On Self-Criticism

Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one-one that would do nobody any harm.

In February 1931, Francis Crowley and two of his friends went to a party in New York, sans invitation.  After awhile, some men proceeded to remove them from the party, and in reaction, Crowley pulled out a gun and shot two men before departing.  A warrant went out for his arrest under the charge of attempted murder, and Crowley went into hiding.  Several months later, police found and confronted him, but he shot one of the detectives and got away.  Later, he broke into a house, and shot the owner five times using two guns, giving him the nickname “Two Gun” Crowley.  Just three months after this story began, Crowley was sitting in a parked car with his girl, when a pair of police officers came up and asked him for ID, Crowley drew on the officer and killed one and wounded the other.  The following day, the police surrounded his hideout and fired tear gas and bullets into it, trying to drive him out.  While resisting their efforts to capture him, he wrote: “To whom it may concern, under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one-one that would do nobody any harm.”  It seems crazy, doesn’t it?  How could he believe so earnestly that he could “do nobody any harm” when he had shot several people and killed another?

As crazy as it sounds, you’ve seen this kind of behavior before.  Haven’t you?  Someone you know has done something remarkably foolish, but they can only regard it based on their intent.  The fallout of their actions was not their intent; they had no intention of events unraveling as they did.  So they blind their senses, and tell everyone they did the best they could have.  Sometimes they go as far as saying they did no wrong.  Crowley shot six people and yet he regarded himself as someone who wouldn’t harm nobody.

Al Capone, one of the greatest mobsters of all time, is quoted as saying:

I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping people have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.

Think about that for a moment.  Here’s someone who organized crime, killed police and citizens, and couldn’t fathom why anyone would be hunting him down.

In politics we see this same principle with Rosevelt.  Theodore Rosevelt broke up the Republican party in the early 1900s when he got into a tiff with Taft.  He started the Bull Moose Party and ran against him.  The consequence was that the votes were split and the democrats won.  In the end, Rosevelt could only say: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”  His actions ensured that democratic party would take office as he split the votes of the republicans, but instead of acknowledging that he could only say he did no wrong.  Now I’m not saying that Rosevelt was in the wrong for running against his party, he may very well have been right.  But his intent ensured that someone he felt worse about being in office took office.  The point I’m making here is that doing what you feel is right, may result in something very wrong happening.  (This is also not a commentary on the Woodrow Wilson, who did enact some great changes to this country.)

Many great disasters have come in the wake of some person or another not examining themselves.  Their inability or inaction to judge their own mind and heart and see where they were going wrong led them into peril.  When faced with the self-justification of villains, criminals, and politicians how can we continue down the same path?

It’s not easy to examine ourselves, is it?  In one way or another we’ve all made the mistake of pursuing one goal and totally botching it in the method we pursued.  I know one guy, who wanting to stay in touch with a particularly flaky friend (let’s call him Ben), would call and leave voicemails expressing a desire to talk to the him.  When Ben didn’t return the calls, likely due to the busyness of college, homework, making new friends and life, he added a joking line at the end of voicemail.  That line when something along the lines “Call me back or I’m going to come down there.”  He thought it was particularly funny because he wasn’t a violent sort, and his presence wouldn’t normally be seen as a threat.  And he chuckled to himself thinking about how he might not return the phone call because Ben wished to see him in person.  As time went on, he still received no return call.  His voice mails got sassier and the joke more physical and in the end Ben communicated to a mutual friend, that he had no interest in talking to someone who threatened him.   And that, dear reader, is how I lost my first high school friend.  My joke wasn’t funny, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late.  I certainly analyzed many of my actions at that point in my life, but in regards to Ben I wasn’t analyzing them well enough.

So what’s the solution?  I believe it’s threefold.  1) We must be analyzing our actions and making sure that they are working in the way they are intended and that there is little to no room for them to go wrong. Or as “Mad-Eye” Moody would say:

Vigilance, Constant Vigilance!

2) We must include friends and family in our criticism process.  We must give our trusted allies the freedom and permission to call us out when we err.  Getting self-defensive only serves to further hamper our growth and our ability to effect the changes we want to see in the world.  For the Christian this principle is not only common sense, but a command from God.  Matthew 18:15 states:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

The implication is that there will be times when you need to point out the error of your friends ways.  And the further truth of that, is that there are times you will need to be corrected for wronging your friend.  Each one of us, from time to time, need to be stopped, and pointed back in a proper and good direction.

3) We must acknowledge when we screw up and properly apologize for it.  I’m not talking about saying: “I’m sorry” as those words mean virtually nothing in today’s world.  I’m talking about a full on apology.  Where we admit where we wronged the person, tell them why it was wrong, and earnestly promise to not repeat that behavior.  That threefold apology will mean much more to them than saying “I’m sorry” or worse “I’m sorry you feel that way.” A proper apology also restores a relationship to a better place than it was before.

