Friday, January 29, 2016

A Little Help Can Change The Road You Are On.

Our past can be a road map for our future. We tend to pick roads that look similar to the ones we've been on. Partly out of habit, partly because we are comfortable dealing with what we've already faced. Potholes, washboarding, lack of signage. We wonder after a while why or how we got on the same road we thought we put behind us. We clutch that map. We keep using it.

When we are really ready to change we look at that map. We take note of the landmarks. We turn to our friends and say "Hey, if I keep on this road- could you call me on it? Could you give me a carrot to chase or nudge me toward other roads which might be entirely unfamiliar but past due for me to find?  I'll do the same for you!"

We get caught on roads with deep nasty ruts. Revving and revving and wearing ourselves down. Habits die hard. Friends want to help but social etiquette goes around the needed constructive communication and just plays the "Yes man Enabler Song" on repeat.

I'm not your Yes man. I maybe be your friend, ally, student, teacher, healer, fool but I won't be your Enabler. I'm not going to talk you into another donut, twenty shots at the bar, or condone jackassery.

There's enough real shit in this world that needs addressing. Communicating honestly, brainstorming, we can be the mirror for our friends and our communities. Together we grow, heal, and have a remarkable impact. Alone we could be exhausting ourselves with good intentions but not enough amplification for even those who love us to hear.

In Africa there is a saying "It takes a village to raise a child."

The truth is, we all need support. The support of your village, your people is healing. Your mind shifts and your roads shift with reaching out and being reached. Healing goes both ways. We never stop needing our village, it needs each of us to be healthy as well. Mental health is hard to maintain in isolation, people need people.

What is your map like? How many times have you driven the same road? What keeps you there? If you broke a pattern, how?

Who is part of your village? How do you treat each other?

If you find yourself in a nonsymbiotic position, what can you do to change the road you are on?

Important questions for a healthy tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Follow The Money

Strife shakes the ground, beliefs create barriers to understanding. Violence rocks our world. Excuses and blame pile up. This group, that group, because- because- because... Because of the wonderful things it does.


Set aside Saints, Sinners, Prophets, Saviors, even Gods. We'll get back to them.

Money. Greed. Profit motivates war. Profit motivates underpaying workers, choosing substandard materials and shoddy workmanship.

Greed and money motivates advertisers and politicians. Corporations overshadow society. Shaping our rituals and manipulating our emotions into sales. Diamonds are? Stones. Hard rocks used to cut rocks that aren't as hard. You are aware that the diamond industry wanted higher sales, so they invested in Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe sang the advertising into our hearts. A new ritual was created, diamond engagement rings. It's a gimmick. Did you fall for it?
Lithium? Powers your electronics. Where is lithium found? Afghanistan.
Middle east? Oil. If I wanted to incite you to violence oil wouldn't do it, but slashing at your religion or culture that's different.

Before you start foaming at the mouth, rising to a media sound bite or meme catch phrase pause.

Follow the money. Drop the feelings. Facts only.

Everything changes.

We each have the power to vote. We vote everyday with our spending.

Media argues and pushes topics at us, while filtering out topics that might negatively impact sales for the highest bidders. Others buy our information, that we freely shared, bored and lonely and curious on Facebook. The ads become tailored to you. You're stalked by virtual profit hunters, political manipulators.

They'll use what you've given them against you. Your interests, insecurities, deep seated fears are the weapons they use. They let you pick your poison, even earn you of the risks. They let you pick what you sentence yourself to. Twenty years in this cubicle or that production line. Sign yourself into indentured servitude with loans.

Educate yourself. Find your own freedom, follow your passion and face down fear. Shit happens, pain too, deal and go on.

Follow the money. Be aware the more alarmist the news gets, or the more superficial that there's a reason it's being shoveled out the way it is.

What are you missing? Why do you hate who you hate? Life is too short to waste being poisoned by spite and rhetoric.

Remember, the choice really is yours. If you choose to have it.

The Virtual Reality of Hacking

Memes, flash ads of the day. Suddenly we can all quip and write up zingers to share through social media.

Advertisements, presentations. What is the difference? Follow this link and that one, but is there something hidden in that link? Will sunglass spam harass my friends or something more sinister?

