USOddities – and some explanations.

The biggest thing I had with me when coming to the US for the very first time some weeks ago was probably my curiosity, which luckily fit very well in my three luggages. We all “know” this place, even without having been here ever – after all, no other country is this present in the news, TV series, and movies. We know how college life works, how working life works, and that the American dream means if you just slog away, you can become super rich, extremely successful and smoking hot. This, plus the fact that the US labels itself not seldom as the number one country of the Western world, or in general just the entire world, in terms of innovation, opportunities, and development, had my expectations sky rocket. I imagined something similar to Europe, just bigger, better, faster – and more efficient.

As big as my curiosity was, as huge grew my confusion when I discovered everything to be very different. From basically anything. The first US-impressions were still nailing it in terms of media-created expectations and stories my friends told me about the food-hunt, but then it was also so different from any other daily cultural aspect that I knew from Europe. It’s odd: Europeans once went to conquer this country, not even that long ago; they built their own little version of Europe over here, and then things must just have gone crazy. Isn’t it surprising how the seemingly same people come up with completely different solutions to the same problems, only because they are put in a different spot on earth? I heard Spanish people say that about Latin-America and the language development there – I think now I kind of get it. Trying to understand how to fit into this country, survive here, find my way around and especially, find out what I can eat here, will still take a while, I reckon. But still, I can’t stop pondering and speculating why on earth everything is so extremely different here.

For starters, capitalism might be an explanation. Sure, that doesn’t account for the Americans having decided to invent a weird string running through the entire bus that one can pull, instead of simple stop-buttons. A string that you can only reach when you manage to reach the windows. Try reaching the windows in a crammed 8-am-school-bus, good luck (but I don’t wanna complain, it is a nice and probably city-borne feature that the buses are for free)! Or for the green light being actually white and not green. Or explain what is going on with the toilet flush: Why is there a little swimming pool in the basin? I now know things about myself that I wasn’t even interested in and I desperately wish I could unsee again.

While these things might remain a mystery forever*, capitalism can help explain many other oddities. For example, that everything here is so extremely complicated. Of some things I know only through media and second-hand-reports, like how difficult it is to find a proper school for your kids, or how bureaucratic the voting process is; and other things I experienced first-hand. Finding food, for instance – it’s a challenge to get any non-processed food. While you do find restaurants at every corner, it is immensely hard to find grocery shops. The closest one to my house is about 1.5 kms uphill, and close means usually super expensive. I am talking Norway-and-beyond-expensive. Not even Finnish prices can reach up to the US ones, and that’s not just food, but also soap, washing detergent, bike-locks – anything one might need in their daily lives. If you really want to do some grocery shopping, you need to travel further – 3, 4 kms at least, it might be more around 6 to the next Walmart, which has ‘cheaper’ prices. Cheaper still means Finnish standards and slightly more – which is odd given the fact that Finnish prices bear a 24% VAT that is not implied in the prices here, and yet they are even higher.

You might wanna win the lottery first if you plan on buying some vegetables.

This means whenever you are in need of a pack of butter, but you don’t feel like making a day-excursion to a Walmart because you also need to eat, sleep, and work, you go and buy the butter for 4 dollars in the “closer” shop. Or then you just stop preparing food altogether and instead buy a hamburger meal at the nearest fast food location. Those are everywhere. And it’s like 3 dollars. Yes, you can get an entire meal for less than a pack of butter. That’s another weird thing: Products that seem to have undergone additional processes are cheaper than the raw version. My ground coffee is more expensive than the same sized package of the same ground coffee with chocolate or vanilla flavour. How, I am asking? Does the coffee actually come naturally with a sweet flavour, and in order to make it neutral, little coffee elves need to manually pick all the chocolate- and vanilla-pieces out, and get paid for it?

Right, why I wanna blame capitalism for this: Let me tell you about that one time a friend of mine asked me to help him with his homework. He does not study business, but had some finance-related classes to take. We had an argument about what the ultimate goal of a business is – my suggestion was to increase shareholder value and maximize the profit. His was to satisfy customers. You see, there is exactly the problem. Contrary to common beliefs and wishful thinking, the purpose of a for-profit business is ultimately to make money. Satisfying customers is just one of many tools to achieve that. Caring about the environment and how employees feel are just investments into making more profit due to better reputation. Yes, unhappy customers leave and buy their stuff at a different business, sure – but how about if they didn’t have any other option? Do you still need to care about their satisfaction as a successful business? Probably not. Making others happy is lots of work, right? Everyone who has ever been in a healthy relationship knows that painfully.

