally took her out before she hit 60. She bore a disturbing resemblance to Jabba The Hut by the time she died.

Yes, people who are hyper-focused can die from their passion, but in my opinion, that excuse is only valid if they are pursuing excellence. Those who are focused on substance abuse do not deserve any honors for their actions, and I place your friend Adam firmly in that category. Many of the best cooks in the world keep themselves in excellent shape. Obesity is not a prerequisite for culinary skill. It’s one of the worst health risks there are – many studies show it is more dangerous than smoking.

I guess that, according to modern therapy, accepting other people as they are and just focusing on our own needs is the well-adjusted thing to do – but I find that attitude to be profoundly depressing. I believe that we are all flawed beings on planet Earth and we all have the possibility to evolve – and none of us can do it without help. No one can do the work for another, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. Concern for others’ well-being is not making it “all about you.” Not all of us can simply watch those we love carry out self destructive behavior, while we take care of our own needs.

But if Adam has made his whole life about food, then there is nothing you can do to help him. It has to be his choice. All you can do is stop watching.

I still think it’s beautiful that you care; I hope that someday your friend will care about himself as much as you do.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Fuck you syndrome

Dear C and Dr. B:

Yesterday I was at the drugstore waiting in the drive-up window line. My fellow passenger in the car had tested COVID-positive and we were picking up his anti-viral prescription. Because of that, I was wearing a mask and driving with all windows open in order to protect myself.

A guy driving through the parking lot yelled at me “You don’t have to wear a mask, asshole, you’re outside!” I foolishly attempted to explain by pointing at my fellow passenger and saying “He’s COVID-positive, I really need the mask!”

The other driver’s response was to show me his middle finger, scream “FUCK YOU!” and then  burn rubber out of the parking lot. For good measure, he threw some garbage out his window.

OK, what the hell? Why are people still so messed up over this mask thing that I was harassed and verbally attacked in a drugstore parking lot for wearing one in my own car?  

– Aghast Asshole

Dr. B says:

Singular issues have become fundamental religions in our current society. Politics, race, gender, abortion, guns, climate change – they’ve all become holy causes to both individuals and online supporters. Social media has served as a platform which allows for the singular focus of issues to the point where it has become some people’s identity and meaning. They are willing to physically fight over their causes and violence is not uncommon around these issues. This is not a passing phenomena and will likely only get worse. 

Everyone I know has been moving to Maine to get away from the fallout. One of the primary reasons is a fear of the looming chaos.  

The mask is now a major symbol of one’s politics and you could literally get beat up over wearing one in the wrong place. It’s crazy and against common sense and often against our own best interests, but this is what blind faith in fundamentalist ideology can do. 

C says:

I’m as blown away as you are, Aghast. People are acting like idiots all over the place. At this point, I’ve adapted my own strategy for dealing with other people’s insane crap. I pretend that I am a staff attendant on a psych ward, and I handle the crazies as if they were patients in my care. I don’t argue with them, I don’t reason with them, I do not try to explain anything to them. I just smile pleasantly, avoid eye contact and keep an eye out for sharp objects as I make my getaway as quickly and quietly as possible.

The pandemic has done something to us. I’ve read a lot of scholarly theories and opinions on the various trends and mechanisms involved, but none of that seems to have any effect on our general social mayhem. 

There are so many larger forces that are outside of our control that I think that a lot of people are taking out their misplaced anger on anything that is within reach. Screaming at total strangers for wearing masks is the least of it. There has been a frightening rise in mass shootings. People drive their cars into groups of bystanders at public parades, and torch churches and synagogues. There is no telling when the next act of domestic terrorism will occur.

My advice? Watch your ass, don’t get into it…and above all, do not EVER try to convince someone frothing at the mouth with rage that they are wrong and you are right. The next time someone calls you an asshole for wearing a mask, let him have his opinion and leave it at that.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Bird Brained

Dear C and Dr. B:

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing up, my wife and I want to travel again, but now we have a new problem – I can’t find anyone to take care of my pet cockatiel. I never knew that pet owning could be such a ball and chain! Pet day care facilities are for dogs and cats, not birds.  Pet stores offer to watch over birds but they are expensive and they all leave the pets caged.

