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Improving Your Political Experience (or: My Thoughts on the First 2016 Presidential Debate)

During and after the first presidential debate on Monday, I was keeping an eye on my Facebook feed to see what folks were talking about. While many people expressed disappointment with the debate overall, what I saw of my friends’ and acquaintances’ reactions was as frustrating to me as the debate itself. And that’s saying something.

With this post, I’m not going to talk about policies or positions or beliefs. I’m not going to talk about candidates or parties. I’m not going to talk about fact checking or point-counterpoint or who “won” the debate. I’m going to talk about how we the people engage in our political discourse. And, spoiler alert, I’m going to claim that the reason we get crappy politicians is that we the people are really crappy at approaching this important subject in a decent and appropriate way.

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To lay a little groundwork, I want to recall one of the most celebrated and longstanding works of the 20th century, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I am strongly of the opinion that this should be required reading for kids, but in lieu of having the level of influence to make that happen, all I can do is proselytize for it in my own space. You can view a high-level synopsis here, read a PDF of the entire thing here, or purchase your own copy on Amazon here.

Within a highly personal and emotional topical framework like politics, we can tend to revert to less effective ways of communicating with each other – ways that, rather than helping build our case and contributing to constructive discourse, serve only to further divide, polarize, and entrench not only ourselves, but those with whom we disagree.

So, while I can’t change the candidates we have now, what I can hope to change is how we all approach the subject. If we keep these timeless principles in mind, we’ll be more productive when we find ourselves in these vital types of debate, and maybe, over the long term, help make the entire process more fruitful and engaging for everyone.

To do this, I want to ask everyone reading this a few things. I’ve added some extra thoughts under each, but I think we could gain a lot if we did nothing else besides honestly asking ourselves a handful of introspective questions.


Question 1: If you already had your vote decided, why did you watch the debate?

After the debate concluded, the steady trickle of updates turned into a deluge of conclusive thoughts and comments. The number one, most immediately obvious thing I noticed as I read through people’s posts was this: not a single person changed their mind at all. People who have been posting for one candidate continued to do so. If you liked Candidate A going in, you thought they won and that Candidate B looked like a fool. You thought your choice made good points and the other choice was wrong or flat-out lying.

This is a complete departure from reality. Both candidates on the stage dodged questions. Both candidates said things that contradict positions they’ve previously held or statements they’ve previously made. Both candidates had valid points and witty remarks. I would guess that no one would agree 100% with either candidate if you presented every argument or statement so that you couldn’t identify who made it. Moreover, the candidates have changed their positions so many times over the years that on another day or in another year, they could be running for the opposing party. Some of that is expected with growth and cultural tides, and some of it is quite shocking and represents a philosophical reversal. Both sides. Your candidate is not immune.

What did we gain by watching the debate? Celebrating the inevitable victory of our candidate and the simultaneous evisceration of our “enemy”? Most people expressed frustration, if not regarding the debate as a whole, regarding the disgusting “other” candidate who is absolutely unconscionable to vote for (funny that half say the same about A as the other half say about B). I’m convinced from what I’ve seen that we would vote the Devil himself into office. After all, “At least he’s not ________!”

Look, if you expect to gain something from watching the debate – clarity on a candidate’s viewpoints or policy proposals, a decision on who to vote for, greater understanding of a topic you lack knowledge in – then by all means, that’s what it’s there for. It’s not a competition, and if it is, it’s the worst competition ever. If you wanted to cheer for something fleeting and irrelevant, you’d have been better off watching the football game. At least at the end you would have a score to determine who won instead of just saying that your team won and fans of the other team saying they did.

The point is, we’re not open. We perceive everything the other candidate says as poison because of who’s saying it. We rarely assess, objectively, the strengths and truths of the opposing candidate and the weaknesses and lies of ours (and regardless of who you like, there are plenty). It’s an insipid application of a common cognitive bias known as the Halo Effect (or Horns Effect for negative perceptions). We as individuals and as a country need to be aware of this and overcome it if we ever expect our political position to improve.

