Four Ways to Stop Making Assumptions (Keeping The Third Agreement)

To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson (from “The Long Kiss Goodnight”), “When you make an assumption you make an ass out of both ‘u’ and ‘umption’.” Why does it make someone an ass to make an assumption? Because to assume is to jump to a conclusion without all of the facts. Obviously, you’re a smart cookie, you know the textbook definition of the word assumption. But, think about the idea of reaching a conclusion without the facts. Imagine how much shit could go wrong! You’ve heard the stories, the husband that assumes his wife is cheating when she’s just planning his surprise party or the girl that assumes a boy doesn’t like her because she didn’t get a phone call when the boy was just busy. On a daily basis, we can see the people around us breaking the third agreement.

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Here are four ways that you can keep the third agreement:

1.) The Assumption: Finishing someone’s sentence. (Similar to this is answering the question you think someone asked instead of answering the actual question that was asked.) In most situations, I’m the person in the room that has thoughts contrary to the consensus. So, when someone attempts to finish my sentence (no matter how well they know me) they are wrong 100% of the time. This gets exponentially annoying when they keep trying to guess. Here’s my favorite recent example.
Her: What kind of sandwich is that?
Me: It’s…
Her: Tuna!?
Me: No, it’s…
Her: Chicken!?
Me: No, it’s…
Her: It kinda looks like…
Me: You know, I’d love to answer you if you’d let me!
A similar frustration in communication is when people answer the wrong question.
Me: What time is it?
She: We don’t have to be there until 7:30!
Me: That’s not what I [fucking] asked you!
The Reason: It gives us comfort to feel like we know what’s about to happen. This is why we try to guess whodunnit in the murder mystery. A lot of people don’t like surprises and want to feel a sense of knowing and control in their environment. So, we tell ourselves that we know what’s in that sandwich. We tell ourselves that we know why that person is asking about the time. When we feel overly confident about the answer we speak out of turn and make an ass out of ourselves.
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Imagine that one-to-one conversations are like a stage play. If you were in an audience and tried to guess the end of the actor’s line by blurting it out you’d (hopefully) be removed from the theater. You can also imagine that the person speaking to you is holding a press conference and you’re required to hold your questions until the end. Sometimes if a person is telling a story, people interject with questions because they assume that the information/detail won’t be covered in the story. In general, we can stop making this sort of assumption by being patient (read: shutting the fuck up).

2.) The Assumption: Expecting a third party to explain why someone feels/acts a certain way. I always remind myself to never ask person A what person B is thinking. I asked a friend to catsit for me. I sent her an email with loads of “rules” for catsitting. Most of the rules were either ridiculous, pranks, or based on a bad past experience with some other cat sitter. All of the rules were negotiable. When someone’s doing you a favor you should do what you can to make it easy for them. After reading my email, she told me that she couldn’t cat sit for me without any explanation other than “not feeling comfortable” doing so. I got her on the phone and we talked it out. During our conversation she mentioned that she got the opinion of a friend on the matter before she made her decision not to catsit. “So, you got the opinion about what I said from someone who doesn’t know me instead of talking to me directly?” I went on to apologize to her and explained the ridiculous, prank, bad past experience, and negotiable elements of the “rules” that I’d written. We laughed about it and everything was cool. (You know who you are. I love and appreciate you for looking after my “kids” and my home.)
The Reason: Humans are peaceful and will avoid conflict in the spirit of self-preservation. Often we would rather seek counsel from a trusted source when something strikes us as odd. “Is it just me or does this sound weird to you?” We want a second opinion and sometimes we seek it without completely understanding the first opinion. I avoid gossip, but there are times when it’s overheard in an elevator or other places. I over hear questions like, “why would they do that?” I always have the same (inner voice) response. “Why don’t you just ask them directly instead of asking this third party to fuel an assumption?”
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Start by reading (or re-reading) this post about asking direct questions. Ask, ask, and then ask (directly) again. I had sex with a friend and I was worried that since the sex wasn’t planned and it just kind of happened that maybe she didn’t feel positive about the experience. So, I asked her. I want to be clear, I did NOT ask her, “how was that sweet loving?” I asked her how she felt about how things transpired and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t hurt our friendship (which I valued above all else). We talked about it over tea and everything was cool. Remember, never ask person A what person B is thinking. That’s the same as asking someone else to make an assumption for you.