Our cockatiel flies freely around our house and it wouldn’t do well spending days on end in a cage. Prior to the pandemic, we knew some reliable bird owners with whom we could trade pet care for vacations, but since we haven’t had any contact with them for two-and-a-half years, these relationships are no longer viable. I am at a loss for what to do now! Any suggestions? We have vacations looming.          

– Bird Brained

Dr. B says: 

All dependents pose these issues.  Who will watch the kids? Who will watch my dog?  Who will water my plants?  The more exotic your dependent is, the more difficult pet ownership is.   

It could be worse. Just try to find someone to watch your snake or Komodo dragon!  You need to rebuild that network you once had. As for those looming vacations– try advertising for sitters at your town or neighborhood websites. Your church, or temple, is another good place to try. If these efforts fall through, the pet shops may be expensive and your bird may not like the cage … but it’s better than nothing.

C says:

When I was divorced, I lived alone and I had a dog, Sparky, who was the best little doggy in the whole wide world. But she posed a real problem – I sometimes had to go on tour for a week or two at a time and needed someone to watch Sparky. There was no way in hell I had the money to kennel her.

How did I handle it? Guilty admission: I sometimes went to somewhat unscrupulous lengths. For instance, if I was going out with a guy I was really sick of and ready to break it off with, I would deliberately delay the breakup speech until after I got back from a tour. Without a shred of guilt, I’d just string him along beforehand, telling him how much Sparky loved him, and how he was the only one I could trust. When I got back from tour, I’d be sweet as hell and make the guy dinner … then I’d let him down gently, with deep regret, and tell him we’d always be friends. Sparky would wag her tail in sympathy. It was a great kiss-off act.

In the United States of America, people usually treat their pets better than they do their own children. We lavish love, special treats, and spa treatments on them and spend thousands of dollars on medical treatments even when the pets would probably prefer a quick death. 

All of that is obviously overkill, but the point is – if you decide to own a pet you have to take proper care of its health and wellbeing. Pet owners who neglect their animals are subject to legal prosecution, as well they should be. Pets don’t get a choice. We chose them, so it’s up to us to do the right thing. 

So – suck it up! And start preparing now for the next time. A lot of us have let connections go during COVID-19. This is a good time to reconnect – your bird-owning friends will all want their freedom too. You can all help each other; community is a wonderful thing. Start networking.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Self-Centered Daughter

Dear C and Dr. B:

How do I get it into my young adult daughter’s head that the world does not revolve around her? When she complains she isn’t getting hired for jobs, and I suggest that it might be her nose ring and tattoos, she won’t listen to me. Those are her “things,” she sees it as her identity and she meets every attempt at reason with an emphatic “I won’t compromise my integrity.”

Her personal rights aren’t being violated by acknowledging a realistic dress code! This is simply adjusting herself in order to meet the realities of the world and support herself. She says it’s “giving in to the Man.” I says it’s being respectful of others. 

But she expects the world to adapt to her views. Her attitude is: take me as I am or leave me.

I don’t know how she expects to get anything she wants that way. I am worried she will be underpaid, mistreated, and possibly just left behind.    

– Mom

Dr. B says:

You can’t change her attitude. All American teens and young adults in middle and upper socioeconomic classes feel the world revolves around them. Natural consequences most often iron that out over time.  

Culture is a set of ideas and customs which are mutually agreed upon by a group of people. Before the internet began influencing us all, we had a somewhat oppressive culture of uniformity that would attempt to crush outliers and misfits. But now, outliers and misfits can become quite popular in online microcultures. Ironically, they are often later punished or cancelled by the same online microcultures, then punished again by the consensus of the conformity-driven common culture. This is one reason why the suicide rates is rising in the teen to young adult population. 

Your daughter likely won’t commit suicide but if she doesn’t learn how to play the politics, she will likely be underpaid, mistreated and possibly just left behind. You can’t rebel against the common culture while at the same time expecting it to reward you. That sort of manipulation only works with parents.  

The degree to which you rescue her now will mitigate how fast she learns how to act and dress in a more appropriate manner.  

C says:

The guy who came to install my new cable router last week was covered with tattoos and wore lobe stretching earrings. My neighbor across the street, a highly educated woman who works in the administration of a prestigious private school, is also covered with tattoos and wears a nose ring. My point? It isn’t your father’s culture anymore, Mom. This really is a different culture we live in now and although it is oppressive in entirely new ways, unless your daughter is planning on working for an anal retentive law firm or running for President, her individual style of dress will be tolerated in a surprising number of career fields.