So here’s the thing: The population of the USA simply and firstly seems to be its own customers. The people being inhabitants, citizens, members of a society, comes second or third. Primarily, this country built its entire system on capitalism, a successful business with its population as one of the input factors and a few powerful institutions being the shareholders that collect the harvest. Healthcare? You can buy it, feel free to choose whichever provider you want. Education? Same thing. Private schools, chartered schools, home-schooling for the ones who prefer that – an equal quality of education seems to be rather secondary, the main purpose is to make profit with students and pupils. So, let’s see, what else do humans need? Food. But if they want it, they have to buy a car first in order to reach the supermarkets. So now you can also sell them car insurance, gas, drivers licenses. It’s a perfect system – for the profit-makers. And the customers won’t even leave, because where would they go? To a different country?

If the focus is on generating quick profit instead of satisfying the customer in the long-run, you as a consumer end up with huge ads trying to mislead you, a system that is mainly designed to take care of profit and not so much your well-being, and, in the end, a very shitty buying-experience.

I know I said after my Rome holiday that I have never been in a place where so many people so obviously wanted my money, no matter how much they would have to scam me for it. I take it back. It’s way worse here. You constantly need to be on edge to not make a mistake and accidentally pay more than you should. And it’s everywhere, in every daily situation. When you order something online, there are promotion codes which pop up to be used at check-out – you feel like you save money, but in fact they just earn money with inattentive customers. Because if the code is available for anyone, why not make the product cheaper in the first place? Right, because you gotta earn it! This is America, you have to earn everything here. If you want to buy stuff in a supermarket, you should know approximately four different types of sales taxes. Per state, or even per county. They are not included in the prices displayed, they come extra at check-out. You never really know how much money you are gonna pay until you actually pay it, and if you want to bring your friend something, good luck figuring out how much they essentially owe you now.

There’s advertisement everywhere. When I was in China, I was amused by the constant noise level that was omnipresent, each shop playing their own music over speakers facing outward, to the street. Here, the noise level comes in the form of flyers, emails, adverts on Spotify and TV, and in the shops, covering the actual prices. They might say something like ‘only today, save 1 dollar’, or ‘50% off the second item of the same kind’ and people see only the big 1 and buy the chocolate bar for 3 dollars instead of 4, and it doesn’t even taste good because apparently there’s no cows in this entire continent, so who knows what chocolate is made of here.

Whenever you leave your email somewhere (everybody wants your email. I am expecting at least 50 greetings for the next holiday from government and administrative offices, if not more), you’ll end up on two to five new mailing lists that you then actively need to unsubscribe from. Opt-in is not a thing here, and opting out is a major challenge. Even Amazon tries to scam you – that shows how protected we must be in Europe, by freely being able to order something and not subsequently receiving tips and ads and suggestions via email three times a day. I had to actively unsubscribe from every list of every Amazon-department there is after my last order. And then they have extra items there, so-called add-on items that don’t add to the accumulated price and only are shipped when you reach a minimum accumulated price before you add this item. I tried for 45 minutes to get free shipping by even adding the entire stock of drugs I might need in the next eight months, and then gave up and just paid the shipping costs.

Advertisements on Spotify that should discourage people to drive drunk or intoxicated don’t talk about the dangers – they address your moral system by warning you from ending up a loser without a girlfriend (she’s gonna leave you) and without a job (you’re fired because you don’t have a girlfriend, or something), if you drive drunk and get caught by the police. Yes, only if you get caught. It’s a wonder they don’t also advise you to do a hit-and-run in order to avoid the getting caught part. Status, money and achievement seem to be the ultimate goals here, and the ones who are successful don’t even hesitate to walk right over other people’s feet and heads for that. And the ones left behind nod in confirmation, and think to themselves that they probably just didn’t work hard enough if they are not at the top yet. And proudly sing their national anthem before every ordinary college football game.

It doesn’t always have to be so hard to master your daily life…

I feel a bit sorry for the people living here who got used to life being so complicated, who might not even know there could be an easier way. Who think that one day, they will also make it to the top and have an easier life – while the entire system is built so that only a few can survive at the top, because they need the heads of the others to stand on. I wanna take them by the hand and show them that it is also possible to have a daily life without the system throwing obstacles in one’s way constantly. It’s possible to actually focus on the real struggles in life, like family and hobbies and career achievements, instead of how to prepare a dessert for your friends’ dinner party in three days if you don’t have a car and no time to spend half a day on buses to the next Walmart and back. For me as a European it is for now slightly incredible how people simply accept being treated like customers in a really shitty monopoly, gulping whatever gets poured on them. Why don’t you stand up for your basic rights?* Go and complain to the customer hotline!

