Posted by: ryanmccoskey | March 17, 2009

Good Politicians and Honest Burglars, Equally Hard to Come By

The CEO of Ford recently appeared at an ECO-nomics conference, where he put forth his master plan for resurrecting Ford from financial distress. His recovery strategy can be boiled down to one step: raise the price of gas.

It’s a fantastic idea if you work for Ford or Uncle Sam, but if you’re a consumer – sorry. Besides, isn’t a government-controlled economy all about hard workers paying for the ridiculous lifestyles of soft talkers on Capitol Hill?

Although this plan is utterly ridiculous, at least it paints a clear picture of what a government-run energy policy looks like.

It all started when the government mandated all American auto companies to make overpriced cars, instead of evil trucks and SUVs, in order to keep the “greenies” happy. However, the average American doesn’t want an overpriced car; so instead, we bought SUV’s and fairly-priced foreign cars because they’re cheaper, and they better accommodate our families. And as a result, American auto companies began to tank because none of us wanted their overpriced cars mandated by the government’s fear of the “greenies.”

So when the American auto makers began to feel the pressure, they went to Congress for bailout money. And we, speaking of the American taxpayers, watched the government waste our money on their short-sighted policies. We purchased fairly-priced SUV’s and foreign cars, which caused the American auto makers to tank because they have to make overpriced cars mandated by the government’s fear of the “greenies.” Do you see the pattern yet?

Let’s go back to this CEO’s plan: raise the price of gas. Well, it’s their only hope if the government doesn’t grow a spine.

Here’s how it works: If gas is more expensive, then we can’t buy what we want anymore. (SUVs and foreign cars) Instead, we’ll be forced to buy overpriced cars from Ford, Chrysler and GMC because that’s all they can afford to make. Why? Well, because the government supports both union rights (mobs) and “greenies” (Al Gore-ians). That’s how our government works. No one on Capitol Hill wants to offend voters, thereby eliminating a chance for re-election. So instead of taking a logical position on issues, they just equally support everything and everybody so that everyone stays happy with them. When Congresspeople do this, we call it politics. When citizens do this, we call them stupid.

What a glorious plan! Our gas becomes more expensive, making the vehicles we want unaffordable, which leads us to buy overpriced cars we never wanted, causing the politicians to jump for joy. As long as they don’t have to act like leaders and take a position, they’re just fine. It’s always safer to offend taxpayers before special interest groups. Welcome to a government-controlled economy.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | March 12, 2009

Be a Lion, Be a Lamb

Although the mortgage bubble in our economy has long popped, I’m not quite finished feeling resentment toward the crooked fellows who spearheaded the corruption. They say you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk; however, after milk is spilled, the damage is done. Not so with rotten scoundrels like Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and his crooked Congressional cronies. As long as they remain on Capitol Hill, there will be plenty of intentional spilling for personal gain.

It came as no surprise to read in the Wall Street today that Mr. Dodd is once again at the end of a long, dirty paper trail. This time it involves his cottage in Ireland. Before Fannie and Freddie bit the dust, Dodd was their #1 lobbyist, earning more in incentives than any other Congressperson. As a result, he found himself receiving some uniquely favorable mortgage deals from Countrywide. And by uniquely favorable, I mean undeniably illegal.

This interesting paper trail also reveals Dodd’s connection with Edward Downe, Jr., another weak-minded hedonist who was caught redhanded in isider trading fraud. Mr. Downe would have endured a longer sentence; but to his joy, he was given a full pardon by the Clinton administration after Dodd lobbied for his absolution in 2001. I guess birds of a feather really do flock together; even loathsome, self-seeking birds.

It churns my stomach to see that one of the top two Fannie and Freddie lobbyists is now our president. Nonetheless, I wish him the best – assuming he abandons all the shady political tricks he learned in Chicago. If his intent is to seek an agenda that profits himself, his cronies or his party before the American public, then I hope his efforts end in colossal failure – and that goes for any person who calls himself or herself a leader.

