Monday, April 28, 2008

Culture and Guilt

I'll admit: I complain about being "poor". Its probably more out of anxiety that I've put on myself or wanting attention, but I complain. Oh, whoa is me, I've got only one salary, but I have 5 mouths to feed, a house payment, 2 old cars to maintain, clothing, bills, etc, etc. Oh yeah, and then there's the student loans and credit card bills. I pray that we can tread water for a few years until...

Then the other day I was listening to a man who was asking for donations to help people in poor African nations. A few days later, American Idol had their yearly episode of Idol Gives Back where they collect millions of dollars to aid both American and African causes. I also had a friend and a coworker recently travel to Africa and talk about the rampant sickness, poverty, violence, etc. (I realize Africa is not the only continent that has problems and needs help, it just happened to come up a few times in the past few weeks.)

One of the startling statistics I heard went something like this: $100 can feed a child in one of these poor nations for one year. The person telling me/us this urged us to consider donating $100, which is the cost of a nice dinner in Madison. And he's right. I've plenty of times gone out for a nice dinner with my wife or my wife and some friends and dropped $100. For one stupid meal that probably wasn't much more satisfying than a bowl of Cookie Crisp and left me feeling queasy for eating too much. Too much? I feel more guilty about eating TOO MUCH for ONE MEAL on $100 when that same amount will give a child enough food to live on for ONE YEAR???

I'm an ass.

I'm trying to figure out how I can lose weight when millions of people are trying to figure out how they're going to eat their next meal. I throw away pounds of bread, meat, cheese, and fruit each month that go bad before I get a chance to eat it.

So. Should I feel bad? I do, but should I? Should I feel bad about the country, region, city, family, or culture I was born into? Should I feel bad that I live in a culture that encourages individualism and personal success? Should I feel bad that my culture's economics is different than another's? Should I put myself in a worse situation in my culture in order to relieve my guilt based on another culture? Should I take into consideration that my culture allows me to live very comfortably with negative assets? I own a fraction of a house, but I owe for student loans and credit cards up the wazoo! Therefore, I am technically poorer (because my debts outweigh my assets) than people who have nothing even though I live in a society that allows that to be and makes for a rather comfortable quality of life.

Who's problem is this then? Is it a problem? What should I do about it? What can I do about it? Is it up to me to solve? Should other people expect handouts or are they the ones responsible for creating a solution? Am I the only one?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Choices Choices

Consider: At any given moment a person's choice of what to do is based purely on what they want to do, the "best option".
Repercussions: You cannot make anyone do - or want to do - anything; but you can change their environment which may allow them choose to want to do something themselves.

I'm thinking out loud here, so please feel free to add comments if you have counterpositives. I can't think of any myself right now.

1) I'm walking down the street and see a $10.00 bill. What do I do? I pick it up because at that moment it is worth stopping and bending over for the $10.00. Would I do that for one penny? Depends on the day, what I'm doing, where I'm going, and how my back is feeling.
2) I give to a charity of my choice. Do I really enjoy giving my money away? Generally no. I have a hard time paying $1.00 for a bottle of soda. But, I do get a warm feeling from knowing I'm helping someone who may need it more than I do. Guilt or Philanthropy or Karma or whatever can be very motivating, but each play a part in my wanting to do something. They don't cause it, but they play a part.
3) I clean the kitchen before my wife gets a chance. Do I love cleaning the kitchen? Hell no. Am I pretty confident that my wife will appreciate it? Yes. Am I hopeful that by cleaning my wife will be less busy, less stressed, have more time, and want to kiss me more? Yes. Have I made her kiss me? No. But have I altered her environment enough to help her want to? Perhaps.
4) My alarm goes off in the morning of a weekday. Do I want to get up? Not really. But my want to get up is slightly more than my want of getting fired for being late, or even the disappointing look of a boss for walking in late. I'm not going to take then entire day off, so I might as well be on time to avoid all of the negatives. So getting out of bed is the "best option".
5) A robber puts a gun to my head and demands I give him my money. At that point I WANT to give him my money because I'm hoping that by doing so he will take the gun away from my head. Did I want to give this person my money before they "demanded" it? Not really. But did the robber make me give him his money? No. I chose to because it was the best option. I could have not, but that could have led to the robber taking my money out of my dead hands.

Now consider my feelings or reactions to the above examples. Did I feel good about those? Some, yes. Some, no.
Specifically look at numbers 3 and 5. In one instance my wife and I are creating a positive environment by doing things that may perpetuate a positive cycle of behavior. Conversely, in number 5, I probably would not like that robber and would probably not want to associate with him any more - or even be around him. Do we ever figuratively "put a gun to someone's head"? Give ultimatums? Threats? Bribes? We may get what we want, and we may get that person to alter what they want, but at what cost?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not so deep thought about heaven

I'll admit: I watch way more reality TV than I should. One minute would be too much for most of them, but I am a regular of American Idol, usually Dancing with the Stars, a few of The Newlyweds (or whatever it was called) and even got hooked on the end of The Biggest Loser (did you see that woman lost almost half her body weight?). I'm sure its because of these shows - and others that I had watched in the past - that this thought even came into my mind. Its a joke, so don't get too worked up if you are a conservative Christian, but...

What if you just died, and you were walking up a long, white, winding staircase into the clouds. After many steps (and you never get tired, because your going up to heaven) into a clearing in the clouds you see "THE PEARLY GATES" in all their glory. You hear the trumpets and harps and kazoos (hey, its my fantasy) playing the most beautiful music your ears have ever experienced.