From Carnegie:

  • Win people to your way of thinking #8: Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  • Win people to your way of thinking #9: Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

Question 2: Have you ever been convinced to change your position through someone criticizing you? Have you ever changed someone’s position on an issue by being antagonistic?

Ostensibly, the reason we engage in political discussion is to solidify our positions and grow their adherents. We want more people to believe the same thing we do, because we value our opinions and beliefs. And that’s fine.

But let’s talk about effective communication. Name a time when you had a heated, emotional argument with someone, and one of the parties came out with a changed opinion. I’m going to venture to guess that you can’t. Once it becomes aggressive, we become defensive, and instead of thinking about the subject openly, we begin merely thinking of the merits of our existing position and the flaws of theirs. This is the root of entrenchment. This is the root of polarization. Often, when we think we’re doing ourselves a favor by shredding apart someone else’s position, all we’re doing is tearing up the bridge of influence that connects us with them.

Carnegie’s entire section on this is supremely quotable, but here’s a few of the best lines:

Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right. You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And – ‘A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still.’

As wise old Ben Franklin used to say: ‘If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.’ So figure it out for yourself. Which would you rather have, an academic, theatrical victory or a person’s good will? You can seldom have both.

Sound familiar? Wonder why American politics is worse than it’s ever been? The internet has allowed for global, seamless, supercharged communication. Unfortunately, the kind of communication it’s supercharging doesn’t seem to be working in this area. That’s not the fault of the medium, it’s the fault of the users. If we present ideas in reasonable and effective ways, we can have more influence than ever before. Or we can continue to draw deeper lines in the sand with our vitriol and bile.

  • Win people to your way of thinking #1: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  • Win people to your way of thinking #4: Begin in a friendly way.

Question 3: Has making fun of someone else ever exerted positive influence?

The memes. Seriously. Stop it. These are the epitome of ineffective communication (counter-effective, in fact).

If our political position can be represented by a cartoon, we’re not giving the subject the gravitas it deserves. More to the point, if we’re under the impression that people will be swayed from their positions by something flippant and mocking, we are so dead wrong.

This is one area where the design of websites and social media platforms actively works against us. Images and video are eye-catching when scrolling, and therefore tend to promote active viewing, which leads to better opportunities for engagement. And it’s reinforced when likes, shares, comments, retweets, etc., are used – consciously or not – as a barometer for the success of a post. It’s in Facebook’s best interests to prioritize things that encourage engagement with its platform, but we have got to stop expecting anything but polarization from applying this to important subjects across the spectrum.

Let’s think about our interactions with people throughout our lives. In moments where we felt we had the most influence, were we dismissive, glib, and insolent, or were we respectful, caring, involved, and open?

Has sarcasm ever worked? Has mockery ever worked? Has abrasiveness ever worked? Has reducing others’ opinions to nothing ever worked?

It’s amazing that we teach our children to not be bullies, but we turn into exactly that when politics comes up, and particularly online. It used to be limited to the anonymous comments sections, but increasingly, it’s leaking into regular channels. I’m appalled by the things that people now say online even when they’re not behind the veil of anonymity. And even if we don’t see the impact our posts have on others, we can silently lose influence and respect.

Making a coherent, impactful argument can take time, effort, and thought. But people are complex. Government is complex. If we want to be serious about improving our relationships and our country, we need to grant these areas a little more weight and caution.

From Carnegie:

  • Fundamental techniques in handling people #1: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
  • Win people to your way of thinking #2: Show respect for the other person’s opinions.

Question 4: Do you dismiss all voices that don’t agree with you?

One final criticism of the power of the internet and how it’s changed our political atmosphere: confirmation bias is, in my estimation, now the easiest and most dangerous cognitive bias in our country.

