Saturn Moon

Yet Another PHP Template Engine

I created a brand new, lightweight template engine. I immediately received a flood of comments from friends and from other developers as to why I would re-invent the wheel and develop yet another template engine. However, despite all of the wonderful options in existence, they all seemed to be solving a slightly different problem than  the ones I was trying to address. They look great on paper, and in practice, they are. But there are situations that simply need something more streamlined. And that’s what a template engine does best: Streamlines the design process. 

So, what is a template engine? 

Web pages are always served to the browser in the form of HTML documents. What isn’t so visible is the backend logic to generate  this page. In many cases, the logic is very simple and the page is nearly static (almost fully pregenerated). In other cases, it’s generated on the fly by a CMS (such as WordPress) and can change on each page load. 

It’s a general rule of thumb to keep your HTML separate from your PHP. Your program logic should not be intermingled directly with your presentation logic, so to speak. In other words, you should have all your HTML separated from your application, in its own template file. They should be two separate systems, intermingled by function, not by form. 

This is important because it allows changes to the application logic to be fully decoupled from changes to the website’s design. It also allows new themes/designs to operate completely independently of the application logic itself. Management is easy with a properly decoupled architecture. 

Two Schools of Thought. 

In the PHP templating realm, there are two widely held views that arise. These two views both have passionate adherents who will provide a multitude of reasons for their opinions. And in a sense, neither is wrong. 

  1. Have a highly advanced template engine and store a large amount of logic directly within HTML files. 
  2. Use RAW PHP and the “bare-metal” tools available. 

The first school of thought has largely become the industry standard. Most applications are bundled with highly robust, professionally maintained engines. However, as it turns out, the second school of thought has not totally fallen by the wayside. PHP is (quite literally) a legitimate template engine all on its own. It’s hard to discuss native templates without someone quickly mentioning PHP’s competence for the job (or lack thereof). In fact, native, raw templates can do almost anything that the world-renowned players such as Twig can (albeit with messier syntax). These template engines don’t provide new functionality as much as they provide a wealth of convenience. And in their convenience is their value. 

The advanced template engines of the modern day (Twig, Blade, Smarty, and so forth) did not arise in a vacuum. They serve an immensely useful purpose, and are extremely powerful tools for any web developer. They allow the design workflow to be seamlessly developed without refactoring application code, giving developeres and designers alike the freedom to create captivating websites for the 21st century. 

But there are many mature options on the market. So many that the choices are practically endless. It’s hard to imagine any application need that cannot be covered generously by multiple widely respected open-source projects. With such a market saturation, it seems laughable to delve into a “solved problem” and to tackle the problem with a fresh set of eyes. But that’s exactly what I endeavored to do.  And this post will discuss exactly why. 

The nature of Too Much Syntax. 

The value of a modern template engine is in its convenience. There is very little that a raw PHP template can’t do. Albeit, probably with difficulty, but it’d be possible. 

There are a handful of basic principles I follow when designing templates:

  1. I should be focused solely on design and presentation. The goal should be theme/layout work
  2. The logic should exist if it’s needed. More advanced logic should go into the PHP code, not the template. 
  3. Syntax must be readily easy to read and write. 
  4. The template engine must not be a language within a language. 
  5. The template engine must be lightweight. 

With these criteria, I came up with a small list of features that were essential. 

  1. Loops. These are highly useful for almost any template. 
  2. Basic If/ Else if / Else expressions
  3. Language variables 
  4. Standard variables
  5. Simple inheritance (load a template that loads other templates)
  6. Auto escaping (XSS prevention)
  7. Fast performance 

Addressing Software Bloat

Unfortunately,  it seemed that the most mature template engines of the market actually fit the bill the least. They were practically programming languages. And not small ones. They had a multitude of complex syntax structures to learn. 

Over time, I found myself designing my application around my template engine, rather than utilizing the template engine for my application. I found this to be concerning and detrimental to my development workflow. As important as presentation is, the application itself can be presented multiple ways, and should be presentation-agnostic. Unfortunately, I found that the most advanced template engines on the market were the least platform-agnostic in terms of general presentation principles. The entire application ended up being heavily designed around the syntax of the template. 

In with the New

I solved this problem by writing an entirely new engine from scratch. It is streamlined, fast, and simple. It has the features that I needed most, and was designed specifically around the workflow of my applications. The end result: 

  • 166 lines of code. 
  • Feature packed template engine with simple syntax
  • Lightning fast parser/compiler – caches templates for native execution
  • 6.55KB of code

And it featured all of the constructs that were necessary. Template backreferences (my implementation of inheritance), loops, if/else blocks, language strings, standard variables, auto escaping, and a built in compiler were all implemented all within one tiny 6.55KB, 166 line file. 

