The Jian Ghomeshi saga

I am disturbed by how the public seems to think it’s okay to weigh in on a situation it has next to no unbiased information about.

It bothers me that people are so quick to confuse their beliefs and feelings with the truth, and publicly claim them as such (not only here… eh?).

I am disgusted by how ALL involved feel it necessary to fight these private matters in the court of public opinion, where the rules are much more lax, the standards are much lower, and the “jurors” more easily influenced by feeling than fact.

Good for all of you. Really mature.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, that all of this is happening on social media. We do, in fact, live in an era where people communicate through smartphones and websites rather than picking up a phone or ringing a doorbell. And when we do get together, we spend most of our time looking at our devices anyway.

And that is why it is even more important than ever to remind people that just reading something on the internet does not make it true.

Let me be perfectly clear, I categorically condemn anyone who abuses another person. I would like nothing more than to see all forms of abuse disappear. Neither you, nor I, know for sure if this is a case of abuse.

While civil society definitely has a role to play in discussing, searching for and creating and then implementing solutions for eliminating abuse between people, we should not pretend that this case is any of our business.

It would be entirely disingenuous for anyone to suddenly take an interest in the cause of domestic abuse or abusive relationships because of this case, as the only reason we are hearing about it is because Jian Ghomeshi is a public figure. To make Jian Ghomeshi the scapegoat for our anger about abusive relationships would be completely irresponsible given that this story doesn’t hold a candle to the real, damaging, abuse that so many others face on a daily basis that doesn’t get the press it deserves.

Toronto Police Chief (and spotlight stealer extraordinaire) Bill Blair has publicly requested that victims of abuse step forward. Isn’t involving the police a very personal, private decision? (One of Ghomeshi’s accusers provided today a very rational explanation for why she didn’t.) And if Chief Blair is so interested in helping, why has he been so silent up until now? What about all of the unreported abuse at the hands of regular joes who don’t live in the public eye? What is the end game here?

To those standing up for Jian, please remember that there are many reasons why he would release the statement that he did the other day, and not all of them are honourable. A little common sense and critical analysis goes a long way.

To those taking the side of (a growing number of) the women involved, does it not seem odd to you that while you stand up for “Lucy”, you are stepping on Jian? (I am NOT defending him, I am just pointing out the hypocrisy in defending an alleged victim by creating a real one – with absolutely no proof.)

Again, I do not know anything about what happened between Jian and these women, and I am positive that the stories we are hearing (from both “sides”) are not the complete truth. These kinds of statements allow those involved the opportunity to say what they want us to hear, in the way they want us to hear it. In many cases, much time has passed, and many psychological studies suggest strong proof that, in time, we remember stories the way we wished they happened rather than how they actually did. Could that be happening here? Absolutely. From both sides.

Last I checked, we lived in a society that valued being innocent until proven guilty. And our opinions on Jian’s innocence or guilt, or on the credibility of the women involved, doesn’t make him innocent or guilty, nor do they make the women credible or not.

We are spectators watching a game that should not even be played in the stadium we are sitting in. Our comments on what we are seeing add nothing to the game. Worse, they might even be proving our collective lack of real commitment to ending it.

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W.I.N. in Every Moment

What is “W.I.N.” and what does it stand for?

I’ll get to that in a minute, I promise. I assure you, though, that this has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen. (Although if #WINblog would trend worldwide like his outburst did, I wouldn’t complain.)

Before I get to today’s topic, I want to take a moment to share how touched I am by the way my Very Uncommon Wish for 2014 was received. I am honoured that you shared your personal stories with me about realizing benefits in welcoming critics, and I am humbled by the number of people who felt that my words could inspire or benefit others and shared my post with their friends and family. Thank you.

While I received a lot of positive feedback on that piece, I did not receive the comments I actually wished for: criticisms. When I asked some people if they had read it, a few of my more opinionated friends were rather short in their responses. While I am hopeful that for some it was probably just bad conversation timing, a different approach to blogs, or maybe they were digesting an uncommon way of thinking, I have to believe that at least some of them held back criticism of what I had written.

If that’s the case, please don’t hold back. A few days ago, I heard a very intelligent comment. “The person who gains the most out of a debate is the person who loses.” Again, I welcome your feedback on any article on Mark Unleashed. I can handle it.