Soon, you hear a soft click and the gates start to open inward. They move slow enough to be beautiful and grand, but quick enough that you don't anticipate what's behind them. When the gates are about half open, you see a man emerge from the fog behind. You suppose the man to be THE St. Peter, though you can't help but notice he looks and acts an awful lot like Jeff Probst (from Survivor). He congratulates you on making it this far and "playing the game" so well. Oddly he shows you a short 2-minute video that highlights (and lowlights) your life. Of course the video had some background music performed by Kelly Clarkson. After the video Peter, or Jeff, invites you to walk through the gates. You straighten your attire and think to yourself how easy that was: you didn't even have to answer any questions and they're letting you right in to heaven.

Immediately your arrogance is rewarded with a heavy dose of Karma as you realize Peter was only inviting you into heaven's waiting room - a polite way of saying, "Come in off the cloud, we can talk in here." Inside the foyer are all of the people you have ever come in contact with, like your own personal Verizon network, except no one is holding a cell phone. You see your parents, your children, your other family, your friends, teachers, bosses, coworkers, classmates, crossing guard, bus driver, lunch lady, the police officer that gave you a speeding ticket, and even the truck driver you yelled at for cutting you off on the highway. Amazingly you only recognize about one third of the people in the room. You don't even complete the thought, "Who are all of..." when you realize all of the peoples' lives you have affected who you didn't even know. You are humbled and terrified. Who...? When...? How...? Why...? Your mind is spinning. You feel dizzy. You think you might... Then you see that Peter is still smiling and you take that as a good sign, whether it is or isn't. You're not sure whether to run to your family and hug them or not; in fact you're not even sure if they're real or spirits or angels or something else. You decide to stay put, just inside the gates, until you are addressed by Peter.

After giving you ample time to scan the room, Peter says to you, "You've made it this far, but now it is up to them whether you are admitted into heaven or not." You feel as though you just ran full speed into a brick wall. Disoriented comes to mind. Everything you've done has lead you to this point and will now decide your fate. Your future. Your existence. Hundreds of thoughts fill your mind: tricking your sister, lying to your parents, breaking that girls heart, stealing that food, breaking that rule, not giving money to that beggar, not running in the charity run, missing that church service, lying to God... There are too many to take. You try to battle your own mind by thinking of all of the good things you've done too: doing well in school, volunteering at the soup kitchen, going to church every other time, raising a good family, helping the elderly neighbor, praying for people.... But even you are having a hard time convincing yourself that there have been more "goods" than "bads". Again, the How's and Why's berate your mind. Is this for real? Is my fate in the hands of people I love and people I don't even know?

Jeff, er Peter turns to the crowd of people and asks, "Has this person done what is necessary to enter the gates of heaven for eternity?" With out ever taking their eyes off of you, each person writes something on a small piece of paper and drops it into a collection-type basket going around. It seems to take an eternity just to collect all of the votes - or whatever they are - yet, when its completed, it has gone too fast. The basket disappears. You move your head back and forth to see if you can spot the holder of your destiny, to no avail.

After only a minute a tall, handsome man in a dark suit walks toward you and Peter from the side. Peter introduces him as a representative from Ernst & Young, who have undoubtedly tabulated the votes and are delivering them via secret envelope. You are too focused and scared to realize how cheezy that is. Peter accepts the envelope, waits for the representative to dismiss himself, and opens the envelope. Upon seeing the result, Peter cannot help but utter an indiscriminate, "Huh."

He slowly raises his eyes to you, and looks you straight in the eyes as if he's piercing your soul, and says, "Ryan...we'll tell you your fate right after these messages..."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Adilyn Renee

Sorry I've been slacking on my blog... My wonderful, amazing wife gave birth to another beautiful baby girl on April 1st, Adilyn Renee Hartberg. It was a pitocin-induced labor with an eventual epidural about halfway though the 7 hours of contractions. But fortunately the active labor (pushing) only lasted about 10 minutes and both mother and baby did great. Adie (for short) came out at 7 lbs 7 oz and 19", with a cute little nose and mouth and big cheeks. She made an instant connection to her mother and has been a great baby so far. Unfortunately Christy was "given" a spinal headache, which is when the epidural needle punctures the sack holding the cerebralspinal fluid. It can take upto 4-6 weeks to heal on its own so she had to have two blood patches to help eliminate the headaches. (A blood patch is when they take blood and put it by the spine so that the blood will clot and plug the hole in the spinal fluid sack. First one didn't take completely, but the second seems to be doing well.) You can see pictures of her on Christy's blog (link below and to the right), but you'll need a google username and password to see pictures of our kids, so let me know if you need that. Otherwise take our nurse's word for it, "She is the cutest baby in the nursery."

As Christy had mentioned in her emails/blog, we are forever indebted to all of our friends and family that have, and continue to, pray for us, babysit, visit, bring food, call, offer to help, etc. We are truly blessed to have a network (read: system) of such wonderful people around us. I don't know how we would have gotten this far with them/you.

Similary, after watching Idol Gives Back, its amazing how good we have it here in America - at least my family. I don't have to walk the streets begging for money every day, and yet when my wife has a baby and needs two more anesthesiologists to give her blood patches, our insurance takes care of everything. I feel fortunate to have access to health care so that my wife and children are taken care of whenever they need it.

I'm reading a good book called The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker right now, so I hope to gather some good information for future blog entries.

God Bless