Quiet, Please

Above the clouds

Above the Clouds

It’s beautiful and sunny up here at 7,000 feet. Meanwhile, in the city, it’s cold and dark.

I can’t see you. I can’t hear you.

Nature is working with me today, as it often does. It’s created a barrier between you and me. It’s symbolic only, clouds, not so hard to penetrate, but symbolic is more than good enough once a few miles are tossed in. You are down there in the murk of the city, lots of noise, not so much light, and I am up here above the clouds. The air smells fresh. The sun is warm. The sounds I hear are birds, wind, and maybe I will hear a rattlesnake. These are the wide open sounds of nature.

We’ve recently passed the anniversary of the Boston bombings. Last year right around this time running groups in Los Angeles were staging the loudest and most public moments of silence imaginable. These loud moments of silence were broadcast all over Youtube. The victims of the bombing seemed totally overshadowed by it all.

I like quiet. More than that, I need it. The idea of a loud and public moment of silence rubs me wrong so many different ways it rubs me raw.

I am an introvert. Being the center of attention is the last thing in the world I want. Peace and quiet are my fuel. Not being loud doesn’t mean I’m meek and mild mannered. I’m very driven. I have a strong desire to accomplish things. It’s just not as important that these accomplishments be public. I’m not an entertainer. I don’t need the approval of an audience. But while I don’t really feel the need to trumpet these achievements (in truth, I have a aversion to that), I don’t want others taking credit for them. It’s my life. Pieces of it might be shared with others, but nobody has joint ownership.

Some people have a knack for making everything their own. This might not sound bad, but really, it’s loathsome. Let’s say, for example, that your partner has a terrible accident. You can’t take their pain and make it yours. Their pain remains. All you’ve done is made a spectacle starring yourself, and if we dig just little bit, the root of your pain and anguish is not likely empathy, but fear that the spotlight has been stolen. This isn’t sensitivity. This is narcissism.

For extroverts, life is about collecting experiences. They are a bit like fat people at an all-you-can-eat buffet, stuffing their faces indiscriminately. It’s about quantity, not quality. Introverts prefer to savor their experiences. We limit the number, and experience them in much greater depth. For us, quality is much more important, and quantity overwhelms.

Extroverts tend to lack the ability to engage in self reflection and introspection. Self reflection is not to be confused with self absorption. Self absorption, at its worst, is narcissism, and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder manifest highest in a handful of extreme extroverts that I know: 1). Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments; 2). Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others; 3). Envies others and believes others envy him/her; 4). Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence… These are extrovert traits, concerned with the desire to be at the top of all social interaction, to be recognized as the greatest, to be envied. Introverts generally want to be left alone by people other than our friends. More than just having no need to be the center of attention of a large group of people, I have an outright aversion to it. It’s what I want the least. It’s for loud people.

We live in a world that has been defined by the loud.

To my eye, loud people don’t ever seem to accomplish much more than putting on a good show. The great list of accomplishments seems to be full of things done by quiet people: Chopin, Darwin, Orwell, Proust, Bill Gates, Einstein… these are all introverts. What do extroverts do? Hold loud public moments of silence. Post a lot of Youtube videos. Sell.

We also live in a world that seems to really value the group. This is odd, to me, given our nation’s obsession with individualism. We don’t trust the government to tell us what to do, but we’re not terribly critical when it comes to blindly following some contentious clown with a talk radio show, or anyone else with a good hustle. The hustler doesn’t need credentials. We just assume he’ll deliver the goods because he said he would, and he had the audacity to charge us 300 bucks. How could he not come through?

Some people aspire to be leaders, in the conventional sense of the word. Others would prefer to fit in harmoniously into the group. They are most comfortable following, and paying money for the privilege. A third type of person prefers to be independent of the group. I’m one of those. Creative people often fall into this latter category.

Here in Southern California, we have Jimmy Dean Freeman, the preferred running coach of the 310, who aspires to conventional leadership, combining coaching and Landmark Forum derived self help. He does it in an oddly self deprecating yet self affirming way, equal parts Stuart Smalley and Werner Erhard. He has a great fondness for trumpeting what he proclaims his failures, to show failure as an asset, as evidenced here, in a post about the 2013 San Diego 100 miler. He talks about failure in a manner similar to that of Dean Karnazes, whose not inconsiderable accomplishments as a runner are eclipsed by his accomplishments as a self promoter. Both talk about overcoming fear in a manner reminiscent of Tony Robbins.

