When I was twelve my parents seemed nuts. They were so preoccupied with being perceived positively by the neighbors that anything I did to tarnish their image was met with stern admonishments, a slaps in the face or worse. Pretty mild stuff, I know, but my inexperienced suburban mind was appalled by this treatment, even though I couldn't put it into words at the time.
We had recently moved from Dayton, Ohio to New Orleans and New Orleans felt like another planet. The school system in New Orleans at that time was practicing forced busing and everyone was angry about it. The teachers were angry, the parents were angry, the kids getting bussed in were angry and the kids who weren’t getting bussed were angry. There was constant fighting and violence. Our Junior High made national news when one of the buses was set on fire, with the kids in it, by some angry idiot. And I was a complete boob from Ohio who didn't have the slightest idea what to do or how to behave. The only enjoyable aspect of my world was riding my Kawasaki 100 Centurion dirt bike.
My parents wanted me to go to private school but I refused. I wasn't going to volunteer to be one of the neighborhoods targets of choice. I hadn't lived in New Orleans long, but I'd been there long enough to observe that if the private school kids ventured out of their own yards, the public school kids would torture them unmercifully.
My first day at the retired military compound known as McDonnah 45, I had a large colored boy named Leslie sitting on my chest, batting my head around like a cat playing with an unfortunate sparrow. No amount of reasoning or pleading deterred him from the delight he took in taunting and demeaning me. When I looked around for help I was greeted with diverted eye's and in the case of one teacher, a yawn and a leisurely stroll back into the school building. I certainly wasn't in Ohio anymore.
After many incidence of my naivety being physically punished and much lunch-money having been relinquished, I began fighting back. Not well, but I could no longer endure the constant humiliation of having my eyes poked, of fingers reaching for my ass in gym class and having pencils broken off in my lockers lock. After twenty or so fights, (most of which I lost), the blacks called me crazy and left me alone. The white bullies left me alone as soon as I started fighting back.
After this stage of my acclimating to public school life in New Orleans, I made a couple of friends; Craig and Brad Duville. The Duville brothers were cool and I was stoked they liked me enough to let me hang around. They had a Victor five horse power mini-bike that they rode around endlessly behind their house, by the bayou. I'd bring my Kawasaki over and we'd tear up the topsoil next to the Alligators that hung around that section of the Bayou.
Riding in relatively close proximity to those chompers wasn't as dangerous as it sounds. The sound of our bikes scared them all into the water within seconds. Particularly the biggest one who we named Wadly. A couple of blips of the throttle and he couldn't get away fast enough. All seven feet of him would energetically waddle away, over any of his lesser motivated companions if need be, in his spirited return to the security of the water.
The brothers Duville had a successful venture that they operated out of their home, and surprisingly enough their parents didn't seem to mind; they sold pot. Their Mom was young, very attractive and sadly for me, hardly ever around. Their Dad was the programming director for the local Rock station and while he was obviously successful, he was just as obviously a stoner. Not a Cheech and Chong 'wow man' stoner but a sharp dressed, long-haired, business savvy, highly productive stoner. Whether they turned a blind eye to their son's activities or outright encouraged them I'm not sure, but if you wanted some weed, the Duville brothers were the ones to talk to.
Craig and Brad's enterprise put them in contact with just about everyone who smoked on the west bank … which was just about everyone in our age group. One of their customers was an older boy who worked as a mechanic at the local Gulf station. His name was Troy Dedman.
The Gulf station where Troy worked was in a tiny shopping complex on General DeGaulle Drive. General Degaulle Drive was the biggest through-fare leading in and out of our neighborhood. Two lanes going east, two lanes going west and a strip of greenbelt between them that we called 'the median'. It was easily seventy-five yards wide and three times that long. We frequently rode our dirt bikes there. If the cops showed up we'd escape down a narrow trail that led to the Bayou.
One sunny spring day after school, I was practicing wheelies on my bicycle and someone riding a motorcycle on the median caught my ear. I rode over and found it was Craig and Brad … and they were riding a Kawasaki 350 Bighorn. I was stunned and amazed. That 350 Bighorn was the Holy Grail of dirt bikes at that time, (to me anyway). I even had a poster of one on my wall. I couldn't believe they were riding one.
