Archive | July 2006

The Weekly Dream: Fight or Flight

“The better part of valor is discretion”
-Falstaff, Henry IV, Part I

“Sometimes, when you win, you really lose. And when you lose, you really win. And othertimes you tie.”
-Rosie Perez in White Men Can’t Jump

In college, my friend Nicole had the reputation as a relationship guru. If anyone had a problem with their significant other, she would be the one everyone ended up pouring their hearts out to. Besides being a good listener, Nicole gave great advice. One of her pieces of sagely wisdom was “Pick Your Battles”. She said it often enough where it became eternally etched in my social memory. While this is an excellent piece of well-worn advice, the question becomes: How does one know when to engage in battle? How do you properly access cost/benefit?

In our society, direct confrontation and conflict is frowned upon. Manners, etiquette and other social protocol obstruct what is most important. We become worried with how we will be perceived, than speaking our mind and telling the truth. The result is a society teeming with passive aggressive behavior. The workplace is a perfect example. Everyone has that co-worker they cannot stand. They might be lazy, moody or just plain irritating. And you want so bad to tell them about themselves, but what happens most of the time? People hold it in. And it festers, until something snaps and people go to the extremes. Now that person has you looking look like the crazy person, the bad guy. If it had just been dealt with it when it came up, maybe it would have handled it better.

What it comes down to is that there is a right and a wrong way to handle things. Society ill-equips us to handle conflict or tension. We grow up believing that it is negative. They also do not teach us the difference between being assertive and aggressive. We often must learn the hard way, but the sad part of it all, is that there are people who never learn.

Conflict Adverse

It is essential that we learn to pick our battles. We cannot expect someone else to assert our rights and speak up for us. This requires an assessment of various factors: cost (time, resources), after effects (long-term and short-term), and objectives. We need to decide what addressing this conflict means to us. Is it really a big deal? Is it an annoyance or a serious issue? If it is an annoyance, try to deal with it on your own, and if that does not work, then find an effective means to communicate it. My rule of thumb for picking my battles is to assess where it affects me on my hierarchy of values. If it touches my principles, I cannot let it slide. You have to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Next, if I do let the issue slide, and it bothers me the next day, then I have to speak up also. Following this rule lets me know when something outside has disturbed something on the inside.

Once you decide to address the situation, you need to think about the approach. This is effected by the environment and the nature of opponent/object. Sometimes, getting emotional is not the best way to handle your frustration. Other times, showing a little heat is necessary. You have to know who and what you are dealing with and the constraints on every situation and what you want from all of this. A good example is relationships. Sometimes, your significant other is dead wrong about something, but you let them have their way anyway to keep the peace. Every potential battle is not worth fighting or commenting on. But if you do let it go, let it go for good.

Finally, you must prepare yourself, mentally, physically and spiritually. What if things do not go the way you plan? Can you deal with possibly being criticized, rejected or hurt in retaliation? And it comes down to what is it really worth.

Who begins a work and counteth not the cost.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Learn to deal with conflict effectively and constructively. Through struggle, life is made beautiful.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Question of the Week: What is Worth Fighting for?

Loneliness, Black men, and Friendships: Part I

Superspade family, I am starting a 12-part series dealing with Loneliness, Black men, and Friendships. I think this issue is a silent crisis that is crippling Black men and our ability to forge meaningful relationships with each other while also seriously undermining our coping skills as life presents constant challenges. To be sure, I bounced around the ideas I had for this series with a handful of folks and based off the spirited exchanges, I knew God placed this issue on my heart for a reason.

And while this series will deal exclusively with Black men, it is applicable to a wide range of people. So I encourage men and women to add their thoughts as I am sure the issues discussed will broaden as deep and wide as the glaciers that span the polar ice caps. So to break the ice as it were, I thought I should kick things off with an introduction.

