More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

The N word and emotional control

Was Michael Richards a racist for the things he said on stage? I watched the video of his meltdown at the Laugh Factory. (It took a few seconds with Google to find it.) I suspect that if the hecklers were Latino, gay, Jewish, or Kuwaiti, he would have used whatever racial epithet was handy. What was clear was that he was a man who had lost complete emotional control.

I had seen plenty of examples of people losing their cool this year: From a co-worker exploding in rage to some bad behavior on Little League fields. I must admit there were times when I also lost my cool. In all of these cases, losing one’s temper accomplishes nothing except to leave the person feeling remorseful and foolish. Often, the consequences are worse. The coworker who lost his temper also lost his job.

Michael Richards showed what happens when our emotional thermostat breaks down. If you have to confront someone, and the first words that come to mind are the worst ones in the English language — that should warn you to settle down.

This does not excuse what he said. If you harbor such feelings towards any ethnic group, you need to do some serious soul-searching, whether you use such words or not. But Michael Richards should serve a warning to all of us to control our temper in difficult situations. When we fail to do this, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Blessings when you feel like cursing

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, but last night, I didn’t feel particularly festive. It was one of those evenings when I had a dozen things to do at once. The kids needed their homework checked while I was in an IM chat with one of our engineers in Hanoi trying to solve a problem with generating my online help files. The dog needed a walk, the dishes needed to be done, and I needed to get some sleep. I was not in a particularly cheerful mood.

And yet, I still felt blessed.

I am blessed that I have a good family, with a wonderful wife and great kids who want to do well in school. I am blessed that I have a good job that gives me the opportunity to use my skills and learn new things. I am blessed by the times we live in, when we can communicate with others on the other side of the world instantly. I am blessed that, within my lifetime, people we had been in war with are now partners and friends.

It’s easy to feel thankful when times are good. We should also feel thankful when times are hectic or even difficult. From my own experience, I’ve seen how hardships turned out to be blessings by giving me opportunities to grow.

This Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for all that we have in our lives. Let us see the blessings in everything we have and experience.

Vote out politics

It’s election day in the United States, a time when we are reminded how much we detest politicians. After listening to their empty promises, mud slinging, fear mongering, hypocrisy, meaningless platitudes, and outright lies, we have to choose the ones who would do the least damage to our society. If we are lucky, our votes are actually counted.

Although we Americans detest politicians, we practice politics in our everyday lives.

I’m currently reading Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads. I turned to this book after all the times my family and I have had to deal with politics at school, in PTA, and various youth organizations. It’s sad that organizations that are supposed to help children generate the most childish behavior from adults.

I remember my mom’s experience with PTA. She got involved simply because she wanted to help my school. She started the teacher’s aid program and moved through the ranks until she became PTA president in 1972.

The school clearly had an “in” crowd. The connected people got the best classes, the most assignments working as playground supervisors, and the most invitations to birthday parties. If you were “out,” your existence at school could be very difficult. You could climb up the ranks on your merit, but you would not be accepted.

That was my situation at school. My friendships as a kid were determined by my mom’s political alliances. I was friends with kids whose parents were her allies. If a parent didn’t like my mom, her kids wouldn’t speak to me. I would find people I thought were my friends would turn against me because their parents found it politically expedient.

Although I’m 34 years and 70 miles removed from my old school, things are still the same. I’ve seen some recent examples of pettiness, snubbing, and juvenile behavior that are chillingly like what I saw when I was in elementary school. Yesterday’s schoolyard snobs and bullies are now parents who still display the same snobby and aggressive behavior. Ultimately, the kids are the unfair victims, just as I was.

If you find the politics engaged in by professional politicians distasteful, don’t practice it at home. And if you are going to volunteer for a youth organization, do it for the kids — don’t do it for yourself. Cliques, gossip mongering, and snubbing are for junior high. Grow up.

No on NaNoWriMo

I’ve enjoyed participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the past two years. When I first participated in 2004, I met the 30,000-word goal. Not only did I get the satisfaction of accomplishing my goal, it also enabled me to publish Offline. As a reward for achieving my goal, Lulu offered a free printed copy of a novel. I had contemplated self-publishing Offline, but the free offer enticed me to try Lulu. I’ve been happy with Lulu ever since.

I participated in NaNoWriMo again in 2005. I fell far short of the 30,000-word goal, but I was able to start on a novel that I had been thinking about writing for years.

But this year, I have to pass on NaNoWriMo. My schedule is too busy right now with home, work, the Little League board, and some other writing projects I’m doing. One is a play I’m writing for my daughter. I’m also working to finish a book on Table Topics that I had planned to finish months ago.

So, no to NaNoWriMo for this year. I hope to join in the fun and madness next year.

Just keep pitching

It’s one of those moments that can be painful for a parent to watch. My son was called up to pitch a Winterball game. He had pitched a third of an inning a couple of weeks ago and struck out the batter he faced. But today, the pitches just weren’t finding the strike zone. He walked one batter, then another, and another. To his manager’s credit, he didn’t pull him from the mound. He let him pitch.

By the time the other team had gone through the order, he walked in six runs — which isn’t unusual in a division where kids are learning to pitch for the first time. But my son didn’t get upset. He didn’t give up. He kept his composure, and he kept pitching. For that, I am proud of him.

There are many times when things don’t go our way. Our notebook crashes in the middle of a demonstration. We lose our train of thought in the middle of a talk. We accidentally knock over a glass of ice tea in the middle of business dinner, and it drips into the lap of our best client. In those moments, we feel like the pitcher who just walked in a run. We stand alone and vulnerable.

When these things happen — and they happen to all of us at some point — we just need to keep our composure and keep pitching. A few apologies and a small joke at our expense (as well as an offer to pay the dry cleaning bill in the case of the ice tea) can smooth things over.

Most people are forgiving, because they have been through their own embarrassing situations before. No one got down on my son for his performance on the mound today. He earned respect for how he hung in there and composed himself.

My son gave me a wonderful lesson today. When the breaks don’t go our way, don’t give up. Just keep pitching.