We can literally block any voices that don’t agree with us. We can hole up inside our own silo communities, populated exclusively with people who agree with us, and never have to hear anything else. After 4 years of this, an election will pop up, we’ll emerge from our caves, grunting our mottos and clubbing our enemies with memes and soundbites, then go back to intellectual hibernation until the next argument arises.

Let me be clear: removing toxic influences is a good thing. Removing differing opinions is not. Separating these takes practice, wisdom, and discernment.

If you don’t interact with anyone who disagrees with you, it’s in your best interest to make some new friends. We all need to grow, whether that’s by changing our beliefs or simply testing them in reasonable discourse against alternate viewpoints.

We need to listen to other people and seek to understand and integrate them, not defeat them. Two of the main suggestions from another fantastic book, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, are:

  • Habit #4: Think Win/Win
  • Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

We need to remember that everybody wants the same things. We all need food, water, shelter, and clothing. We all need physical and emotional security. We all need love and belonging. We all need esteem and self-actualization. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs isn’t broken into “Republican” and “Democrat” or “liberal” and “conservative” categories. We may have different ideas on the structure and materials, but we’re all building the same pyramid of things we need to live a happy, fulfilled life.

Our country, our government, our technology, our medicine… all of these were born by creative destruction. We had to divorce ourselves from the status quo to progress and grow. We had to say that what exists – whether I’m vested in it or opposed to it – isn’t good enough. We can do better. Let’s create together.

There are certainly hills that we should be willing to die on. But if we’ve assigned that level of criticality to each and every one of our political positions, we’re far too closed off. We need to open the dialog back up. It starts with each individual, and it scales up to nations. That’s how it always has been, and always will be.


Tips for Improving

In addition to some hopefully thought-provoking questions, I wanted to include a few easy tips to improve both your influence and your interaction with political debate. None of us is perfect at this, so even if you already actively try to implement these, let them serve as a reminder now as we enter the most heated part of the election cycle.

Tip 1: Ask more questions. Make fewer statements.

Asking good questions is incredibly tough, but it has massive benefits. Sometimes, questions clarify a position and remove disagreement before an argument begins. Sometimes, questions turn up the reason for a belief, which can be compelling or at least contextualizing – you may still disagree, but you understand. And often, a good, critical question is more penetrating and powerful than making a bold statement.

  • How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment #4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

Tip 2: Pull the thread.

Find out why people – including yourself – believe the way they do. Can you build up your argument from universal axioms, or is it “Just the way it should be”? Often, even if you still disagree on the how we achieve our objectives, you can find common ground in what we’re trying to accomplish. It can often take the edge off, even if a disagreement remains. That’s not only mature, it’s healthy for our shared growth and progress.

  • Ways to make people like you #4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Win people to your way of thinking #6: Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

Tip 3: Be Objective.

Don’t be dismissive of valid criticisms and counterpoints. Be open to saying, “What if this critique is valid?” and following that thought through. Most of us recognize that we’re not perfect, that we have growth potential. And yet, we often become so attached to an idea, belief, or political candidate that we become immune to facts that don’t support them. Be willing to be wrong. Poke at your beliefs from every angle. If it turns out you were right, you’ll still reap the rewards of having an impeccable defense for it – after all, if you thought of every way you could be wrong and overcame it, you’ll likely be able to defend against the best intrusions. And if you were wrong and you adjust your perspective, then you now have something that better resists criticism. You’ve made your beliefs better. That’s growth.

  • Win people to your way of thinking #3: If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

Tip 4: Go deeper.

Stop flattening people out and judging them by one aspect – in this case, who they’re supporting. There are people I love and respect supporting and voting for each candidate. Saying someone is dumb because they’re voting for A is no better than saying they’re a bad person because of their skin color. Honestly, it’s dangerous to compress three dimensional people into 1D. Stop assigning simple identifiers and segmenting people off based on a handful of – or single – metric. It takes effort and time to see people for the rich, complex blend of upbringings and beliefs that they are, but it’s worth it, not only for the personal rewards, but in that it’s the only way to effectively exhibit influence.

