NO MORE BS: Come, Let us Reason Together

Knowledge Check!In physics, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  I am not a fan of the word reaction, for a reaction places all the control of the action into the control of the original actor, and nature does not work like that.  But, to reason, we sometimes must use language common to all to understand each other; thus, it is sufficient to my purposes to use the term reaction in this discussion.  A similar law applies to psychology; a human chooses to act, natural consequences follow.  The ability to as, agency, and the person being acted upon, the actor, play a significant role in how and why businesses succeed and fail.

Plato 2Societies, cultures, governments, and countries all rise and fall on the moral agency of the individuals in power, the common citizen, and the collective leaders of those groups of people.  I have always liked the movie “The Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye makes a statement about how without tradition, they would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.  Bringing a mental image of a fiddler, balancing upon a roof, and having two options, climb down and resume playing, or learn to balance on the roof while playing.  Both choices offer natural consequences that are easily understood, especially if you have ever worked on a roof.

Detective 4I have consistently written about VA Leadership failures for several weeks, rightly calling out the administrators at the local VAHCS and VAMC, the VISN, and the Federal levels.  Hospital leadership is not so different than leadership in any other industry, even though the VA has tried to make hospital leadership distinct.  Herein lay the problem, an employee, a nursing assistant, has just been sentenced to 7 consecutive life sentences for second-degree murder.

“Mays was employed as a nursing assistant at the VAMC, working the night shift during the same period of time that the veterans in her care died of hypoglycemia while being treated at the hospital. Nursing assistants at the VAMC are not qualified or authorized to administer any medication to patients, including insulin. Mays would sit one-on-one with patients. She admitted to administering insulin to several patients with the intent to cause their deaths” [emphasis mine].VA 3

We have an affect, but what was the cause?

“While responsibility for these heinous criminal acts lies with Reta Mays, an extensive healthcare inspection by our office found the facility had serious and pervasive clinical and administrative failures that contributed to them going undetected,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Regardless of her intention, an employee was allowed to commit murder because of the “pervasive clinical and administrative failures” of the VAMC leadership.  Now, two days prior to receiving the results of Reta Mays’ court proceedings, I received the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General report on the clinical leadership failures.  I have not witnessed a more despicable and damnable report of leadership failures in the decade-plus; I have been following and writing about the Department of Veterans Affairs or any other government agency!

“In June 2018, facility leaders identified nine patients with profound and concerning hypoglycemic events dating from November 2017 to June 2018” [emphasis mine].VA 3

The scope of the administrative investigation is as follows.  Staff from the VA-OIG’s Office of Healthcare Inspections (OHI) assessed the following areas, in parentheses is who owns the problem raised in the investigation:

      • Mays’s hiring and performance (Human Resources)
      • Medication management and security (Pharmacy and Security)
      • Clinical evaluations of unexplained hypoglycemic events (Nursing and Doctoral Staff)
      • Reporting of and responding to the events (Facility Leadership)
      • Quality programs and oversight activities (Facility Leadership)
      • Facility, Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), and VHA leaders’ responses and corrective actions (Local and area-wide administrators)
      • During the course of this review (investigation), the OIG also noted areas of concern regarding hospice and palliative care practices and nursing policies and practices (Nursing, Patient Care and Safety, and Hospital Administrators)VA 3

Just as logic tells the fiddler on the roof that he has two choices to live a long and musically fruitful life, the investigation reveals that the VAMC leadership had choices and made both poor and potentially criminal choices in this investigation of Mays’ conduct.

Ultimately, quality health care is dependent on leaders who promote a culture of safety that reduces or eliminates those risks whenever possible. Providing high-quality health care to a diverse and complex patient population demands the support of, and adherence to, an organization-wide culture of safety. When this occurs, a patient-centric environment becomes the “norm.” Conversely, systemic weaknesses in a facility’s culture of safety can have devastating consequences. The OIG found that the facility had serious, pervasive, and deep-rooted clinical and administrative failures that contributed to Ms. Mays’s criminal actions not being identified and stopped earlier. The failures occurred in virtually all the critical functions and areas required to promote patient safety and prevent avoidable adverse events at the facility” (pg ii) [emphasis mine].VA 3

