Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.
A closely related term, cognitive disequilibrium, was coined … to refer to the experience of a discrepancy between something new and something already known or believed.
From Wikipedia
It is increasingly true, and increasingly uncomfortable that I have two distinct lives.
In one, I live with my adorable family, in a cute little house in a tiny village, on a road with a farmer’s field at the end of it. Here the work day starts after the kids have had breakfast and are off to school, and ends gradually starting about 4pm, but often not petering out completely until around 8. We have a hot tub and a mini van, and keep busy with a variety of community and church activities — spending a lot of time driving. I very rarely see co-workers, so from my desk in the basement, I do my best to move pieces around the board (while cognizant of my place on someone else’s board) mostly over e-mail and by conference call. This life is comfortable, but grows slowly, my only concession to a demanding career is that I’m attached to my cell phone at all times.
In another, I am alive, active and interacting in person from 7:00am until sometimes 2:00am. No less than three sizable cities are my playground, and although there are still emails and phone calls, this place is like an epicenter of action, drawing people into it to change things, move things, and directly influence the course of technology. Every conversation has potential impact, every meeting has consequence, and everyone I come across is interesting. The pace is breakneck, but it is fun! And I’m surrounded by things I only dreamed of glimpsing. Though is life isn’t nearly as comfortable, growth is observable on a nearly daily basis. However, it’s only allowance for family is a 10 minute call/Skype every day or two.
I could imagine a balance between these two lives, where I can go hard at my job during the weekday, and then relax into a comfortable life with my wonderful family evenings and weekends — taking regular vacations that enforce a clear seperation from work and home. But unlike most people, my personal life and my professional life are seperated by the width of a continent. I am, by the demands of time and space, either one person or the other. And to change modes takes 7-8 hours of travel.
The best I know how to do is make the most out of whatever mode I am in at a given time. But the longer I spend in each version of myself, the stranger the other one becomes when I’m forced to make the hand off. From a baby-puke covered T-shirt, to a sport jacket and an $80 bottle of wine… with 2500 miles, and usually a week, between each switch.
Don’t get me wrong: I genuinely have the best of both worlds. But it’d be nice if I could have them both in one place…

Who is John Galt? The Pursuit of Happiness, Pride, Humility, Grace, Justice, Christlikeness and the American Dream