  • Ways to make people like you #1: Become genuinely interested in other people.

This has been extremely long, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there, in what I hope is a positive and constructive manner. I hope you’ve found it useful and sensible, in an environment that is often fraught with frustration and anger. We can all improve in these ways if we remember that we’re not dealing with pixels online, but real people… each one of which is the main character in their own life story.

Here’s hoping that this can improve your interactions in politics and beyond.

Best wishes.

6 Reasons Why Voting Third Party Isn’t a Waste

In an election cycle where the two major American political parties have nominated the most unlikeable candidates in history, interest in 3rd party alternatives is edging higher. While polls show third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein potentially having a very real impact in the election, talk about why voting 3rd party is a waste has never been more prevalent.

As someone who most strongly aligns with the policies of a 3rd party candidate, and strongly detests what both the Republican and Democratic parties have respectively become, I feel part of my due engagement in the political process is sharing my justifications for voting outside the lines. I hope you’ll find these reasons compelling and valid if you too are tired of the candidates churned out by corrupt, democracy-sidestepping major parties.

Reason 1: Your vote is already wasted

Thanks to the electoral college, your vote will go to whoever wins your state, regardless of the ratio. A nearly 50/50 race is exactly the same as a landslide. If we extend the “wasted vote” philosophy to its natural end, everyone might as well just vote for whichever party won the 2012 cycle in their state. You wouldn’t want to waste a Democrat vote when your state is heavily Republican, right? The exact same logic applies to 3rd party candidates around the nation.

Reason 2: No vote is wasted

On the flip side of #1, where you consider essentially every non-winning vote “wasted,” we have this reasoning – no vote is ever wasted. Even if your vote ends up changing nothing more than the margin of victory, a strong showing from other candidates sends a message that your vote isn’t free, that you can’t be ignored or violated, and that if candidates don’t consider issues vital to you, they can lose. It may not affect things now, but over time, enough people voting for what they believe in instead of voting “against the greater evil” can make a real difference. The strength of outsider campaigns in the current cycle is proof of this. Don’t talk yourself out of your beliefs because of the votes of other people. As kids we’re told not to kowtow to peer pressure, but we seem to forget that at the ballot box.

Reason 3: Your vote matters more if you vote 3rd party

This one is a simple matter of math. Casting the 101st vote for a smaller candidate makes a much larger incremental difference than casting the 1,000,001st vote for someone with major support. Small candidates receiving more votes is a movement that you can be a part of. Major party candidates receiving more votes is the status quo. If you’re happy with the status quo, by all means, cast your vote to maintain it. If you’re sick of it, your vote goes farther with a 3rd party than it would “contesting” the election with the other big party.

Reason 4: You don’t control outcomes, only yourself

It’s a bit of a more personal argument, but it’s an important one for me. I try to live my life by principle, and one that’s seen a lot of mileage with me has been to only worry about things that you can directly control. You could spend all your time worrying about meteors striking the earth, supervolcanoes erupting, nuclear war breaking out… but your worry doesn’t change what happens, so why do it? Preparation for some unexpected but realistic outcomes is wise, but living in constant fear of what may or may not happen, and what you can’t change anyway, is emotionally crippling. The same philosophy applies to elections. I’m not in control of who gets elected. No voting scheme where I support the lesser evil is going to really impact the outcome – but it does impact me. You owe it to yourself, and ultimately your nation, to vote with your conscience, according to your values and ideals, and not take your cues from what’s happening externally. A vote for a candidate or a cause you believe in is far less a waste than a vote that violates your beliefs.