And, I really hope I get used to it quickly myself so that it doesn’t feel so damn hard anymore.

*suggestions and explanations are welcome by email. I do not wish to subscribe to your weekly newsletter, however.
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American Friendliness meets Finnish Oho-mentality – a comparison.

So here I finally am, in the Free World, the Land of Dreams, the country where anyone can become whatever they want if they just work hard enough. So much have I heard, so many movies seen, and even though I come from a Western culture myself, it’s all different. And new. And strange.

This was three weeks ago. By now, it’s even more strange, though I slowly get used to it – but that’s material for another blog entry. For now, let me stick to the initial impression I had when setting foot on the southern grounds of the US of A. The first thing I noticed was everyone being extremely friendly. Waiting for the cover to blow to reveal the commonly known myth of American friendliness as totally superficial, I might be overly excited too early. But three weeks in, it still feels very much as if the friendliness is genuine. If it’s not, well, then the people I’ve met so far are damn good at faking it. And, to be honest, I actually don’t care much whether it’s real or not, cause it still feels nice, for now. Really.

Especially when you come from such a long period of living in Finland. Somehow I kind of got used to the fact that my friendly greetings and head-nods and smiles are mostly ignored, equally by neighbors, colleagues, and superiors at work. That it is no rare event to be run over by a shopping cart and receiving merely a half-heartedly grunted “Oho!”, if anything, while your lifeless body is lying in pain on the ground and the offender is already far away in the next aisle. That a stranger rather slams the supermarket door in your face and quickly gets out of the same one, rather than waiting, holding the door, and thus eventually risking any sort of contact with you – even if it’s just eye contact. Beware! Contact to others, an underdeveloped concept of human interaction (inter- what?) in the cold north, where a minimum of private space is defined as at least one hectare of forest around an isolated cottage, is pure evil!

OK, yes, I sort of got used to that. But sometimes, just occasionally, a little bit of compassion would perhaps be nice, just a little bit of empathy… Well, little did I know what kind of huge culture shock I should have prepared myself for, changing environment so drastically: Here in the States, people are apologizing to you even if it was you who bumped into them (I always thought that was kind of a Canadian concept)! They already excuse themselves for taking up your space when still away at least two metres, and constantly everyone wants to know how you are doing! So even if you’re from a country with less contact-avoiding and introvert people, you might be up for a positive surprise when you enter the United States.

Because here, everyone seems to be content, on a general level. Grasping and believing this concept proves in difficult especially for me with my German complain-background – after all, there’s always something to improve, being content just stops evolution, right? But here, if nothing happens, the base-mood is a positive one. Passing strangers smile at you. The world is a happy place. If anything happens, and it’s bad, the rage about it doesn’t last very long. Strangers greet you, and complement you on random things while they are passing by. They ask you how you are, and yes, they expect you to give an answer (and ask them back). People constantly try to be supportive and considerate of one another. Cars wait till you cross the road, or stop to let you go first if they see you’re torturing yourself up a hill on your self-fixed seventy-years old kid’s bike. In Finland, even if you’re ON the zebra crossing, a place that should be safe for pedestrians, you better run when a car is approaching. Not only would they not stop, rumors have it they would also make you pay for the accident that might subsequently result. Because what the heck are you doing in the middle of the road? Everyone has to watch out for themselves! It’s a tough world out there!

Exaggeration aside, I admit that not all is bad in Finland, and not all is good in the States. But I’m not here to count you the numerous examples of advantages and disadvantages of each and every country. Let me instead point out the good things in one, and suggest to transfer and adopt them a little bit in the other one. It is indeed a fact that one of the things that bothered me the most in the past years in Finland was the focus on oneself and the reluctance to acknowledge those around you. I do enjoy the fact that in Finland, I can mind my own business in a supermarket, head down, not having to talk to anyone if I don’t want to. And it might be that after a while in the States, not being able to do that here will start bothering me. But as relaxing as this solitude can be, as frustrating it is when you enter the coffee kitchen at your office, and greet those that are already there, and they simply ignore your existence. It admittedly does get a bit better for a while if you’re the one who bribes them with cookies; but people forget, and not everyone likes cookies. Especially in the land of the glutenfree people.