Our culture is shifting, reshaping the boundaries of friendship and affection into the latest sales hooks. What is friendship worth, listening to pitches, offering connections, because bills seem to grow and income does not.

Your name, your number, is it who you are? Do your expenditures define you?

Do you wait for the media to tell you what to shirk and what to embrace? Social media is a soothing drug you use topically through touch and sight, sometimes sound. If it had a warning label:

"Do not use while operating heavy equipment or driving. Dangerous when combined with other substances including alcohol, caffeine. Use with caution if you have medical conditions including hypertension, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, diabetes or if you may be pregant. Consult a physician before use. It is for entertainment purposes only, do not take what you find on social media as anything other than entertainment.

Overuse may cause irritability, mood swings, short attention span, impulsive behavior, eye strain, depression, anxiety, hypertension, anger, and cancer. "

Danny often says,
"Why not talk to the people around you, people love talking about themselves, it's interesting and you learn a lot."

Today I stood in line, waiting to board my flight to California. Mentally preparing for the eight people I will be this week, checking off details in my head. A conversation caught my attention like a martial artist might catch a fly. Here's what caught my focus:

"The company I work for does cyber security. The public only hears about one in ten attacks. Companies don't want the public to know, as the first month after the attack their sales drop over 30% and in the first couple of months there is a customer loyalty decrease of over 40%.  Our company does all the security for the secret service and government because we've never been hacked. We change algorithms, which all the other companies and protections stick with one. Anyone could run a number of credit cards over a few weeks and figure out the security algorithm being used. Happens all the time. Identify thieves now hack you, then spend the money online using addresses for spending in your home zipcode so it doesn't flag quickly. Takes longer to catch.

Over 90% of cyber crime in the United States is perpetrated by criminal enterprises in foreign countries, not other governments and not here by citizens. We just got contracted by Burger King, working with all the separate franchise owners. The large companies have realized the potential disaster it would be if they get hacked. Burger King can't afford to watch forty percent of their sales to go somewhere else because of a hack, so they invested in our company to protect them. We guarantee our work, we've never been hacked and we guarantee to cover losses if someone does succeed at hacking us."

Think about that.

What would you have asked this gregarious fellow? What wisdom he could share:

"When you use credit cards, debit cards- they are protected, you are protected. They've got it in their contracts that merchants are responsible for protecting themselves. If the merchant does not or their algorithm is hacked, the merchant is out. The credit card companies are not responsible for losses from cyber attacks. The cardholder and the credit card aren't affected. The businesses, often small businesses are, they take the full losses, and doubly so when news of the hacks go public.  "

Small business owners, I thought perhaps you would appreciate this wisdom.

The next war will use virtual weapons. Viral soldiers camouflaged by code.

When you've got a chance to connect, to stretch your knowledge and understanding it is good to open your mind and ears. Listen, consider. Most of the folks in line were absorbed in social media. Two of us listened as that man spoke. Most important lesson I've had in a long time.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Climbing Waterfalls

On a crisp sunny desert day I found myself on a desert ride with friends. We wandered windy roads in a truck that seemed mountain goats designed. It clung to treacherous mountain roads and carried us onto the truly beaten wild roads that tame cars shudder to think about and mufflers clench.

View of Apache Lake and Mountains from Apache Trail

We eventually settled on the more sedate Apache Trail past Canyon Lake and through Fish Creek Canyon. Those who've driven that road know the irony of using sedate in it's description. Generously it is a lane and a half of winding dirt mountain roads with railings that seem to be made from pizza boxes. Rusting wrecks on the side of the mountain inspire caution as you navigate the washboard and washout areas. There is the ever present wonder if you will come around a corner to find someone coming the other way too fast. Somehow you make it through. It is worth it. The views are of vast distances where geology shows off it's capacity for artistic beauty. Mountains molded by water and wind, shaded by the minerals within them. We parked at the bottom, at Fish Creek Canyon. I love hiking there when the water level is low. I love seeing the slender waterfalls dropping hundreds of feet on days like this one. Three waterfalls over hundreds of feet in height brought recent rainfall from the tops of the mountains down to the plants waiting here.

