This One’s About Active Shooter Training And Gun Violence

Content Warning for me ranting about Active Shooter training, Guns in the US, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, Activer Shooter situations, and “Active Assailant” training.

I’m going to be clear: I’m pissed as hell after a thing came up with work and I went a full rant about this stuff. I get it if that’s not something you’re interested in, something you’re already traumatized by, or just want to (ENTIRELY UNDERSTANDABLY) avoid these topics creeping into more of your life. There’s no harm in leaving now. You don’t have to click to expand and read about this stuff. I needed to write about it, though, since it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I’m so angry that even the stuff created specifically to prepare people for these scenarios tries to be coy about it. The US has a problem and it is only getting worse.

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Creating Your Own Hope Via Collective Action

I spent the entire fourth of July watching a charity stream hosted by my favorite podcast, Friends at the Table, as they raised money for the National Network of Abortion Funds. Over the course of two days of streaming, 10 hours on July 3rd and almost 12 hours on July 4th, they raised over $160,000. It was amazing to watch on both days as the numbers slowly (and sometimes incredibly quickly) ticked ever upward as the dual promise of supporting a worthy cause and unlocking the various goals pushed people to donate. The world would be a better place if charity drives like this one weren’t necessary, but we don’t live in that world. We live in one slowly falling apart due to corruption, extreme wealth disparity, rampant capitalism, the powerful’s open hatred of anyone who isn’t a cisgendered white man, and reactionary politics. It’s difficult to feel hope these days, especially given that I live in the most gerrymandered state in the US, so I’m not sure I can say I live in anything even close to a democracy without lying to myself. But as I watched some wonderful entertainers play games, goof around, and do a solid twelve hours of streaming (with a few reasonable breaks, of course) while the people watching (myself included) smashed through every fundraising goal these entertainers put in front of us, I can’t deny the spark of hope that ignited within me.

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The Slow, Onerous Grind of Change

(Another brief reminder that I write these a week ahead of time and while I hope nothing drastic has happened since I wrote this, it might not be an immediate reflection of the day it gets posted).

The past few days have been exhausting. Reeling from all of the expected but still devasting decisions by those sitting atop the judicial branch of the US government, I still had to go grocery shopping, clean my apartment, make myself meals, do laundry, and navigating a draining social situation that was one of my biggest anxieties which I’d been coping with by telling myself it would never happen. Because it’s not like my life grinds to a halt the instant something terrible happens in the world. I still need to pay bills, feed myself, maintain some kind of social connections, and take care of myself even when I’m trying to figure out how I can respond to the horrible things happening in the world around me.

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Time To Settle In For The Long Haul

Today’s been a real shit show [I originally wrote this on the day the US Supreme Court dismantled Roe v Wade, but it’s felt true pretty much every day since then]. In the past few weeks of judicial bullshit, the Supreme Court Injustices have wrecked more shit on rights for citizens of the US than any other time in my life as a socially-conscious adult Human. If I hadn’t spent time a few weeks ago looking up ways to write about being incandescently furious, wounded, and positively apoplectic, I would be at a loss for words! Instead, I’ve got all these wonderful ways to talk about the grave injustices, loss of rights, and anti-democratic hanky-panky being pulled by the pro-fascism side of my country’s government. Still, even armed as I am with words aplenty, I can’t help but feel none of them are adequate to the task of describing how I feel in this moment.

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What A Fucking Day

Somehow, I’ve managed to get almost everything done. It helps that one of the events I’m trying to catch up for is going to be late in the day tomorrow, so I should have enough time to get through it all. All of which only really applied until the rest of today happened. For a lot of reasons, the day I wrote this (November 19th, 2021) has been exhausting, draining, and just miserable. I don’t want to go into it all because it is either nothing surprising/unexpected or personal to the point that talking about it would take more writing and emotional effort than I have in me to give.

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I’m Just Gonna Unload All This Anxiety Over Here, By The Other Anxiety

I had an enjoyable day, today. Facebook was down for most of it and, as much as I’d like to say I got a lot done as a result, I definitely did not. Partly because I have already taken steps to disconnect myself from Facebook and partly because it was hard to focus while enjoying the feeling of being free from one of my larger, more nebulous anxieties.