Before we go further into the report, it must be made clear; the investigation team found the leadership, the hospital administrators responsible for allowing Mays to kill seven patients.  Attack another patient with the intent to kill and a potential additional hypoglycemic patient who died under her care but could not be directly linked to Mays.  A question arises, how did Mays gain employment with the VA; the answer, a former HR employee, failed to do their job in conducting “… background investigation file and determining her suitability for employment!”  In a previous article, I wrote about the hazards the VA was purposefully opening themselves to by using “COVID” as an excuse to delay proper investigations into backgrounds when hiring.  Here is a classic case where “COVID” is not related, and failing to investigate a background led to people dying!Plato 3

The VA-OIG last year reported that hiring practices had been relaxed due to COVID and background checks delayed for employees being hired during a pandemic.  Yet, when will those background checks be completed?  If someone is found unfit due to background checks, will they be forced to return all their wages for lying on a government form?  If there is a testament to the need for comprehensive background checks on employees, the seven (7) dead patients who died at the hands of Reta Mays!  How many times will this story replicate because the hiring managers are not doing their jobs?VA 3

Let us reason together, is the VA administrators the problem with the VA?  Does the VA leadership require immediate and total removal?  How would you resolve the issues without breaking the system and further endangering the lives of veterans?  Please let me know in the comments section.

I-CareVA Secretary Denis McDonough signed onto the “I-Care” principles as core values in care for veterans in the VAHCS.  When can we, the veterans, see that these core principles have been onboarded and are correcting behavior?

“VA Core Values describe how VA will accomplish its mission and inform every interaction with our customers. These Core Values are Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence — better known as “I CARE.” VA’s Core Values will continue to serve as the right guide for all our interactions and remind us and others that “I CARE.”

          • I care about those who have served.
          • I care about my fellow VA employees.
          • I care about choosing “the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”
          • I care about performing my duties to the very best of my abilities.

Mr. Secretary…  The veterans are dying now!  We are waiting!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Revisiting Designed Incompetence

Dont Tread On MePlato has a point, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”  When writing about the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, or the United States Postal Service, one must remember, these organizations have been intentionally designed to be as bad as they are.  The government worker refuses accountability, shuns responsibility, and simply wants to exist doing as little as possible for as much as possible.

In the private sector, the employee is expected to shoulder responsibilities, share in the companies struggles, trials, and the eventual victories.  Yet, the government employee is the exact opposite.  I have heard it said that government workers are a necessary evil, a scourge, and a disgrace.  Except, often times the government employee is just a rule follower and the really pernicious and dastardly government employee are those seeking power in their government employment.  The directors, the supervisors, the managers, and the undersecretaries.  The staff that never goes anywhere.  Political appointees come and go, but the staff is a scourge for life.

Never Give Up!While Plato has a point about apathy in public affairs leading to being ruled by evil men, what is lost in the discussion are the staff members.  Tom Clancy wrote about how a jet airliner took out both houses of the Congress, SCOTUS, and Vice President Jack Ryan suddenly found himself as President Ryan, rebuilding the entire US Government.  This Tom Clancy novel takes a person into the inner workings of the US Constitutional Government like no other book I have ever seen.  Best of all, he explains the intoxicating power the staff members, the executive assistants, and undersecretaries hold over the political appointees to hinder progress, stymie change, and control their fiefdoms against all forces of influence.  This is the root of designed incompetence.

What is an excuse?

An excuse is a method to reduce blame attached to an action, defend, or justify one’s actions, an attempt to release one from accountability, or a poor or inadequate example of something.  As children, we are taught excuses are like noses; everyone has one and picking it in public is disgusting.  Yet, when something happens, two types of people emerge, those who make excuses and those who take responsibility and work to fix the problem.

What is designed incompetence?

Designed incompetence is a ready-made excuse for inadequacies created in business operations, a method to avoid responsibility and accountability. Due to the cost of designed incompetence, it is generally only found in government operations.  Designed incompetence can also be intentional actions designed into business operations, so the expected functions are designed to fail purposefully.  Designed incompetence is always harmful and destructive in nature, generally will make no logical sense, and will always be the preplanned leadership fallback position.Apathy

Example of an excuse:

    • The USPS is running slow, so the delivery of mail is taking longer to deliver than usual.
    • COVID has a lot of employees out sick, so operations are slower.
    • The person who wrote the order requesting the work to be completed did not do their jobs properly, and the original order must be rewritten.