3.) The Assumption: Confusing feelings with facts. I went to Hawaii and stayed with a friend. During my time with her I came to find out that she had been dealing with some personal frustrations. One morning in particular, she missed an opportunity for lower-priced airfare on an upcoming trip. She was then venting her frustrations about everything throughout the day. At one point, I asked/suggested that we talk about gratitude. I just wanted to break the tension. When I returned from my trip, I posted photos in a Facebook album (this story is one of the reasons that I deleted my FB account, BTW). The album included pictures from a hot air balloon trip that happened in October 2012. Someone commented on the album (not a picture but the entire album) asking about the hot air balloon trip. She asked if she should go alone or take someone with her. I replied that she should only take someone (in a hot air balloon) if they were the type to shut the fuck up and enjoy it. My Hawaii pictures were in the same album and the friend that I’d stayed with saw the aforementioned comment exchange and deleted me. I sent her several messages via phone calls (that’s still a thing), FB, and text to ask what was going on. After a day or so, she replied to explain that she decided to proactively end the friendship to remove her negativity from my life. She went on about how she had obviously ruined my trip (she had not) and all of this was based on the comment exchange about hot air ballooning. The comments on an album are all stacked together. So, she assumed I was suggesting that you should only go to Hawaii with someone that could “shut the fuck up and enjoy it”. The trip to Hawaii happened in March and the comment regarding the hot air balloon trip happened in October 2012. So, a friendship of eight years ended over an assumption when she responded with feeling instead of fact (the timestamp of October was on the comment).
When you listen to people tell their stories, something worth observing is the misuse of the words basically and probably. The next time you hear something along the lines of, “Basically, they told me to get the fuck out!”, think critically. Ask the person, “did they say that?” I used to be a peer mediator in high school and I got into the habit of clarifying someone’s story with, “what did they actually say?” It’s funny to hear people back pedal, “Well, no. They actually said, ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave.'” Well, that’s a big fucking difference between the feeling and the fact now isn’t it?
The Reason: No human is 100% logical. Even sociopaths make decisions based on some emotion. We remember things based on perception and emotion. We remember things based on how it made us feel. This is why cops need multiple witnesses and why we’re familiar with the phrase “just the facts, ma’am”. We are emotional beings. How you felt that day and how you felt about the interaction will shade your recollection of the details.
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Keep challenging your thoughts. Is that what happened or what I felt? What do I know and what am I assuming?
Version 1 of the story: “A man walked in and started shooting.”
Version 2 of the story: “A man walked in that must have been a disgruntled employee. He shot the managers first and then he took a drink from the bar. He must have been an alcoholic.”
We can stop making this sort of assumption by sticking to the facts. The facts, all of the facts, and nothing but the facts. If no one asked for your feelings, keep your heart on your sleeve.

4.) The Assumption: Expecting your partner to know what you want despite having never asked.
Disappointed GF: “I can’t believe he chose to take me here for my birthday!”
GF’s BFF: “Where did you want to go?”
DGF: “Anywhere but here!”
BFF: “Did you give him some suggestions?”
DGF: “He should know what I like by now!”
Not only is that a true story, but it’s happened to me no less than three times in my dating life. Over the years, I’ve gotten smarter about asking the right questions when I’ve been given the “I trust you to plan it” setup.
The Reason: Some people have been conditioned to feel shame in asking for what they want. Because of that shame a person may ask a passive question that seems to be leading to something bigger. “Why did you decide to do it that way?” At that point, it’s ideal to check in with them and (after answering their question) ask them how they’re feeling about the subject/event. Another reason is because society (read: fairy tales and romantic media) have convinced us that our ideal partner will know exactly what we need, when and how we need it. As much as we hear the phrase, “a relationship is work” we don’t want to work on communication. We work to get to work (traffic), stay in business, network, socialize, plan vacations, and even plan our meals. Everything is work these days. Can’t we just come home to a partner and not have to work, not have to plan, or explain how they should plan? Sorry, no. If it’s your birthday, plan something that you want to do. Don’t wait on a partner to plan something as a test for how well they know you. (Caveat: If they volunteer, let them have at it. Just be kind/graceful if you dislike what they create on your behalf and remember it, hopefully, came from a loving place.)
How To Keep The Third Agreement: If you ever hear your partner asking, “how [the fuck] was I supposed to know that?” Then you were the one that dropped the communication ball. Speak your mind, ask for what you want. Marcia Baczynski has a site dedicated to the matter. I’ve worked with her in some open relationship discussion groups and I love what she has to say about inter-relationship communication free from judgment or persecution.
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Thanks for reading! Keep your eyes open next week as I reveal the “secret” of why everyone’s late all the goddamned time.

Until then, here’s Samuel L. Jackson:

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Getting Butt Hurt and Angry Yelp Reviews (Breaking The Second Agreement)

I was driving down a one-way street in downtown San Francisco. The light was green and I proceeded to make a left turn, but first I stopped short of the crosswalk to allow the pedestrians to finish crossing. The sun was in my eyes so I had furrowed my brow. I was thinking about what I needed to do once I reached my destination so my lips were tight with concentration. I looked as if I had been sucking lemons. Just then, I noticed the woman in the crosswalk walking rather fast and making intentional eye contact with me. She spoke in an intentionally-audible tone and said, “We’d better walk as FAST as possible!” Her comment was jarring and it caused me to assess the situation. My car had partially breached the crosswalk and I was poised to complete my turn. Plus, I had resting douchebag face. Perhaps she thought I was irritated with her and pressuring her (with the position of my car) to cross expediently? Who knows!? But, it seemed as if she took circumstantial evidence and decided to make it about her. She broke the second agreement and took something personally.

