Saturday, April 20, 2013

The difference between "challenging" and "attacking" and why it's important

I've noticed an interesting trend in American culture.  I first noticed it on the internet, but once I noticed it there, I noticed it EVERYWHERE.

The fact is that we (Americans) no longer consider it socially acceptable to challenge each other, with the exception of a very small percentage of the population who are pursuing higher education at a very rigorous level.  (I'm thinking Ivy league graduate schools, here.)

Try it today.  The next time one of your friends says something that you don't agree with, question why they feel the way they do.  Particularly if it's an opinion that they reached through emotion and not through logic.  I guarantee that not only will they hate you for it, but everyone else will tell you that you are being rude.

This is especially true in Texas, but I have noticed it everywhere that I've gone in my travels across the country.

When did we all decide that we would rather be publicly ignorant than have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable for a couple of seconds?

It would be one thing if this was confined to religious beliefs, but I have seen this in discussions concerning every topic imaginable.

People will say something about science that is blatantly wrong, and feel attacked when someone corrects them.

People will get the facts wrong about a public event (usually due to getting their news from questionable sources) and feel attacked when someone corrects them.

People will say blatantly inflammatory things, designed to get other people angry while having no basis in reality or fact, AND THEN FEEL UNFAIRLY ATTACKED WHEN SOMEONE QUESTIONS THEM!

Who is responsible for this?

What generation decided that this was going to be the way we operate?

How did they think that we would advance and grow as human beings without ever having our faulty information corrected, or our logical fallacies questioned?

I don't know.  All I know is that it happened some time before I was born.

Maybe it's always been this way, but that is no excuse.

I would like to suggest that we rise up together, as a whole, and reject this social norm.

The next time someone questions you and you feel attacked, stop and take a deep breath, and then ask yourself if they might actually be saying something valuable.

The next time that you see someone saying something that is blatantly wrong, correct them. 

Please use logic and facts to do so, and not inflammatory rhetoric. (If you don't know what a logical fallacy is, find out.  If you don't know what the facts are, look them up.  This is the internet age, people, you have no excuse for being ignorant.)

And then when someone gets mad at you for "attacking" them, call them on it. 

Explain to them the difference between "challenging" and "attacking".

Link them to this article, if you have to.

Because the difference is incredibly important.  Being attacked is a terrible thing, and no one should ever have to tolerate it, but being challenged is the only way that you will ever grow!

And if we never grow and never change, what is the point of being alive?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stop it, America

Today I was listening to the radio and I got to thinking about how easy it is to skew an argument by using percentages instead of actual information that people can relate to on a personal level.  For example, it's easy to make it sound "unfair" to charge a graduated income tax when you look at it in terms of percentages....  But should the average American really be asked to tighten their belts so that the richest Americans won't have to sell their third vacation home?  Because that's what would happen if we switched to a flat tax.  (I'm talking to you, country bumpkins who argue passionately in McDonald's about how you think we should just charge a flat tax...)

I looked up some numbers and I found out that over 80% of Americans make less than $100,000 a year (according to 2010 census records).  I don't know if this comes as a surprise to anyone else, but I was shocked.  The numbers that we hear thrown around are always huge numbers.  $200,000.  $350,000.  Millions.  Billions.  What's up with that?

Then I got to thinking about it, and I realized that like most Americans, I don't have any personal experience to understand what's actually going on at different income levels.  How could I have an informed opinion about this sort of thing when I only really know what it's like to live at a relatively low income level? 

So I did the logical thing.  I spent the afternoon building three different characters to represent three different "average level" incomes, and then built a true-to-life budget for each of those characters, using the best information that I could come up with while searching the internet.  It was quite enlightening!  The most interesting thing is that it was just as hard to balance the richest budget as it was to balance the poorest.  Now I understand why people with plenty of money get so panic-stricken when thinking about what to do with it, or when thinking about the possibility of having even slightly less money to work with.  It's still offensive to people with less, but at least it's understandable.  There's no income level at which you get to stop worrying about your budget! 

Before I get into what else I learned from this exercise, here are the three budgets I came up with.  All three live in Texas (to eliminate the complication of state income tax) and make generally sound financial decisions given the circumstances they've started with, and also because that's the area where I'm familiar with the general cost of living and lifestyle.  I chose three different income levels: minimum wage, Texas average income, and $100,000.