So imagine this, a young Black man in his late twenties to early thirties is preparing to get married. Everything is going fine; he and his fiancée are going through pre-marriage counseling and they joke about how silly it is to compare and contrast the prices for seat covers. So one night, the bride-to-be gives her fiancée the list she compiled for all the bridesmaids she wants to have in the wedding. She asks him what he thinks and her man looks over the list of five bridesmaids and says, (like Eddie Murphy in Raw) “OK.” The bride-to-be then informs her fiancée that he needs to find five groomsmen.

That scenario inspired this whole series because the fact is, most men do not have five best friends they can count on to be groomsmen in their wedding. I know most guys will recruit some family members to fill in the empty spots but for our purposes, let’s assume there will be no family fill-ins even though family can be your friends as well.

Do you have five close male friends you can call on? Really ponder that for a moment.

I surely don’t have five close male friends I could call on and I am sure many other Black men fit this same profile. And let’s not get caught up in semantics here, if you have three Black male friends, I am not saying you need to pick up two more. However, it is imperative that we take a bird’s eye view and understand what is happening to the quantity and quality of our Black male friendships as many of us suffer in silence, no matter the socioeconomic status.

Additionally, the machismo culture we live in has done a number on lessening the quality of Black male friendships as materialism and the quest for women has occupied far too much of our time and resources. You may ask why I keep harping on friendships between Black men, and here’s why. I believe that that when a man can share his hopes, heart, and fears with another man, that avenue empowers the entire community, period.

Moreover, I believe many Black men have learned to depend too much on female friendships to the point where we only feel comfortable sharing our emotions (if we even do that) with women. And as many of you can attest, the plethora of male-female friendships presents a whole range of issues that I will delve into later in the series. So regardless of your personal ratio of male friends to female friends, our community will prove to be so much stronger if we can better negotiate same gender friendships. This is particularly poignant when we can create spaces for Black men that facilitate friendships that are long-lasting, meaningful, and uplifting.

And so we are on the same page, I am coming to grips with my own issues concerning Black male friendships, so this series is less concerned with me coming up with answers rather than asking the right questions. My experiences and observations and conversations throughout my lifetime largely inform this series which means that if you disagree with I am trying to make, please make your presence felt. We all come from different walks from life so I will ask you the reader to help make this mosaic of understanding deeper levels of Black Thought as it concerns, Loneliness, Black Men, and Friendships.

There will be new posts once a week, so watch out for the second part in this series as we explore how Black men can come to grips with the fact that we don’t have many friends without sounding sappy.

Stay up fam,
Brandon

Waiting on Friendship

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. Her guest was Joseph Epstein and he was discussing his most recent book, “Friendship: An Expose”. There was one part of the interview that was very interesting. Joseph described the difference between people who initiate the work needed to maintain friendships and those that. Keep reading to find out what description best describes you and other thoughts I have on the often misunderstood notion of friendship.

Joe described “initiators” as people who make a point to keep in touch with their friends. Whether it’s calling, email, or making plans to go out, these people don’t wait for their friends to get in touch with them. That sounds like you right?

Sure it does. But listen to how Joe describes waiters; these people may have many friends but they are often time in a state of anticipating being interrupted by a call or email. Rarely do waiters take the time/energy to interrupt their own lives to contact their friends. I would interpret waiters as people who get really excited when they see emails from other people with subjects like, “Where have you been?” or “Long time, no see.” However, when it comes to heartfelt emails like these, waiters click “open” and not “send.”

More specifically, Joe briefly discussed that many more people describe themselves as lonely and feel like there is no one they can talk to. He went on to point out that research shows that the majority of people who are married, only talk to their spouses about sensitive issues whereas past research shows men and women used to cite neighbors, church members, etc. as other people they confided in addition to their spouses. (I apologize for not citing the research but you can listen to this show by visiting this site.)

I think this sense of loneliness is one of the most underrated issues facing our society. And for people not involved in romantic relationships, I believe this sense of loneliness is compounded. Let me know how you feel about this sentiment.