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As is noted above, nothing others do is because of you. My friend will often ask me (about a specific situation) “how am I not supposed to take THAT personally?” In any given situation, we don’t know all angles of the story. With any decision that we make there are various factors at play. When someone else makes a decision, we know very little about the various influencing factors. While it’s easiest to make it about us, that doesn’t make it accurate or fair. Like the story about the parents that planned to leave everything to one daughter while excluding the other. When asked, the parents said that they were worried about the one daughter’s ability to take care of herself. They considered the other daughter independent and strong enough to be successful without any inheritance. That was the parent’s judgment of the situation. It wasn’t for either daughter to take personally.

It’s worth mentioning that there are times when some immature people in the world will do something with the specific intent of getting a rise out of us. Hell, I’ve done stupid shit with such intent in years past. But, even in those cases, actions shouldn’t be taken personally. Let’s take name calling for example. As I’ve mentioned before, No One Can Make You Feel and name calling is the best example. If I were to call 10 people the same pejorative term (take your pick). Not all 10 would have the same reaction to the slur. That’s because everyone has a different set of experiences. What may be insulting to one may make the next person laugh. At that point, it’s important for us to acknowledge our perception of events and not allow ourselves to get butthurt over it.

There are times when people I’ve never met become so angry with me that they allow the bitterness to ruin their day. I don’t even know their names. How can such a thing happen? Because they take things personally, they never take the time to assess personal accountability in a situation. Let’s take the unreasonable request for example. A man came into my restaurant some years back and asked for a booth. That sounds like a reasonable request until you factor in the following details: It was a Saturday night, he had no reservation, he was dining alone (all of our booths sat 4 people), and to make matters worse we were on a 15 minute wait. When my staff told him that we couldn’t accommodate his request he became irate and asked to speak with the manager. He threatened to write a 1-star Yelp review (wielding his iPad as if it were a weapon) if we didn’t give him what he wanted. I told him that I’d help him write the review, but I wasn’t going to let him jump the line and inconvenience others. He was butthurt yet he never took into account (despite my explanation) the lack of reason in his request. It’s not that the customer is always wrong, they just often take things personally.

I’d like to take an aside here and send out a request to all of you (or your friends) that write passive-aggressive post-it notes. When writing a letter to management, be it directly (via email) or indirectly (via Yelp), take a breath and ask yourself some questions. Will my words get someone fired? Do I want resolution or just to complain? Did I make an effort to resolve the issue in the moment with actual verbal communication (see the first agreement)? Did the person with whom I have the beef make an effort to resolve the situation? Am I writing a complaint that will paint a biased portrait of me as a victim without flaw (maybe an unbiased third party should proofread it)? Have I taken inventory of my part in this misunderstanding (like taking up four seats with one ass)? Above all else, am I taking this issue personally when it could have been a simple miscommunication?

I once had to fire one of our cocktail servers over a Yelp review. While what she did was worth getting fired, it was the review that annoyed me. To summarize, the server gave away a free bottle of (expensive) Champagne. In the review, the person pointed out that they weren’t charged and the server gave a laissez-faire response when they pointed it out to her. Now, I can’t speak for others, but the people that I know don’t tell millions (read: post on the internet) when they get the hook up. They tell a few friends, leave a nice tip and keep it moving. If the Yelper felt morally conflicted about not paying for the bottle, wouldn’t it have made more sense to just handle that with the manager on duty? Instead, they wrote it in a review and the owners got wind of it and the server was fired.

I once read a Yelp review wherein a person gave a gym 2-stars. One of the reasons they noted was, “It’s also not the kind of down to earth place you can go in your sweatpants. You better don all the Lululemon ya got.” [The other two reasons were disliking an instructor (not me) and having difficulty finding the place.] So, a person’s insecurities and lack of ability to follow signs yields a bad review? Sounds like a case of projecting personal issues onto feelings about the gym. I could be wrong. I don’t want to make an assumption.

When you take the time to craft a letter to management, you could cause someone to lose their job. In a situation wherein the accused never knew they upset you, there’s a good chance that you’re taking things personally and fucking with someone’s livelihood because of it. How much drama could be avoided if we embraced the first agreement and chose (verbal) communication, in search of clarity/resolution, before we allowed ourselves to break the second agreement?

“Perception is reality.” I’ve heard many business owners say this in reference to the customer’s perspective. The truth is, perception is perception and taking things personally causes unnecessary escalation of a situation. I only raise my voice when I’m forced to repeat myself. So, when I get a complaint that I “yelled” at someone (while using a microphone) I laugh and choose not to take that personally. How many times have you gotten into an argument with a friend or lover because they perceived something differently than what you meant? How many times have we taken something personally when the person that was “attacking” us was just misdirecting their hostility because of their own battles?