I’ve almost finished reading Atlas Shrugged. Let me tell you, the weight Atlas carried pales in comparison to the weight of dragging that giant, preachy tome around with me all summer. But I can’t deny the impact it, travel, and world events lately have had on me over the past few months.
For the uninitiated, Atlas Shrugged reads like a Republican Bible — probably a more appropriate one than the actual religious book most of them claim. But stripped of the preaching, and the often intolerant-seeming approach to government (or lack thereof) there’s a core point that they’re trying to make, that when you take away the theater, posturing and the other (more ridiculous) mountains Republican’s are willing to die on lately, it’s a very lucid one: every individual should have the right and responsibility to build their own future and consume what they produce.
There’s a caveat here that Rand’s philosophy fails to recognize (or would prefer to exclude from the debate entirely) which is that not everyone is born with equal opportunity. It’s a flawed to assume that if everyone put in the same volume of effort, every person born would be able to arrive at a state of self-sufficiency and happiness. The reality is that an ambitious child born in Africa that works harder than a less ambitious child born in Canada is not likely to end up with the same level of wealth, happiness and fulfillment, producer though he may be. You needn’t even go as far as Africa to understand that principle – between school districts in the U.S. you can find gaps in opportunity that are just as large. And of course there are those stuck with disabilities or challenges that can’t be overcome. These are not exceptions to the rule, these are the norm. Rich, healthy white folk living in a plush land of opportunity are the exception.
But none of that takes away from the notion of personal responsibility. Systems created to remove personal responsibility are corrosive to a society. This is not debatable. When its better to evade taxes by staying on welfare while getting paid for work under the table, then the system is broken… And perhaps it shouldn’t have existed (at least in that definition) to begin with.1
Tina Fey says gradually becoming a Republican is a side-effect of getting older. Perhaps the longer you’ve had to work to achieve what you have, the more you value seeing that same responsibility in others. I recognize that I am made uncomfortable by people who’s success (or apparent success) was not achieved through hard work of their own. I bracket in “apparent success” because this corrosion of personal responsibility applies to debt – in epidemic proportions! What you own/drive/live-in is an outward indicator of success, so people leverage themselves to the hilt to appear successful – hoping never to have to take responsibility for those appearances.
I can’t argue these sentiments. The Bible says those who do not work should not eat. With a few exceptions (mental or physical capacity), I’m in total agreement. But the natural (human) extension of this is something I can’t reconcile. That happiness is the result of what you’ve earned, and pride in it is justified and even righteous, flies in the face of what I believe about our place in the universe. Some would call that Liberal guilt…
Conservative Christian friends, help me:
How can I say I’m proud of being a skillful worker and producer, while being humble before my God (and in testimony)? How can I acknowledge that despite my hard work, without Him I would be nothing, while claiming that those who have nothing must deserve it because they’re obviously not working hard enough? Is it righteous to be prideful of my achievements when the Bible tells me that pride goeth before a fall?
How can I show grace to those in need, how can I feed the hungry and clothe the naked in obedience to Christ’s direction, without feeding into a system that is corrosive, or supporting an individual’s destructive mindset of entitlement?2 How can a group of believers who should wish that none be lost, be opposed to a government program that endeavours to provide opportunities for the broken to recover? How can I acknowledge that without God constantly giving me second chances, I would be doomed to hell, while criticizing a political viewpoint that works to give second chances?
And I guess if I could answer myself, I would contend that it’s not the government’s job to provide programs and opportunities – each of us who has learned the value of personal responsibility has the opportunity (and as Christian, the duty) to show humility by extending grace and second chances within a relationship with those we know who could use some help picking themselves up and trying again. And if every Republican who shouted down entitlement program spending, were also such a person of grace and humility, then maybe I could get on board with them…
I have a good job that I enjoy working hard at, and I do relish success. Nicole and I discipline ourselves to live within our means, and consume at the level that we produce. We don’t feel guilty that we have a cute little house, or a couple decent vehicles, or the opportunity to find the best possible education for our kids. But I don’t think its right to claim pride in any of those things either – they are gifts from God that our imperfect human efforts do not make us deserving of. And if anything, the grace extended to me in that provision should teach me to continuously extend that grace to others – even those who don’t appear to deserve it. Even sacrificially.
I know so many people with good jobs, who produce admirably for themselves and society, and who are apparently enjoying the benefits of their hard work, but who ache with emptiness and dissatisfaction, a loneliness in their success that no promotion or possession will ever fill. They have exercised the right and taken the responsibility for their future, but their American Dream is a listless nightmare, because they live only for themselves, and fulfillment of their happiness.
I’m not sure how to be a Conservative and approach the lost with humility and grace. I’m not sure how to be a Liberal but still hold Truth as absolute. And as I watch the coverage of the upcoming election, I despair that its neither extreme that will tear our society apart, but the growing polarity between them that will render us ineffectual and immobile.
Atlas is not a man, more righteous than others because of his mind or his output. Atlas is the Holy God of creation. And he doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, He holds all the universe in the palm of His hand. He waits not in anticipation of our collapse, but in His desire that each of his children, individually special in His eyes, finds their way home. And no matter how many times each of us has failed to live up to what He intended life and work and happiness to look like, He has never shrugged us off… That I am redeemed by Him should be my only source of pride.
1) This is not specualation, this is based on a real story of a person I know who spent years on welfare, but for the past 4 has worked hard at a regular full-time job to get out of that hole. Unfortunately, having started later in life, he cannot manage to cross the threshold where his income allows him to support his family and pay taxes. He has to keep his pay under the table and continue to claim unemployment. In other words, he has to take money from the government to avoid paying them money. WTF?!
2) Case study number two: I volunteered at a United Way homeless shelter for over a year, serving in the kitchen. Never have I been treated so badly as by the homeless folks who felt they were owed a meal. Granted there were some who were grateful, having come in from day-labor, tired but gracious, who took what was offered with a smile and sometimes a hint of embarrassment, cleaning up after themselves as they left. But most of the clientele were rude, sometimes hostile, demanding personalization of their meal as if they had paid to dine at a fancy restaurant, leaving their half-eaten food on the table as they stomped out for a smoke or to sneak a drink, or demanding seconds while others still waited to be fed, sometimes yelling and threatening violence if they didn’t get their way.