Though Epstein didn’t touch on this issue directly, I don’t think we can talk about friendship without discussing how technology has enhanced or hindered the modern-day friendship. I think members of my generation generally lack the necessary tools/knowledge to maintain healthy friendships. On one hand, I think that cell phones, email, and social networks do a wonderful job of helping us keep in contact with people that we would otherwise probably never speak. However, the massive amounts of connections we make are frequently maintained by generic discussion points/questions that are easily transferable.

And for the people we call our friends, there is a tendency to use technology as a barrier for allowing people to really probe into our lives. We can see this all the time like when you have bad news or you don’t necessarily want to talk, you send an email. When you don’t want to continue having a probing conversation over the phone, we pretend we have to go or just not answer the phone. And argue?!? Rarely do you see healthy arguments anymore so everywhere you go, there is a permanent sense of fakeness due to the fact that too many of us are not honest enough to ask tough questions or say something as simple as, “I don’t like that you did X because of Y.”

There are numbers on your cell phone that you scroll through everyday knowing good and well you are never going to call them, that is unless, they are calling you. And if and when these people do call, we make fake promises to keep in touch or promise to talk at least once a month. But we don’t follow up.

But do we have to tolerate such high levels of charades? I don’t think so. However, I think all of us have some waiter and initiator qualities. Unfortunately, because the notion of sacrifice is virtually non-existent, it so much easier to blame our lack of friendship building on how busy we are. You are not that busy!

But if you think you are that busy, here are some tips to help maintain healthy friendships.

Call people after 9 and even if they don’t pick up, leave a message. Too many of us call people hoping they don’t answer the phone. So why are you calling them in the first place?

If your friends are local, finding time to see them will not put the biggest wrinkle in your schedule. Think about how much time we watch TV, surf the internet, and other mindless activities. Like I said, you are not that busy. However, I suggest finding a way to weave friends in your life. For example, my friend Dumi had plans to see Tavis Smiley’s Covenant Tour at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. He dropped me a quick email asking me if I was going. I was thinking about going any, but because of his email, we are able to kill two birds with one stone. Now had he not called me, I probably would have seen him after it was over and we would have said hi and that would be it. But that is just one example of how seeing someone in person doesn’t require such extensive planning.

Use email to supplement conversations, not replace them.

Don’t waste time focusing on mind numbing questions like, “How is the job going?” “It’s cool.” Ask meaningful questions whose responses are not automatic or anticipated. Here’s a good rule for people you don’t talk to all the time, ask and answer a meaningful question. And if the other person can’t think of a question, answer your own.

Find ways to bless your friends. It takes less than you think. I have friends who I know might be fans of a certain team so if I see an article on espn.com, I’ll forward them that article. Or if you know someone who is preparing for something bigger and better (which appears to be most everybody) don’t just ask them how its going, but find out if there is someone you know that can help them or send them resources that will be helpful in their life path.

Pray for your friends. Not just when they ask you to but for as much as family is the default prayer request, try staying in your prayer closet a little while long to make sure that your friends are covered.

Like I said, I think all of us have waiter tendencies, I just hope this post encouraged you to be more of an initiator. I know I am guilty of not being a good friend on many fronts. So just know that I write for myself first. But after all is said and done, I hope this blog and this post will help us build stronger and healthier friendships.

Don’t wait, initiate

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

The Weekly Dream: What a Difference a Year Makes

“Hold fast to dreams…”
-Langston Hughes

“If you can dream and not make dreams your master. If you can think and not make thoughts your aim.”
-Rudyard Kipling’s If

This week, the Weekly Dream turns a year old. And man, what a difference a year makes. It began with me wanting to find a way to motivate myself, help others, and leave some sort of legacy for my family, and it has grown to be something much more. I do not know if or how my “rantings” have helped or affected you, but the Weekly Dream has served as the vehicle of documentation for my journey through this thing called life. And by allowing me to share that with you, I feel I have gained a deeper understanding, sensitivity and appreciation for everything I have experienced up to this point.