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Wisdom, Intelligence, and Unanswered Questions

I don’t know if this is a discussion most people have with any kind of frequency but, as a D&D player, I’ve often discussed the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

The trickiest part of the whole discussion is that it feels like the distinction is super clear in your mind, but the actual explanations you try to provide always wind up feeling hollow, inadequate, or you just can’t think of any. The popular explanation in D&D groups follows the “Tomato Explanation” of character attributes. “Strength is your ability to crush a tomato. Dexterity is your ability to dodge a tomato. Constitution is our ability to eat a bad tomato. Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad. Charisma is being able to sell a tomato-based fruit salad.”

There are any number of jokes that go along with this (my favorite is pointing out that a tomato-based fruit salad is salsa and then someone else declaring that I’m the party’s bard now), but they all ignore that you could easily make the argument that describing salsa as tomato-based fruit salad is actually an aspect of intelligence. As is knowing that tomatoes don’t pair well with most fruits. Any time a player makes a claim about how the mental attributes work, another player could make a convincing argument that all of those examples are actually just all a part of the same attribute.

Then, when you take these discussions out of their D&D context, you continue to run into the same problem. Is making good decisions really the result of being wise, or is it an aspect of being intelligent? Are you able to anticipate the outcomes of your actions because some innate part of you understands the correct choices or are you able to predict the end results of what you do because you can understand all the variables and their consequences? Hell, is this even a distinction worth making at all?

I’m fairly certain that wisdom and intelligence their own, discrete things. Maybe their differences aren’t super apparent when people have relatively similar amounts of each, but more extreme example make it much more clear.

Take, for instance, this software developed I worked with at my last job. He pushed at the very edges of what our code was able to do, creating these incredibly complicated activities that expanded what our customers thought was possible and laid the groundwork for future expansion beyond even that. He was probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. At the same time, by the end of his first year at the company, I was the only person who could work with him. I worked with him for almost two years and the next longest anyone else worked with him was 6 months. Third was 7 weeks. To put it bluntly, he was a condescending asshole who constantly belittled and insulted his coworkers, even if it wasn’t on purpose most of the time.

His example makes it pretty clear that intelligence isn’t something you can substitute for wisdom or charisma. On the other hand, one of my current coworkers is a super nice and competent guy. He’s better at his job than I can hope to be in anything less than a decade (we have the same job, he’s just the Senior version of it) and he has these piercing insights into how our whole team functions, along with being able to talk through things with people so that they come to see their best course of action. However, if you explain a new idea quickly, he can struggle with it for a bit before it finally clicks for him. Which shows plenty of wisdom can’t be substituted for intelligence.

To put it simply, I think wisdom is the ability to explain and intelligence is the ability to learn. I think the reason people have a hard time distinguishing between them is that they feed into each other. If you can learn easily, you are better equipped to explain things and being able to explain things well means that you have more opportunities to learn, even if you’re just learning from yourself. I can explain stuff to people very well because I know a lot, which means I can draw upon a lot of different comparisons so that what I’m explaining is housed in terms that are easy to understand. I also couldn’t begin to count to the number of times I’ve suddenly had a flash of insight into something when I’m trying to explain it so someone.

Despite the similarities between wisdom and intelligence, I think it is important to be mindful of the differences. If you start to conflate the two, you can wind up in a lot of awful situations because you relied too heavily on one when you needed the other. I can easily recognize when something I’ve said is wrong or has been misinterpreted based on people’s reactions (intelligence), but being able to anticipate that reaction and changing it beforehand (wisdom) is always better than apologizing and clarifying. Sure, it isn’t entirely reasonable to expect myself to always be able to do that, or to even spend so much time measuring my own words, but making a habit of sticking my foot in my mouth is also a pretty shitty way to live, even if I apologize afterwards.

I reflect on this a lot, specifically in the terms of thinking about how my communication affects other people. I spend more time measuring my words than I do speaking. To be honest, one of my biggest issues with myself is just how much I censor myself when talking to people: how much effort and energy I put into delicately phrasing things so as to not offend. This blog is supposed to be part of my effort to not spend so much time holding my silence, but I find myself avoiding certain topics and thoughts I’d like to explore because I know family and friends read this blog.

Maybe this is one of the reasons I feel like I haven’t made much progress in the past few years. Maybe I feel like I’ve stagnated because I’m blocking my own words, feelings, and responses in favor of giving other peoples’ higher priority. Maybe I’m writing this blog post without any insights and only unanswered questions because I don’t want to confront the truth that’s sitting right in front of my face, but is still somehow hidden from my conscious sight. Or maybe I’m just going to keep asking myself this question for my entire life, and this entire blog is just one more way to explore possible answers.

Wisdom says focusing on questions gets you further than focusing on answers. Intelligence says that some questions have no answers and just mulling them over is enough to promote growth and mental development. I say that, like almost everything in life, the answer to this particular question is going to be something along the lines of “take care, but not too much.”