The actions of men like Dodd don’t surprise me. It’s a clear picture of the wickedness in human nature. It’s a curse that cannot and will not be lifted by scientific advancement, political correctness, self-esteem speeches or world peace. So I don’t call out Mr. Dodd with a belief that he’s some sort of atypical devil; he’s a man who has yielded to the vile yearnings of his heart. However, I feel no shame in indicting him as a terrible leader. If you’re not ready to weather temptation, or boldly confront fools, or defend the innocent, or fight for the rights of the oppressed, or demand the punishment of oppressors, or seek others’ good in spite of yours, then you need to seriously question your ability to lead.

In short, a good leader is a lion and a lamb – fiercely defending their people and confronting the wolves, while humbly placing their pride and comfort on the chopping block.

It's not an easy road, but it's the right one

It's not an easy road, but it's the right one

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 27, 2009

Get Full or Die Trying – The Cereal for Rappers

So, I’ve had a few people tell me that my blog entries are too long; I’m having trouble discerning if they really feel that way, or if they’re just frustrated because they can’t read. If it is because they can’t read, could someone give them Brooke’s number – she’s a great teacher. I would type it in this blog for them to read, but that probably wouldn’t do much good. (I love you Ken H)

On a serious note, I discovered that the generic brand of “Fruit Loops” is much better than its overpriced counterpart. Until last week, I had never purchased the generic brand, most likely because it’s called something like “Awesome Rings of Fruity Festive Fun.” I guess the brand specialists who can’t get hired at General Mills and Kellogg’s are turned away for good reason.

Speaking of bad talent, do you ever wonder how terrible you’d have to be at acting for Hollywood to not cast you in a film? I recently saw a movie in which the acclaimed rapper “50 Cent” played some kind of angry, rapper thug. I was surprised they cast him at all considering the other big names in the film. Even more surprising was how painful it was to watch a real-life rapper have such a hard time acting like an angry, rapper thug. I thought it would have been an easier role for him to step into.

I’m going to end this post now. First and foremost because I want to respect the opinion of my friend, just in case he can read. Secondly, I want to thank Brooklyn for teaching people how to read; in the words of Brooke, “We be teachin’ da readin’.” And most importantly, I just finished my third cup of coffee and must go refill before my office cronies drink all the joe.

Wait a second!… That’s it! – “Yogurty Rapper Bling-eeos!” I’ll be the sultan of cereal!

Get Full or Die Trying

Get Full or Die Trying

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 21, 2009

Oh, Another Breakdown; Grimace

One of the more disappointing themes of my life in 2009 has been persistent car trouble. It all started when my Saturn wouldn’t run on a cold Sunday in January. Fortunately, I have a stepfather who is as good at fixing cars as I am at eating. We did a lot to that car; we changed all the spark plugs, the spark plug wires, the fuel regulator and filter, the engine coolant temperature sensor and cleaned up the battery. After spending all that money and basically rendering a full tune-up, we found out that it wasn’t starting because the engine was flooded – this can be fixed by simply holding the pedal to the floor and turning the key until it starts; that fixed it.

Well, while we were in the process of fixing the Saturn, Ashley and I were driving the Cadillac everywhere. That is, until it quit starting, too. At least with the Cadillac, I knew what the problem was – the starter wasn’t working. So right when the Saturn was back in commission, Jason and I went to work on the Cadillac and wrenched the starter out from the back of the engine. If someone tries to give you a free Cadillac, tell them to fly a kite and run for the hills. You don’t want a poorly built car with grossly overpriced Mercedes parts.

As if this wasn’t enough, I drove the Saturn to Newton for an appointment with a prospective client after we resurrected it, and while walking to my car afterward, I noticed that the front driver’s side tire was flat. Oh joy. I cautiously drove it to a local church parking lot and jacked it up with the barely-functional manufacturer’s jack. I got it jacked up and stood up to rub my lower back for a moment; next thing I know, a sharp gust of wind caused my car to lurch forward, knocking the jack over and lodging it underneath the car. I had to laugh; it was just one of those crazy “am I dreaming?” moments.

So after a new tire, a good realignment and more money spent, my Saturn is road-ready again. I think if I changed the seats I’d have a brand new car. Oh well, you know as well as I do that this is just how life goes sometimes. Perhaps the takeaway is the fact that hardship and mishap will most assuredly come; the quesion is: who is your unchanging shelter in times of prolonged frustration?