Within moments of parking, my friend Elan and I found a waterfall we could hike up. We could go in any direction. We both were drawn like magnets to the shining, gurgling water. We danced over rocks and water, weaving back and forth like human needles making our way from the pooling short falls at the bottom up around to where we could stand within feet of water coming straight down the mountain over a hundred feet before working its way down to the stream it would join below.

Standing in the remote wilderness, crouched under a thorn tree within inches of ice cold mountain water I realized something. I am the kind of person who climbs waterfalls. There are people who do all sorts of things. It takes all kinds. I love climbing waterfalls. Getting behind them, beneath them, standing in them. The sound, the feel, the beauty. It can be dangerous. It can be foolish. What kind of nitwit seeks out wet, potentially slippery rock and says "climbing that is a great idea!" I am one of those nitwits. Now, I am not going to go up a break neck two hundred feet free climb up a waterfall. But I am going to boulder hop my way to the top or to hidden areas of twisty ones with terrain that practically begs me to climb it.  It is always worth it. I could have walked to the creek. I could have looked at the view down the canyon. Others did. Many did. I went to the first thing that caught my mind. The waterfall I could reach. The waterfall I could climb, in climbing I would see more of the waterfall and more of the vista. Two of us were drawn that way. Danny watched from the road until we went out of view, his face showed that he wanted to feel less exhausted- he wanted to see what was up there too.

Days of paperwork, beaurocracy declaring in it's way the necessity of paperwork in generating meaningless jobs of communication and miscommunication. Of people being numbers and categorized, shelved and stamped. Through each page and meeting it was hard to hear, hard to focus because part of me is still there watching the water fall and listening to the song of it playing on the rocks.

Days of being different fictions, concentrating on each separate experience then discarding it to create and complete the next. Another journey next week, eight more people to be. Danny faces his next surgery, his heart is strong but they have to get the electric working right. It is frustrating to find out your house is beautiful but the electric needs work to work right. It's more complicated than just changing a circuit. It is flesh and blood, cells and genes that the electrophysiologist has to use to work on the electrical system within us. Hopefully after this surgery everything will heal right. Hopefully in a month we will go back and climb to that spot together.

We all face different challenges. The funny thing is that we externalize them. The barriers to our happiness we identify are outside of us. The reality is inside of us. The monsters in our own heads, assumptions and inaccuracies that our own personalities and beliefs arise from. The worst are ones that other people feed without knowing about. It is daunting to sit down and say to a friend that their words or feedback they've given to other ears that made it back around to you hit a sore spot. It is easier to slip away to the sound of birds and water, where the monsters have no footing and no one's actions or words to use against you. Eventually you can let it go or you face the tedious monsters in your head again, fighting each other with logic accepting it's painful assessments or disproving them. When life is going your way, it is easy to stay up. When challenges come up or you feel down it is easier for the monsters to take center stage. It is hard to smile past their non-stop unfiltered assessment of you; it can be hard to even hear or see what those around you are really saying or doing and they never see or hear the enemies they don't even know you're fighting.

I've learned to use meditation, to take time to myself to refocus. To reach out to friends who've made it past the walls and know the shape of the fiends. It is amazing how quickly one well placed quip or even the sound of a beloved friend's voice can turn the tide. These monsters, they aren't fought with violence. They are fought with patience, love and communication. I know as I tell you this that every day, in your head you face your own. I just want to you know, I understand. We are the most powerful weapons in the fight against these monsters. Giving each other time, respect, kindness, trust, a chance to communicate and destroy dangerous assumptions. Are you up for climbing waterfalls? Navigating past the tears and through the challenges of healing?

Brittlebrush Flowers Brighten the Winter Desert 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Customer service isn't a Game

Work bounced me from city to city in the northeast, imaginary life to imaginary life. Weather cooperated. Challenges faced and conquered. Days of focus, driving, silence and concentrated bursts of interaction as I danced through each gig mindful of my words, appearance, actions. When you are someone else it takes awareness not to use give away trademark actions or words. Posture, movement, expressions shift as you become these other people with other dreams and beliefs, goals and quirks. When you walk the same road as two different people with the requirements being nonrecognition by people you met with, talked to two feet apart for over an hour it's a whole different challenge level. No stage makeup, too obvious. No big disguise, too attention drawing. Subtle is key. Sell the identity. Sell the imaginary you. While you do this observe. Fulfill your contract. Get the information and leave like a spring breeze. Leave them smiling, hopeful for a return you'll never make. Leave them thinking about the future they want to help this imaginary person build. Maybe up to three times a day and all to observe them. I'm their bogeyman. They would despise me. They would be nervous, try to hard if they even had a hint that I wasn't what I seem to be.