I rode over to them and asked how they had the good fortune to be in possession of such a fine machine. They told me it was Troy's and that he had lent it to them for the afternoon. I asked, and then begged and finally pleaded with them to let me ride it, but nothing doing. They told me they had promised Troy that no one but them would ride it, and then they looked at each other like they had some sort of secret.
I finally convinced them to let me sit on it. Then I started it up and took off before they could stop me. Riding that bike was a dream come true. I shifted through the gears wheelieing with each one. Then I threw it into a slide, powered through a one hundred and eighty degree turn and charged up the other side of the median. It handled better than any bike I'd ever ridden and had so much power. I was in Heaven during that stolen five minutes of Bighorn bliss.
I pulled back up to where Craig and Brad were standing and handed them the bike and said, “there, that wasn't so bad was it?” They both shook their heads and Craig said, “man, now you've done it. You better get out of here.” I heard the sound of a Honda SL70 at full tilt and looked over Craigs shoulder to see Troy Dedman riding straight towards us, and he didn't look happy. I jumped on my bicycle and headed for home, pedaling faster than I ever had before.
He caught up to me as I was crossing a vacant lot between two houses. It was clear escape was impossible so I got off my bike and tried to calm him down, pointing out I hadn't hurt his bike and then Blam, he decked me with a right that blew me off my feet and chipped one of my front teeth. I stood up, dazed and wobbly, and then BLAM, he hit me with a left that threw me to the ground and broke my nose. It took me much longer to stand up after that one; I was exponentially more in-shock and shaken. As I raised my head our eyes met and BLAM, I was lifted off the ground by an uppercut that smashed my teeth together and lacerated my tongue. I guess Troy figured I'd paid the toll for my misdeed because through my haze I could hear him firing up the SL70 and riding back to work.
When I got home I explained my injuries by saying that I'd crashed while attempting a heroic jump on my bicycle. This was easily believed as I was often injured during my two-wheeled exploits. I was even allowed to miss school for two days because of my injuries, which was fantastic because I was so embarrassed about the tremendous ass-kicking I had received, that the thought of having to face going to school and everyone knowing how thoroughly I had been pummeled, made me feel physically ill.
When I returned to 'the 45' I kept my eyes fixed on the ground like I'd lost a hundred dollar bill, trying to avoid eye contact with everyone. That didn't last long. About two minutes after I got there a kid I hardly knew came up to me excitedly and said: “Man, I heard you got into a fight with Troy Dedman. How are you even alive? You just took off on his bike? Man, you are crazy!”
All through that day people came up to me in awe that I'd been in a 'fight' with Troy Dedman. They seemed oblivious to the fact I'd had my ass handed to me on a plate. I actually became something of a minor celebrity for awhile. My social acceptability never faded and my young world felt much improved, for the short term of its duration.
Why people valued what they did and how to operate in social systems still confused me, but I was glad that this time circumstances had somehow operated in my favor. Although I would have appreciated a less punishing route.
I assume pretty much all of us want to enjoy and be satisfied with our lives as much of the time as we reasonably can. I know I do. And I’m not talking about the blissed-out pretend happiness exhibited by culty religious types, I’m talking about realistic, real world satisfaction with our lives in the endless variety of shapes and sizes and colors they come in. If we’re really going to do that it’s important that we attend to something many don’t consider; maximizing the operations of our own software … our belief systems.
Renowned Psychologist and Philosopher Carl Jung said “It all depends on how we look at things and not what they really are in themselves”. He’s not the first to express such a sentiment and he won’t be the last. The brilliant novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle took a longer approach to the powerful perspective that the value of a belief systems lies in what happens as a result of it. And we don’t have to choose one from a pull down menu or a list of some sort; we have the right to create our own. How we answer questions such as; “what is the purpose of life?” and “am I living well?” have a huge impact on the quality of our experience, as well as the choices we make.