I don’t remember the specific quote. But, there’s one that reminds us to show compassion to bullies because they need it the most. I want to take a moment to distinguish between a bully and an asshole. I want to distinguish between legitimate fear and taking things personally. *insert old man voice* Back in my day… the word bully was defined as someone that presented you with a tangible threat while demanding something from you. “I’ll beat your ass if you don’t give me your lunch money!” “I’ll keep knocking your books in the mud if you walk down my street. Find a new way home!” “You’ll get shot if you come in my neighborhood wearing that blue rag again!” Today, however, people use the words bully or bullying to describe assholes that said (or even worse-posted online) something that they took personally. I wouldn’t allow an able-bodied woman to use 3-pound weights in my metabolic conditioning class. I had posted signs on the door about the required weights, this wasn’t shocking news. When I took the weights from her (after witnessing her perform the prescribed exercises with heavier weights) she suggested that I was bullying her. I explained to her that just because I said some shit she didn’t like, didn’t make me a bully. (Remember, no one forced her to take the class and she knew the requirements for participation.) If you take nothing else from today’s post, take away this: Just because someone said/wrote/did something you didn’t like, doesn’t make them a bully. In the aforementioned anecdote, I was an asshole at best. I’ll own that. I was not bullying her. Challenging the muscles of someone participating in a group exercise class isn’t a threat. Bullies make tangible threats, they don’t make suggestions or leave passive-aggressive post-it notes. Here’s a viral throwback and my favorite misuse of the word bully.

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Back when this photo went viral, it gained such momentum because everyone called her a bully. Let me get this straight, someone that’s never met you… is bullying you!? Could it be that you’re taking her statement personally and making it about you? Some of the loudest most butthurt people that responded to this picture and wrote nasty things to this woman were people that had never made excuses, wanted to get to her level of fitness, or even wanted to have three kids. So, it stands to reason that she wasn’t directing her statement at her loudest critics that claimed she was bullying them. So, she hadn’t met people that she was accused of bullying. Huh? Back in my Facebook days, I got into a comment thread argument (read: biggest waste of time on the goddamned planet) about this photo with someone that used the phrase, “she thinks that…” in reference to Maria Kang. That’s when I signed off. If you ever find yourself in an argument with a self-assumed clairvoyant that implies they know what someone (they’ve never met) was thinking when they did something, just stop talking. You’re talking to someone that’s taking things personally and projecting their own perception onto a situation.

So, how do you not take something personally? Simple, just stop making shit about you. The world doesn’t revolve around you (or any of us). The next time that someone approaches me with aggression, I’ll approach them with compassion and see how far we get. Maybe we’ll talk with our words instead of angry butthurt letters/reviews. Maybe we’ll seek and reach resolution. Maybe we’ll hug it out and laugh at the misunderstanding instead of walking away assuming that one attacked the other. I won’t take anything personally by not taking things personally. That’s my plan, but as you know following the four agreements is a daily effort.

Why We Lie (Breaking The First Agreement)

If you’ve followed my writing for any time at all you know how I feel about the book/doctrine “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.
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I try to practice each agreement daily. I also take note whenever someone is dealing with drama in their personal life. In 90% of those situations, the person didn’t practice one of the agreements and brought the drama on themselves. The first (and arguably most important) agreement, be impeccable with your word, seems simple enough. Say what you mean, mean what you say, follow through on commitments, and don’t bullshit people. When I wake up in the morning, I intend to be honest. Do you remember why you started lying? I should rewind to a memorable time that I should have lied. It may help jog your memory as to why you started lying. [Spoiler alert: We all lie. If you’re reading this and saying “not me”, you are lying to yourself.]

A few years back, I started dating a woman in August. We went through most of the phases of courting with the exception of coitus. We agreed that we’d wait until the time was right before we made the verbal contract of exclusivity. On October 1st, we agreed to be in a monogamous relationship (it would turn out to be my last). Things were going well and my walls were down. I felt like I could tell her anything without concern of judgment. So, I broke the societal rule that all of pop culture advises against. Not only did I tell her the number (of women with whom I’d made sweet love) but I showed her the list *gasp*! (Before you laugh at the idea of a list, how much do you know about your sexual history? How much will you know when your sexual history spans 21 years?) Well, the list has dates on it. She saw a name on the list that had the date, September 26th (four days before she and I became official). That became the fight that was the start of our ending. She held on to that and reminded me of it for over a fucking year. Before you decide to take her side or my side and determine who was right/wrong in the scenario, remember the point of the story. I was being honest with her. The rightness of either side of the argument is irrelevant. The ensuing drama caused me to feel penalized for my honesty. I regretted showing her the list. I went through all of the “should haves” in my head to no avail, it didn’t matter. I decided to share less with her from that point forward. For the remainder of our relationship, I didn’t do anything worth hiding. But, I did share less with her in general. “Fine” became the stock answer to “How was your day?” While I wasn’t lying in the traditional mistruth sense of the word, I was withholding information for fear of more drama. I was hesitant to tell her about the women that flirted with me at the bar. As much as she (and many girlfriends the world over) want to be considered best friends, we just can’t share without a filter the way that we can with our non-judgmental actual best friend. I don’t like drama in my life. If saying less means less drama in my life, I’ll hold back (read: lie) in order to avoid drama. But, I don’t want this post to sound as if one GF was responsible for my lying. I started lying much earlier than that.