I would wish for a Finland with a more American attitude when it comes to acknowledging the people around you. Give them a smile. Hold the door if you notice they are just two steps behind you. Oh yes, try to at least be friendly and kind when a customer asks you something, if you happen to work in the service industry (this one goes out to the flight attendants of my favourite airline – you know it’s you! Yes, I am literally scared of you!). If you don’t wanna greet strangers, at least greet back those people that greet you. Oh, and you might wanna redefine the term strangers – not everyone who has not exactly breast-fed you might be one.

This is my American Dream: When I come back to Finland, I want people to be nicer to each other. I know no one is deliberately evil and ignorant there, and I don’t expect the Finnish language to create an equivalent for the word “please” just yet. But the times of seclusion in the woods are over for most of you/us during 11 months of the year, so if you happen to live in a city, try to acknowledge the fact that there’s other humans living in the city, too. If everyone just watched out a little bit for each other, all should be taken care of easily, right?

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Walking In My Skin

whatsapp-image-2017-02-07-at-17-49-28“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

This is just one of the many brilliant philosophies inserted by Harper Lee into her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. And even though it’s a slightly unconventional alteration of the ‘walking-in-your-shoes’-metaphor, it should be considered frequently by us, much more frequently than we probably do. What it implies, however, is even more important: All we see, all we hear, all we perceive, is filtered by our personality, and coloured by our own bias. Someone offending us with an allegedly ego-hurting statement (let’s be honest, it doesn’t really hurt anywhere else than in this inflated construct blown up around our actual self), could not have an impact without the sting added by our individual filter. It is highly likely that the very same sentence that brings us in rage would not affect any other person ever.

whatsapp-image-2017-02-07-at-17-53-54Sure, sometimes manipulative people know about the characteristics of our filter, and they abuse those by adjusting the message they want to give us. They might specifically customise the message according to our personal weaknesses. But hey, the problem is not that they know about our weaknesses, or that they are able and willing to exploit them. No – the problem is that we let them! If we re-ran any message consciously and purposely through another, neutralising filter, one that takes away all the colours our perception had added automatically, it could not do much harm, could it?

I only lately realised that very often, when someone seems to use depreciating comments towards me, the actual depreciation is formed in my own mind. If someone assigns me to a certain group of people, the evaluation about this group being “good” or “bad” actually happens through my own bias. Naturally, I don’t see it that way, as I consider myself as the most tolerant and open-minded person there is (right?), so my first thought is “Why does this person diminish me like this?”, and based on my straight-forward personality, this is then also the first response the person gets. Only in the subsequent argument it turns out that the person in no way finds this specific group any less worthy than any other group – this was exclusively made up in my head. Only in my head, based on cultural values, past experiences, family background, or whatever, this group is worth less than any other. Yes, I know, I am working on getting rid of these prejudices, believe me.

everyone-has-a-choiceSo, by being assigned to the group I feel less respected by the person who assigned me. However, in most cases, people who “do” this to us mean neither harm nor are they aware of our prejudices. Yes, actually people tend to try to avoid conflict, and had they known about our bias, they probably would have thought twice before throwing such a mind-bomb. Especially if a reaction to such a thing is remotely comparable to my reactions to being (seemingly) treated unfairly… No, probably no one in their right mind would ever do this on purpose, unless they really like doomsdays.

We cannot change people, and we cannot constantly tip-toe around their feelings and perceptions. I am not saying we should ignore other people’s perspective – but what is even more important, is to understand our own. Because that’s where it starts. How we perceive things, positive, negative, good, bad, this is all made up in our head. Even if someone means us harm and wants to desperately hurt us with a comment, it is still our own choice how to perceive it – we can even turn the meanest comment into a compliment in our head, and live on happily. How cool is that?

So next time you find something that is said inappropriate, disrespectful, diminishing – think about your own values (I swear I’ll do the same). Why does it show little respect? You don’t know anything about the values of the other person, maybe for them it means something great, and only for you it is disrespectful because you yourself are biased and prejudiced.

And as soon as you detect a detrimental filter like that, it is about time to get rid of it, don’t you think? Happy 2017!