Sometimes you've just got to beat your vehicle into submission.

Sometimes you've just got to beat your vehicle into submission.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 19, 2009

The Lesson of Letting You Go, For BriMay

So many lessons left to be learned,
wisdom I will come to know.
But one in particular comes with a burn,
the lesson of letting you go.

It’s not that I’ll never see you again,
nor that you’re gone for good.
It’s my joy in how things have been –
I want it to stand as it stood.

I remember your marks upon my life,
they’re priceless through and through.
Your godly words much like a knife,
convicted, stirred and moved.

Yet now I know it was never you,
Like me you’re just a mere man.
Instead it was God who always foreknew
that you would draw me to Him.

So if your departure leads you to
someone who was once like me,
then praise God for sending you
to grow His family.

I guess this lesson has been learned,
it’s wisdom I’m now blessed to know.
But wisdom or not there’s still a burn,
because I love you, and I’m letting you go.

Brian and I are debating the existence of elves. Kyle is judging the debate. The yellow ball is Brian's failsafe, in case he loses.

Brian and I are debating the existence of elves. Kyle is judging the debate. The yellow ball is Brian's failsafe, in case he loses.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 16, 2009

Let’s Put a Fat Beat to Ephesians

I have recently decided to memorize the entire book of Ephesians from the English Standard Version of the Bible. It’s taken me 4 days to successfully quote the first 6 verses of the book by memory. So at this rate, I should have it memorized in 103 days. However, I anticipate that it will probably get more difficult as I go; kind of like when you’re trying to quote a song to someone, but can’t find the words unless you play the whole thing in your head first. That could prove to be burdensome on someone’s time if I say, “hey, I think you need to meditate on Ephesians 5:13; here’s what Paul says…he says…wait, is that how it goes?…umm…. Give me 10 minutes to quote the entire book up to that point, then I’ll tell you.” I’m pretty sure that would get somewhat annoying.

I’ve always been able to memorize complex material very easily. My first year of college, I majored in Pre-med. I was incredibly good at memorizing all this intricate knowledge about the nature of life and human anatomy; as sick as it sounds, I derived joy from it. And then one day, I thought to myself, “I don’t like the idea of being a doctor at all.” I guess I wanted to be the kind of doctor that tells patients all about how their body works and how magnificently efficient God has made them; the problem is: that kind of doctor doesn’t exist, nor would any sane person pay him or her any money for that service. Perhaps if Google didn’t exist, there would be a niche for that kind of doctor. But now the only venue in which I use my medical knowledge is the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. (not as noble as saving lives)

One thing I am noticing, though, is how much I’ve been treasuring the Word lately. Every time I open my Bible to memorize my next verse, I smell the inside of my Bible like I would a new car or a delicious meal. To me, it smells like God’s breath in a printing press. And as I scan over those small black scribbles we call letters, my brain is taking in the reality that I’m comprehending the eternal thoughts of the one, unchanging God. That’s a joy all in itself; the fact that I can know, to some degree, the thoughts of God.

I should probably learn how to rap. It would be a lot easier to memorize Ephesians if I put a fat beat to it and cranked out that sweet rhyme. If you’re an aspiring hip-hop writer, feel free to submit your ideas.

So in my case, the real challenge won’t be memorizing the Scripture itself; that will come relatively easy (by the Grace of God). The big battle will be allowing the Holy Spirit to do with me as He wills with all this atomic power I’m storing in my brain and my heart. There’s much refining left to do in this calloused heart of mine. I’d be lying to say that I think it’s going to be easy; but I’d also be lying to say that I don’t think it’s completely worth it.

Right now my mind is chewing on verse 5: “In love, He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” This is pretty normal for Paul; he’s one of these guys that condenses an entire book full of wisdom and knowledge into a single sentence. One day, I’ll write a script for a movie in which all the lines are incredibly heavy dialogue. It will probably go something like this:

Perboon Wilkes (a depressed, one-eyed hockey stick designer): “Lunch sounds good, but I fear the result of sustaining my body on this sad world’s perishable food, alone.”
Munroosh Antgut (a magical talking space crystal): “Oh, to transcend the trifling necessities of man’s wanton heart.”