Examples of designed incompetence:

    • The VBA communicates using terminology not universal in medicine to intentionally confuse and hinder making appropriate decisions on veterans’ claims.
    • The VHA refuses to write policies and procedures due to a fear of risk; thus, when the VA-OIG investigates, the same recommendation can be made multiple times to write down procedures.  The leadership team can escape accountability for failure.
    • The USPS has mail carriers dumping mail in dumpsters, these employees are protected by the labor union, so the employee can keep their job, move them to a non-letter carrier position.

Designed Incompetence Feeds Inert and Toxic Cultures

Knowledge Check!Designed incompetence is the root cause for the toxic government employee workplace cultures.  When responsibility is shirked, the human psyche feels moral distress, and as the moral distress grows, so to does the self-loathing, self-hate, and feelings of hopelessness.  Worse, some people, who have constantly been ethically challenged or morally bankrupt, will use these feelings of self-loathing to capture power.  Once captured, the power becomes a drug, and that drug is highly addictive.  Thus, a self-fulfilling prophecy from Plato becomes true, “Apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”  The more the morally bankrupt and ethically challenged win power, the bigger an example to others of how to obtain power in government they become.  But the remaining people who do not receive power are left with a toxic workplace, full of inert people.  Motivating inert people in a toxic culture, who are already feeling the stress of acting morally indifferent will leave multi-generational scars on the workforce.

An important point that requires mentioning, “it is not for the lack of money or technology to pinpoint abuses and problems with employees; it is all the inertia of the leadership towards action and the toxic culture which allows and encourages pushing the boundaries that are killing veterans in the VA.”  The same is true for any of the alphabet agencies created by the Federal Government, state government, and local government.  Walk into a DMV and tell me if you cannot sense a toxic and inert culture is driving down customer service levels.  Walk into a welfare office and tell me the people working one side of the counter are not inert.  Worse, walk into any IRS field office and tell me how you feel being around the morally bankrupt and ethically challenged.Plato 2

I met some school board officials in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was appalled at the lack of ethics and morals they displayed.  Judges and lawyers are driving drink and skating accountability because of their positions and so much more.  All because the designed incompetence in government promotes those who have the least reason and ability to be promoted.  Plato is absolutely correct, “The punishment which the wise suffer, who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.”  For too long, government employees have been allowed to run the asylum while the best and brightest pursue goals in the private sector.  If America is to win back her government, the citizen must stand and boldly proclaim “NO!” and then get into government service to change the toxic and inert cultures.

Plato might have been mentioning the following about elected officials, but I find it apt and applicable to the designed incompetence by the staff members, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up governed by your inferiors.”  The first time I met my director as a VA employee, I knew two things, she hated me, and I was doomed to suffer under her inadequacies.  Both of which came true over the following 360-days.  The intransigency of the leadership in administrative positions at the VA is frightening.  Ending these abuses of power is the preeminent position of every citizen in every democratically elected society.

Plato 3The scourge of designed incompetence must end.  If this means eating soup with a knife, then we must eat the bowl of soup to the dregs.  But, we must act if we are to save our countries from the politicians and the staff that have infested our governments!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Perils of a Toxic and Inert Workplace Culture

DutyDandira (2012), in an epic discussion on the origins of organizational cancer, discussed how communication, among other things, breeds organizational cancer.  The author stated what should be obvious, but the government remains oblivious to government agencies and the body’s organizational cancer.  “Responsibility and authority: (the CEO/Executive Chief) he should have the power to hire and fire, especially those who continue to follow the old system of playing political games at the expense of the organization” (Dandira, 2012, p. 191).  Again, while the following is using the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the examples spread like thick peanut butter, or bathtub scum, across all government agencies and NGOs.

Wasting TimeFrom the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector of General (VA-OIG) reports, we find:

Michael Wibracht of San Antonio, Texas, the former owner of several construction companies, defrauded the United States by obtaining government contracts under programs administered by the Small Business Administration for which neither his nor his co-conspirators’ companies were eligible. One co-conspirator, Ruben Villarreal, also of San Antonio, pleaded guilty on Nov. 20, 2020, to participating in the same conspiracy. “The defendants conspired to fraudulently obtain multi-million dollar government contracts under a program designed to benefit service-disabled veterans,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “These guilty pleas send a clear message that individuals and companies who defraud the government contracting process for service-disabled veterans will be held accountable.”

VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal, you are 100% incorrect!  Holding third-party contractors responsible for defrauding the VA does not “send a clear message,” nor will any of the actual problems be addressed; hence the fraud will continue, and the taxpayer and veterans will continue to suffer.  A little research into this story reflects that no VA Employees, who had to have been aware of the schemes and aided and abetted the schemes, have been held accountable for dereliction of duty.  Thus, the fraud will continue, and frankly, I wish you would learn this particular lesson!

VA SealDandira’s (2012) point is the hinge upon which fraud will or will not continue, does the executive heads at the hospital, VISN, and D.C. levels have the power and authority to act?  No; they do not, because Congress refuses to grant this power, while also refusing to scrutinize the government properly!  A convoluted mess that should have already been resolved, but the bureaucrats prefer designed incompetence and inertia to perform any work to improve the culture and accountability to the American Citizen and veterans.

Speaking of a culture needing work, the VA-OIG reports:

Matthew Pizarro, 32, of Stoughton, Massachusetts, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and eight years of supervised release for distribution of fentanyl, one count of distribution of 40 grams or more of fentanyl, and one count of possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack cocaine. Pizarro was indicted in October 2018 and has been in custody since his arrest in August 2018.”

LookSpeaking to the cultural problems allowing for criminal behavior to be accepted as part of the VA’s normal daily operations, consider visiting the following link.  That link will take you to incidents of failure to correct the criminal and toxic culture at the VA starting from 2013.  Not that the culture began in 2013, but that is as far back as the VA is willing to admit the culture extends from.  For example:

Lisa M. Hoffman, 48, a former pharmacy technician at East Orange VA Medical Center in New Jersey, was charged with stealing more than $8.2 million worth of HIV medication. Hoffman used her position to order, then steal, large amounts of HIV medication, which she later sold to an associate for cash.”

Detective 3While the last two examples of toxic culture include individuals, I am always impressed with the lack of integrity and the language games to spin a VA-OIG investigation report to more favorably report a Charlie-Foxtrot!  The VA-OIG investigated the use of virtual appointments for primary care during the COVID Pandemic.  Here’s the issue, before the pandemic, the only people regularly using virtual appointments were the psychologists treating individual patients who had the technology.  My Primary Care Provider (PCP) refused to use virtual appointments until last March.  Even then, my current PCP refuses to diagnose, treat, or even answer general health questions using virtual appointments.  The last three appointments using virtual technology have been technological disasters where the sound cut off and on, the picture cut off and on, random noise was broadcast, and nobody can explain how secure the technology is and how it meets HIPAA requirements.  The VA-OIG is crowing and magnanimous about the growth of virtual care appointments using VA Video Connect (VVC) in the VA.

Worse, the virtual appointments using the VVC technology do not come with technical support, so the veteran is left trying to fix connection issues without guidance and assistance.  Training for the VVC technology is either missing or obsolete, and frustration is the only regular VVC technology product.  Go ahead and crow VA-OIG; the veterans stuck using this garbage should have been part of your survey, and the fact that you refused to obtain the veterans’ input tells much about how respectful the VA is about their patients!

InertiaHere is a real-life example of a toxic culture with inert actors in action. It is reminding me of those “Priceless” MasterCard commercials from a few years back!

This management advisory memo identifies potential risks associated with the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) efforts to expedite adding new staff to meet increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) recognizes the tremendous pressure to hire staff to meet unprecedented needs quickly. To achieve VHA’s goal of bringing all new employees on duty within three days of making a tentative offer, VHA has modified or deferred tasks such as fingerprinting, background investigations, drug testing, credentialing, and preplacement physicals. The potential risks identified by the OIG may threaten VHA’s ability to safeguard veterans’ sensitive information and ensure its workforce is suitable for serving patients at VA medical facilities. The OIG organized these potential risks into three categories: (1) employees who do not have a completed fingerprint-based criminal history check may gain access to sensitive information and controlled substances; (2) delays in processing fingerprints add to a backlog of investigations; (3) onboarding tasks are deferred—such as drug testing and credentialing—that is not being centrally monitored to ensure completion. If realized, these risks could damage the trust veterans have in VA, keeping their information secure and meeting employee suitability standards; this memorandum raises issues for VHA to consider in determining whether vulnerabilities and related processes warrant further review. These include possible changes to centralize governance of deferred actions to improve oversight.”