 

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The Gloriousness of Growing Up

riesterIt is feared, awaited with horror, and anticipated with disgust about who you are going to be. We try to postpone it as much as possible, push it away from us and try to cling as hard as we can to the status quo. No one wants to be this responsible, dull, fun-less adult that cares about future savings and loyalty points in their local supermarket. But you know what? Screw all these images, forget about these cliché connotations some boring-ass TV-ads implanted in your heads – growing up is amazing!

I wanna say it again: Growing up is awesome! I don’t mean the actual entire process of growing up from being born to the very end (let’s just call that life, for simplicity reasons?), but the point where you realize you actually managed to grow up now. That turning point, that threshold between being a naïve youngster and a fully responsible adult. Because yes, there is a line, and one day we all gotta cross it, sooner or later: Just imagine yourself crossing a finishing line at a marathon, imagine that moment you reach the goal as the first, and you run through this paper band (I have never finished a marathon first, but it surely is like that?), and everyone applauds you because you made it, and you are great and the best – YOU GREW UP!

Once you start caring less, your life becomes so much more

Once you start caring less, your life becomes so much more

But how can it be amazing, you ask? Don’t we have to stop being childish, or having fun, and isn’t it a shitload of work? Hell, no! It’s not! It’s just awesome! Ok, maybe it won’t be with an audience and a finishing-line-paper-band, but this moment in which you realize that some things are just not so important, and other things are, and the most valuable character in your own personal movie is and will always be yourself, you instantly become so relaxed. Less stressed. You can trust in yourself, and nothing should be going wrong. Welcome, now you grew up.

Like, do you remember all these times when you wanted to do something, but none of your partners in crime had time to join? Or when you really wanted to go to this concert, but no one else seemed willing to pay an extraordinarily amount of money to see what you claim to be the one and only hero of music – so you ended up not going, either? Well, here’s the good news: Once you grew up, you realize you can actually do stuff on your own! By yourself! Yes, and it will still be fun – or even more so!

But it is the company that makes the event worthy, everyone knows that – right? Well, yes, but there’s also hundreds of other people who go there for the actual event and not just as company for someone who goes there for the actual event, so how about you let them be your company? Go, suck in the atmosphere, be part of a group of people you might not have known before and might not see ever again, just for that moment – because hey, that’s what life is about, anyways! Friends come and stay and then leave again, some after some months, some after years, some maybe at the end of a lifetime. They are just visitors in your life. You can value them, you can appreciate them, but your life does not depend on them.

Alone but not lonely

Alone but not lonely

If you want to go out for a fancy dinner, go out for a fancy dinner. If you want to see a movie, go to the cinema. If you like snowboarding, you can also just go by yourself and snowboard. You don’t need to start doing everything alone now (unless you really want to), but isn’t it nice to know that you actually could? Cook, eat, sports, travel – there are no limits. You will be alone, but you won’t be lonely – it can be very relaxing to spend time only with your own mind and no one else. You don’t even need to talk things out loud, and most of the time you agree with your own thoughts – how awesome is that?

Also, you become so much less stressed about finding company once you realized that you don’t necessarily need any. If you want to do something, you can still announce to your friends that you’ll be doing this, and that they are welcome to join, but now you don’t need to wait for an answer anymore. If someone wants to join, they can. But if they leave you hanging for days and rather wait for any other, maybe better opportunity to pop up, screw them – it might be too late for them then, and next time they’ll know better. Or not. Who actually cares?

Yes, caring less about unimportant stuff is probably the most awesome feature of growing up. You can stop caring about not having company for things you want to do, and you can stop caring about people who are trying to bullshit you. You simply have neither the time (another feature when growing up: being so busy with work that you automatically stop caring about unimportant things simply due to the fact that a day has no more than 24 hours) nor the insecurity left to be thinking about what people might be thinking about you.

You might stop me from using bouncy castles, but you can never take cotton candy away from me!

You might stop me from using bouncy castles, but you can never take cotton candy away from me!

So what leads to this actual crossing-the-threshold-growing-up-feeling is you being busy with work and life and responsibilities you hopefully get a decent salary for. And the side effects are you becoming independent, self-confident, and determined. I have to stress this self-confidence thing again: Being an insecure teenager/early-twenties-er/mid-twenties-er/late-twenties-er wasn’t so much fun, after all.

And the best side-effect: You end up doing mostly only things you really want to do. See, growing up is SO MUCH fun! And now I gotta go and find myself an ice cream, some cotton candy, and a Gin Tonic – just because I can. Later!

 

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The fish is rotting from the head – whom to blame for elections_gone_wrong?