When I was a kid, I told the truth about my brother eating all of my mother’s grapes (her favorite snack). He got in trouble. Because I ratted him out he found a way to get back at me (that’s a story for another time). I should have lied and just played dumb. With lessons like these dating as far back as thirty years, you can understand why I mentioned that I try to follow the four agreements daily. Despite those experiences, I still believe that honesty works out for the best in the long run. But, for any liars out there that are considering the path of honesty you should know that it’s a lonely path.

The thing about honesty is that there’s a thin line between tact and sugar coating (read: bullshit). Here’s an example of honesty from the last time that someone asked for my fashion advice.
Her: How do these shoes look?
Me: The shoes aren’t the problem, it’s those polish islands^. Get rid of those and then wear the shoes.
Her: *silence*

[^-Polish islands are when the nail polish has chipped off so severely (often over the course of several weeks/months) that there’s an island of polish in the middle of the toe/finger nail. I would never suggest that nail polish be perfect at all times. But, if you’re going to put polish on, get cotton balls and a $2 bottle of C4H8O2 (ethyl acetate) and take it off when it’s time is due. Before someone gets butt hurt and types an angry comment, I want to make my point clear. Anything we do in the name of fashion/style should be kept up or left alone. If you aren’t willing to comb your hair everyday, don’t comb it at all. I’m not suggesting perfect polish nor am I criticizing people with chipped polish. I’m just saying finish what you start.]

“Jet, you could have said it nicer than that.” True, I could have sugar coated my response and beat around the bush. But, that’s not saying what I mean. That’s not speaking in a manner that leaves the receiver clear on my message. That’s not being impeccable with my word. In addition to honest, our words should be fair, kind, and true lest they be filed away in the shut the fuck up file drawer. Isn’t that the reminder? If you can’t think of anything nice to say, sometimes it’s best to look away. That’s what I say to myself when I see something that confuses me. If I’m not asked, I don’t speak. Unsolicited opinions are unsolicited for a reason.

Recently, my honesty backfired. There’s a final exam schedule at school. The time for our final is set by the administrators. The instructors still have the power to execute the final exam whenever they want (even if it means they schedule a separate time with the student that has the time conflict). Two out of my three finals are on Tuesday of finals week (FW). For my third final, I told the instructor the truth. “I’m going to be straight with you. I have a road trip planned that Thursday. Is there any way that we can take our final on Tuesday of FW?” She said no. I checked in with the other students. 1/3 of the class had some sort of preferential conflict (I wasn’t the only one traveling) with the Thursday exam time. I mentioned this to her and copied the students with the conflicts. Again, she said no. She gave some yarn about the college scheduling the exams and how they couldn’t be moved, blah, blah. So, I asked her if I could just meet her in her office earlier on Thursday of FW. Again, she replied with a flat no. Now, what about all of the other people, campus-wide, that have taken their finals at alternative times. They are proof that adjustments can be made. What if I had lied and made up some story about my Great Aunt Millie being on her deathbed. “I need to fly out to see her before it’s too late!” Would she have made an exception for me? Who knows. The point is, my honesty wasn’t valued. (Yes. I am aware that honesty doesn’t magically yield the desired result. My honesty didn’t feel valued because after telling me that she couldn’t move the final to Tuesday (instead of Thursday) of FW at our normally scheduled class time she made this announcement. “I’ll be here in our usual meeting space on Tuesday of FW at our usual class time if you want to review.” Seriously!? Why wasn’t she honest with me enough to just say, she could have, she just didn’t want to move the final? Why do we lie?

The honest path is a lonely path. I try not to be one of those people that gives disclaimers before saying shitty things in the name of honesty. If someone tells you, “I can be blunt” before they give you some feedback, they’re providing that disclaimer so that they can have license to verbally shit on you. When it comes to feedback, I’ve learned to sandwich my criticism between two slices of compliment bread. That way, I can still be honest without bullshitting. I remember being on set in LA and over hearing the director gingerly handling the actor’s ego. “That was amazing, if we could just do it ten times better.” WTF!? Does amazing mean shitty?

So, why do we do it? Why do we lie to our friends, lovers, employees, and family? I once heard someone claim that they didn’t tell a friend about the lipstick on her teeth because they didn’t want her to feel embarrassed. So, instead they let her go for hours with that red beacon of misplaced makeup all up in her grill. We’re afraid of emotions. Earlier I referred to it as drama. In actuality it was just the emotions of a hurting human being and I was afraid to deal with that (and after a year I was fucking tired of it). When we hear the question, “how did I do?” We have the option to be afraid of hurting the person’s feelings because their effort was lackluster or we have the option of serving a compliment sandwich with (fair/honest/kind/true) criticism as the meat.