Why do I do this?
Not to hurt them. To admire them doing a wonderful job, to write and report accurately how they do. Always hoping for the best, but not sugar coating the worst.
Because there are real people. They meet them everyday. Those people deserve quality, respect, honest and integrity. An employer can't always stand behind you and monitor how you're representing them. So I become anyone. I watch. Someone has to because not everyone has the same priorities and values. Some aren't honest. Some aren't pleasant. It's documented. After that it's out of my hands. They raise themselves up or nail their own coffins. Their choice.

Respect is earned. It is built through words and actions.
It's not an entitlement.

Where I'm leading up to:
Today I had a flight from Charlotte to Phoenix, this morning headed to my flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte so I could go to Phoenix I received notice my flight to Phoenix would have a two hour and twenty minute delay. Instead of arriving at 12:45 I would now arrive at 3 am.
I could not find a service person at American airlines to speak with. I was handed a card and told to call their helpline. Their service desks were closed and dark.
I called, feeling cynical but willing to try without resorting to emotional behavior. I spoke with a helpful guy, Peter, who spent time checking all options. He apologized as every flight from Pittsburgh that could offer a different connecting flight was full. No cancellations. He told me to call every hour and check. He took time. He went even further, hearing early on I'd done a lot of flying this year but just having gotten a rewards number, he talked about getting my twelve digit flight numbers and contacting advantage program for miles credit. He was excellent, considerate, sincere, and he built a rapport. I enjoyed the call?!
An hour later I called back. System forwarded me to the sound of heavy breathing or wind on a speakerphone. I hung up. Called again. This time a woman answered, no name. No name offered to help. When I said what I was calling about, she immediately responded without hesitation, without time to glance at information as if somehow her mind telepathically tracked all seat statuses on all flights simultaneously she quickly said "No cancellations." I asked if she would take a moment to check. She briskly said she did. End of call. Not customer service. No attempt to search, no explanation, no consideration. Business. Next! Whether she looked or not I questioned her honestly. Can you instantly without hesitation look up data on multiple chains of information? If so, why aren't you on the cover of Time Magazine? A flight to Dallas was overbooked. Announcements were made $500 and a seat on a flight tomorrow to passengers willing to offer their seats. Eight volunteers sought. Customer service in action. No stress, passengers deciding and helping each other. I was impressed.

I got on my flight resigned to a 3 am arrival in Arizona. We landed in Charlotte late. Our Captain announced that some folks had connecting flights to try to catch, asking those of us the long overlays and delays to let those folks go. It was the friendliest disembark, people helping each other groups heading to other flights gathering together to rush as a team. Makeshift families of all ethnicities, ages and social classes in a race for their seats.
The rest of us joked, talked and we all actually made it off the plane in record time.
The Captain and crew earned our respect. We respected each other because of the communication and the choice we were given to help by standing back. It's amazing to help someone by standing back, letting them be and do. We felt great. Most of us were headed on the midnight flight to Phoenix. We were ecstatic to get notice that miraculously our flight was no longer delayed and somehow would be on time! We were back to arriving before one am. This earned a lot of respect. Finding a way to make adjustments to meet the original agreement and plan with weather, full flights and holiday in play. Impressive.

