Take Time To Be Present aka Turn The Damn Cell Phone Off

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the funeral of two high school friends’ mother. I call it a privilege because this was no somber mournfest. This was a celebration of life and love. In fact, it was so good, it made me regret not taking time to get to know their mother better when I had the chance.

The pastor recalled how when the mother learned her cancer had recurred she came to him and told him her diagnosis, the treatment, and that if didn’t work she’d die. Then she said something he hadn’t heard in twenty years of ministry. “I’m ready. Like anyone, I’d like more time. But I can deal with all of that. What I need your help for is helping me to walk my husband and family through this with me.”

Yep. The woman had been given horrible news about her life and possible death and he first concern was helping her loved ones.

But that’s the kind of person she was. And the more he talked about her life and joys, the more moving it became.

Until that cell phone rang.

And not only did it ring, but the guy reached for it then let it ring. He didn’t shut it off right away.

First of all, it ruined the moment. Which is selfish and disrespectful to say the least.

Second, if you left work in the middle of the day to come to a funeral, what’s so important that you can’t at least put your cell phone on vibrate?

Or better yet…turn the damn cell phone off.

The funeral isn’t about you. It’s about honoring a woman and her loved ones. I hadn’t seen my friends in twenty years, but I went because I remembered them well. Because of the closeness once experienced by me and them and by our parents who were colleagues. I went to show my respect, my support, and my caring. I didn’t want anything in return. I drove forty-five minutes each way, took ninety minutes out of my day. It’s a sacrifice, yes. But is that too much to ask?

I remember when my birth mother and grandmothers died. The people who surprised you by showing up just to let you know they care often were the ones whose presence meant the most.

And in this case, I was all the more blessed by the message of a life well lived. I’m sure I got more out of my presence than the family did. And what a blessing.

But thanks to the bozo who disturbed the moment. He didn’t ruin it for me, but he did interject a bit of a reminder of how selfish and stupid people can be into things.  The opposite of the person being recognized and honored, in fact.

Taking time to be present is a lost art these days, I think. But it’s so important and meaningful, I think we all should learn to do it more often.

Making time for others is an act of kindness, respect and love that means so much and takes so little. I still got my editing and work done that day. I just had to schedule around it. And in doing so, I got to see some old friends and get insight into their family I never would have had in a way that brought admiration and joy despite their sad loss.

Oh, they were all happy to see me and we spent time catching up, for sure. I even saw another high school friend.

But the most important thing was to be present in the moment and join with them. That’s why I went. It’s kinda why I assumed everyone went, and the service was well attended. Except the cell phone guy. He was too busy to make time, apparently. At least, that’s what the cell phone rings and his response implied. And it’s too bad.

One of my pet peeves in church and movie theatres has always been people who can’t be bothered to silence their cells. My dad’s a doctor and can’t turn off his cell or pager, but he always had a headphone earpiece he wore to keep them from disturbing anyone else. If he had to talk, he’d quietly slip out and do what he needed to do, then return.

I wish more people had such manners these days. Because sometimes people need your presence. They need your attention. They deserve your respect.

Turning off the damn cell phone is just one indication that you want to be there, that they deserve and have your respect, and that being there at that moment is priority number one.

Is that too much to ask to honor the life of someone?

I hope not.  If it is, maybe don’t bother. Don’t ruin the moment for everyone else. Don’t call attention to your lack of dedication. Just don’t come.

At least that’s what I’d do.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.


Why Is Respecting Others So Hard?

I like to post things which are interesting on my Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, etc. I do it because they made me think and perhaps others will think, too. I hang with a lot of writers and smart people who like to think, so my assumption is, maybe they’ll find this interesting. Just because I post it doesn’t mean I want to get in a long drawn out debate. GooglePlus allows you to disable comments, a feature I really like. Facebook doesn’t. You just have to block people. So I recently posted something and stated: posting this to make you think. I don’t want to debate it. What happens? Someone takes me on immediately.

Now, ironically, this happened on GooglePlus and I hadn’t turned off comments. I figured, why should I have to? People should respect each other. Well, they don’t. And you know, that’s pathetically sad. It indicative of a general cultural problem which has divided our country and our world.

Why do people feel the need to attack everyone they disagree with? I have friends who cross the spectrum of beliefs from gay to straight, religious to Atheist to Agnostic, African to American to Mexican to Brazilian, none of whom are the same and none of whom believes exactly as I do. I don’t go attacking them every time they post something. I respect their right to disagree. If they want to disagree, fine. But personal attacks are so common. Why? I thought we treasured free speech and individualism in this country? Why is everyone so threatened?

I’m not asking why everyone is angry. I’m furious at being constantly disrespected for what I believe. I am furious at being called a bigot and all kinds of things by people who stereotype a group some of my beliefs align me with and generalizing that I must be like the most extreme members of said group. They don’t know but they assume. And it’s infuriating. It’s insulting. I feel bullied. I have always marched to a different drummer. I resent being told I’m just like everyone else because, frankly, I try really hard not to be. I work at it.