Peter Poverty

Peter Poverty makes minimum wage working at WalMart, and is married with one child.  Peter takes home about $15,000 a year, which is about $1250 per month.  He pays nothing in taxes because he makes so little money.  He works hard, accepts whatever overtime he's offered, and is more frugal than 99.9% of his colleagues.  He's too proud to accept government aid, but sometimes he accepts charity from his local church or family members, usually on behalf of his son.

His biggest financial worry is that an emergency will come along and force him into a debt trap.  He's proud that he's never accepted government aid, but right now he's making it only by the skin of his teeth, and is one catastrophe away from having to choose between running up a huge credit card bill or becoming homeless.

Peter's monthly budget:

Rent.......................................... $650

Electricity.................................. $70

Water & trash........................... $35

Phone bill.................................. $40

Homeowner's insurance............. $15

Car insurance............................ $40

Food........................................ $250

Gas........................................... $70

Emergency savings..................... $50

Credit Card minimum payment... $30

Andrea Average

Andrea Average teaches math and science at the local Middle School.  She's single and loving it.  She makes about $40,000 a year, which is the official average income in Texas.  Her annual tax bill is a little more than $4000.  Her monthly take home pay is about $3000.

Andrea lives in a nice one-bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood.  She'd like to own a house someday, but she's waiting until she gets married and settles down to do so.  For now, she's quite happy with her situation.

Her biggest financial worry is that her student loan payment is eating her retirement savings and preventing her from thinking seriously about settling down with a family.  She's happy that her job provides great benefits, because her lifestyle would take a dramatic hit if she had to provide herself with comparable health insurance coverage.

Andrea's monthly budget:

Rent.................................................. $900

Electricity.......................................... $100

Water and trash................................. $35

Cable, TV, and internet package........ $150

Homeowners insurance...................... $15

Cell Phone......................................... $100

Car insurance..................................... $40

Car payment...................................... $200

Student Loan payment........................ $300

Food.................................................. $170

Gas.................................................... $100

Retirement savings.............................. $900

Barney Businessman

Barney Businessman operates a one-man consulting business that is quite successful.  He loves what he does, and is grateful that he's been fortunate enough to be able to pull himself up by his bootstraps to build his business from the ground up. He's married and has one child, and his wife is a homemaker by choice.  He makes about $100,000 a year. His annual tax bill is about $15,500.  He takes home about $7000 each month.

Barney lives in a nice house in an upper middle class neighborhood. It's a great school district, but property taxes are a bit high because of the location.  Although he might be able to afford a more expensive house, he decided to stick with something well within his reach so that he could enjoy more flexibility in his budget. 

Barney's biggest financial worries are that the costs of college tuition will outstrip his ability to save up for it, and that changes to healthcare or the tax code will upset the fragile balance of the lifestyle that he has worked so hard to build.

Barney's monthly budget:

Mortgage payment.............................. $1000

Health insurance payment.................... $600

Property taxes..................................... $340

Homeowners insurance........................ $350

Electricity............................................ $300

Water & trash..................................... $50

Cable, internet, and phone package..... $200

Cell phones......................................... $150

Groceries............................................ $400

Entertainment...................................... $100

Car savings......................................... $500

Car insurance...................................... $300

Retirement savings.............................. $2,000

College savings................................... $1000

Emergency & general savings.............. $500


After doing this, I sat for a long while considering some of the recent public debates that have gone on.  Healthcare, public spending, the federal budget deficit, capital gains tax, the fiscal cliff...  Now, I have something important to say to all Americans that apply to every single one of these debates.

If you are in the top 2% of earners:

Hello rich person.  Let's stop being polite for a moment:  If you are in the top 2% of earners (that is, if you make more than $350,000 per year) and you are complaining about having to return to the pre-Bush era tax levels in order to balance the federal budget, you are being selfish.  I know, it's not considered "okay" to call you selfish in America today, because your fragile ego might get damaged.  Tough tittie, because there is no other word for that, so I'm calling it like it is.

Let's look at the facts:

The budget CANNOT be balanced by eliminating discretionary spending (things like medicare, food stamps, PBS, etc).  That would be like Andrea Average up there trying to come up with another $2000 in her budget by turning off her cell phone.  (Even if you completely eliminated ALL discretionary spending, it would only be a drop in the bucket.)  Sure, military spending should be lower, but the only way to lower that would be to completely cut off all foreign relations, and the reality of the world we live in is that we just simply can't do that.  In the literary world, this is what we call a "red herring."  So stop it.

Furthermore, the state of capital gains tax in particular is absolutely appalling, and the fact that you continue to pretend otherwise shows the state of your morality better than any other thing you say.