So I want to say thank you, to everyone who reads the Weekly Dream, who passes it along to friends, who comments and share their reactions to the pieces. Thanks to Garlin and Brandon who let me share their light on the Superspade.

We have come a long way, but there is still more road to travel. I hope that you would continue to read, share your thoughts and also share the articles with others. We have received repeated recognition from blackelectorate.com and there are other plans in the works to expand our audience. If there is a topic you would like to see discussed or if you have any suggestions, please let us know. We constantly seek to improve and set the standard for excellence.

We want everyone to have the courage and the tools to live their dreams. For dreams are the building blocks of the future, and the tools that can make us better individuals.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Success vs. Significance

I heard a most convicting Word yesterday at church and I wanted to share it with the community because I know many people need to hear this message. So I am just going to write and narrate the notes that I recorded. These are the words of Pastor Christopher Brooks of Evangel Ministries in Detroit, Michigan. I pray that this post will bless you. The title of the message was Success vs. Significance: Which would you rather have?

The pastor first defined success as all the things we do to achieve comfort and convenience for ourselves. Whereas significance is defined as the impact you have on someone else’s life to reach their goals. The rest of the message was devoted to highlighting the difference between these two ideas and why God wants us to lead a life of significance.

Based on the definitions provided above, would you rather lead a life of success or significance? How have you been living up to this point?

Do you lead a life primarily focused on providing a life of comfort and convenience for you and your loved ones or do you lead a life of sacrifice and complete surrender to God? If your answer conforms to the former, then that is a sign you are leading a selfish life.

But as we run around with our degrees and make our way up the corporate ladder, how easy is it to get caught up in desiring success? Surely, one can be both successful and faithful to God right? Of course you can! And as my pastor pointed out, it is not that God doesn’t want us to have success; he just doesn’t want us to pursue it. He wants us to pursue faithfulness and righteousness, knowing that our steps are ordered by God.

But let’s keep it real shall we?

When you pray, do you primarily pray for your own needs or those of others?

When you ask God to move on your behalf, are your motives pure?

In James 4:3 it states, “When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures.” Does this verse convict you because it sure enough convicted me? I think the problem is that before we ask God what we want; we don’t ask God what we should want by praying, listening, and living according to the Word. My pastor says something that I think is simple yet powerful, “God break by heart for the things that break your heart.”

But how we can get to this type of kingdom lifestyle when we lead selfish lives?

My pastor explained the three results of leading a selfish life

Lack of Peace
Broken and lost friendships
Success becomes the God of your life

I have experienced all three of these phenomena and I found a way to deceive myself to believe that God simply wants me to exploit the talents and gifts He gave me. I even exploited the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14) and how God tried to tell us that he expects a return on his investment so that he can trust us with more things to bless even more people. But are we really interested in helping people when it is not convenient for us?

I doubt it. But this is the life God called us to lead. And we have been so disillusioned that many of us believe that if we focus too much of our energies on ourselves, no one will be there to tend to our needs. But look to the hills, says the Lord, from which cometh our help.

Moreover, leading a significant life is hard because we are not prepared to receive decreased recognition from the world. (marinate on that one) And lastly, we have been taught that the only way to lead a great life is to achieve your own goals. What do most of us say to each other, “You better take care of yourself because no one else will?” What happened to the trust that we were supposed to have in God? What happened to the notion that God will know us according to the love that we show one another? The more we give ourselves to God, the more He invests in us. Case closed.

But let me leave with you four questions that my Pastor left me with.

Can anyone say, “If it wasn’t for you, I’m not sure where I would be right now.”

Whose life is God calling you to have a significant impact on?

What are you willing to give up to do this?

And lastly, are you willing to lead a life of significance over success?