Reason 5: If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

It’s widely acknowledged that people are absolutely sick of the current direction of politics. Candidate approval is at an all-time low. Divisiveness and entrenchment are at all-time highs. How long will we stand for it? If we keep voting in spite of what we believe, we’ll get more of what we’ve been getting. We’ll continue to perpetuate the system that we all hate. It’s on all of us to leverage our votes for what we want, and not just what we’re offered from on high from the self-interested major parties. I find it enlightening (and sickening) that both major parties this election cycle made intentional efforts to sabotage the will of the people. Republicans openly discussed strategies for bypassing Trump’s lead in the primaries, contesting the convention, and handing the nomination to someone chosen solely by the Republican elites and not at all by the people. Democrats secretly worked behind closed doors to quash the Bernie Sanders threat to their preferred candidate Clinton, wielding insider superdelegates like a weapon that could freely bypass the will of the people. Pathetic. Pathetic to both of them. Unless you, every one of you, uses your vote, your voice, to stand up and say we’ve had enough, then nothing will change.

Reason 6: Would you rather give up your heart, your brain, or just your vote?

The number of people I’ve spoken to and read opinions from who find the prospect of either major 2016 candidate to be completely deplorable is astounding. Many people find both Clinton’s corruption and Trump’s demagoguery unconscionable, and yet are willing to side with the one they find to be less disgusting by any tiny, infinitesimal margin they can imagine. If you truly cannot cope with the ideals, policies, or messages of these two candidates, then you owe it to yourself to sacrifice your vote to preserve your conscience. If your intellect, gut feel, study, intuition, or any other important barometer tells you that both major parties are wicked, please don’t give up those important internal markers just to feel like you made a feeble stand against the tides. Keep your beliefs, keep your heart, keep your mind, and toss your vote to whomever you believe to be best equipped to lead our nation.


Before signing off, I want to say a few more things very quickly. First, all of these arguments are intended for the many people who want to vote for someone else, but feel obliged by whatever force to vote for a major party candidate that they don’t align with. If you’re a huge fan of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, by all means, vote alongside your ideals. You owe it to yourself to vote your beliefs, just as someone who wants to vote for an alternative candidate owes it to themselves.

Second, not all of these reasons are intended to build a cohesive, syllogistic case for voting 3rd party. Some of them even appear to be conflicting. My goal isn’t to build an impenetrable argument for voting 3rd party, only to give plenty of potential reasons to identify with, and perhaps repeat in defense of your vote if someone asks why you would vote 3rd party (as if their opinion should drive your vote anyhow). I don’t need you to agree with all six of my points. Just one is enough if it resonates with you.

And finally, keep in context how little the President really matters. It’s an important position, yes. It matters, yes. But it’s a tiny sliver of impact on your own life, and a tiny sliver that you have no practical control of anyway. As much as you owe it to yourself to vote with your conscience, you owe it to yourself to not let other people control you, whether it’s your friend, neighbor, or the President of the United States. If you’re a person of faith, you believe that God has control over our destinies, regardless of who is currently Emperor Caesar King Fuhrer Mayor Judge Ruler President. And if you’re not, you should know that there are still checks and balances in our governmental system, and the President, while influential, isn’t King Under the Mountain, with full and uncontested executive power. Whoever wins, it probably won’t affect you very much. Live your life. Don’t worry. Be happy.

If you want to learn more about some of the influential third party candidates, you can check out Gary Johnson’s platform at johnsonweld.com, and Jill Stein’s platform at jill2016.com

Since finding it, I’ve been a huge fan of the site isidewith.com. On this site you’ll answer questions about your opinions on a number of political issues, and rate their importance to you. You can go as deep as you want or as shallow – answer as many or as few questions as you like. When you’re done, the site will compare your views against the candidates, and rank them for you according to your alignment. You can compare your answers to theirs and see where you align and differ. It’s a valuable and fun tool for getting a snapshot of where you stand with the remaining candidates. My results are below:

ISW

Myself, I’ll continue to proselytize for 3rd party voting, and will be casting my vote for an outsider candidate in the fall. I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Marriage Secrets for Newlyweds

I’ve got a whole lot of friends getting married in the next year. Love is in the air in my circle of friends, meaning rehearsals, weddings, receptions, excitement, new hope, and maybe, just maybe, some nervousness or confusion. Don’t sweat it; it’s natural.