Scared Eyes!Who says the veterans trust the VA to keep their data secure?  I am amongst thousands of veterans who annually have to track our identity because the VA continues to lose data through the most elementary methods.  Worse, the government is a sieve of escaping personal data from the VA to the OPM; the government keeps losing data.  These VA articles keep mentioning designed incompetence, want to see designed incompetence in action, “VHA has modified or deferred tasks such as fingerprinting, background investigations, drug testing, credentialing, and preplacement physicals… which is not being centrally monitored to ensure completion.”  Change processes, probably never even wrote down the procedures, and then refuse to monitor for completion.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot on that Charlie Foxtrot, over!  Please excuse the military axiom; I am mentally blown away that this was approved, put into operation, and then left alone to fester!  When it is discovered that more criminals and nefarious people were hired, who gets the blame; nobody!  It will be COVID-19’s fault, not a mindless and spineless drone!

Detective 4I am personally aware and have reported both on this blog and to the proper authorities (not that they ever cared or did anything), the HIPAA, EMTALA, and other legal abuses of veterans in several VA Hospitals.  Without improvements in operations and providing authority to clean house for those in leadership positions, the VA’s problems will only worsen.  Please be aware; it is not for the lack of money or technology to pinpoint abuses and problems with employees; it is all the inertia of the leadership towards action and the toxic culture which allows and encourages pushing the boundaries that are killing the VA.  The VA requires a cancer operation, where the potential killing growths are removed and the body allowed to heal—healing through better leaders, better-written procedures and policies, and improved communication chains that promote catching the problems before the VA-OIG!

Reference

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Masculinity is NOT Toxic

Theres moreUsually, when the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) sends me an email, I can understand where the authors are coming from and generally accept what is being discussed.  I might disagree, I might not like the topic, but I can usually understand the premise and then move forward.  Not today!

Holly Althof, writing for SHRM, discusses “How Toxic Masculinity is Ruining Your Workplace Culture: When Leaders Fail to See How Toxic Masculinity Influences Their Teams’ Dynamics, The Whole Organization Will Fail.”  Here’s the rub, the behaviors discussed as “toxic masculinity” are just rude, boorish, and downright abysmal behavior and are behaviors that arise in all genders.  “Men talking over women,” women talking over men, LGBTQ+ talking over everyone, non-gender militancy in the workplace; all of these behaviors are detestable, but only men are accused of being toxic to the workplace.  Wrong!

Frank & Ernest - Government and WomenMen are not the offenders, or rather they are not the only offenders of toxic communication practices in the workplace.  I worked in one toxic call center where a member of the LGBTQ+ community was actively sexually harassing the males on his team.  The leadership refused to believe that any member of the LGBTQ+ community could act in this manner, refused to believe that the higher number of men on his team were leaving due to sexual harassment, and denied any culpability when these men demanded the supervisor/team leader be stopped.  Worse, this person has retained his position and continued to act in a hostile, toxic, and sexually aggressive manner to the men on his teams.

I have written about the boorish and inexcusable behavior of a female lead who physically attacked me, actively harassed me, and discriminated against me in Federal Employment, how she was promoted and awarded for her leadership, and how she continued to make my life hell, even after I ended that work relationship.  This specific incident was fed and made worse by disinformation received by the assistant director and director of the VA Hospital administration we both worked for.  Abhorrent and boorish behavior comes from every gender, and it is past time for authors to recognize and admit the truth; men are not the only perpetrators of bad behavior in the workplace.  Men are simply a usual and easy target for authors, an action and misnomer that must cease!

Ziggy on Political WeatherWhat is Toxic Masculinity?

Dr. Timothy J. Legg provides an excellent example of both toxic masculinity and covers the ever-evolving process to define and categorize behaviors considered as toxic masculinity.  The current, definitive definition of toxic masculinity is “the constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”  However, what eludes Dr. Legg, and Althof is that these are just normal behaviors found in all people, not only men!  Want examples from Dr. Legg of what is considered “Toxic Masculinity:”

      • strength
      • lack of emotion
      • self-sufficiency
      • dominance
      • sexual virility
      • aggression
      • sexual aggression or control
      • showing no emotion or suppressing emotions
      • hyper-competitiveness
      • needing to dominate or control others
      • a tendency towards or glorification of violence
      • isolation
      • low empathy
      • entitlement
      • chauvinism and sexism

B.C. - I thought this was funnySeriously?!?!  Having served in the US Army and US Navy, and having traveled ¾’s of the way around the world, I can claim for certain, with lots of examples to support the conclusion, that all people can take any one or all of those examples of “Toxic Masculinity” and turn the culture of a small team or large organization on their ear!  I have seen women, strong and independent, smart, intelligent, but with an ax to grind, destroy units, and have to be restrained.  I have witnessed enough militant LGBTQ+ members and non-militant LGBTQ+ members wreak havoc on organizations, taking advantage of people’s fear and making the workplace harmful and toxic.  Yes, some men do the same stupid and boorish behaviors; but this is no excuse to single out just men for “Toxic Masculinity.”