Ben's First Day

Today was Ben’s first day of “real” school — Senior Kindergarten. Today I faced a prioritization challenge that I imagine most working dad’s have to face.
I woke up this morning with the screws in my ankle tenting my skin quite painfully. With 3 weeks of travel starting on Monday, I decided I’d better try to see the surgeon to make sure everything was OK before I left. But first I had a parent/teacher conference with Ben’s kindergarten teacher. I called the Fracture Clinic and they agreed to squeeze me in at 11:30 — which I accepted, despite having a business lunch also scheduled at 11:30. I knew, from experience, that if I got to the clinic early, the odds were good I’d get in early.
The meeting with the teacher was done at 8:30, but Ben started his first day at 9am. I pulled up to the last turn where I could decide whether to drive in to the clinic or drive home to go back to the school with Ben. If I turned left, I knew with a high degree of certainty I’d be able to see the surgeon and make my professional obligation — but I’d miss Ben’s first day of school. If I turned right, I could help take Ben to school, but would likely have to cancel the lunch meeting.
I sat at the corner for a solid two minutes, praying that God would show me what the right decision was. Seconds after saying “amen” a train rolled in, blocking my way out of town for at least a few minutes. I took it as a sign, and turned right toward home.
And boy was I glad I did. Ben’s first day was a real treat. All the kindergarten students gathered excitedly around their seperate little entrance, most of them nattering excitedly, a few clinging to mom or dad. Ben spotted his little friend Tegan, and the two of them were very happy to see each other. When the bell rang, Ben looked surprised and a little tenuous, but eventually they all figured out that they should line up by the door. One little boy had to be dragged into the school wailing — but that didn’t effect morale much. When the teacher opened the door and greeted them, they eagerly rushed toward the entrance. I called out to Ben “have a great day, buddy!” and he turned back, the hugest grin on his face and said confidently “I will daddy! Bye!!”
Then they all stomped inside to hang their coats on the hook and experience the wonders of kindergarten.
I had to rush, but I made it to the surgeon and the business lunch. But even if I hadn’t, I’m confident that I chose the right priority this morning. That excited look on his face as he said good-bye will be a cherished memory for the rest of my life…

Here we go again!

Not exactly a relaxing summer, but whatever it was, its over. School is here!
Ben met his teacher yesterday and starts full-time, all-day, every-day school tomorrow. Abi started pre-school today, she’ll be two half-days a week. And this afternoon I’ll go register for my next semester of Seminary. Nic, of course, will be doing plenty of at-home teaching!
Our strategy, for now, is to add an official “Bible School” time for the kids, following supper. This will be a part of the regular routine, and as they get older will flow into homework time. For now, Abi finishes eating (she’s the world’s slowest eater) while we read our Bible story and discuss it together. Suppers are hectic around our house — because most of my co-workers are in a time zone 3 hours behind ours, we’re just getting into “end-of-day e-mails and last minute phone calls” time as we sit down to eat, which makes it hard for me not to shove food in my face and get back to the computer — the price I pay for leisurely mornings with my family. But the discipline is good for all of us, and we want that reserved time with the kids to augment (and/or correct) their education and talk through their day and school work with them.
They say it takes 5 weeks to form a habit. Unfortunately for Nicole, I’ll be gone 3 out of the 5 weeks we spend developing this routine. I have Seattle, California, Seattle, Ireland this month! After this, though, things should quiet down… we hope!
The place we’re renting in Florida is just about locked down. We’re already planning our second summer! Pics of the kid’s big days coming soon on Flickr…

A Fine Romance

We’ve been to a lot of weddings since we were first hitched. Most, I suspect, were better executed than ours (I say “suspect” because we realised recently that we don’t remember ours very well) but my sister’s is easily the best I’ve been to.
Of course I could be biased — this was my little sister’s wedding after all. But I don’t think any nuptials have so perfectly balanced the traditional and the unique, the celebration of two people and the honouring of the dozens in attendance. Liz managed to mix a ceremony respectful to the institution of marriage with her irreverent and fun style — right up to the routine slideshow with the very un-routine ending! She was a beautiful bride deserving of attention, who prioritized being attentive to everyone they chose to have a part of their day.
Even the attendance was a delightful mix of totally un-alike personalities — but that does sorta come with the territory with our family. Greg’s family was as likeably unique, and the young man cleaned up awful nice, their sweet duet during the ceremony a song perfectly selected to demonstrate their down-to-earth affection and devotion for the other.

My family is not one to be tied down easily — Liz being possibly the least sedentary-of-heart of the three kids of habitual adventurers. So when we choose something to devote ourselves to, you know that that choice was not made lightly. Nomads though we may be, it was awful nice to have the whole clan home for a short while. Mom’s stay was the longest, practically rescuing Nic and I from what could have been an awfully rough summer starting in May. Dad, who like me, doesn’t handle boredom well, wasn’t home long, but made his presence apparent through the volume of handy-man work he accomplished around our house while he was here. And Dave, of course, made an appearance, helpful and involved, but making it clear that he never intends to have one of these wedding things himself!
It was nice too to meet Ros — my dad’s long-lost cousin from the UK who enchanted us with her British charm and fit right in to the family.

The kids, happy to have a role in the special day, obviously looked adorable and had a blast. They felt very included and happy to be getting all the attention they did. We were glad they were a part of it — and glad when Nicole’s parents arrived to take them home to bed!
Everyone’s gone now, scattered to the four corners of the globe — strange isn’t it, that it’s Nicole and I holding down the fort in Ontario? But school starts next week, and at least for now, some stability is nice… More wedding pictures in the sidebar and on Flickr.