So why do we have such a hard time respecting other people today? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you this much: it often seems like civil conversation is impossible these days and it’s unpleasant to live in a world like that. I think we can do better. I think we should do better. I think it’s worth the effort. And I wish more people agreed and would make the effort. Because the guy who did this to my post tried to force a discussion I said I didn’t want to have. And although I like and respect this person, I feel beaten up and disrespected by his actions. I feel bullied. And that’s not a good feeling.

For what it’s worth…

Networking & First Impressions

This blog is focused on writing–craft, business and careers. And part of any successful writing career is networking. When you work in a creative business, you run into a lot of people whose ideas and approaches differ from your own. Not only their approaches to life but to art, politics, religion, etc. My being a Christian in science fiction, a world full of scientists, makes it an interesting experience sometimes. I know there are people I consider friends who find my religious views ignorant and even sad. I feel the same about their Atheism, even worse about Agnosticism. But I try really hard not to let that show, because, in the end, what draws us together is more important to me than what separates us. Not just because we are human but also because we are writers. Maybe I admire their craft, their voice, or their business acumen. Maybe I admire their scientific knowledge, their experience–it could be any number of things. Whatever it may be, religious differences are not going to cause me to think less of them as friends or respect them less. Unless, they disrespect me.

And I have been disrespected, but so far rarely by people I thought of as friends. There are people in this world, to my surprise, who actually think they can surmise enough from looking at you for five minutes to decide if they will ever like you. And like stubborn mules–in both actions and wisdom–they stick to it. Neither movement of heaven nor movement of Earth will change their opinions. That’s just the way it is.

Personally, I find the immature, selfish and stupid. BUT people like that exist.

I had one experience where this person, a beginning writer who happened to have co-edited an anthology, snubbed me at an event for the antho. I had several friends in the anthology and went to support them. Took pictures, etc. Afterwards, I politely went up to introduce myself, and never have I felt such cold outside of a snowstorm or perhaps a zoo’s Penguin exhibit. It was just a rude, cold “nice to meet you” stated only because of social mores, then a quick turn away and ignoring.

And you know what? I will probably never buy a book by that person, RT a link promoting their story or interview them for #sffwrtcht or any such thing because I just can’t respect that. Ironically, I had several people come up later and tell me they saw how I was treated and felt it was ridiculous. They thought that person was shallow and fake and had no respect for it. That’s the impression that person made.

You don’t have to like or even be friends with everyone you meet in the world. No, not even in a creative business like publishing. But I would say you should damn well learn to keep those feelings to yourself and treat them with respect. You never know who the person is who could help or hurt your career and you never know who else is watching. It can come back and hurt you. Maybe not now but what about in ten years. People don’t forget things like that. Especially not a first impression. Oh yes, you can PMS or whatever guys call it sometimes with people you know well. You can be out of sorts from a crisis. But when you just treat people rudely for no good reason, you show your lack of respect for other people on a general level in a way no one who witnesses it will ever forget.

And that’s bad for business. It also creates awkward situations. I have a number of friends who like, pal around with and call this person friend. In fact, some of them include this person in their “in” group in ways they never include me. It’s disappointing, because you feel left out and you feel like they don’t respect you as much. But on other hand, it sometimes makes me question why they don’t see what I see?. It’s not a one time thing,  by the way. This person has continued to treat me badly or virtually ignore me since.  I continue to respect and like those friends because of many reasons so I don’t hold it against them. It doesn’t really matter because I don’t want to be around that writer anyway nor anyone else with such a crappy attitude toward people. Doesn’t matter what the person thinks of me or why they don’t like me, I know for a fact I never did anything but treat them with respect and offer encouragement and the reaction I received just shows a lack of class and a total lack of understanding of networking.

I use this not to complain about it but as an example of what not to do.

Some of you might be saying “maybe the person is just introverted and bad in social situations.” I’d buy that if the behavior hadn’t continued. Yes, many introverted writers struggle in these situations. I do too. Work on it. You can only use introversion so far as an excuse. Do you really want to lose opportunities because of it? It’s like any other weakness, something you need to learn to overcome as best you can.

Part of networking is leaving people with the impression “he or she is cool and might be fun to work with” or “that’s a person I enjoyed chatting with.” This is so that the next time they see you, they’ll smile and actually be glad and maybe even remember your name. And those kinds of connections can lead to all kinds of opportunities. I can’t tell you how many times people I haven’t seen in over a decade have opened doors for me or introduced me to important people. All because of a first impression. All because of respect. That has even happened with people I don’t remember liking that much. Sometimes I like them now very much, just not who they were then. And sometimes my opinion hasn’t changed. But who cares. There’s no law saying everyone you know has to be someone you like but there is an unwritten law that every person deserves the same respect you want back from them. And by violating that, you can create long term repercussions which can hurt you career. Do you really want to do that?

In life, as in business, “who you know” can be very important. So next time you go to a workshop or a Con or even a restaurant, remember how important it is to treat everyone with the same kindness you’d like to be treated. Forget your personal feelings for a moment. If they are not your cup of tea, don’t have them over for dinner or hang out with them, etc. But don’t let yourself be rude to them. Don’t badmouth them because of some personal vibe. Just keep it to yourself, be polite, and you never know what will happen.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned from being in the creative/entertainment business since 1987. It’s always served me well and it’ll serve you, too.

For what it’s worth…