Some people will try to alleviate your selfish guilt by telling you that you pay more than your fair share in terms of percentages.  But let's just be truthful, shall we?  Right now, you have an annual take-home pay of at least $265,506.  Most of you take home much more than that. Here's a reality check:  When someone like you claims that raising your taxes is unfair, what you are saying is that Andrea Average should give up her retirement savings and Barney Businessman should stop saving for his kid's college  so that you can continue to maintain your second or third vacation home.  How can you say that this is anything other than greed and selfishness?

The fact that you somehow continue to spin this situation in your favor, and that you continue to get people like Barney Businessman to buy your ridiculous arguments astounds me.

In conclusion, stop hysterically crying "UNFAIR" every time someone suggests raising your taxes to the rate that they should have been all along.  You're making yourself look like a giant baby throwing a tantrum because your mommy made you leave some birthday cake for the other kids, and it's beneath you.

However, you aren't the only one that I feel the need to fuss at.  You are, after all, a minority, and could never accomplish anything without the rest of us going along with it. 

If you are one of the 98% of American quibbling over this issue:

Why do you continue to accept this picture that's being painted of a culture war between Peter Poverty and Barney Businessman?  Peter Poverty, Andrea Average, and Barney Businessman are ALL in a fight for their livelihoods against Marty Millionaire...  It's only the details of what's at stake that are different for each of you.

At the risk of sounding like a crazy Wall Street protester....  As long as we continue to let the Marty Millionaires of this world pit us against each other by spinning this debate in the most stupid ways imaginable, we will continue to see an increasingly divided nation and an increasingly unstable economy, all while the Marty Millionaires continue to get even richer by manipulating the situation to grow their fortunes (as they've already been doing for some time now, if you'd pay attention to the fact that this section of the population continued to get richer even through the worst financial crisis our country has seen since the Great Depression).

We can bicker about the details once we've eliminated the root of our biggest problems.  For now, it's time for us to stand together.

(Having said all of this, feel free to provide a counter-argument, please provide sources for any information you provide.  Baseless claims will be deleted from the comments without hesitation or remorse, because they spread misinformation and lower the quality of the debate.)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dear Racists: Get over yourself. Sincerely, Misty

I grew up listening to my grandparents chat about how annoying it was to have to listen to people "jabbering" in Spanish at neighboring tables in restaurants. They felt that English should be made the national language. They used to encourage me to learn Spanish so that the bilingual children of Mexican immigrants couldn't "steal" jobs from me.

My mother refused to take a very good job in another part of the country because she found out that there were a high percentage of minorities living there. When asked about other important factors (median income, property values, cost of living, etc) she couldn't answer. When she found out there were a high percentage of minorities, she stopped looking.

When I moved into my first apartment, it was in a neighborhood where many African Americans lived. My grandfather came to visit and we ate at the nearby Chicken Express. When he noticed that we were the only white people there, he made a loud joke about black people and chicken and horrified everyone in the restaurant except one little old man who apparently had a great sense of humor about it. I wish I'd had a chance to stop and get to know that little old man.

When I went to college, I had to choose between copying the behavior that my elders had modeled for me and thinking for myself, and I'm so glad that I chose the latter. (Even if it may have occasionally upset the family whose values I rejected.) I have come to know so many amazing people that I would never have met if I had continued in my family's tradition.

I'm sure that I have said things that were offensive out of pure ignorance. I'm so glad and thankful that I have friends who were patient and gave me time to learn the things that my family neglected to teach me. On behalf of all the children of racist parents out there, I regret that you had to take on the burden of educating us, but I'm so glad that you did. Thank you!

Racism is not hereditary. The fact that people were "raised that way" is no longer an excuse.

It's time to wake up and move into the 21st century.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What is "obese"?

I haven't posted in awhile, but I haven't really had anything positive to say in awhile. Luckily, life is getting better. Hoorah!

Of course, that means I also have the excess energy to see things on Facebook and get vaguely annoyed.

Lately, this picture has been going around my Facebook:

I don't have a huge problem with this picture, really. In fact, I laughed and passed it on like everyone else. But when I saw the way people were talking about it, I realized that there IS a problem here. The problem is that with all good intentions, this picture encourages people to try to judge themselves based on their dress size. People compare themselves to these sizes and go, "But I'm a size 4 and I don't look like that!!"

So here's what I wanted to say to all women everywhere: Your dress size is meaningless for judging how you look. One woman can be drop dead gorgeous at size 16, and another can be extremely overweight at size 16. In fact, being classified as "obese" doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what you look like. Your weight is just a number.