If you’re on the receiving end of honesty, take a breath before you react too harshly. Sometimes (often times) the truth hurts. But, if you lose your shit and start flipping over tables screaming “[insert name] SMASH”, the person sharing with you will be hesitant to share in the future. It’s also ideal to reward that sharing by being honest in return. You can start today. But, wake up tomorrow with the intent to be impeccable with your word. Be fair, honest, and kind to everyone you encounter. If you feel penalized for your honesty because they responded with genuine human emotion, be grateful that you’re not talking to a cyborg. If you receive someone’s honesty, be grateful, be honest about your own feelings, and be careful not to overreact. Don’t give them a reason to lie in the future.

Uplift Oakland or Don’t Misplace Blame

I grew up in Detroit. While we never considered our neighborhood to be a bad one, we also never spent time reading crime statistics. We were kids and we never felt like we were in danger. There was that one time that our car was stolen out of our backyard. There was that one time that one kid got shot. But, all of that is a blur for me now. That all happened back in the 80’s. I remember that my mom wouldn’t let us wear gold jewelry (even the fake stuff that they sold by the inch down on Grand River) because she didn’t want us to get shot or held up. It was obviously loving concern. But, we never felt like we were in mortal danger. These are all memories that I had to dig deep to find. I don’t think about those experiences often. On the contrary, I think about growing up in a neighborhood that had a block club and block parties. I think about a neighborhood wherein all of the homeowners had been there for 20+ years before I was in Kindergarten. I think about any adult having the right to lay hands if I acted out of pocket. No, I didn’t live in a bad neighborhood. I lived in a neighborhood that exchanged Christmas gifts from one house to the next. I remember wearing that goddamned elf hat and walking presents to the neighbors. It’s funny how one’s outlook determines the quality of the neighborhood. When I tell people that I’m from Detroit, there is almost always an audible groan. Don’t pity Detroit based on some shit that you’ve read in the paper. Live in Detroit, experience it for yourself and then form/share your opinion on the city. I loved my neighborhood.

After living in a few major cities, I still hear people use the phrases good neighborhood and bad neighborhood. I used to ask people what they meant by that. It turns out that no two answers matched. So, I stopped asking. Then, I realized that people often used the aforementioned phrases during the aftermath of some event. “This is supposed to be a good neighborhood! I can’t believe that you got held up!” or “This is a bad neighborhood, you’d better be careful.” Using such phrases is an expression of a false sense of security. I moved to the Bay Area in 2010. I’ve lived in Oakland the entire time. With all of the cities that I’ve visited in my life, I’ve noticed a division between cities separated by a bridge. I’ve seen it happen between Kirkland and Seattle, North and South Dublin, and between San Francisco and Oakland. I can understand the sports fans being in perpetual disagreement. But, many* San Franciscans speak about Oakland as if it’s somehow less than San Francisco. “Why would you live there?” some of them ask. “Oakland is so ghetto.” I once heard someone say. While I will concede that language is a perpetually evolving part of our lives, the definition of ghetto is “(n) 1. a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups. 2. an isolated or segregated group or area.” So, when people refer to something as being ghetto (using the word like an adjective) it’s important for them to realize the subtext of their message. [I’ll let you come to your own conclusion on that one.]

It’s time that we change the conversation about Oakland. When I walk around this city, I see young black men talking to younger black men about goals and ambitions for the future. The conversations are much deeper than “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I see father’s spending time with their kids. I see two parents (be they step or birth parents, I know not) spending time with their kids. I see elderly black men playing chess peacefully and discussing their favorite books. I see volunteers running with children to keep them active as a part of Running for a Better Oakland. I see a homeless population that may accept gifts from the concerned but, they never harass or manipulate me. [There’s a woman that sits outside of the Montgomery St BART station in San Francisco’s financial district during rush hour. She reads stories obnoxiously loud to what seems to be her daughter and talks on her cell phone during reading breaks. Her sign requests money while referencing the daughter and it all feels like a manipulative stage show. I digress.] I see the Oakland Police Dept working to reduce violent crimes. Oakland isn’t perfect. No major city is perfect. My experience may be very different from those of you reading this post. It’s funny how one’s outlook determines the quality of the neighborhood. Many crimes happen here. But, why is that all that people talk about?

It’s time to change the conversation about Oakland. Here are some things that I’m going to ask you to notice. When watching the Bay Area news, notice how any report of crime in San Francisco will only be referenced by neighborhood. “Tonight, shit went wrong and people got fucked up in the Mission…” They’ll never say that a violent crime happened in San Francisco. The anchors will only reference the neighborhood. On the other side of the bay, “Tonight, shit went wrong and people got fucked up in Oakland!” Hmph. That’s funny. Oakland has neighborhoods with their own names and distinct history. Yet, Bay Area news reports often lump all of Oakland (30 square miles larger than San Francisco) into the same category. Do you mean to tell me that the crime statistics in Pill Hill are on par with the San Antonio District? (If you live in Oakland and you don’t know where either of those neighborhoods can be found you should do some homework.) While I have no proof as to why this happens, my theory is that the city of San Francisco doesn’t want to hurt tourism. So, they may reference the Tenderloin without making the entire city sound like a bad neighborhood. Despite Oakland’s rich history and cultural diversity I don’t know of many tourists that come from far off lands to visit. Perhaps they would if we changed the conversation about Oakland.