Well, I’m not making sense anymore, so I think I’ll conclude this post.

As always, thanks for reading; it brings me joy to do this. And please consider the idea of memorizing Scripture on a daily basis. I don’t think there’s a more worthwhile pursuit.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 3, 2009

Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy

As most of you know, assuming you’ve perused through my blog before, I enjoy writing about the authentic application of Christian faith in real-world situations; this post will most assuredly stem from the same vein of thought. But before you change the channel in an effort to skip a “re-run,” I humbly ask you to read through this message with an open heart and mind. Although I’m not a fan of using an overly-solemn tone in a casual, blog environment, I’ve recently been struck with a significant Truth that I believe merits an attentive audience. To me, it’s a borderline epiphany; I pray it will be a liberating discovery for you also.

Olivet Baptist Church, the local body of Jesus Christ to which I belong, has been in the process of making “discipleship” less of a concept and more of a reality. To be sure, it doesn’t require much study in the Scriptures to see the incredible impact of Christian discipleship upon the life of someone; in my estimation, the leaders of Olivet are in a very worthwhile pursuit. Nonetheless, I’ve recently been pondering the obstacles to discipleship, asking myself questions such as: Why is it such an uncommon practice in contemporary American churches? How is it possible to cultivate a genuine desire for discipleship? What intellectual and spiritual equipment does one need to disciple a fellow Christian? These questions and others have led me to realize a major cultural dichotomy in the modern Christian ethos. I have come to believe that modern-day, American Christians have either purposefully, or more likely, subconsciously adopted a set of destructive false assumptions about the applicability of their faith.

First off, at some level, I think that many church-going Christians believe that the mission of the church is to be completed through salaried church personnel. Although it may not be audibly voiced, there is this subtle, corporate conviction that tithing exists in order to provide staff salaries, which equips them to “grow” the church. But we have to ask ourselves: Why does our modern Christian culture carry this sentiment? Why is there this aura of deferring “Kingdom” responsibilities to church leadership? Here’s where we insert the next false assumption. I also think, at some level, that many American Christians believe it is too difficult to accomplish “Kingdom” work unless they are in a full-time ministry position. We perceive that our pastors are on the frontlines of spiritual warfare, but we envision ourselves at the back of the war party, doling out our monthly checks to buy war supplies for the leadership. And so once again, why do Christian laypeople in America carry this worldview? I think we can find our answer by unpacking the secular, cultural nonsense we’ve been consorting with.

Growing up in public school, I was taught all the standard disciplines; math, science, history, english, fine arts, etc. I was taught how to do them, and if any student asked why we needed to know them, the answer was always “real-world preparation.” Beyond this reason, there was never any other reason provided. And so we learned that high school existed to prepare students for college; and that college existed to prepare students to achieve gainful employment; and that jobs exist to provide money so we can get by. And so on Wednesday nights, I would go to youth group and hear Brian talk about “living for Jesus.” Then I would go back to school on Thursday and learn about math so I could go to college, get a job and make money. Now while this dissection may seem trivial to you, allow me to amplify the implications.

The modern American culture and the public school system have taught me that there are two divided groups of knowledge. There is objective, non-biased knowledge and subjective, faith-based knowledge. They purport that all rational people must know the objective knowledge and should never apply their religious convictions to it – that’s simply not what rational people do, they say. And they claim to care less about the subjective arena; tolerance and acceptance is all they talk about here. And so I grew up operating more like an emigrant than a citizen; I spoke the language of “irrational” faith on Wednesday and Sunday with my church family, and spoke the language of “rational” real-world preparation the rest of the week. This, my friends, is the issue. This is the dichotomy of which I speak.