There is, perhaps, a fourth aspect to this process.  It seems so obvious to me, I didn’t even become aware of its necessity until I pondered how various different people might respond to reading this blog post.  And that is that each person must have a standard to which they are trying to attain.  Without a standard, there is no way to measure success or failure in your day to day interactions and no guide for your friends to use in keeping you accountable.  For the Christian, this standard is Jesus and living a life as perfect as His.  For my non Christian friends, I’d be curious what that standard of living is.  I know you wish to grow and become a better person, but what is the standard by which you measure goodness?  What is the standard by which your friends can hold you accountable and you can measure success or failure and become a better person?

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38

I’ve been mulling this over for a few years now.  I see people going down the wrong path, and posting about it proudly on facebook or talking about it in social settings.  And I, being only an acquaintance, do not feel I have any place pointing out that their actions are working against their best interests.  It was only when I picked up a book the other day, How to Win Friends and Influence People, that I felt I had to speak out.  The author shares all the stories I listed above and he makes the point that people don’t take criticism well.  If we want to help fix their errant behavior, it is better to get there by asking questions and being gentle than to confront them face to face.  There’s truth in that.  Don’t we find it easier to change if we feel we are the ones that started the thought process ourselves?  But I also think that these stories point to another truth, that if we want to be good and admirable people, we must also be willing to take criticism face to face, and that process begins within.

Review: The Goblet of Fire

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Three books in three weeks!  Maybe reading isn’t as hard and as terrible as I thought…

The Goblet of Fire is the first book in this series written for adults.  I think it’s officially classified as a Young Adult novel, and that’s fine.  While reading this book I laughed, I thought, I tried to figure out the mysteries before they resolved in the books, and I think I got something in my eye towards the end.  It’s twice the length of any of the prior books in the series, and the technical writing skill of Rowling steps up a notch to match the page count.  There is also a lot more differences between the book and the movie and I’ll talk about one of those in a minute here.

The whole story is fanciful and magical.  Rowling spends many chapters describing amazing events and how various characters approach them differently.  This book grapples with the fact that we don’t all think the same, and it still works out well!  The rest of this review will contain spoilers, so you may wish to stop here if you plan on reading it.

I only have two complaints with this book.  The first is that there’s a scene the movie did better.  In the movie Neville Longbottom gives Harry some gillyweed to get him through a challenge, but in the book Neville doesn’t not help Harry at all.  Why is this important?  Because Neville is a klutz in the early parts of this story; he is literally the worst wizard at Hogwarts.  But from seeing the movies we know he grows into one of the bravest wizards in the school.  The scene where he helps Harry out is one of the very few places in the movies where we see any growth in Neville’s character.  Granted there’s still plenty of time for Rowling to prove me wrong, but that scene is so crucial to the movies, it’s a shame we don’t see it here.  In fact, we see very little character growth in Neville in this book.

The second complaint is really more with a character than with the story at large.  Harry has some terrible challenges in this book and he knows someone is trying to kill him, but he puts practically no effort in to making sure he can survive.  I know there are people like this, and it’s just that I don’t relate to them.  I just can’t fathom how someone could spend their time lying to their friends and avoiding trying to solve a riddle just because it’s easier.  Your friends would help you if you let them!  Don’t die you foolish little boy!

Overall, I give this book five stars.  It is absolutely fantastic!

I have a lot to do in the next week or two, so I’ll probably going to put my reading on hold and switch my focus to getting stuff done.  When I come back to reading it will be February 1st and I’ll be starting The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I was originally skeptical of being able to get through its 1300 pages in 28 days, but considering I’ve read three books in the first 18 days of this month, I might just have a shot.

Review: The Prisoner of Azkaban

I was originally going to review of The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan as my second book post of the year, but my birthday was a little bit ago and my wife, Steph, gave me the rest of the Harry Potter collection as a present.  I quickly put down the Lady Trent Memoir, and continued my quest in the world of Hogwarts.

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J.K. Rowling continues to improve in each book, and the further I get into these books the more the deviate from the movies in very subtle ways.  For instance, in the books the Dementors hover, but don’t fly.  They remain on the ground while they do their work.  In some ways that’s more terrifying as it shows they have some range with their powers, in others it makes them less terrifying as you can more easily escape them.

Rowling does a good job of introducing fanciful things and events and making you wonder how they work, but then she doesn’t explain how it works, it’s magic after-all and it doesn’t need explaining.  This is a good trait for the fact that this is a kids book, but if you’re a Ravenclaw at heart, you’re going to wonder about the paradoxes she creates.