I can’t find much to disagree with in their writings, although I find it much more palatable when it comes from someone like Thích Nhất Hạnh. Thích Nhất Hạnh doesn’t really talk about failure. Basically, he just encourages us all to get over our own shit, which is more-or-less what Buddhism is all about.

And then there’s Bob Dylan’s Love Minus Zero/No Limit: “My love she speaks softly. She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all.”

American culture doesn’t really reward those who speak softly.

Being an entrepreneur is a big thing in America. Entrepreneur is a word we borrowed from the French. Originally, in French, it meant someone who “who pays a certain price for a product and resells it at an uncertain price, making decisions about obtaining and using the resources while consequently admitting the risk of enterprise.” Also known as a middle-man. Nowadays, we see it as the guy who starts his own business selling stuff. Maybe he’s an innovator, probably he’s a risk taker, and we hope he is someone “with the essential skills of leadership, management ability, and team-building”. A hustler, in other words.

In 1987, the hottest, youngest entrepreneur out there was a kid named Barry Minkow. Minkow began his business career at the age of 9, working as a telemarketer for a carpet cleaning company. When he was 15, he started his own carpet cleaning company in his parents’ garage. He soon expanded into insurance, in cahoots with a number of known mobsters. He made millions, lived lavishly, and was looking to buy the Seattle Mariners. He took his company public. Had any due diligence taken place someone would have noticed that his offices were nothing but a series of PO boxes spread across the San Fernando Valley, but nobody checked because we believe the brash and charismatic.

This is America, and we value brash trash talkers who offer us a chance to join them in some get-rich-quick scheme that will make us piles of money for doing nothing. We call this independence.

Turns out the whole thing was a Ponzi scheme. Surprise surprise.

Minkow found Jesus while on trial. He was barely 20 years old. Finding Jesus is often helpful for charismatic people who are in trouble. Play it right and you demonstrate just how thoroughly reformed you are. Being a minister is a great job for con-men entrepreneurs because they get a bunch of new people to fleece. These people are followers, and they believe because the charismatic evangelist has got a direct line to God. Nobody really vets ministers, even though God’s self proclaimed representatives probably need vetting more than most: Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Lonnie Latham, Paul Barnes, Billy James Hargis, Robert Tilton…

Minkow started a prison ministry, and was released early, having served only 6 years of his 25 year sentence. He continued as an evangelist and opened a business called the Fraud Discovery Institute, parlaying his skill as a conman into a hustle to detect other conmen. He made piles of money uncovering fraud, often fraudulently. Most of his accusations were false, which is okay since false accusation is protected free speech under the First Amendment, and this prevented his corporate victims from being able to fight back. It would have all worked out had he not gotten greedy: he was making a fortune short selling stocks in the companies he was trying to destroy, and that’s what got him thrown back in prison. Never one to accept personal responsibility, it he tried to claim this latest multi-million-dollar-scam was needed to fund an Oxy addiction.

While in prison, he started hustling money from little old ladies to pay for a movie about his redemption. Then it was revealed he ran the Fraud Discovery Institute with Community Bible Church funds. Last week he was sentenced yet again.

“The day you take complete responsibility for yourself, the day you stop making any excuse, that’s the day you start to the top.” —O.J. Simpson, 1975

Good Advice from Bad People is a new book full of suggestions that are jawdropping when you consider their sources. The full title is “Good Advice from Bad People: Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong”. In it you will find tips from gay-prostitute-patronizing pastor Ted Haggard on how to build a marriage that lasts a lifetime, and, of course, the above mentioned Barry Minkow.

These are the loud people. They all seem to be running a hustle. Sometimes it’s to make a million dollars. Sometimes it’s to get in someone’s pants. Sometimes it’s just to convince us (or maybe themselves) that they’ve still got the hustle and the virility of a man half their age. Sometimes you need to keep your hands on your wallet. Always you need to cover your ears. Or at least I do.

I see a bobcat out on the trail. He looks at me warily. I look back. A deer watches from up the hill. They probably don’t think I’m half as beautiful as I think they are. It all makes perfect sense. And this is why I like it in the mountains.

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