I know you've heard all this before, so I'm going to try something new. I used my webcam to take a picture of myself. The quality kind of sucks and I didn't bother changing clothes or posing to try to make myself look good, but you should be able to get a general idea of my figure.

I happen to think I look pretty damn good. Maybe I don't have a tiny waist, but I'm satisfied with myself. FYI, I am a size 16 (same as the woman on the above right), and I /definitely/ don't look that good in my underwear, but you'll have to use your imagination, there.

Here is the kicker: At 190 pounds I am only 10 pounds away from being "obese" according to the BMI scale. That puts me at the very top of the "overweight" range. Does that picture look like a woman who is 10 pounds away from obesity? Nope. And why? Because the scale doesn't work for everyone. And that is why the obesity rate in this country is 60%, and yet you look around and it definitely doesn't seem like 60% of the people you see are fat. The term "obese" does not mean what you think it means!

So for all you ladies out there worrying because you wear a size 16+ and only the "plus size" stores carry your size, or because some scale told you that you were "obese", or because you don't like the number that pops up on the scale... Stop worrying about it. You are beautiful. No, you are absolutely breathtaking.

And I like looking at women, so I should know. ;p

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to take over the world

Step 1: Open your social media platform of choice.

Step 2: Type the words "Today was a good day."

Step 3: Come up with one simple reason why day really was a good day, whatever "good" means to you, and write that down.

Step 4: Hit enter.

Step 5: Go to sleep.

Step 6: Wake up.

Step 7: Do at least one thing that makes today a good day.

Step 8: Repeat steps 1-7, indefinitely.

Step 9: World Domination

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Open Letter to the Chapman/Doggett Family

(Note: Corey is exempt from this letter. Corey is welcome to read, but I will always be here for him, because he has repeatedly demonstrated a kindness and selflessness that is almost supernatural. I hope that he can make his own break for freedom before you all get a chance to tear him to pieces, because I have never met a more caring, loving, and kind young man in all my life.)

When I was a little girl, I was taught to believe that family is everything. Family comes before all else, and that when a family member is in need, you should give up everything and come running.

I believed this lie from the bottom of my heart. While it is not the only lie that I believed with whole-hearted conviction, it is probably the most hurtful. To think of how many times I have bragged to friends about how my family takes care of their own, it makes me a little sick.

For those of you who have been too self-centered to notice, for the past 2-3 years, I have been engaged in a fight for my life. The core of my problems have stemmed from a recurring suicidal depression, interspersed with periods of quasi-mania. I have no doubt that a qualified psychologist would have diagnosed me as bipolar. The point is that through all of this, I have tried to stay strong and deal with things the best way I know how. I don't want to be a burden. I don't want to be another crazy Chapman. I have only rarely asked for help, and only when there was truly no way that I could find to help myself. (For that matter, I think Aunt Nell is the only one I have asked to help me, prior to recent events. She has always been kind to me, even if her son and husband have not. Most of the rest of this letter will not apply to her. If anything, Aunt Nell served the same function in the past that I have served in recent years. That is, she has been the person everyone turns to for help, but that everyone quickly forgets as soon as their own needs are met.)

Meanwhile, during this time, I have never failed to answer the phone when one of you called to talk about whatever stupid problems you were having lately. I was happy that I could provide a place for you to vent. In a way, I guess it made me feel useful in a world that increasingly seemed to find no value in my existence. I made a valiant effort never to judge, to see things from your perspective, and to always be kind and considerate of your feelings, regardless of how racist, rude, or selfish I felt you were being. I glossed over the fact that I never received a call just to ask how I was doing. I attributed this observation to paranoia or depression, and tried to disregard any hurt that may have been caused.

I have repeatedly taken the needs of the family as a whole into consideration when I made plans for my life. For my troubles, I've been yelled at, abused, manipulated, had my apartment trashed, and generally been made to feel like a stupid and worthless person for ever bothering to exist.

Maybe it doesn't seem like I've given much, but in the context of what I have to give, it's everything. How many people are there in your life that you would climb in a dumpster for, for example? Not only climb in a dumpster, but spend hours and hours picking through the most disgusting garbage for? Rotting meat, toilet tissue, used feminine hygiene products... I dealt with all of this just to make someone I loved happy, without an expectation of repayment or compensation of any kind.

Last month, for the very first time in years, I asked for real help to achieve something that I really wanted. I didn't feel that what I was asking was huge, but if someone had said 'no', I would have taken it at face value and moved on. (Hell, one of the people to whom I refer actually offered their help without me having to ask.) For the first time in my life, things seemed to be going off without a hitch. This time, it seemed that there was some truth in the statement that "family sticks together."