Among my friends, my wife and I were some of the first to get married. We were high school sweethearts and dated for 5 years before we got married. We dated our Senior year of high school through 4 years of undergraduate college, with our wedding popping up right after graduation. We just celebrated our 2 year anniversary (or 7, depending on how you count it), and I realized I’ve learned a whoooooole lot about marriage in that time. Not everything, by any means, but enough to write a helpful blog post for those who are newly and soon to be hitched.

As another disclaimer, my wife and I did not live together before we got married, and we both lost our virginity (to each other) on our wedding night. I’m extremely proud of both of those facts, and I would highly suggest doing the same if you can. Just know that if you’ve made different choices, your mileage may vary on parts of this post.

Context established, let’s jump into the most politically incorrect, and therefore, most honest and helpful, posts on young marriages you may ever see.

Lesson 1: Sex is really awkward at first

This is why, regardless of your religious or moral opinions, the commitment should come before the sex. Sex is just like anything else — the first time you do it, you suck at it. No, that’s not an innuendo. You’re bad. It’s going to be weird.

It may not be a romp through pleasure town like you’re hoping for, but it is an experience. It’s fun in an adventuresome sort of way. Enjoy the goofiness and awkwardness. Eventually you’ll learn what works for each other and things become fun in that other way.

Lesson 2: Sex is not more prominent in the first year

If you’re about to get married, I can pretty well guarantee you’ve heard the old story: if you put a penny/marble/whatever in a jar every time you have sex in the first year of marriage, then after the first year you take out a token each time you have sex, you’re never supposed to run out.

Total crap. Let me ask you — do you like to do things you’re good at or bad at? Okay, most of us like doing things we’re good at. Now, how do you get good at something? Practice. And practice takes time, right? It’s really that simple.

In the first year, you’ll be getting used to the weirdness, learning about each other in many ways, sex being just one of them, and settling into the pace and norms of your marriage. Set your expectations around that idea, and be sure to enjoy the journey.

Lesson 3: Your partner really doesn’t care about _________

In my case, it was personal finance (go figure). I desperately wanted my wife to engage in our budgeting and financial planning to the degree that I am engaged. Who was I kidding? I’m engaged in other peoples’ personal finances more than they’re engaged in their own. To expect my wife to match my financial nerdiness was stupid.

You need to have these types of conversations, and always be honest and transparent. I enjoy being the one that handles the money in our relationship, but my wife still has the ability to see everything I spend money on and where all our money is just as well as I do. She just doesn’t care. And that’s fine.

Spend time early in your marriage finding what things are important to each of you. There will be things that are important to both of you, so you’ll need to talk about them regularly and share the responsibility. There will be things that your spouse doesn’t care about at all, and things that you don’t care about at all. What’s important isn’t what those things are, it’s being open and honest and knowing what things fall into each person’s circle of concern.

Lesson 4: The best times won’t be what you expected

One of my favorite things is seeing my wife asleep in bed on mornings when I wake up and get dressed before her. She always lays under the covers in a way that just her head pops out. It’s adorable.

This too is about setting expectations. Don’t try to force things to be a certain way in your marriage. Be flexible, and don’t think too much about stuff. The best moments are going to be the ones that you couldn’t script and don’t expect.

Lesson 5: Good and bad, everything is supercharged when you’re married

There are things in your relationship that you know are hot topics. You should know those things if you’re engaged or considering marriage. There are things about your relationship that are easy and you can talk about naturally, and there are those things that just seem to cause trouble whenever they pop up.

When you’re married, the good times are better and the bad times are harder. Marriage isn’t a fix-it button for a relationship.

That doesn’t mean you have to resolve all of your issues before marriage; that’s impossible.  But you do need to know what your troubles are, and you do need to know how to fight fair with each other. The things you disagree on now are probably the things you’ll disagree on for years to come. Ease the pain by recognizing it and crafting productive ways to discuss the issues.