So here we are, it’s Wednesday morning in Europe, and our biggest nightmares have come true. The day that will from now on be remembered as the darkest November 8 in American history since it was taken from the Natives.

This is not supposed to be yet another analysis on politics and how things could have gone wrong, no, this is just a simple reflection on life and how we as humans treat it. When Trump started getting increased media attention all over the world in the beginning of the year, people still considered it as a joke. When I talked to my friends who study politics, they just said ‘no way this person will ever make it far enough to become president – let them make fun of him’.

I never studied politics. I have a rough understanding about what is happening in U.S. politics and how their president is elected. I don’t know the motivation behind politicians’ strategies and who exactly would benefit most from having a dumb puppet in the lead, someone who is easy to steer and to manipulate. I haven’t read into conspiracy theories, and I don’t want to because most probably, there’s a bit of a truth to each of them.

But what I understand is how angry humans work. It is happening not only in the U.S., it is happening everywhere. In my country. In my country of choice. The ‘small’ man is angry, because he feels treated unfairly. And probably he’s right. We live in a dog-eat-dog society where only the strongest win, but where becoming strong depends on so many factors you cannot influence yourself that fairness is merely a theoretical concept that Disney movies like to adapt. And the worst (and most dangerous) thing is that we don’t even notice. We might be hard-working, hard-studying, thinking that we deserve this because we earned it, because we fought for it, ourselves. But think back of that one slow kid in your class in elementary school, or the other one with the 7 siblings, or the one that never seemed to understand what was going on. Other kids made fun of them because they were slow. These kids’ answer was anger. Back then, there was no need to worry about it. Kids fight. It’s normal.

And then every day, school ends, and all the kids go home, and while you get a warm lunch and are monitored to do your math homework, maybe even assisted, these kids go home and watch TV. Or worse. Their parents don’t care, or maybe they are working double shifts to afford the rent. And no one cooks for them, but maybe they find some junk food from their older brother who also shows them how to smoke a cigarette.

Life is not fair. You think a 7-year-old kid knows that when it grows up, it will earn less, have less chances because it is less educated, and understand less, if it doesn’t change something now? You were prepped to be privileged from the start, that’s why you read this article now in a language that probably isn’t your mother tongue, and because you like to reflect on things and like to understand the reasons behind occurrences.

But you are not the majority. The majority has less chances and will end up with less education. Less understanding of things. It is easy for you to make fun of angry ‘dumb’ people because you see deeper, wider; but it won’t change anything. It will only make them angrier.

Ignorance is the biggest punishment we can treat someone with, and as long as we keep on ignoring those who are less privileged than ourselves, we will pay the price in the end altogether because we share this planet. If people feel discontent but they lack the capability of understanding what let them into this situation, they develop anger and try to find someone to blame. So if a loud, raging guy (in my country, a loud, raging woman is at the top of the populist-anger-parties) comes and starts pointing fingers, of course they will love him. They will feel heard, finally, and finally someone seems to be wanting to take care of their needs. They don’t understand that what he claims does not make sense. Is not feasible. They have a problem, and he promises a solution. And that’s all that counts. And with every smartass, witty, seemingly very funny and sharp (but only to the clever people) comedian making fun of the loud hoser, his supporters feel reassured in supporting him – because it’s ‘the others’, the ones that have more money and better living conditions, the ones that look down on them, who bully their leader. And even the people that had not heard of that guy before, suddenly they will. Because by being made fun of, his media presence is just emphasized. Showing clips of his speeches that make no sense only make no sense to those who understand more. Those who understand less might have not seen the speeches up to that point – but now they do, and they like it. Maybe, if Trump had been ignored just as much as the minority elite ignores the needs of their counterparts, he wouldn’t have won today. Or maybe he would have nevertheless.

Perhaps he is just another one of the less privileged people who failed to invest in his own education. Perhaps, if he was less ‘white trash’, and a bit more literate instead, he would not create anger and hate, point fingers and blame innocents, grope women and talk non-sense the entire day. But we will never know what is going on in his head (after all, this could just be a strategy). Yet there is one thing we know for sure: as long as we behave like a two(or more)-class-system that feeds a small group at the top and kicks down to the mass at the bottom, we will have to lie in the bed we made ourselves. The fish is rotting from the head.

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The merits of being a volunteer

help-1265227_1280Working as a volunteer can be so rewarding. Well, it should be! After all, being altruistic just means that instead of getting monetary compensation, you get the great warm feeling of being a truly good human being. You are indeed someone caring for others. You think about more than just your own selfish butt and how to keep it warm.