Essentially, most Christian Americans do not operate in full-time ministry positions. They operate in the “real world.” And thus, we have all been programmed by our culture to believe that there really is no place for faith in the workforce. There is, of course, the encouragement to not cheat or lie, to be nice to coworkers and to share Jesus with them; but what about the application of Jesus Christ in the content of our profession. For example, God most definitely heals people in unexplainable, miraculous ways; but does He not use doctors to heal people? Do Christian doctors not see that they are on the frontlines of God’s Kingdom, using their profession to heal? What about attorneys? God most definitely protects the weak and punishes the wicked; but does He not use attorneys to carry out His will? Do Christian attorneys not see that they are the preservers of God’s justice on Earth? For a less tangible application, consider a mathematician. It doesn’t require faith in Jesus Christ to know that 2+2 always equals 4. But tell me why 2+2 always equals 4? Is it true just because that’s the way it is? Or can the Christian mathematician talk of the singular Truth of God’s order, and His nature being revealed in mathematical singularity? To some degree, many Christian laypeople have decided that they cannot be on the frontlines of God’s Kingdom work, simply because they chose to work in the “secular” arena. That’s a lie! All truth is God-breathed and everything can be done for the glory of and service to God.

So back to the original issue; I think Christian laypeople minimize the significance of discipleship, and simply don’t do it, because they have been duped into believing that their faith cannot possibly be applied to every facet of their life. We’re so accustomed to this “objective truth/subjective truth” dichotomy that we’ve simply adopted it as a working worldview; the proof is in the pudding. We live like emigrants, speaking the language of our “people” one day a week and going back to the “trade” language for the other six days. Jesus Christ has made all things new, not just some things.

Finally, although our culture says that it’s possible to operate “objectively,” that’s simply impossible. We are religious beings by nature and we naturally worship; removing God from the picture doesn’t change that – it just changes what we’re worshipping. Our culture worships money, professional success, instant gratification and independence. The “objective” truth professed in our public schools and by our culture is tailored to provide these ends. Thus, we cannot idly stand by and assume that we are being “bigoted” and “narrow” by adopting a fully holistic Christian worldview; our culture proclaims that judgment upon us in defense of their idols. And what’s worse, if we believe it, we’re sure to mitigate our significance for God’s Kingdom. Instead, we must choose one master to serve. Discipleship is a byproduct of authentic Christian change and joy, and stems from the conviction that Jesus Christ is the most precious treasure in the universe; if we believed this, we would most definitely share it. But if we continue to rob ourselves by worshipping idols for six days of the week, we’ll never make room for the Spirit to lead us into a discipling relationship.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | January 29, 2009

Do More With Less or Do Less With More – It’s Your Decision

If you want to go far in life and make an impact on your family, friends and others, you’ve got to harness the power of leveraging. The term leverage is most often used in a fiscal sense; however, it’s a universal concept, not exclusive to any specific discipline. A technical (and financial) definition of “leverage” is: the use of a small initial investment, credit, or borrowed funds to gain a very high return in relation to one’s investment, to control a much larger investment, or to reduce one’s own liability for any loss. Let’s ponder how this applies to you.

For those of you who think in images, picture a mechanical lever. Utilizing a lever, in the tangible sense, will allow you to lift a heavy object without exerting much force. For example: a 50 lb. bag of salt cannot defy the power of gravity unless a lifting force is applied to it. If someone required you to lift this bag of salt 4 feet from the ground 100 times in a row, would you rather grab it with your hands and muscle that bag into submission, or set it on one end of a teeter-totter and pull down on the other? Unless you’re a glutton for meaningless punishment, you would opt for the lever. Essentially, lifting the bag with your hands and using the teeter-totter both accomplish the same task; the only difference is the amount of force needed to accomplish it. That is the power of leveraging.

No matter who you are or what you do for a living, there are two items that can always be leveraged: time and money. I want to focus on time, so let’s begin with money. Leveraging money is most effective when it’s applied to assets that do not follow the trend of the “exponential curve.” Static appreciation, regardless of net internal value, is a perfect storm for leveraging. We’re just going to leave it at that for the sake of time and your sanity.

Although leveraging time is similar to money, it’s also different in one important aspect: availability. Warren Buffet will always be able to out-leverage me in the realm of money; however, he enters each day with 1,440 spendable minutes, just like me – no more, no less. At this point, you may be wondering, “how do I leverage my time?” Let’s use automotive maintenance as an illustration. Your vehicle manual most likely instructs you to have your oil changed every 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. You now have a choice. You can either take the time to maintain your automobile or just drive it until it no longer runs. If your objective is to have a functional automobile, and you never take the time to maintenance it, your vehicle will break down earlier than you’d like, and you’ll have to invest the time to make enough money so you can buy a new vehicle. If, on the other hand, you take the time to maintenance your vehicle, it will last much longer and save you time in the end. That’s leveraging time. You’ve accomplished the same task, namely having a functional vehicle, but you’ve exerted less force (or in this case, time).