Here’s something else I want you to notice. How many of your friends are unwilling to cross the bridge heading eastbound? I was flirting with a woman and I gave her a flyer to my show. She gave me a look of incredulity and said, “*scoff* I’m not going to a show in Oakland!” I took the flyer back and deleted her number from my phone. If you have friends that act as if coming to Oakland (from San Francisco) is a 100 mile trek, you need some new friends.

Some of you may have heard me talk (in person) about Basic Urban Awareness (BUA). BUA is a by-product of being raised in the hood (hood, not ghetto). About three times a month I hear a story about someone moving to Oakland, lacking BUA, doing some stupid shit, and then cursing the entire city of Oakland under their breath as they file a police report. Before you pay hundreds of dollars for noise canceling, over ear headphones, think about how vulnerable it makes you to walk down the street deaf to all sounds (and often staring at your phone). If you get punched and your shit taken, is that Oakland’s fault or did you paint a target on your back? Before you answer, you should talk to some cops in statistically low crime cities. Would such a crime happen in Vancouver? Yep, so much so that they had a PSA reminding people to stay alert. Would someone ever hold up a restaurant after closing and force the staff into the freezer at gunpoint in La Jolla, CA? Yep, that happened. Did anyone blame La Jolla when it happened? I doubt it. It’s a good neighborhood, right? Here’s a recent favorite, “When I came out, my window was broken… my bag containing my work laptop, my Bose headphones, and passport were stolen.” The person went on to write… “Well, this is Oakland.” Don’t blame Oakland because you did some stupid shit! Why would you have such valuable items (visible) in your car… ever? Because you were running into Safeway for just a minute? It takes less than 15 seconds to commit that crime! A word on car break-ins. It’s not about the value of what can be seen, it’s about the perceived value. You can put a backpack filled with whipped cream in your car. Tinted windows be damned, someone looking for a target will use a flashlight looking for something of perceived value (i.e. what could be in the bag) and smash the window to find it’s worth nothing later on. People always comment on how clean my car is when they enter. BUA! I give no thief reason to perceive value on the other side of my intact window. They leave empty cars alone (unless they’re just dicks that choose to break windows).

I hope that you have four (or more) takeaways from this post.
1.) Don’t blame an entire city if you made yourself a target. Crime happens all over the world. You can’t predict when/how/where it will happen based on crime statistics. Don’t be a dumbass. Embrace BUA! Good/Bad neighborhoods are fallacies based on your perception and statistics. Even in a neighborhood with the highest murder rate per capita, someone fell in love.
2.) Oakland has a lot of positive things going on. I encourage you to use the hashtag #UpliftOakland when you post about positive things around this city. You can do the same with #UpliftDetroit or any other beleaguered city that gets a biased report.
3.) What are you doing to make a change if you have such a negative opinion of Oakland? Don’t don a pair of tights and go out to fight crime. But, perhaps you could volunteer and mentor the youth to help break the cycle? You could also hold yourself accountable. If you leave gold in your car, it didn’t get stolen, you may as well have given it away.
4.) I’m not trying to “sell you” on Oakland. Oakland has a thriving real estate market and many people are moving here. Traffic gets thicker every month. I don’t care if you move to Oakland or visit. For the sake of my commute and sanity, it’s better that you don’t. I just want to change the conversation about a city that I’ve called home for the past five years. I love my neighborhood. What neighborhood is that?

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*-A note about generalizations. Generalization is defined as: “a general statement or concept obtained by inference from specific cases.” This means that if what I’m saying doesn’t apply to you (San Franciscans), I’m not talking to you.

Good Practice Begetting Bad Game Days or Antiquated Coaching Habits

In my degree program (B.S. in Kinesiology) we learn a great deal about coaching. We learn about injury prevention so that we can coach athletes safely and we also learn about how people (athletes and nonathletes) learn and retain skills so that we can coach them to success. A lot of the material makes sense to me, not just because I’ve been coaching for 10 years, but because a lot of it seems like common sense. We live in the information age. But, as you know, information does not equate to wisdom. You have to apply what you’ve learned, Sucka! You can’t just read some shit and file it in the back of your brain! You have to absorb it and bring it to your athletes while thinking about the individual’s longitudinal experience. Think beyond the season. If you haven’t guessed it, this blog post is directed at all coaches. Sport specific coaches, strength coaches, group fitness coaches, life coaches*, financial coaches, et al. Coaches, remember that practice is designed to prepare your team for anything. Remember that holding the hands of your athletes and coddling them in practice won’t help them on game day (there is evidence to support this). Remember that coaching the way that you were coached because “that’s the way it’s always been done” is another way of saying, “I’m not going to bother trying anything new or different I’m a mindless drone.” Remember that punishing your athletes with fitness (e.g. running laps for missing penalty kicks) is a great way to make them resent you, the sport, the punishment, and activity in general.