Lesson 6: Spend some time apart

I still think this is one of the most important lessons. When you’re dating, especially when you’re a new item, it feels like you could just bottle up with your partner and spend every minute of the rest of your life with them. That feeling will either carry over into marriage or will come back in full force after you’re married.

But you can’t spend every minute of the rest of your life just with your partner. And quite frankly, you’ll have times when you don’t want to. Be fully committed to your marriage, but maintain your individuality. Have your own friends. Keep doing the things you like to do that your spouse doesn’t. It’s really okay. They’re your husband or wife, not a Siamese twin.

A practical application that Tana and I have found works well in our marriage is to try to arrange our schedules so we each have a day off alone and a day off together. I think it works great.

Lesson 7: Spend time with other people

If you’re close friends with me or you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you know this is one of the relationship items I really harp on. There’s a tendency for new, freshly-in-love couples to isolate themselves because they just love each other so darn much. Giving emotional energy or focus to other people is a waste when I could spend that effort on my snuggly-boo.

Don’t do that.

Why? First of all, it’s boring, and if you find that out only after pushing all your friends to the wayside, you’ll be screwed. Second, just like no single person can be socially healthy if they don’t spend time with other people, no couple can be socially engaged if they don’t. You need outside input. Other people provide new perspectives, different opinions, and a different kind of fun than your spouse provides.

Oh, and combine this with #6. When you go and hang out, you don’t have to act like you’re not a couple, but don’t follow each other around holding hands all the time either. Socialize, enjoy, interact, laugh, learn. It might work to be an island for a while, maybe even years, but long-term you’re compromising your ties to the outside world, your influence with those around you, and yes, even your own relationship.

Lesson 8: Learn how your partner communicates affection

You probably already know this by now, but it helps in a big way to know how your partner really says “I love you.” This isn’t a cheap advertisement, it’s been a huge eye-opener in my own marriage — if you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of The 5 Love Languages and read through it with your partner.

My love language is Words of Affirmation, and my wife’s is Quality Time. I can tell her in so many words how much I love and appreciate her, but it’s not until I reward her with genuine, focused time that she feels that love and appreciation. On the flip side, I know that I just want to hear her say how she’s proud of me and grateful for me on a regular basis.

It’s hard to break out of the norms you’re personally used to. But the payoff is well worth it when you know how to properly communicate the most important things.

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Eight seems like enough for now. There’s much, much more, and I’d love to hear lessons and thoughts from other married people or questions from those who are about to enter their new season of life. Marriage is a good, good thing. It’s sad how often it ends poorly. I think that’s because of people having expectations that are impossibly crazy or because they failed to prepare beforehand and just coasted into their nuptials without proactive thought.

I asked my wife for inputs on what she thought about this topic, and one thing she mentioned was that marriage isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. I couldn’t agree more. Be loving, be reasonable to deal with, and be committed. The rest you’ll figure out as you go.

The Time We Created Pinterest

In college, I had two jobs. First, I had a customer service phone job. Remember 411, the only way to find out where stuff was at before smartphones were a thing? Yeah, that was me. My second job was one my good friend Allen Herbert hooked me up with. We were research assistants at an airplane disassembly shop associated with our university.

Sounds cool, right? Mostly what we did was scrape crusty old sealant off of greasy skin panels and take pictures of hundreds of inch-long clips, but the job was pretty educational, the pay was good for a bunch of college interns, and thanks to some heavy ebb and flow times, we were occasionally afforded other luxuries, like time to work on school stuff or just time to kick back and mess around while sections of the plane were being taken apart for us to do our cataloging.

They say idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and that’s even more true when you get half a dozen college age guys together. Over the course of the year or so that a whole bunch of my college buddies worked there together, we had lots of interesting conversations and did some silly things. We still have epic conversations about the crap that happened there.

