Sunday, September 11, 2016

Smartphones and Social Media vs. Real Human Contact

LDS Media Library
Over the last few years, I've had a bit of a falling out with social media, and lately, I have been wrestling with the emotions I experience with any form of virtual interaction. There's a taint of artificiality. The delay between messages. Feeling compelled to respond in a certain way. I wrestled with the all too common topics, which can be rather negative; and portrayals, which can be flattering but disingenuous. I also am on my guard about privacy and safety.

I'm also giving too much attention to my smartphone. I read "Love Interruptus" in the August 2016 issue of Psychology Today about how one husband called his wife's smartphone her "other husband," and about technoference, the "everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions . . . that occur due to technology." All this has gotten me thinking.

I am not saying this is the experience everyone is having with social media, or that it's inherently bad. It isn't. But I am sensitive to even low doses of negativity, and I tend to shield my spirit from its toxic effects. I also value attention given without distraction. I greatly value it.

After a moment of visual revulsion on Instagram this summer, and considering my tendency toward electronic "doodling,"  I took a five-week break from social media (except one work-related Facebook group) so I could get some clear perspective on what I have been feeling. I don't want to totally give up on my smartphone or social media; I just don't want it to take so much real estate in my brain, or to distract me from what's more important.

One thing that's important is giving people around me the honor, respect, and attention they deserve. Exquisite, thoughtful respect is what they deserve. That respectful attention is Christlike love in action, and I'm not giving enough of it, or allowing myself to receive enough of it.

So I've made a decision to turn off my smartphone and keep it out of sight from other people, as much as possible. To leave it in the car when I go into a restaurant or a store or meeting, especially if I'm with my wife or a family member, or even with friends and colleagues. I have plenty of time to myself, when I can pay attention to my phone—people, real, in-person people, deserve better.

I also want my posts to be less trivial and aggrandizing. I want them to be things I would say to a real person, eye to eye, in their presence, in an unvarnished way.

I'll need more than luck to change. I'll stay accountable to you and report my successes and failures here. Thank you for understanding: You mean more to me than your Facebook post. I'll try to prove that. You're welcome to call me out if I don't. Please, by all means, do. I need more friends like that.

Update: Sunday, September 18, 2016

How did I do this past week on my technoference goals? I made progress, but it did not go as well as I hoped. I had some successes in keeping my phone tucked away, but not all the time and not to my satisfaction. Checking my phone, even sans notifications, is a reflexive habit. I've realized that I need to adjust my approach. I need to read my scriptures on the train, for example, in the presence of others. So I am refining my goals. I need to try a few things first as I develop my personal phone etiquette (PPE). I'll report back soon.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

With Wings as Eagles

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I've been meditating on and memorizing Isaiah 40:28–31 over the last few weeks. Here's the passage. I'm sure it's familiar to most of you.
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Emphasis added.)
I want to share with you what "mount up with wings as eagles" means to me.

It means that, with God's help, you can soar above your troubles. It means that you can be carried aloft by a sacred wind—which is often something you feel more than you see. It means that you've got to set the wings God's given you at a certain angle to catch the wind He sends your way.

It means you can look down from the heights where those sacred winds carry you and have a new and better perspective on what is going on down on earth. It means that God has given you strength, power, and ability beyond your natural limits. It means that when God sets you free, you are truly free.

I dedicate this post to my brother Mark Stephen Fitzgerald (1955–2012) whose birthday is today.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Angel in the Aisle

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From Wikicommons: Creative Commons License, Courtesy Mike Kalasnik, Fort Mill, USA
I heard a returned missionary speak in sacrament meeting today. He told a story about one of his investigators, Casey, who had been addicted to meth for 27 years. He spent a lot of time on the streets and in jail, and it humbled him. He read the Bible in jail and that helped him start to shuffle off some of his stubbornness.

When Casey got out of jail, things started to look up. He found he could keep his feet under him. He was able to hold down a job. His relationship with God deepened. After he had been clean for nearly 2 years, he met the missionaries and started taking the lessons. He eventually set a baptism date, but needed a personal confirmation that he was doing the right thing.

Casey was at a Walmart one day, shortly before his baptism, having a conversation with his Heavenly Father in the toilet paper aisle. He asked, "Well, God, I'm about to become a Mormon. Is that all right with you?" At the very moment he asked the question, a package of toilet paper fell off an upper shelf and landed right on his head! He wondered "What kind of an answer was that!" though it surely got his attention.

He had been alone in aisle. He walked around to the next aisle and found a woman there he had never seen before. As he approached her, she asked, "Are you a Mormon?"

Casey was taken aback. "No," he said, "but I am thinking about it."

"Well," she said, "you should join the Church."

"Why do you say that?" he said, "Are you a Mormon?" She said, "No, I'm not, but I just felt like I should say that to you." Then she turned around and left.

A chance meeting with an angel in a Walmart aisle led Casey to a deep spiritual conviction that he was on the right path. And he took it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Race Day Revision

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The American Fork Canyon Half started at the Pine
 Hollow Trailhead, beneath Mount Timpanogas.
I ran a half marathon for the first time last year. I finished, but the results were disastrous. But I learned some important lessons. I had a chance to apply those lessons today, to another race. Here are a few of them.

Don't give up. Dare to fail at things worth trying again. And if you fail, pick yourself back up, and keep moving toward the finish line. Not giving up is two-thirds of the battle.