Yes, latest since the episode in Friends where Phoebe tries to do a good deed without getting anything in return, not even a good feeling about herself (and repeatedly fails), we should know that there is no such thing as altruism. At least not in its original definition. But maybe it doesn’t matter. As long as there are drivers that motivate us to care beyond the end of our nose, we don’t necessarily need to question or define them – let’s just gratefully accept this fact and keep on doing good things now and then.

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Volunteering – when not doing anything and feeling good about it is an actual option

Still, people work in voluntary organizations for lots of different reasons. Some want to learn new skills. Some want to feel good about themselves. Some want the benefits that come with it (usually free food, at times kinkier than that). And some just enjoy the company. As diverse as these motivations are the skills attached: If you hire people for a team in a job, you usually get to choose the ones with a certain educational background that you need. If you ‘hire’ volunteers (and you’re just an ordinary student organization with too much work), you got to accept what comes your way. Manpower is manpower (or womanpower), and you usually can’t afford to question their motives or expertise. Usually this does not matter much – the skills required for the tasks are typically so generic that it really doesn’t take a genius to execute them. What matters, though, is the intrinsic motivation. Everyone has a different level of that by nature, and the hiring-and-firing process of the free market regulates it to a smoother average.

paper-523232_1920But what to do when you cannot fire people? What if they take on tasks and never do them? Or it takes them ages to execute them, but whenever you want to reassign someone, they assure you they are ‘on it’? What if they seem to hang out in the organization and benefit from all the plus sides, but when it comes to actual work they are usually busy? And then not to mention personalities. Another annoying factor most humans bring with them, and different personalities subsequently imply different perceptions and views on things. Sarcasm aside, when you spend more time on discussing how to do things, how to interact, how to communicate, and how people feel while doing all this than actually just doing things, you know you are truly part of a voluntary organization. A real one – not this pseudo-voluntary stuff that for-profit companies have made up in order to exploit labor for free by promising young naïve people experience and a great after-life: in those shady agreements the companies actually still sustain the power over the employee, ehm, sorry – volunteer. They can actually fire them when they are not doing their job. And someone who takes on an unpaid job in the first place probably doesn’t wanna lose it again for not being available during a Saturday night.

buddha-452028_1920No, you’re part of a real voluntary organization, when you are grateful for everyone’s opinion. And personality. And the fact that they don’t do anything for 6 months, but then once they carried the water canister into the kitchen, and thus they are a truly valuable part of the organization, irreplaceable almost. And that’s when you know you finally got the biggest reward from being part of this: you grew. The skills you aim to learn in a voluntary organization are patience, selflessness, and generosity. Patience as in acknowledging all sorts of different people, their different perceptions of work, and their own definition of completing a task. Selflessness, like actually completing the task for them secretly in the background, but not telling anyone and letting them have all the credit. And generosity, finally, when you realize there’s nothing more to learn and you give the floor to the newbies in order to make all the same mistakes again that have been made and fixed a million times before – that’s when you know you gained all you possibly could from working in a voluntary organization, and you can finally put this on your CV and move on.

The true value of a voluntary organization is not the warm feeling of being a decent human being. The true value for any volunteer is to grow as a person. The (student) organization as such is a training base, an unfinished project with reoccurring problems, the same ones every year actually, and besides all knowledge transfer, all wisdom recording-and-passing-on, and all efforts of older members, the same mistakes are being made when encountering the same problems. You learn teamwork, patience (yes, for real!), and how to improvise. And once you find yourself solving the same problems half asleep and under the influence, but still better than the newbies, you know it is finally time to move on. Let some other people grow on it lastly.

 

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If you wanna play games, play Pokémon GO and f**k off

DSCF5773I said something very stupid the other day. Yes, as odd as it may sound, this does happen sometimes. I claimed I want to be ‘seen as a person’ even by ‘random sex partners’. It was a hypothetical discussion, so no need to start a scandal or speculations now, but my conversation partner had a very clever answer: “So what else would one be, if not a person?”, he said.

Despite the fact that he most probably used this argument in consideration of his own future advantages, he is absolutely right. What makes us a person? What makes us worthy of something – what makes us special? Day in, day out we can find evidence everywhere that allegedly it must be our environment and people we encounter. Bluntly speaking, this is mere bullshit. How sad would it be if our state of mind, our condition of being, our existence depended on the confirmation of random other people! If you wanna be special, be special! If you wanna be worthy of something, be worthy of it! This does not necessarily imply that you actually receive whatever you see yourself worthy of, but if it is not you as the least one to confirm you actually are, then who is?