A Little Perspective Can Go a Long Way

I’ll admit that I was rather surprised by some of the responses I got to yesterday’s post. I got a couple of messages from friends who were concerned about me (thanks again for caring enough to talk, it really does mean a lot to me, whatever I might say in response) and then, because I didn’t think what I’d posted had been dark enough to warrant that level of concern, I asked my closest friend for her perspective.

She told me that it was, in fact, darker than I’d thought and, furthermore, most of my interactions with her had become rather focused around my depression. She wasn’t complaining of course, mostly just reinforcing the realization I was coming to.

One of humanity’s trademark abilities is adaptability. Every sci-fi and fantasy depiction of humans–as compared to other races or beings–has made the point that humans can survive anywhere and get used to any circumstance. It’s pretty well exemplified in the real world as well. As soon as a city is destroyed by an earthquake, a flood, or a tornado, we immediately begin to rebuild right where we were. Maybe we upgrade some stuff to make us more likely to survive next time, but we just adapt to our environment rather than find someplace less hazardous.

I’ve been the same way my entire life. Every time something bad has happened, I’ve just figured out how to cope and then carried on. I adjusted. Sure, that meant sometimes shoving things so far out of my mind that it took 7 years of my life and 4 years of therapy to be able to feel something about it again, but I managed to survive the encounter and continue living my life. I adapted to my new life and even thrived.

So when it comes to talking about my depression and how bad things have gotten for me, I’m going off a baseline created from three years of being over worked, under appreciated, and held to impossible standards at a job I couldn’t afford to leave. All that on top of all the crazy, unfortunate stuff that happened to me in the 21 years before getting that job. I got used to being pretty much low-key depressed all the time. I stopped expecting to have any kind of happiness from day-to-day and settled my hopes on just not being miserable.

I adapted to my situation by removing expectations and hopes that would accentuate the bad situation I was. In doing so, I lost my frame of reference for what was acceptable and how bad some of my issues were. I also made a point to remind myself, when empathizing with other people, that everyone has their own scale for what they’re capable of dealing with and what they’d consider to be “the worst.” Throw both things together and I wound up not only with no frame of reference or ability to concretely measure my own suffering, but also with a poor ability to realize what my own suffering sounds like to other people.

So now I make blog posts like yesterday that make me sound really miserable because I honestly am and fail to really notice the true extent of what I’m saying because I’ve been more miserable in the past. It takes people reaching out to me to notice. Which means I’d ignore problems that are slowly becoming worse like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water that is then set to a boil.

I think what I need to do to remedy this is not only be more mindful of where I am in my life and what’s going on with me, but I also need to broaden my blog topics a bit and focus a little more on constructive conversation around depression rather than just letting off steam. Maybe advocate to remove the stigma a little more emphatically than just leading by example. I mean, it’s always been my intention to do that to some degree or another and I’ve already figured out exactly what I’d do with my money if I became a super rich author (throw money at that problem as well as words), but I think I can do more, even now. There’s really no better time to start something than “now”.

I’m a tall, middle-class white dude with a degree in English Literature, which means I’m not super qualified to do much on most current topics other than support and align myself with the downtrodden and put-upon. The only exclusion is mental health. After my personal experiences and all my years of therapy, I think I’m pretty qualified to join the conversation, at the very least, even if I’m not an expert.

Hi, my name is Chris, I’m a dude with emotions that are hard for me to talk about because I’ve been taught that I’m not supposed to share them and I tend to lose sight of my ability to properly care for myself because I was taught that everyone else was more important than me (though I guess that dovetails into toxic masculinity pretty well). I want to help people be better than they are and I love to tell stories. I struggle with depression almost every day, along with a fairly constant battle with anxiety, OCD, and insomnia brought on by all my other issues. I have a hard time emotionally connecting with people because a lot of the people I’ve connected to have not only hurt me, but specifically used the vulnerability I’ve shown them to hurt me. I don’t deal well with conflict and I really hate talking on the phone. I have more issues that I’m not sharing because I’m not ready to face them in a public forum.

So now that all that’s on the table, all nice and explicitly, let’s start a conversation. I’m perfectly willing to just stand here and talk if you aren’t ready to start yet. I’ve certainly got enough issues to talk for months, if not years. I can provide resources and suggestions on self-care since I’m constantly working on that myself. I’ll help you figure out how to cope and you can help me keep my perspective in line with reality. It’ll be great.