As children we pick up our belief systems from what we see around us, what we’re taught and what we experience. Many accept this first iteration of philosophical perspective as who they are and identify so heavily with this initial software that it becomes their self-definition. When that’s the case the result is usually a person who is dissatisfied with their life. Some pretend and put on a happy face but I’ve never met a happy, well-adjusted person who is still rolling on their initial experience.
A large factor determining whether our software works well or not is how it causes us to see ourselves. What we’re taught we are is often inaccurate and negative and this will cause a multitude of problems if it’s not corrected. If we don’t have a reasonable way to put ourselves in a positive light, issues will be afoot! How many people do you know who think they’re ugly when they’re obviously not or stupid when they’re clearly not, etc.? How does this miss-perception affect them? An extreme example is found in the eating disorder anorexia where people think they’re fat when they’re not, usually due to a lot of body image criticism endured early on. Resultantly they starve themselves trying to be thin, sometimes to death. Mega-talented singer Karen Carpenter was a tragic example.
So what about you? Do you have beliefs about yourself that might not be true? How many perspectives about the world and/or your place in it could be false? Do your beliefs about the purpose of life comfort you or depress you? Ironically the beliefs we hold with the most passion are often the most off base.
If we’re taught something with great intensity when we’re young, the belief tends to be wrapped in powerful defensive emotions. It’s usually the fear based and full of baloney belief systems that are taught in such a manner, such as racism and homophobia. When this software is confronted a powerful emotional reaction is common … but that doesn’t make these beliefs any less baloney. When you’re examining your personal algorithms pay special attention to the ‘hot button’ issues as they often need the most work.
We humans tend to feel first and then use our rational powers to justify our emotion based opinions and beliefs. To get past this default setting all that’s needed is the knowledge that our emotions and brains can and will lie to us! Just because you feel something or think something doesn’t mean it’s so. It wasn’t that long ago that we practiced human sacrifice trying to appease Gods and alter physical circumstances. Now we know that to be ridiculous but the ‘not so ancients’ emotions and beliefs told them it made sense and was a good way to go.
When I was a kid I remember a bloom of ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers. I whole-heartedly agree with its sentiment but think the addition of ‘… & Your Own Beliefs’ is a better sound bite.
The majority of us are born into the family religion (or other belief system) and default to that. As we mature we tend to practice an abridged form of this system, modifying it to fit our circumstances and lifestyle. There’s usually not a lot of questioning of the beliefs inherent in the ‘adopted and modified’ system. I guess this could be seen as upholding a positive tradition on one end of the spectrum and blind acceptance that could have nasty consequences on the other. If this ‘adopted and modified’ system really fits for you great! If it doesn’t you have right to choose for yourself what to believe. It’s a mammoth question because your satisfaction with life and your level of happiness depends on it. Be wary of false experts, there’s no shortage of proselytizers who will show you ‘the way’. But it won’t be your way it’ll be theirs and it’s going to cost a bunch, and it’s only likely to work for a short time.
What makes a good belief? It is a personal question but I’ve got a few guide-line questions that are helpful when it’s time to shift into self-examination mode:
- Does the belief promote happiness (for you, those around you and the world in general)? - Does the belief promote love // a positive energy?
- Does the belief promote growth, productivity and contribution?
- Does the belief promote peace and serenity?
- Is this belief truthful as far as I can reasonably tell?
It’s easy to see that I want my belief structure to honestly promote happiness, positive energy, growth, productivity, contribution and serenity. What are the qualities you’d like to bring out in your life? It’s easy to modify those questions to emphasize what’s important to you. For example, if you have kids, questioning a possible software perspective might include, “Does this belief promote the well-being, health and development of my children?” Having a belief system that supports what’s important to you will make it much more likely you’ll be more happy and satisfied with your life.
‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is a cliché I like a lot but I’ve seen it used to hold onto beliefs that were up to no good. ‘If it ain’t runnin’ as good as it could then take the time to look under the hood’ is a cliché that’s a lot better. It does take effort and some courage to develop your own software but I’m sure you’ll find the benefits far outweigh the costs.