That’s a very tangible example; what are some less tangible applications? Think about parenting. Should you leverage by taking time to discipline early on or fight premeditated rebellion in the future? Consider exercising. Would you rather leverage by exerting yourself 20 minutes a day or take the time to combat preventable health issues in the future? This is highly applicable in organizations. Is it more favorable to leverage by taking the time to construct effective policies at the onset or clean up unnecessary messes after the damage is done? Honestly think about your own life. How many of your 1,440 minutes do you flush down the toilet? Are you leveraging your time now in order to prevent and prepare, or are you lazily delaying, only to invest much more time to accomplish the same task later on? Think about it.

It’s impossible to leverage without discipline. A desire for immediate self-gratification will not lead you to leverage. However, you cannot possibly be disciplined unless you are focused. You’ve got to be able to tune out the fruitless noise and keep your mind on the goal. But you will not focus unless you are passionate about accomplishing a goal. And finally, you won’t find a goal to be passionate about until you decide what’s important in your life.

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | January 22, 2009

Riddle Me This

I’ve written a riddle. Be the first to answer it correctly, and I’ll forever immortalize your name in this post. Good luck.

Alyssa is the winner! The answer is “the sword.” The last line was the dead give-away. A sword is made up of four parts: the handle, the hilt, and forte and the foible. The forte is the bottom half of the sword and the strongest section. The foible includes the tip, which actually penetrates the flesh. Therefore, the forte is strong but that’s not what you’ll feel. Good job, Alyssa!

The flesh of great men I do prepare for the silt
Within my wicked lovers I rouse oppressive guilt
The life from your eyes I will mercilessly rent
A clue in the name of a president

Dread my presence within your house
I’ll wear out my welcome even quicker than a louse
Provoking connivance and inciting melee
I’ll make
you lament, Et tu, Brute?

My effect, once rendered, you cannot reverse
In peace on my path you cannot traverse
For you’ll know if I’ve come to pillage and steal
My forte is strong but that’s not what you’ll feel

Posted by: ryanmccoskey | January 15, 2009

Can I Not Just Go Through the Motions?

re – la – tion – ship
1. a connection, association or involvement
2. an emotional or other connection between people

Relationship. It’s what all of us want; something within us desires to connect and engage with others. We thrive on being noticed and affirmed and wanted by other people. We read novels and watch movies because we want to be involved in a good story. We reel off sitcom script lines and talk about the latest plot developments, perhaps even sensing a connection to the characters. (I want to be Dwight from the “The Office,” says Brian Mayfield) Disreputable magazines make a killing at the checkout stand because we can never know enough about celebrities we don’t actually know. We fastidiously update our Facebook profiles with pictures and comments, constantly updating our “status” so the whole cyber-world can know what we’re thinking. And all the hip “texters” among us notify their friends about the most inane developments in their life (I’m bored, lol, wut u up 2?).

What is our obsession with being connected? Perhaps a better question is: What is our obsession with being superficially connected?

The truth is, it’s becoming less difficult to meet people who know more about the trivial sub-plots of soap operas than the lives of their flesh-and-blood friends. Half of the conversations we engage in aren’t half interesting, and for all the words we use, we say very little of consequence; somehow, we seem to prefer the exchange of idle words to the dynamics of a real encounter. It’s roughly the equivalent of choosing to watch an orchestra on a muted TV instead of experiencing the music – we want to go through the motions without having to process any real content.

So why has the advent of mass social networking been so successful? Likewise, why do a majority of the younger members of our culture prefer impersonal, digital contact to face-to-face communication? Well, because I’m not a super-psychologist like Dr. Phil, I won’t be able to give you mind-blowing truth soaked in wisdom like, “Honey, I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t buy it!;” but I’ll do my best.