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Timing is of the essence when playing by the rules…

Too abstract? Let’s throw in another example. I had a heated argument with a friend about whether or not it is necessary to follow certain rules when dating. You know, like all this shit from the Hollywood movies, ‘don’t sleep with him before the 5th date or he will not consider you as girlfriend material’, and so on. Stuff that already led to heated discussions during the 90s in our all-time favourite series Sex and the City. While Charlotte is of the opinion that of course you need to make yourself a rare and not-that-easy prey, Samantha counters that at least you have had a good time, will he decide against you, and that the fact of whether or not to wait a certain amount of dates before getting it on does not really play a role. I have to say, I support Samantha’s view here full-heartedly, and I add the question of why is this such an externally-controlled game, anyways? What if you (feel free to swap pronouns according to your gender and/or sexual preferences) actually decide against him? And what happened to the good old rule of test-driving a car before buying it?

This friend had a nice story as an example to back up his argument. Another friend of his met ‘the girl of his dreams’ in a bar (yes, this guy apparently feels certain to conclude that in a slightly intoxicated state of mind and after a maximum of a couple of hours of talk), and then he asked her to come home with him, and when she did, he was very disappointed and decided she cannot be the girl of his dreams any longer. Now you probably see why my friend (not the guy from the story, I don’t know him), after telling me this story, fully convinced it is a reasonable one, lost a couple of points in the smartness-league here. If you’re more on his side, however, and it is not so obvious for you, let’s break it down to the odd facts:

  • Why would this guy even ask the girl to come home with him if he doesn’t want her to?
  • Why does the guy need a girl to say ‘no’ to him in order to feel special and appreciated?
  • Why does it not occur to him that he might have lost his privilege of being special and appreciated in her eyes after popping such a question on the first night, if this is the game he thinks he’s in?
  • Why is his interest in her solely based on her willingness to sleep with him at a pre-selected point in time, instead of her as a person?
  • Why is it valued by him as something positive if the girl refuses to get naked with him (maybe she just finds him really repelling)?
  • And last but not least: Why on earth can this grown-up guy not scratch the leftovers of his balls together and tell the girl that he would like to take her home, but he kinda likes her and wants to get to know her first, and how about meeting for a coffee and sober at a later point instead?

Aside from all this, I just as much and fully support two people that like each other going home with each other the moment they meet, and liking each other a bit more. If they are both up for it, why not? Where do all these stupid rules come from? Who says we need to play by them? Hell, how do people playing by the rules even know whether or not the other person even likes them or is just really good at playing a game by the rules? There should only be two rules: Do what you want because you want it (and not because you wanna trigger a reaction from someone else – the same goes for abstaining from doing something), and try to be honest to not hurt anyone. That’s it. Pretty easy. And pretty fun, too! Whole new levels of life experience open up to you once you throw insecurities, second thoughts, biases and questionable standards over board and live your life as it happens!

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How about leaving the judgment for more fun games?

There is never a guarantee that someone finds you special and wants to be with you. People can find you interesting right away, or after they get to know you better, but in the end it is them deciding whether or not they want to do that. And if all they find interesting about you is the fact that they cannot have you, it’s probably not about you, anyway. But you know what? That’s their loss. That doesn’t make you a less interesting or a less special person. Do you even want to be with someone who just fell for you because you were so unavailable? I rather team up with someone who consciously decided it’s worth getting to know me, than because I forced him to spend time with me over a three-week period. There we go, found another filter here! Besides, who wants to be with a person who judges (and evaluates!) people by the amount of time they wait to sleep with someone? That doesn’t seem like a too attractive characteristic, either.

After all, the easiest approach is probably to acknowledge that you cannot steer other people’s minds. Besides, manipulating people rarely results in something positive. And most of the time they themselves don’t even know what they want, so you shouldn’t even try to control that (and life becomes so much more relaxing once you accept this fact). Meeting someone you can stand longer than a month is tricky, requires the right timing, willingness for commitment (on both sides), attraction, and a bit of luck. The odds that you chased away the one and only (there are, by the way, approximately 8 ‘right ones’ for you per city, depending on the number of inhabitants) by not sleeping with them at the right point in time are very, very low.

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