Take care of your body and listen to its best aspirations. It's not your personal landfill. Respect it, and don't give into momentary cravings. Feed it what it needs, not what it wants. Leave weight behind you on the running trail. If you hold onto it, it only makes you slower. Trade pounds for self-mastery. 

Super-hydrate, not just on race day, but in the days leading up to the race. Keep yourself electrolit.

Dress warm if the race starts up a canyon. Heat is energy. Preserve it. On hot days, teach your feet to beat the heat. Get up early. With a little planning, you can make it happen, even before you have to show up at work.

Eat high-protein food about a half-hour before the race begins. (That's not good advice for everyone, but it works very well for me. It's exactly what my body needs—it doesn't manage sugars or carbohydrates well.)

Do not disdain or judge yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't be afraid to love yourself and tell yourself that you do. Accept the lessons that come from failures, but reject the need to repeat them. See the best in others and tell them what you see, on and off the course.

Have a plan and execute it. Keep your schedule, rain or shine. If you miss a goal, reschedule it. Fight for it. Take back lost ground. Sacrifice lazy moments for unforgettable days. Don't be dissuaded by lesser gods.

Find your soul songs and listen to them. I usually don't listen to music because I prefer to meditate and pray while I am run. But music can reach the hidden parts of your soul and bring out things you didn't know were there.

The finish line at Art Dye Park in American Fork.
The Headstrongs' cover of Jimmy Eat World's "Hear You Me" (also known as "Angels Lead You in") carried me across the finish line today. I turned it on at mile 12. It helped me find what I had left inside, just when I thought I was on empty.

Last year's time was, well, abysmal. Today my pace was 3:39 faster per minute, subtracting 48:09 off my old time. My plan was to shave off 30–35 minutes, so imagine my shock.

My little disaster took over a year to correct, but it was completely worth the effort. All life is change. You can master some of that change.

No one regrets working hard to overcome past failures. I don't. Not today.

Angels lead you in (new recording 2013) from The Headstrongs on Myspace.

"Hear You Me" (Angels Lead You in), Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American
Cover by The Headstrongs

There's no one in town I know
You gave us some place to go.
I never said thank you for that.
I thought I might get one more chance.

What would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

So what would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

And if you were with me tonight,
I'd sing to you just one more time.
A song for a heart so big,
God couldn't let it live.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Repentance International Airport

Courtexy LDS Media Library
I'm on the road
to Repentance,
tangled in traffic of
the heart, listening to
psalms on the radio.

At the intersection of
Hope and Regret,
I check with fevered eyes
for later flights, but find
no fixed times of departure.

A fragrance of doubt
clings like afternoon rain.
I lift my soul from the
pedal for one thin moment.
I'm late but on my way.

—Michael James Fitzgerald

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Best Teacher

Courtesy LDS Media Libary
I overheard a proverb in testimony meeting today that really sank in. The last person to bear testimony said this: "My best teacher is my last mistake."

Those words settled on me like warm rain, and I've been soaking wet all afternoon.

I don't like my mistakes. So why do I invent new ones every day, against my will?

Every single day.

I'm embarrassed by my mistakes, and bone weary of them. I wish I wasn't such an expert at making them. When I suddenly remember mistakes from childhood, from my teenage years, or from last week, I turn a bright, hot red.

As I get older, though, I realize that each mistake I've made, each error in judgment, is a gift.  Regret, properly applied, can be a healing balm.

The great plan of happiness allows for us to make mistakes (Alma 42:8.)  Without sin, pain, sorrow, and opposition, there would be no purity, health, happiness, or strength. Without contrast, there is no perception. If we were faultless, coddled, and comfortable at every turn, we would be blobs of humanity, unable to comfort or strengthen others, unfit for celestial company.

So I welcome my mistakes. I still don't like them or plan them out or wish for them, but I accept calmly that I will make them, no matter how hard I try not to. Personal mistakes are a path to pain, but that pain can teach us how to avoid the same trauma again, how to not repeat them. I am grateful for those lessons. Isn't that the point?

Thank you, whoever you are, for your seven enlightening words. It would be a mistake for me to forget them.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Forty Years Ago Today

I started writing a personal journal 40 years ago today—April 20, 1976—in the thin blue volume pictured here. It's all the way to the left.

I had heard the counsel to keep a journal during April 1976 general conference. It took me a few weeks to muster the strength to be obedient.

It was a Tuesday evening. I had bought the blank book earlier at the Ben Franklin in our small, country town in Oregon. I was living and working on our family ranch 12 miles out of town, and was about to graduate from high school. I was 18 years old.

I had been baptized on my birthday just five months before. My parents were starting to be kinder to me after several turbulent months. (They really were not happy that I had joined the Mormon church). I was reading the Book of Mormon every day then, often in large gulps, getting ready to go on a mission the following winter. That day, April 20, was also my mother's 50th birthday. She died just seven years later. (Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you.)

I am still writing in my journal. It's become a habit. I am on volume 44, page 7,258, and at approximately 1.5 million words—many of them poorly chosen and awkwardly framed. Much of it is sloppy and hurried. It's not my finest work. It is many times embarrassing to read, but it is from the heart. It's an honest record of a flawed man.

Writing a journal has had a profound effect on my life. I am grateful I acted on counsel—and the promptings that followed that counsel. It has been an unimaginable blessing to have in my possession a record of my soul.