The first issue we need to consider is the reason why we engage in relationships; this is a significant issue. Perhaps some of you are familiar with a book entitled “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s often used in corporate leadership training and focuses on refining managerial skills. Before we move on, think about the title of this book. What is it really saying? Let’s heed the request of our third-grade teacher and “put it into our own words.” Here’s what I’m seeing: Relationships ultimately exist so you can influence people to do your bidding, and you can’t accomplish that until you convince them that you’re their friend. I can’t speak for you, but this seems like an ignoble reason to develop a relationship. To be sure, we all maintain different kinds of relationships in various settings; but work-related or not, winning friends for the purpose of accomplishing personal and/or corporate objectives will not yield a healthy and satisfying relationship.

This is just one example of why we engage others; there are a slew of other reasons. Many people base their identity and self-image on what other people think about them; therefore, they develop relationships for the purpose of affirming their personal worth. Those who experienced unhealthy childhood relationships often seek unhealthy attention in order to feel wanted. Parents who aggressively push their children to participate in sports and other activities believe that their personal value is based on the success of their children; thus, they maintain an almost “agent” relationship with their offspring and bask in the glory of others’ attention. Still, some seek out people and invest their time and wisdom in them because they believe in their potential and genuinely want them to succeed. And even others have the ability to rally others around complex projects, fostering a team-based approach to big dilemmas.

If truth be known, all of us have several unique relationships, some of them healthier than others. Few people maintain healthy relationships with everyone they know. But did you see the major trend in the paragraph above? It essentially seems that all of us develop relationships to benefit only two possible parties: just ourself or just them or both.

The second major issue to consider is vulnerability. Satisfying, healthy relationships require a measure of vulnerability. The act of humbly dismantling the pretenses we erect in order to make people like us does two important things. First, it establishes trust. When someone opens up and reveals sensitive information about themselves, a foundation of trust and understanding is built. It opens the way for meaningful interaction. And sometimes the listener, overwhelmed by their desire to feel wanted, can’t help but affirm their personal worth by meticulously “spilling it” into the ears of other acceptance-hungry hearts. This is, of course, a fantastic way to betray someone’s confidence, and ultimately, to derail the possibility of further meaningful interaction. (If you’ve ever been on the giving and/or receiving end of this, you know the damage it causes) Secondly, vulnerability is contagious – in a good way. When someone breaks through their veneer and pulls out a taste of reality, it creates a sense of freedom, and encourages others to break out of their mannequin alter ego, too.

So if we consider these two issues, it’s not hard to see why social networking is so inviting. We can know about other people without actually allowing them to know us. We don’t have to get real as long the relationship remains in a cyber-context. We are in control; we choose if and when to respond to messages and e-mails; we make “friends” with those we want and click “don’t accept” for those we don’t care to bother with. It’s a perfect storm for engaging in a massive amount of unengaging relationships, and deceiving ourselves into believing that we’re genuinely connected to others.

So what’s the lesson? (I say that because I like to sound like Mr. Rogers) Well, there are several. First, those who base their worth on the perceptions of others will always tend to develop selfish relationships. The person is just a means to an end: eliciting a good perception of your mannequin alter ego is the goal. Second, those who refuse to be vulnerable will rarely find themsevles in meaningful relationships. If you don’t establish trust and signal to someone that you care enough about them to be honest, your conversations will forever follow the boring script of the conceited acquaintance – “how are you?” Fine, and you? “Oh, I’m pretty good.” Good. And finally, those who give their time and lives to others because they believe in their potential (not because they consistently perform to their expectations) will enjoy the most satisfying relationships, and will also work the hardest for it. If you need a good litmus test to find out if you’re self-centered, just take a good, hard look at your relationships. The proof is in the pudding.

So the next time you decide to put a comment on someone’s Facebook, just pick up the phone and call them instead. If they don’t pick up, just assume they’re screening your call and “de-friend” them on Facebook. (Okay, I just had to say something ridiculous; I really don’t mean that. But seriously. You better pick up my phone calls)

Disclaimer: Please understand that I do recognize the irony of this post; I’m diminishing the value of on-line social networking by publishing a message through an on-line social networking medium. Oh well, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Awkward picture for your viewing pleasure.

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