What makes no sense, the term “Toxic Masculinity” was created by a men’s group in the 1980s to describe attributes that made a man a man and were refused by society as positive and acceptable.  Now the tyrants of modular language have plasticized the term into any action a male person does that is not the precise response desired by another gender. Phrases like “Man-Up” are considered ridiculous and generate aggression, whereas the term “Woman Up” is seen as liberating and positive expressions of women’s power.  Uwe Poerksen remains correct; when words lose their definitions, terms are plasticized, tyrants of thought police abound, and logic is lost for emotional hyperbole.

Detective 4While Althof attempts to claim toxic masculinity is not a “campaign against men,” the entire article is written from the position that men are the only offenders. Men are the problems, and men are the only ones who show masculinity in the workplace.  I contracted with an organization, a well-known brand, whose CEO was female, most of the board was female at the time, and the organization honestly strove to be a diverse and welcoming culture.  But, critics still called the organization a patriarchal system designed to keep men on top.  Seriously, this was the main complaint against this organization, proving that since you cannot please everyone, stop trying to please anyone!

Before you go ballistic over that last comment, please allow me to explain.  I sincerely believe that one of the most damaging behaviors seen in today’s workplaces is a desire to please everyone.  You see this in diversity and inclusion discussions. You see this in men being marginalized; it is apparent in so many conversations and behaviors that castigated men have become part of the organizational design at a lot of well-known branded companies.  Business requires returning a profit to the stakeholders and shareholders.  Being actively hostile to 50% of the binary gender populations is not conducive to producing a profit, nor does it make any sense.  Hence, since you cannot please everyone, stop trying to please anyone.  Working together towards a common goal, sacrificing personal opinions for a greater effort by a team is referred to as professionalism, and men and women are very good at getting along and making things work.

ReadingMen and women are different; this is acceptable, enjoyable, and makes the world better.  Men and women approach situations from differing angles, and this is also acceptable, enjoyable, and makes the world better.  Trying to force men and women to approach situations from the same perception will only breed hostility, and blaming men for the problems is frankly inexcusable.  The answer is not found in more inclusion and diversity conversations; the answer is found in allowing working together to occur more naturally.  Is this concept clear?

Forcing men to refuse masculinity places the burdens of socially working together solely upon men, which is unfair and blatantly false.  Forcing women to restrict their feminity destroys the potential for better solutions while muzzling female creativity and ingenuity, which is also patently false.  Both binary genders need to express openly, without fear of tyrants belittling them for being different in their approaches and methods of finding solutions; this is the conversation we need to be having in the workplace, not “Toxic Masculinity!”

LookFinally, if you choose to be a member of the non-binary genders, for whatever reason, this is your choice.  Nothing here implies that you do not have a choice or cannot be part of the solutions.  Make your gender choice, enjoy your gender choice, and may the consequences of that choice be acceptable to you.  There is no judgment and no criticisms implied or otherwise; if you choose to take offense, that also is your choice and consequence.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Suicide

LookAmerica lost a soldier last week.  For the second time in my sister’s life, suicide has deeply affected her.  Maybe this article is being written for me; perhaps, this article might help someone struggling, I do not know.  I know that suicide deeply affects everyone involved, some carry guilt over another person’s suicide to the grave, and others will always feel sad and empty.  Suicide hurts!

When I served Active-Duty US Army, I was a Chaplain’s Assistant.  My duties were mostly clerical in nature, but I supported every soldier’s beliefs, regardless of their religious belief or flavor.  I loved that job; I sat on the front lines between religion and personal faith, and often my duties were most impactful as I held the hands of grieving people.  I held up the weak knees, lifted hands that hung down, and tried to help people.  I was not perfect then, I am not perfect now, but I can say I did the job.  Like all of life, there is a cost to be paid, and many times that cost is very high!