Of the first three books this is the first one that starts to have solid plot points and story development.  I’ve noticed that Rowling adds more to each of her characters in each books.  Judging by the movies there is a cast of some 20 or 30 characters to develop, and Rowling adds just a sprinkle to the depths of each in each book.  In the first book, there’s only really character depth to about three characters, but in each one another characters shines through without seeming to bog down the story.

What will I read next?  Well, I must confess, I’m already half way through The Goblet of Fire and without giving a full review, I’ll say The Goblet of Fire transitions the story out of being a kids series and into being a young adult series.

To get me through the rest of the year, I’ve chosen a handful of books:

  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
  • And of course, the rest of the Harry Potter series

To reach my one book a month quota, I’ll still need another 7 books, so please feel free to make some recommendations below.

Building a Backpack part II

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I’ve been taking the backpack building slowly, not because of a  lack a plan, but more because I bought some special buckles and it’s taking them forever to ship to my house from Mars (presumably).  So far, I’ve built the outline of the bag (above) and one pocket.

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You may notice the top seam of the pocket is not yet sewn, that is because I’ve decided to use snaps to hold it shut, and I’m waiting to choose the color of the snaps until the buckles arrive.

The buckles I bought are an antiqued brass metal.  So they should be ruddy and match the pack.  It took them a week before they shipped and here we are a week later and they haven’t arrived yet.  I’ll be attaching the pocket sometime this weekend.  It is 15″ wide so it will go at the bottom of the main flap seen above.  (Though the back is currently inside out, so good pictures of its location may not be in the next update.)

Book #1 The Chamber of Secrets

I read my first book of the year in 3 days!  Granted it was a kids book, and shallow, but nonetheless I read a book!  Harry Potter is like a softball to my reading goals.  I only have a few books picked out for the year (so far) and one of them is 1000 pages longer and at a much higher reading level than Harry Potter.

I’m committing to myself to read The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson in February.  It’s daunting, at 1252 pages of much smaller print (and no pictures), it could take some effort to get through in a short 28 day month.  However, it was given to me by a good friend and comes highly recommended by several other friends, so I will plunge in with glee…

The truth is I’ve liked the Sanderson books I’ve read before (the Legion series and the first three Mistborn books), and I’m excited to read this book.  It’s just that every book I’ve tried to read over 1000 pages has bored my be the mid point and I’ve failed to finish.  Granted Les Misérables & The Count of Monte Cristo are both classics and have translation issues and word choices that you have work through, whereas The Way of Kings was written in English and will be much more approachable.  But it still plays on my bibliophobia, I’d hate to have another book thrown in the pile of books I couldn’t finish.

 

Book Review – The Chamber of Secrets

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Don’t let the title of this post confuse you.  The Chamber of Secrets is the second in the Harry Potter series; it’s just the first book of the year on my quest to read a book a month.

If you haven’t read Harry Potter before, you probably should.  Steph gave me the first one as a Christmas Eve present, and I read it easily by the 27th.  J.K. Rowling writes in an easy to read style chock full of wonderful British sayings!  (You can’t go wrong with British vocabulary!)  Each book takes place over the course of a year, and Rowling is really good at moving the story along without drawing too much attention to it.  She’s also able to bring awe to the story both by drawing attention to awesome things and by ignoring them.

Having seen the movies prior, I was not shocked at the turning of events.  These first two books line up nearly perfectly with the movies, with only one scene being done differently (if my memory can be trusted).  Steph thinks I might be remembering it wrong, but I’m sure (spoiler alert) that our little house elf gets his sock slightly differently between book and movie.  It’s quite possible I do remember it wrong, as I definitely forgot some of the major plot points in this story.

I only wish I had read the books first, I don’t like how hard it is to rid myself of the memory of the character’s faces and actions.  The imagination is much more craftily utilized when it doesn’t have direct resources to draw from.

Have ideas on what I should read next?  Let me know!

Experiment #1 Building a Backpack

For January’s experiment, I thought I’d start off with something entirely different, sewing a backpack.  I’ve been frustrated with the bags we have when riding my motorcycle, so it’s time to make something better.  Sure, I could go out and buy one, but they’re expensive and predesigned.  So I’m going to make my own, designed solely by me, to meet my needs.

I’m going to make it from canvas and a fake leather (real leather would set me back more than buying a motorcycle backpack).  You can see the materials below:

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For those of you who are experienced with sewing, you may be wondering what those needles are doing in the picture… I’m going to hand sew my bag.  Everyone I’ve mentioned this to has called me crazy.  And perhaps I am.  That’s all part of trying an experiment.  The truth is hand sewing is much stronger than machine sewing… when a thread snags and breaks on modern clothing and you yank it, it unravels.  But if a thread snags on something hand sew and you pull the thread, you’ll actually cause the whole seam to cinch up even tighter.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Let me know below!