It will not be her manner of dress but her attitude which will cast the most influence on your daughter’s ability to get ahead in the world. The cable guy was extremely polite and courteous when he was here and I appreciated the skill and efficiency he showed in his work. I rated him a 10 at his company site. On the other hand, the man at my bank who wore a Brooks Brothers suit and had a stylish neat haircut screwed up my account and was such a rude asshole that I filed a complaint.

Although the internet may have expanded our range of possibilities insofar as the variations on personal identity and the ability of influencers to both create and destroy fads, one thing has not changed – someone with a good attitude, who is good at their job, can move ahead in the professional world.

If your daughter’s basic attitude is self centered and self-serving, she’s going to have a tough time of it. But the only way for her to learn is to get flattened a few times. 

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Professional Liars

Dear C and Dr. B:

I have been trying to help a friend for the last few years who’s had an addiction problem. I’ve known him for over 20 years and I’ve been friends with his family from childhood. In the past, he has helped me out when I needed help, so I felt good reciprocating – but it ultimately backfired. He is moderately functional and puts on a very convincing act, so it took a while to figure out that he was hiding a serious problem while he stayed in my basement apartment.

I finally caught him in the act of smoking crack and after hearing from his PCP that he also has out-of-control diabetes and weakened veins, and the next time he smokes crack, it could kill him. I am trying to get him into rehab as I write.

If I am honest, I just don’t want to let him back in when he gets out. So why the hell can’t I just write him off and walk away? I know that is what I should do, but just the thought of abandoning him makes me sick, even though this is his problem, not mine. I guess my question is – how do I deal with how shitty doing the right thing makes me feel? 

I watch people all around me live selfishly, putting their own personal comfort ahead of people who need help. I feel like if no one cares, then why are we even here for each other? I really do know I should give up on things I cannot change, but right now I feel worse than ever.

– Gwen

C says:

This guy knowingly played you and took advantage. I would not waste any time feeling guilty about wishing him out of your life for good.  Crackheads are notorious for being nasty, flying off the handle, and doing stupid shit because they are frying their brains every time they get high. Let the professionals handle this. They know what they are doing and they get paid to do it. 

But let’s talk about you.

There is nothing in this world that can throw you into self doubt and deep depression quite like being lied to over and over by someone you thought you could trust. This wasn’t a stranger. This guy was your friend for over 20 years. You’re probably asking yourself how much of anything that this guy ever said to you was true and remembering the number of times he looked you right in the face and lied. You may feel like an idiot for not seeing through it all sooner.

You are not an idiot. You are someone who trusted a friend because you couldn’t imagine that anyone you cared for was capable of such deception. You are no match for a professional liar and that is what all addicts are. They are the world’s best con men and women and they can seem as innocent as little lambs. Do not blame yourself. You will probably never trust anyone again quite like you did before.

And this brings me to another important issue: the damage that addicts do to the people who try to help them. With their repeated lapses and conniving, they can make us believe that the whole world is rotten and there could be something that stinks under every apparently wholesome facade. Addicts can turn those around them into cynics about life in general.

My suggestion to you is to get your own support group right now. I am not talking about sympathetic friends, I am talking about people like yourself who have faced similar nightmares of their own. Al-Anon is beneficial for family and friends of all types of addiction. 


Dr. B says:

If other people were observing you, they would probably say you were handling this very well.  

Everyone is suffering in their own way; suffering is a normal part of being alive. Many of us can feel that we are handling it worse than everyone else, but it’s usually not true.

Personally, I would throw out my own mother if she was smoking crack in my house. Illegal drugs are a package that comes with danger from suppliers and the unpredictability, impulsivity, inconsistency and lack of responsibility of the user.

There is no moral system that expects you to endanger your own life in the service of someone else’s. Those that appear to do so are usually grossly misinterpreted. The Giving Tree is a popular children’s book that perpetuates the myth that the total sacrifice of self for others is noble and good. This is not doctrine; it’s just bad advice. 

It is OK to feel bad, but it is not OK to base your decisions and actions on guilt. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com