Unfortunately, it all fell apart. It wasn't just that I was left to fend for myself with whatever friends might be willing to take me in with little to no warning. I could have handled that, and would likely have just berated myself for handling the situation poorly. What really opened my eyes? It is the petty, selfish, manipulative, and overall mean things that have been said to me during one of the darkest times in my life. I jumped into the safety net that I had always believed to exist, only to find that it was gossamer. So I fell on my ass and it hurt. No big deal, I've survived worse. What I can't tolerate is that the people who are supposed to love me unconditionally have been extremely hateful and ugly to me while I struggled to stand up and walk again.

Maybe I would have forgotten how all of this hurt. Maybe I would have allowed myself to be convinced that I was the bad guy. That I wasn't deserving of kindness. That I was really the one being a thoughtless, terrible person for daring to be imperfect. Maybe I would even disregard the fact that only Corey seems to care where I've ended up. But out of the blue, the father that I've never known shows up. The father that never knew me, has no clue what's going on, or why I'm in trouble, emails me and offers to let me live with him and his family.

This man that I've been raised to believe was a shiftless, unreliable person has shown up in my hour of need to help me, without condition or expectation of payment. His wife, who has no reason to want me around, and a pretty significant reason to be resentful of my very existence, has hugged me and let me cry on her shoulder. They've been kinder and more understanding than anyone in my position has a right to expect.

It's a disorienting thing, really, to realize that the reason your father was never around was not because he didn't want to be, but because your crazy family repeatedly chased him off for daring to be human. I never believed it before, but actions speak louder than words. And now a lot of little puzzle pieces that never made sense before are suddenly falling into place. The Chapman/Doggetts are very good at walking the walk, but very few of you are able to talk the talk, and you've shown time and time again that while you may say you want me around, it's only when I'm cleaning your house, helping raise your children, giving you a place to stay (with no consequences if you walk away leaving piles of garbage and ant nests all over the floor and in the furniture), or generally having very few needs of my own.

I can no longer be this person that you want me to be. If you cannot be kind and considerate to me when I stumble, why should you have the benefit of my presence when I'm standing tall and able to help you?

In conclusion, I can no longer consider myself to be a Chapman/Doggett. I don't know yet if I will come to consider myself a Cantwell. Who knows? But I'm willing to try. And if that doesn't work, I'll build a family that deserves me, because frankly, you people do not.

To be clear, I don't wish any of you harm. I hope that you are deliriously, wonderfully, blissfully happy for the rest of your lives. I love you all, and you have no idea how much it hurts to realize that my unconditional love is not reciprocated. Unfortunately, I cannot live your lifestyle and stay psychologically healthy.

Good luck, and may you have a happy life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to survive the end of the world

We all have times in our lives where we feel like the roof is about to cave in on us.

Maybe you’ve been searching high and low for employment with no prospects on the horizon, and your unemployment just ran out.

Maybe you have 42 cents in the bank and you’re down to your last bowl of beans and rice.

Maybe you just got served with a lawsuit from a credit collection agency.

Maybe you had a grease fire that destroyed the kitchen of the apartment you just moved into.

Maybe all of these things happened to you in the same week.

The one thing all these scenarios have in common is the feeling that all hope is lost. The feeling that nothing will ever get better. If you haven’t been in a situation like this…trust me, you will. And when it happens, you’ll feel like you can’t possibly move forward. Game over. The end.

Fortunately, unless you are actually dead (in which case, zombie/ghost/ghoul/what-have-you…. Thanks for reading!), then chances are very good that your life isn’t really over.

I know, it will be hard to believe, but trust me. Life goes on. It will suck, but you will survive, because survival is really not that difficult. People do it every day. You just have to keep moving.

Sure, I could sit here telling you to think about all the people who have it worse than you do… But you know what? That won’t make you feel any better. If you’re like me, it may make you feel worse.

What you should keep in perspective is that these hard times will end. Just like good things, all runs of bad luck must end, and sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places. Just remember that if you've given up by the time help arrives, nothing can make a difference.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to stop looking at the "big picture" and focus on the very next step that you can take to make yourself feel in control of the situation, not matter how small that step is.

So send out that next resume, look through your couch and see if you can scrape up fifty cents for a few more pinto beans, call a lawyer, toss out that burnt up pan, and sign up for some grief counseling.

Because tomorrow is another day, and things can only go up from here.