One of the reasons I can handle it is because I am used to receiving criticism. I wasn’t always good at it, and I still falter at times, but I have a ton of experience. I am my own worst critic, and given my wish, I am therefore also my own best critic. So who better than to make my wish come true than me? And so the idea for this new post was born.

Friday night, sleepless in Montreal, I got to being a critic. What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with my approach?

While I can certainly blame my sleepless nights on two weeks of trying desperately to get comfortable and sleep with surgical shoes on, the problem is bigger than that. I haven’t prioritized sleep. And it goes beyond sleeping. My time management skills, in general, are lacking. In university, like most of us, I crammed for exams and completed papers in the last hours before it was due (and that was when I didn’t ask for an extension.) Today, the situation is different but the problem is much the same. I wait until the last minute to accomplish things, make arrangements, I spend a lot of time on facebook, with online games (damn you, apps!), and I enjoy my TV shows and sports. I get everything done, but it’s not pretty – and it’s usually at the expense of my health.

While I do not have a solution for Charlie Sheen’s problems, I think I came up with one for mine. And if you’re anything like me, I’m confident this will work for you too.

I call it: “W.I.N.” – What’s Important Now?

It’s 11pm, and I can sit on facebook scanning memes and watching videos or I can go to sleep. What’s important now?

It’s 5pm on a weekday, and I can start another work-related task or I can put it all away because I hear the garage door opening and my daughter is home from daycare. What’s important now?

I can open up the iPad and play some You Don’t Know Jack or Euchre, or I can go shave my head because tomorrow is cleaning day. What’s important now?

It’s the middle of the day, and I’m on fire. Not really, but I’m getting lots of work done and being very efficient. Haven’t eaten anything all day though. What’s important now?

The goal here is pretty simple: get present to what I can be doing with my time that will actually make a difference. What action can I take that supports what I have declared to be important in my life? And what actions might be more appealing in the moment, but actually don’t make any difference.

What’s important now? In all moments, my daughter comes first and my health a very close second, so that I can be there for her.

My wife, my friends, and much more, are also very important to me, and going away to school and having international experiences has left me with friends from all over, in different time zones, on different schedules, and it’s hard to keep up with all of everyone’s news, as much as I want to. But in doing so, I have lost track of my priorities: the people and things who are most important.

W.I.N.

What’s important now? I have only been playing with this very simple expression for 2 days and already I find it a powerful call to action.

I invite you to try it on for yourselves. Craft it to your unique circumstances and use it to your advantage.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing those other things in moderation. The trouble, for me at least, is that moderation can only be seen in my rear view window. I still have a lot to learn.

That being said, I am excited by the possibilities that open up when I ask myself this quick, concise, question:

W.I.N. – What’s important now?


P.S. As always, I welcome your comments below. I’m told that finding the place to put them is not obvious, so please look for “Leave a comment” or “# comments”. And, to not miss any new posts, please subscribe at the top on the right.

P.P.S. It’s been 75 minutes since I posted this, and I just did a google search on “What’s Important Now” – turns out I’m not the first to come up with this. Oh well. I had never heard of it before, so it’s new to me (and maybe new to you too?) Still, I hope that this way of thinking serves you well.

Happy Unbirthday!

Over the past 2 years, facebook has modified the way they display friends’ birthdays quite a few times. The result, in my humble opinion, is that the feature continues to get easier (and consequently more mindless) to use. First, birthday greetings were buried near the bottom of the right side of your news feed. (Sometimes I’d even have to scroll down a bit). Later, they were moved way up to the top, always in your face. Most recently, a feature was added that removed the need to actually go to someone’s wall to leave them a greeting. From your personal news feed page, you can click on each person who has a birthday that day and leave them a quick message, typed and sent before you blink twice. Then, just click copy, go to the next “friend” below, click paste, change their name or initials, add or subtract a few exclamation marks, and in less than a minute, you’ve brightened the days of all of your friends born on that day. Isn’t that amazing?

Armed with these thoughts, I felt the need to experiment. After my real birthday in early February, I edited my facebook profile to show my birthday as February 27th, about 3 weeks later. Then, I waited.