As a Chaplain’s Assistant, my education included psychology, trauma, hidden wounds, and spotting and helping people seek professional help.  I was often a resource to community support, options, and many times just a listening ear.  Frequently, my day began after I closed the chapel and went downrange, off base, and walked among my fellow soldiers in various bars throughout Dongducheon, S. Korea.  Where I heard about love life’s, extra-marital affairs, affairs gone sour, divorces, pay problems, and every stress known to deployed soldiers.

ToolsBecause I was frequently downrange, I heard about unit problems, offered suggestions, and tried to help the people that make up an Army.  I was handling a situation in my own unit the night a soldier drank himself into alcohol poisoning and died; only later was it discovered the soldier wanted to commit suicide and did not know how except through drinking.  I was not downrange the night a young soldier walked in front of a very large truck; he survived his suicide attempt and received the help he needed.  I hope he is better!

I was supposed to be getting a vehicle ready to take the chaplain to see a training exercise.  Instead, I was in a Quonset Hut, sitting beside some medics who were trying to help their buddy not step in front of a tank.  They found his note, found me, grabbed hold of that soldier, and saved a life.  I was proud to take the Article 15 UCMJ action my chaplain ordered, my friend the medic got the help he needed from a friendlier chaplain and our Battalion Commander.  I am not bragging in relating these episodes, and I do not have aspirations of grandeur that I could have helped.  I describe them because problems with suicide lurk just beneath the calm waters that surround each of us.

I was not in the country of S. Korea when my mechanic friend accidentally hit a little girl who darted out into traffic, and my friend could not stop the truck he was driving in convoy in time.  Unfortunately, I lost track of my friend, but I grieve with him over this event in his life.  The calm waters always hide problems, rocky shoals, traumatic events, and much more.  This brings up the first and most principal point; suicide has long been portrayed poorly by media, Hollywood, and popular culture.

Thin Blue LineUnfortunately, the media, Hollywood, and popular culture get paid to get suicide wrong, and will not change.  As a kid, I was expected to be like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Marlon Brando.  Strong, tough, unyielding, and capable!  Then, Hollywood and the media said this was too stressful, labeled masculinity as toxic, and all men were suddenly supposed to be some mix of Pee-Wee Herman, Rudolph Valentino, and Rock Hudson.  Now, men are appendages, sex toys for women, or other men, and absolutely spineless.  How does this apply to suicide?  Where are the examples, the role models, and those people a person can look up to and see good or emulate?

When I was in Junior High School, I planned to kill myself and make it look like an accident.  I knew where, I knew how, I was not going to leave a note, and on the day of the planned event, a friend saw me walking home from school and offered me a ride.  We talked, not about anything important, but by the time we reached my house, I knew I could not commit suicide to escape my home life.  I looked for role models of who I wanted to be, there were plenty to choose from, and I slowly took the best of each of them and created a life.  I was exceedingly blessed to have such an amazing friend!  Long have I tried to be the same for others.

When counseling those who had tried or were considering suicide, one of the questions I was commonly asked usually was framed like, “Who do I look up to?”  Too often followed by a story of a broken home, abuse, failures at sports, pressures to perform, the list is endless.  Role models are essential, role models are needed, but do you steer a child to model the president, a governor, an athlete, etc.; not bloody likely!  Hence one of the foundational problems in our society is a dearth of role models.  People committed to living honorably where the media talk about them, instead of the latest athlete bashing his girlfriend’s face in an elevator.

Friends QuoteOne of the best pilots recently died.  His story was pointed out to me, his exploits became legend, and his skills were the stuff of dreams and fanciful imaginations.  Chuck Yeager could and did do things to an airplane that caught and held my imagination.  The world lost a great and talented man, I lost a person I would love to call a friend, and we never met!

Hollywood and the Media keep getting the story wrong on suicide because of the toxic culture they have invented to punish good, demean the strong, handicap the great, and dumb down the wise.  We see the results daily.  Sports figures beating up their domestic partners, drugging, or merely acting like a spoiled brat.  From politicians that cannot respect each other or their constituents, Hollywood types acting like puerile rubes off camera.  Magazines are selling sex like a new toy to America’s continuing issues with drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, and alcohol.  Every waking moment is filled with toxicity, acting like acid on the mind, detracting from the good, and creating unequal comparisons through social media that can never be matched.

CourageI talked to a depressed person, a guy who got so lost in comparing his life to his friends’ lives on Instagram and Facebook, he was contemplating suicide.  He said it started when he was 11 or 12, first with girls, then the size of his manhood, his inability to be good at sports, his mid-level grades, and the pressures just kept building.  This same person was a Force Recon Marine, had battle badges, and an amazing service record.  Because he could not raise his personal value to meet social media demands, he considered himself a failure.  I sincerely hope he is doing better now.

