On the wrong side of truth in the internet age…

The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.

By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.

Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.

Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.

Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta. 

I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth. 

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

Truth telling…

Most people feel awkward telling truth to Power. It’s uncomfortable. It may make you unpopular. Like bitter medicine, the recipient will likely not enjoy the experience. Power will either blame or resent the messenger.

However, what you need to know about telling truth to Power is that every now and then you get to see Power’s face contort into the worlds most perfect scowl… And that moment makes all of Power’s bitter, condescending asshattery almost feel worthwhile even if just in the moment.

The benevolent lie…

Occasionally, without knowing exactly how or why the day just kind of gets completely away from you. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll have something to show for a day like that. More often, in my experience, you just suddenly look up, realize the whistle is about to release you from your toil, and find that there’s not much you can point to in the way of good solid results to show for your time.

If I were a business management guru, I’d probably conjecture that it has something to do with disjointed days broken up with too many meetings, (attempted) multi-tasking, the time thief that is email, and the ever present danger of employees lingering a bit too long over their social media accounts. Alas, I’m no guru, but just a guy sitting here at the keyboard so what could I possibly tell you about such things?

Given an option between being a little too busy or a little too bored, I’m apt to choose busy if for no other reason than it does seem to move the day along at least a touch faster. At tis point anything that even gives the impression of getting me back to hearth and home in a more timely manner is a net good overall – even if it’s only illusionary. Sometimes the benevolent lie is good enough.

Not nearly that Zen…

I know I was busy today. I have the meeting notes, calendar invitations, and seemingly endless chain of emails to prove I’ve done something today. I try not to delve too deeply into differentiating simply being busy and actually getting things done. The two are most decidedly not synonymous. I’ve long since given up on making an official distinction between the two. In my estimation on any given day as long as you look busy, people will assume you are busy. That’s one of the great double edged swords of working for Uncle.
So is there virtue to being busy even if you don’t really have anything to show for it? Well, it passes the time if nothing else. When you live your life eight hours at a time, I suppose that has to count for something. A quick eight hours is usually preferable to a slow eight hours. That’s not universally true, of course, because there are some days that go quickly only because they are so full of unimaginable levels of stupid. Stupid can be a deal breaker – because at some point things can easily get so far sideways that a slow day would just be less anguished.
I can sit here and ask myself what kind of day it’s been, but that probably misses the real point. Just now, busy or slow, it’s the best kind of day – the one that is quickly receding into the rear view of life. I’m not nearly that Zen, of course, but I have important business to attend. After all, dogs and cats aren’t going to learn to live together all by themselves.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being filler. So a funny thing about events is that when you plan one that people are interested in, they tend to show up. When you plan an all day snoozefest, they tend to avoid it if they can. The easy solution to this problem is just to declare the snoozefest a designated place of duty for the day and *poof* you have an instant packed house. The problem of course, is even though you can mandate that people be somewhere in body, you certainly can’t force them to be present in mind or spirit. So instead of working my own projects – and tending to my own nearly sold out event – I get to be filler. Because a 2/3 empty auditorium looks bad… and not looking bad is far more important than actually doing good.

2. I’ve spent the week basically regurgitating the same seven or eight points for people who either didn’t bother to read the source material or were incapable of understanding it. Since many of these people have fancy titles like CEO, Vice President of Whatever, Owner, and Doctor, I have to wonder who exactly is out there keeping the lights on in the business community. I’m sure they’re all very busy, very important people, but a bit of basic reading and comprehension really doesn’t feel like too much to expect… and yet it is.

3. A monopoly on good ideas. Just because someone has a star on their uniform (you know, like the Texaco man), we really owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap of assuming that he or she is the font of truth and all good ideas. No one, not even the high and the mighty have a monopoly on good ideas. Telling truth to power is hard work. It demands personal courage, but if no one else in the room is brave enough to correct the man in the big chair when he insists the grass is purple and the sky is green, we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favors.

Getting above the bullshit…

Everyone has a few items that fall into the “don’t leave home without it” category – wallet, watch, phone, keys, knife, whatever is in your pockets every day when you walk out the door. It’s the stuff that you turn around and go back for even when you’re already halfway to work on a Monday morning. I’m no different, except I tote one thing that has absolutely no actual functional purpose whatsoever. The only reason I keep this one thing close is that it serves as physical reminder to me of a couple of universal truths.

CoinMy 1900 Morgan silver dollar doesn’t have any great intrinsic value. You can pick them up on eBay for $20-odd bucks, but every time I run my thumb across the rim of the coin I remember that “my” Morgan came to life in Philadelphia 78 years before I was born and unless I trip and fall into an forge or smelter, it’s going to be here long after I’m gone. The men who minted it in 1900 all had important jobs. They had their worries and their troubles. They swore, they fought, they loved, and they lived more or less the same way we do. The biggest difference between them and us is every single person involved with minting “my” Morgan is dead and gone as has been for probably half a century. I’m willing to bet that not one person reading this can tell me a single thing about the life they led, the work they did, or the dreams they dreamed. It’s almost tragic, except it’s really not once you’ve had a chance to think on it.

What’s the lesson here for us? Hell, I don’t know. It could be there isn’t a lesson. I like to think the big “so what” of it all is that this Morgan dollar reminds me not to get too worked up about the shit I can’t control – the briefings that flop, the jackass three offices down, the one great love who got away, whatever it is you spend your days dwelling on. In 114 years, there won’t be anyone around who remembers any of that.

Now, this isn’t your kindly Uncle Jeff giving you a blank check to go out into the world and rape, pillage, and burn, because nothing matters. In fact, this little dollar coin sends me in just the opposite direction. You see, the boys in Philly left us with what is arguably the most recognizable coin ever produced in this country. That’s what what remember them for – not whatever petty bullshit they had to deal with from day to day. I think that’s the higher purpose. We owe it to ourselves and to the future to find our “big thing” and make sure we’re not so beaten down by the bullshit that we lose sight of it.

I’m pretty sure I’m finding my big thing, slowly, word by word. So the next time you see me with a 1000-yard stare and my hand in my pocket, just know that I’m communing with some long gone Philadelphians. The gears are turning and I’m trying to remind myself to get above the daily bullshit. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t, but I’m trying. I’m trying. Maybe that’s all that really matters.