The goal of this experiment was to see how people use facebook’s birthday announcement feature. It was not in any way a scientifically valid experiment, and I only mention this because it was the prime criticism voiced by those whose facebook birthday rituals were exposed by it. One person even bothered to write you dont have the know-how or the right tools to conduct such an experiment for its results to be accurate.” Well, the results I posted were the factual ones listed here:

  • 99 facebook contacts wished me Happy Birthday on my actual birthday.
  • Of those, 48 wished me Happy Birthday AGAIN on Feb. 27.
  • Only 5 of the original 99 caught me trying to have two birthdays in a month. (One was my mother, who should know – it’s kind of a memorable experience – so we’re down to 4.) *This stat is the least reliable of all, since it is quite possible that others questioned what they saw but didn’t bother to say anything.
  • 2 others (who sent wishes on my actual birthday via something other than facebook) caught me in the days leading up to my fake second birthday, and one of their messages, posted mere hours before Feb. 27th’s arrival, was left on my facebook page for all to see. Still, moments after 12am, the wishes started coming in, right on top of the comment “as if tomorrow is your birthday!”
  • At least 5 of the 48 who sent wishes on both days wrote exactly the same thing on both days. (I only noted those that were hyper-obvious and easy to spot)

Plainly, there was no special “know-how” or “tools” required to observe and report the above other than simple addition – which I can assure you that I have mastered. But, just to reassure the skeptics, I had excel check my 1+1+1+… math.

Certain statistics are missing from the above list of results. Note how I did NOT tabulate the number of people who ONLY sent me birthday wishes on the wrong date. This is not a key element to the experiment as it would be ridiculous and unreasonable to expect everyone on my facebook friend list to know the exact date on which I was born. There is no meaning to be taken from this other than, I submit, that they trusted me to put my correct birthday on facebook. To these people, I am sorry to have misled you and I thank you for the well wishes.

To those who caught me, whether you said something publicly or not, in addition to the above thanks, please accept a big virtual hug of appreciation, redeemable the next time we see each other for a real one. I have never before wanted to be called out as much in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Using (and abusing) facebook’s birthday feature makes seeming sincere too easy. So easy, in fact, that you don’t even have to go to someone’s “wall” to send them birthday wishes. (It’s not really much to ask, is it?) If you had to, you might notice that others are giving you valuable information. It is so mindless, in fact, that sending wishes to someone on their birthday takes mere seconds requiring little to no thought. So little thought, that almost 50% of people who sent wishes on the 27th also sent them 3 weeks earlier, and apparently didn’t give a second thought to it. Some even admitted as much, as if that was a valid defense that justified their behaviour.

Again, while I DO appreciate those who took the few seconds to send me wishes on either day, the right one or the fake one, any logical person has to question the value of wishes sent on both days. An old expression suggests that you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand. New technology tries to artificially debunk that. I am under no illusion that I have almost 1000 friends despite what facebook tells me. We cannot rely on facebook to maintain our personal relationships for us. We still need to pay attention to them in real life.

This same person (and one other) wrote to me saying that they are tired and busy and that’s why they sent wishes twice. I remember, when facebook made their most recent changes, thinking that each morning I would wake up and send birthday wishes to everyone that facebook told me had a birthday that day. It would be a daily routine. Then, I realized that such a thoughtless, impersonal gesture would only serve to make me feel good about appearing to do something nice, while hiding the fact that I didn’t really care to send any real wishes, only to do what facebook had made convenient. I suggest that that’s what’s really going on here. Now I admit that I am drawing non-statistically significant conclusions on my experiment; they’re called opinions. I have a right to them as a human. You have a right to disagree. Consider, however, that disagreeing might be just an easy way to avoid taking responsibility for sending auto-pilot birthday greetings rather than paying a modicum of attention to who you are wishing what to and when.

Brevity has never consistently been my strength, so I will quote Deb who got “caught” sending me birthday wishes on both days. In her reaction to the results of the experiment, she summed up facebook birthday greetings perfectly. “FB allows us to be “thoughtful” without really putting any thought into it…(u can quote me ;)” Perfectly said, Deb. And, to your credit, thanks for taking this experiment the way it was designed.