And I know that many of you are thinking, that sounds good, but where is this talked about in the Word? Scriptures included in the message include Matthew 10:39, James 4:1-3, Hebrews 11:24-25, and I Corinthians 12:7.
Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

The Weekly Dream: The Race is On and the Game is Afoot

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/And then is heard no more. It is a tale told/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.”

-MacBeth, Act V.v

Coming to grips with our mortality is mankind’s heaviest burden. The knowledge of knowing that we will die, but not knowing when is something people from all walks of life have had to confront. And historically, the responses range from cavalier to hopeless.

Lately, I have been pondering my own mortality and trying to imagine what the world would be like if I did not “show up” one day-leaving my loved ones and all of my work undone. As I feel myself getting older and noticing the changes in my body, an image of myself with a potbelly and a leisure suit pops into my mind.

What has brought on such thoughts? An increased sensitivity to mankind’s vulnerability. In the last few months, people around me have loss loved ones at an increased rate. People die everyday, but never has it been so close to me as it has been recently.

Cherish Every Moment

At the same time, I have encountered a number of individuals who are unhappy with the current status of their lives. They are depressed and defeated. These people break my heart, because they have lost their confidence and the hope of what life could be. They take for granted the precious ticking of the clock. I hear them saying things like “I am worth more dead than alive.” Or “I do not know why I bother to wake up in the morning.” They are dead men walking.

But life is too short to live ordinary lives. If anything, it is a race to reach our destiny before the clock runs out. We came into this world with nothing and we are going to leave with nothing, so we must maximize our time here and prepare for the hereafter (if you share this belief).

What are you doing with your life? Are you living up to your potential? A lot of people my age are experiencing the Quarter-life crisis. A lot of us are racked with debt, working low-paying jobs and we do not know what is the next step. And we are just getting this adulthood thing down. Some people find the courage to grow past this and others get stuck. The same happens in our middle age. Every milestone is marked by a decision.

In the midst of this, our faith and confidence is often lost in the shuffle.

How Can I Get My Mojo Back?

In my reflection, I had to understand that life is a gift to be cherished. Whether it is good or bad, it is all I know. I do not know what it is like to be dead and I do not want to find out any time soon. With this in mind, daily inconveniences mean nothing. The Good Book says in all things, give thanks. If I could not walk again, I am thankful for the days I was able to be mobile. If I went blind, I am thankful for the days I could see. There is no better way to overcome adversity than to be thankful for where you are, right now, at this very moment. Because that is where you are supposed to be.

Next, I had to forge a solid belief in myself. I used to hedge against the unthinkable. But once I realized that this stemmed from insecurity in dealing with the unknown, then I had to attack it. I reminded myself of where I had been and where I ultimately want to go. I told myself I have the tools to handle any situation I find myself in.

Then I had to take ownership for what was going on in my life right now. Because where I was, the good and the bad, was the result of decisions I made or opportunity I failed to act upon. So, it did not make any sense to be jealous of any one or to complain. It began with me and it must end with me. What did I have to lose?

Understanding these truths helped me regain the courage to live the life I want. So often we hear the truth, but it is another thing to let the truth take hold and shape your life. As you live according to truth, change cannot help but come.

Please Believe Me

One day, we will die. What will people say to you? What will God say about you? Those of you who have lost someone close to you, know that better than most. Loss, pain and disappointment are apart of living on this tiny orb. But it could be worse.

Besides that, nothing stays bad forever. Life is constantly in flux. The sun will rise again, joy and peace will return. But we must have faith to believe and receive it. The world is going crazy, but it was like this before we arrived here. All we can do is live our life to the fullest: work while we can, love while we can and be a blessing to as many people as possible before we leave this world for the next. We cannot lose our hope, because sometimes that is all we have to stand on. Take happiness where you can find it, and take time to enjoy what this life has to offer. In the words of Solomon, “Eat, drink and be merry.”

Life is not fair, but it is still good.

You only value something when you realize it can be lost.

It’s a great time to be alive, because it is our time.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What do you love the most about your life right now?

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