A friend of mine in the U.S. Navy got caught in the same comparison problem, devised a method to get more money through housing allowances, and got caught.  He is in Leavenworth now, I lost track of his wife and kids, and my friend got lost.  He should be getting out of Fort Leavenworth later this year.  I wish him the best of luck!  Between toxic culture and a lack of role models, Hollywood, and the media, including social media, have a stranglehold on people, and suicides keep increasing!

Another factor in suicide rates is the increasing lack of a nuclear family.  Not to say that a nuclear family is all roses and lollipops, but every democratic society worldwide is suffering from a staggering increase in broken homes through murder/suicide, divorce, hookup culture, and friends with benefits lifestyles, add in homosexuality and gender fluidity.  It is no wonder people are confused, and single parenthood and suicide continue to climb.  When religious decline due to media attacks on religious thought and standards are added to the equation, it is not a wonder that more people are contemplating and committing suicide.  There is no wonder why depression and anxiety are rising steadily as mental diseases.

Duty 3I will offer some ideas for consideration, both to aid in reducing suicide and to aid in helping those struggling.  Of a truth for certain, I contemplated suicide in late December 2020, and had it not been for mental mechanisms installed through learning; I would not be here typing this article.  These ideas for consideration are things I daily apply to help me.  Hence, when I ask you to consider these ideas, I am in the same trenches, doing the same things, and working right alongside you.

    1. Most importantly, find a religion you can live.  There are hundreds of flavors of religious belief systems.  Experiment until you find one that works for you. Faith helps by placing a buffer between how you think and how you act while supplying a why as a motivating force towards action.  Believe it or not, even atheism is a religion; it’s just really hard to live.
    2. Unplug the TV, disconnect from social media, and spend at least one day a week technology-free. Your mind needs to rest from all the inputs of modern living.  Choose a day, any day that works for you is perfect, and put down the cellphone, walk away from the computer, turn off the TV, and plug into mental relaxation.  Make cookies; I used to pound bread dough, do something where your activity levels are up, your mind is down, and you are not plugged in.
    3. Reduce your social media commitments. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., are time sponges where you will spend a ton of time trying to compare, keep up, stay afloat, and you never will succeed!  It is okay to end social media commitments!  It is perfectly normal to have a life not posted every 20-seconds to Instagram or another social media platform.
    4. Reach out to people, real people. Use letters, emails, phone calls, or walk down the street and talk with a complete stranger.  I find that when I am reaching out, I am not as self-conscious and not as depressed.  One of my favorite activities is to go to a long-term care facility and ask people about their lives.  I have met incredible people; I have learned, laughed, cried, and celebrated lives that have reached their pinnacle.
    5. Mental toxicity feeds upon what comes into our bodies through the senses and social environments. Change music genres.  Change the authors you read.  Change the magazines to which you subscribe.  Change social settings.  If you are struggling with mental toxicity, change something small and watch how impactful that small item becomes.  A friend of mine is oft to quote, “It’s a matter of a few degrees;” there is a cool story on the internet that accompanies this quote.

Regardless, please talk to someone if you are hurting and thinking about suicide.  Please listen to your friends and close associates.  Do not be scared to ask, bluntly, baldly, openly, “Are you considering something?”  An acquaintance related to me a story where a friend saw something, asked bluntly and saved a life.  On the phone one night, I talked to a friend; he mentioned he was considering swallowing his shotgun and hung up.  I called 911 and asked for a health and welfare check, stated what I heard, and waited anxiously for the authorities to call me back.  Eventually, they did; they helped my friend.  I am exceedingly grateful for the first responders who too often are the front line when suicide happens.

Detective 4I am going to offer one other idea for consideration.  Every time you hear a siren or see flashing lights offer a prayer for the first responders and those involved.  The prayer does not have to be grand and eloquent; your religious flavor does not matter; we are all connected, and those responding can sure use the help.  When you see a medic/EMT/Paramedic, Firefighter, Police officer/Sheriff, please thank them.  The suicide rates among first responders are incredibly high and always tragic.  Nothing grand or embarrassing, just a simple word of kindness will help the first responders in your area.  Until injuries took me, I used to be a first responder as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!  May God bless and keep you!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.