Now, if anyone feels offended by this experiment or by anything coming from it, I invite you to instead laugh it off as the facebook experiment that it is and use it as an opportunity to reflect on the role that social media plays in your life, how you rely on it, and the impacts that social media and other social constructs have had on your interpersonal relationships.

And if your immediate response to that invitation is that you don’t have the time or interest for that, then look at what you do have the time or interest for instead (i.e. facebook). If one doesn’t have the time to invest in bettering their relationship to others in their lives, then how much are their facebook birthday “wishes” really worth anyway?

If you are still offended (or even more so now), well there’s not much I can do. I don’t apologize for this experiment. I think it is crucial, like James wrote in his reaction on facebook, to start consciously unplugging from the social media addiction. We must stop relying so heavily on social media to remind us of the things we had to consciously work to remember  before this technology existed. Let’s put the effort into real human interaction and pick up the phone to call people for their birthdays. I would rather get a handful of phone calls than a hundred greetings on facebook.

Jesse, who also surprisingly got “caught”, asked “I wonder how many birthday wishes you’re gonna get next year… Don’t be thinking there’s an unlimited supply. You may have used them all up with these shenanigans!!” Well, Jesse, that’s a very clever question. After I decided to do this, I briefly thought “shit, this experiment will upset some people so much that they will ignore my future birthdays!” Then, I realized that if someone didn’t remember that they wished me happy birthday 3 weeks earlier, they probably won’t remember to hold a grudge for 11+ months!

Despite being one of the few people who publicly called me out for fishing for birthday wishes I didn’t deserve, Michelle adapted an old but famous movie character. In her criticism of me, she brought up a conversation about lemmings that we had on the night of the experiment, after I congratulated her for catching me red handed. She wrote: “In 1958, the crew of Disney’s White Wilderness PUSHED those lemmings off the cliff. They did not jump. You created the cliff and gave those FB friends of yours a gentle shove.”

Her analogy is only part right. While I concede that I created the cliff, I did not push anyone. People did what they did, and all I am doing is observing, reporting, and offering an opinion on what happened. I am creating an opinion of the value/sincerity of wishes of those who sent them twice within a very short time frame. Again, while it is not scientifically sound, it remains my prerogative as a person. What I object to is people blaming the cliff for having fallen over it.

To adapt a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you feel [any way] without your consent. Only you are responsible for how you feel. And in order to avoid feeling a way that we find undesirable, we humans look for scapegoats. We cling to rationalizations and interpretations that we can hold on to in order to believe that it’s not our fault; that someone else is to blame. The key to personal growth is in looking at every situation as if you are 100% responsible – even, and especially, when you absolutely don’t want to be.

In the end, each person, whether they had a part in this experiment or not, will see it as they decide to see it. One can choose to focus on the cliff I created or on the possible lessons learned because of it. It is amazing to me how so many people witnessed the exact same experiment yet came out of it with opinions and feelings spanning the entire spectrum from “funny” and “interesting” to “antagonizing” and “disrespectful.” The only explanation for this, once again, is that it is a question of attitude. When you make a mistake, who do you choose to be? Are you the person who plays the victim card and blames others or the one who finds the nearest mirror and takes a long, hard, honest look. I hope you choose the mirror.

Special thanks to David Plotz who conducted the same experiment with his “friends” and posted about it here: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/08/my_fake_facebook_birthdays.single.html and to my friend Nicholas Smith who brought it closer to home and inspired me to try it for myself.

It’s not me, it’s you.

The “share” button on facebook is used to make your favourite links, comments, and other media appear to your “friends”. Usually, it is used for the funny, the witty, politically hot topics, inspirational quotes, and the like. (no pun intended)

Today, a contact of mine “shared” an image with the following quote: “I am responsible for what I say. I am not responsible for what you understand.”

I am compelled to respond with a blog quickie.

Consider that maintaining this type of attitude is one of the most effective ways to kill conversation and ruin relationships. Contrary to very popular belief, effective communication occurs when we focus more on the message that is received rather than what is sent. What’s written above is the epitome of “easy way out” and the definition of irresponsible communication.

Effective communicators ensure that the message is received the way they intended it to be, and will stop at nothing to avoid or clean up any misunderstanding. Their positive results speak for themselves.