One of the things we did was when we had the chance, we would work on these images we created for our computer backgrounds. I’m not exactly sure who came up with the idea, but we eventually came to call it Life Collage. We would take pictures from the internet of things we were interested in and squeeze them into a static image of all the other things we liked. We had pictures of our dream cars, pictures of girlfriends, pictures from TV shows that we watched, guitars, engineering stuff, whatever we wanted. In our little office of a bunch of bestie friend college dudes, it took off like a rocket. Everyone had a Life Collage.

At some point, we made the following proposal:

What if we could make a website based on this, where you’d have your own Life Collage as a home page? You could either add images with tags, like add a picture of your guitar with the tags “guitar, music, Epiphone Sheraton II” or add pictures from other people’s collages to your own. The social aspect comes from connecting you with friends and with people using the same images and tags, so you can get in touch with other people of similar interests. You could have groups that like certain things, and we could even have search functionality that lets you look for people with the most matching interests.

…sound familiar?

We were reasonably serious about it, and even talked to a few people we knew that were in the Computer Science department or had some experience with building websites. It just never materialized.

It was a few months ago, years after we’d all archived Life Collage in the remotest recesses of our minds, that Gabe, one of the guys that worked with us and dreamed about becoming social media moguls together came to my house for a Saturday evening get together and dropped the bomb: “Do you guys realize we created Pinterest?”

We all took a minute to ponder if Gabe was off his rocker, until he started describing the similarities. First reaction, I think, was just shock. Then came the rage. None of us have since become multi-millionaires, and we had a great idea that quite possibly could have skyrocketed us into vast wealth and social status that we just didn’t act on.

To be honest, I’m mostly sharing this just because I’m still angry about it and wanted to complain. But I do think there’s a lesson in this, other than if you find out you and your friends missed becoming wealthy by a narrow thread, keep it to your darn self, Gabe.

I think the lesson is that thinking of something, creating an idea, strategizing… it’s just the beginning of the process. Everyone has thought about what they would do to get in better shape. Everyone has created an idea for strengthening their relationships. Everyone has strategized about starting a business or looking for a job they’re passionate about.

And yet, it’s not worth a thing if you don’t act on it. The best plan in the world doesn’t make you one bit more successful until you execute it. Let your goal this week be to identify your plans, ideas, and strategies, and get them out of the mental phase and into actions that you start taking to improve your life.

My friends and I missed creating Pinterest. You don’t want to find out what you’re missing by your inaction. Go and get on it, starting today.

 

Why I Like the Minority

I have a good friend who likes to haul out this line every now and then: think of how stupid the average person is, then realize that half of all people are stupider than that.

Clearly this is a bit tongue-in-cheek (and technically it should be median instead of average), but it serves as a good platform to talk about something that I have to mention every now and then: being weird.

I love being weird. Average people are broke. We’re getting closer and closer to a majority of people in the US being clinically overweight — average people are unhealthy. Average people are scared of the uncertain future because they don’t have a plan to be proactive about it. Average people don’t think critically, because in the majority opinion or way of thinking, you’re rarely challenged. It’s easy to be average, and harder to be weird. But it’s not very rewarding to be average.

In many ways, my desire to be weird spills over into other areas of my life, often symbiotically as in politics, where I would rather be run over by a bus than labeled as either of the major parties in this country, but sometimes in awkward ways like technology. I own and operate a BlackBerry phone and love being on the fringe and watching the development of BlackBerry 10. It’s a little fun to be different and root for the underdog. This philosophy probably drove some of my utter and complete distaste for the Occupy Wall Street movement. “We are the 99%,” and you’re proud of that? “We’re broke and angry about life and there are more of us than you!” Compelling argument. Or not.

Even if you don’t convert to BlackBerry, you definitely should adopt the “Be Weird” philosophy in certain areas of your life. It’s true that most people don’t have a plan for their health, their finances, their career, their friendships and relationships, and all the other stuff I talk about. Break free from normal. If you need help crafting that plan specially for you, that’s what I’m here for.

Give it a try this week. Divorce yourself from conventional and normal. Look for ways to be better than normal, stronger than average, smarter than the median person.

Be weird.