Saturday, January 17, 2015

A life of relative peace

After many years of experimenting with philosophy, I've arrived at a sort of prime directive, the overarching rule for all other rules to follow: err on the side of peace.

While it is true that some of my blog and comment posts border on invective and rant, that's politics. In life, in person, with every interaction with someone else, I focus on that one prime directive. Whether at work, at home, engaged in commerce, driving my car, or just going for a walk, that is the one rule that I have in mind when it comes to other people.

In my house, there is no screaming, yelling, slamming doors, breaking things, or other manner of emotional distress. I follow the prime directive because I know that everyone is already prone to suffering. They don't need any help from me to suffer.

This isn't to say that everyone is suffering here, but the point is, people left to their own devices will find ways to suffer. It's one of the conditions of mankind that is very difficult to accept.

For example, yesterday, as I was holding my youngest daughter Natalie in my arms, I was rocking back and forth in a rocking chair, and I could feel that my hand nearest her bottom was getting very warm. Her face suggested some form of concentration, her brow furrowed with intensity, even at the early age of 1.5 months. She was, in a manner of speaking, busy.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter, Emily, looking for thrills, decided to rock back and forth atop a rocking ottoman that came with the rocking chair. While I was looking intently into the eyes of Natalie, Emily had found the limits of stability provided by the ottoman, falling backwards with her head landing squarely on my shin.

My shin was OK. But Emily was shaken and stirred. She was crying and needed attention just as my infant daughter had completed her business. My wife was in the shower, completely unavailable at the moment. I had to triage.

I placed Natalie on the changing table while I attended to Emily - don't worry, Natalie can't roll over yet - and gave Emily the hug and comfort she needed. Then I changed Natalie and we were good as new. Emily trotted along with me as I walked with Natalie in my arms, hopefully, to sleep.

I could have chastised Emily for rocking the way she did on the ottoman and I could have lectured her on her mistake. But she was already suffering. She was already learning from her mistake at the price of a temporarily painful collision between her very hard head and my equally hard shin. The difference, apparently, is the concentration of nerve cells in each location.

There was nothing more that I could have added to the experience for Emily. If she was going to learn how to be careful, that was it. She only needed comforting when the experience had run its course and she was ready to play again. No additional suffering required.

I could say that she needs to change, but I have also learned something else: I can't change people. Besides, change is automatic. People naturally change their behavior in response to stimulus or lack of it. When I change, they change, but I don't get to decide how they change, I get to decide how I change. People also change as they grow older. Their perspectives, their brains, their body chemistry - it all changes over time.

At my place of work, there is an iron law against emotional distress. I work in a very technical environment on storage systems composed of hundreds or thousands of hard drives, with terabytes of information in tow. There is an implicit understanding that you don't want to cause emotional distress to an employee or co-worker performing maintenance, repairs or upgrades to a system that is the heart or part of the heart of the customer's company. A mistake could run into thousands or millions of dollars lost. So we all err on the side of peace, at work.

When dealing with customer service reps, I must admit that I have had a somewhat more difficult time, particularly with insurance companies and ISPs. With most everyone else, I'm fine. But I still remind myself of that overarching principle to err on the side of peace. I make a point to keep calm, avoid invective, avoid insults, and stick to the business at hand. Besides, my odds of getting what I want are longer if the customer service rep, who represents a company that has my money, is in emotional distress.

In commerce, if the vendor's front line employee is emotionally distressed, he cannot think, he will take longer to access the information required for him to take the desired action. And if he doesn't have the authority to take the action I want, I'm going to have to wait while he explains the problem to his supervisor, and that will be much harder if he's under duress.

But if I'm cool and collected, stick to the facts, and avoid comments like, "You have my money and you're refusing a refund so that you can finance the CEO's second house on the coast of Spain." Well, I don't always avoid comments like that, but sometimes, I feel pressed and that comes out. Especially if I've tried multiple times to rectify the situation nicely.

Even so, I still have better results with peace than invective.

In this life, I don't have any personal adversaries. I don't have to look over my shoulder for anything that I've ever done in recent memory or the distant past. I don't worry about my neighbors. I don't worry about the NSA because I'm simply not worth the trouble to observe. I don't worry about the IRS because I pay my taxes and I have yet to fail to get a refund every year.

In fact, government is one of the least things that I fear and walking the line of peace is without a doubt easiest with them for me. This is because in the past, I have filed more than 300 Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, and similar requests at the state and federal level. When I took a class to learn how to do this, the instructor told me that the disclosure officer is your friend. If you piss him off, he's going to round file your request and you will never hear from him again.

So I was always on my best behavior when pursuing information through open government laws like FOIA. I have had some very interesting conversations with disclosure officers and learned things about government that I just didn't learn in school. But the biggest takeaway is this: people in government just want to go to bed knowing they did the right thing. So I avoid causing any unnecessary suffering for them, too. They're just doing they're job for a paycheck and the few disclosure officers that I did meet, really seemed to enjoy their job.

As a middle aged man, the experience and wisdom I have collected along the way makes it easy for me to sleep at night. By erring on the side of peace with everyone, everywhere, I have a clean conscience to follow. May you also find a way to err on the side of peace.
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