Practice is designed to prepare your client/team for anything. Holding the hands of your athletes and over structuring (aka blocked) practice won’t help them on game day. When teams ran a blocked practice (meaning repetitive drills that didn’t resemble a game specific situation) and were tested in a game situation they performed very well during practice and performed poorly on game day. When teams ran a variable practice (meaning random drills/plays/situations that bore a closer resemblance to a game specific situation) and were tested in a game situation they performed poorly during practice and performed very well on game day. When we discussed this in class my hand shot up. I asked the obvious question. “Assuming this information is available to all coaches, why do coaches still run blocked practice?” My professor laughed. He laughed as if it was an obvious question and he didn’t have an answer. “I wish I knew!” he said. He did point out something that many of us have experienced, the dog and pony show for the top brass. If you’ve ever worked in corporate culture (especially in a retail environment) then you’ve experienced the upshift in workload when corporate will be on site. I once worked in a gym wherein my Fitness Director asked me to change the lighting setup for my class because an executive was going to be touring the gym that day. My response? “Fuck that dude! My responsibility is to the 30 people in that room that are here every week. I’m not going to change what works for the group for the sake of one person, that doesn’t workout, doesn’t know my name, and decided to drop by to see how things are going.” Coaches, what do the team owners want to see when they pay a visit to the practice field? They want to see a team that performs well. How can you make that happen? Blocked practice, of course. Make the team look good during the visit from corporate and keep your job, I get it. What if you shifted your thinking? What if you said, “Fuck those owners! My responsibility is to this team and I want to set them up for success, even if they seem to struggle in practice, we’ll learn from those struggles on the practice field and perform well when it counts (on game day).”

A classmate that was in that same lecture and an athlete for the school took the information from these multiple studies and asked her coaches why they were running blocked practices since it wasn’t generating wins. The coaching staff got defensive and condescending. They defended their use of blocked practice to make the athletes feel good/positive about their abilities in order to provide an ego boost before game day. They kept throwing the word science at her (suggesting that tests prove their methods despite us learning the exact opposite about such experiments). To the best of my knowledge there’s no/minimal scientific evidence that backs their theory of blocked practice generating outstanding game day performance. When the player told us this story about the coaching staff not listening to the concerns of their athletes, we all congratulated/supported her in her decision to speak up. The world needs more coaches like her. The world needs coaches that will pay attention to what’s not working, think critically, and challenge it. I hope that she becomes one of those coaches.

One of the first questions that I ask new clients is about exercises that they love and exercises that they hate. The love/hate labels aren’t as relevant as the reason why they feel the way they do about specific exercises. What I’ve found (and this is anecdotal evidence, not scientific) is that people often hate certain exercises due to a negative association from past punishments. How many of you remember running laps because you fucked up in practice? For those of you with that memory, how do you feel about running today? If you’re not a fan of running, I wouldn’t be surprised. In Volleyball, we were tasked with running sprints because we’d missed too many serves. After running those sprints, I still sucked at serving. Shocking news: Sprinting doesn’t make me a better Volleyball server. Those of us that hated running (not me, others) focused more to avoid missing future serves. But, to perform a sport specific drill with an embittered attitude is a negative motivator. (I wrote about that a few weeks ago.) Coaches often make people run laps because that’s what they were made to do when they played. It can be traced back to the military. If you fucked up, you did some extra PT (physical training). That mentality found its way into public school PE classes and coaches have been making kids do some extra PT every time they fuck up for decades. It’s time to update the curriculum. Besides, why should running be a punishment? The ability to run is a privilege and should be celebrated! What if you took your team down to the beach for a run to celebrate the big win! Imagine the positive association that would create! Remember that your athletes may only be with you for a few seasons. But, your lessons will stay with them a lifetime. Would you be a different coach if you could see the individual futures of your athletes? Coach the team and mold the individual. Update your thinking as a coach and have an open mind if one of your athlete’s questions your methods.

*A note on “Life Coaching”. I can never take someone seriously when they tell me that they’re a Life Coach. The word coach dates back to the 16th century and is of French/German/Hungarian origins. It comes from Kocs a town on the main road between Vienna and Budapest. The word refers to tutoring, from the conception of the tutor as one who carries the student through examinations. I think we can all agree that any tutor must have first passed the examinations before coaching someone else to pass them. Therefore, the title Life Coach sounds like a person that’s boasting they have passed life’s exams. Ha! Jive Turkey! You must be outta yo damned mind! I once met a “Life Coach” in her twenties. She had more drama in her personal life than a Youtube comment thread. She was asking me for advice. WTF!? I’ve never met one person on this planet that has passed life’s tests and thusly been able to legitimately call themselves a coach (or tutor) of life. We all fumble and learn from life’s tests. If you’ve hired a Life Coach, think critically about what qualifies that individual (and their completely different set of life experiences) to coach your life. If you are a Life Coach and you’re making a living telling people what to do, express gratitude daily that your clients have not realized your hustle. We live in a capitalist society so… get money!