What came next dashed all this.
On the flight departures there were two flights listed to Phoenix. One leaving less than an hour after I got to Charlotte from B terminal and my flight leaving after ten from D terminal. I thought about going to B just to check then recalled my lack of luck earlier, as well as the lack of luck and even discouragement from American Airlines airport ground check in staff when I flew out of Dallas to Pittsburgh. I wish I had.
You see. Forty people were delayed in Columbus. American Airlines staff there promised them they would not miss their Phoenix flight from Charlotte. Promised.
They paid for seats not standby. Those seats were on that earlier flight. There were at least twenty of us at the D 3 terminal waiting to fly out on the 10:10 to Phoenix. No attempt was made to fill those seats. We sat unaware that forty seats would be cold and empty. The Fiesta Bowl Fans arrived in Charlotte. They rushed to the gate in B Terminal. It was locked. The promise was broken. The plane was gone. In desperation theybrsved to D terminal where I looked up from my report. The guy across from me said "look at all those people, are you sure you're not boarding now?" Forty people clung together huddling around the check in desk like it was a fire and they were freezing, stick in some invisible blizzard. The stress and agony played on faces. They were trying not to lose it. They were offering respect, asking for help. The desk staff weren't making eye contact and their body language indicated they weren't wanting to share that fire.
They told us these folks were standby. Quiet firm voices, forty of them chaotic yet patterned like rain on a roof told the truth.
I thought about Pittsburgh. The offer for the Dallas overbooked flight. I thought about these people paying for tickets to the big game and the flights not standby. I thought about the empty seats. I thought about how I'd feel if I was one of them.

I approached the desk. I was ignored. No eye contact. I raised my hand and projected through the crowd with a smile. "If the airlines will do the overbook offer, the $500 and a flight tomorrow I will give up my seat. They have tickets, a time sensitive event. I do not. I know I'm one person but I want to help. "

The response was like a grenade. The two staff had such negative facial expressions and body language I regretted not thinking quickly enough to record it on my phone. Tawasi would have thought of that.
The man with the shaved head and the short woman with stylish curls held by strong mousse chimed a retort. "Flights not overbooked, no. We're not offering that. It's not the airlines fault."
Mind you these folks were trying that customer service line, appealing for executive divine intervention. The executives failed to be reachable. Customer service was made a mockery.
It IS the airlines fault when promises are made, no attempt to address an issue such as Delta would have done, which would have been getting word to us, getting as many of us on that earlier flight as possible and dismissing their customers legitimate and valid issues that existed only because of airlines staff failures to provide service with integrity.

These people saved money, they reserved tickets. The looks on their faces broke my heart. People on my flight didn't know what was going on. They thought forty people bought standby tickets! I projected again. Hear me. Understand. Care. These folks could be us. I shared their story. Many of us as they had us board spoke up again, asking why they didn't switch us into their seats why they wouldn't work with both groups to get those people on this flight. They didn't offer them anything. Not even an apology. Just attitude.

Not right. Not customer service.
Eye contact. Body language. Introductions. Facial expressions. Listening. Language. You can't always make things better but like Peter you can be there, offer compassion and validate what that person is going through.

Now customers, this goes for you too. Knock it off with the entitlement attitude. These folks didn't use it. They could have tried. It's gasoline on a fire. It's an attack. It doesn't deserve respect. If you act that way as a child you get reprimanded. Demonstrate that you deserve good service. If you get terrible service then, like these folks did keep trying with dignity. It's not easy but in the end it shows. I dislike big sports events. I dislike the money wasted on them that could be used for more important things like health, family, community, environment. I have ocassional antisports rants.

Let that sink in. These people earned my respect through how they acted, how they spoke. They were NOT loud, caustic or obnoxious although the American Airlines staff treated them that way. It was how they acted that made me willing to sleep on the floor at another airport instead of curling up at home with Danny and Sadhu in my own bed.

I hope they get to their game or that the American Airlines executives do something to set this right.

Sorry I couldn't help. I wish they'd let us switch seats. This could have all been avoided.

I hope there was a me watching. Another observer disguised amongst us. Noting. Recording. All directly to the executives, you see things that should not happen but do. You communicate. Change happens. If I get a surgery, I'm filling it in like I would one of my work reports. I'm tagging American Airlines and sharing this as a message to their Facebook. You see, I might use this phone frequently but it's a tool and I'm using the information and virtual web of networking to be heard. What makes me happy? Simple. Very simple. People choosing to treat each other with basic human dignity and respect. Freedom to be me. You having the freedom to be you. We don't have to like each other but we can choose to treat each other with respect.

#AmericanAirlines #customerservice