It had convenience. Enough to allow me to focus on design. And perhaps its best selling point was that it let PHP do what PHP does best: evaluate code. 

In fact, the engine has a direct compiler to convert pretty syntax to PHP-native syntax. It is, in essense, a compiler to generate native, raw PHP templates. This allows the syntax to stay relatively close to the application logic paradigms that PHP tends to follow, keeping the format familiar and easy to understand. It also allowed the template engine to be fast and feature-packed without becoming bloated. 

So far, it has served me well. I am currently working on multiple projects to employ my brand new template engine. And it has saved me time and allowed me to focus on what I enjoy most: Development. 

I encourage others to check out similar template engines for simple development projects. They are often easy to integrate, lightweight, and feature packed. If you need ideas or a place to start, you are welcome to check out our own homegrown engine on Github. It has everything you need, sells you the convenience you want most, and gets out of your way for the rest. 

Check out Simple Templates on GitHub! 

Melodyne – The Autotune we Don’t Hear

Autotune is many times more popular than commonly thought. In spite of the Cher/T-Pain effect permeating the Hip Hop industry with robotic vocals, Autotune was surprisingly designed for an entirely different purpose: Natural, transparent, and genuine vocals.

Instead, we commonly associate it with the extreme settings that result in the Cher Effect, where the pitch correction is set to do a 100% hard correction at a 0ms delay, completely removing any transitions that would ordinarily softly glide notes to the singer’s notes.

 

Autotune, however, is used more often for non-robotic, transparent vocals. More often than even Autotune, the industry has settled with an alternative tool called Melodyne

What is Melodyne? 

In short, it’s post-production pitch correction software. It is an audio editor that allows each individual note to be edited by hand. It can be slightly adjusted or massively shifted. Vibrato can be added or removed. Wobbly notes can be made smoother. Notes in the wrong formant (sounding too low or high) can be adjusted, and loudness problems can be smoothed out. 

It’s so powerful that it is now used on almost every song that can be heard on the radio today. Very few artists completely avoid using this elusive tool. Even live performances are touched up. Producers often correct a singer’s vocals without their knowledge, and fewer takes are required in the studio to get a good vocal. The tool is both incredibly powerful and industry-changing. 

What could go wrong? 

Unfortunately, there is another slight issue with the pervasiveness of pitch correction software: The human voice isn’t designed to hit the note 100% on target, every single time. 

Any song from the 70s,, 80s, and 90s has natural pitch imperfections as a result of singers naturally singing a little sharp or flat on a note. Our ears were used to hearing these imperfections. They did not sound out of tune, but rather gave the song a certain expressiveness from the singer. 

Nowadays, we remove many of these imperfections with post-production software. Notes are hit 100% on-target thanks to Melodyne and Autotune, and our ears are no longer accustomed to hearing the natural imperfections and nuances of the voice. 

The end result is that a live performance is shocking compared to the studio performances. Good singers are now slammed as being untalented simply for being unable to reach an impossible standard. Even live performances are usually touched up in the studio afterwards as a result, and it has simply become the expectation of the industry to have brushed up vocals. 

Because of its pervasiveness in the industry, we’ve lost a certain touch and feel with the vocals that exist within newer songs. And while it has allowed good vocals to be released from songs that otherwise had poor takes, it can result in artificial sounding mixes as seen in Michael Jackson’s posthomous records (where producers over-processed his vocals using such tools): 

Producers of Michael Jackson’s posthomous work used Melodyne extensively, resulting in the over-processed sound that is not typical of Michael Jackson’s work.

Pitch correction is a double edged sword. 

It’s given the industry the ability to take poor live performances and make them great. It’s given recorded TV performances the ability to screw up a little in front of the camera while still being released in good shape. And it has allowed great artists to record fantastic songs without needing the talent to be American Idol singers out of the box. It has been a huge tool used by the industry to enable fantastic vocals to come from anyone. 

The only downside is that when used incorrectly, it results in nuances and imperfections being removed, and thereby changing the character of the song. Its pervasiveness in the industry has become something that we must simply accept: It is here to stay, and our ears are accustomed to hearing it. It is no feasibly possible for a singer to sound “in tune” without the processing our ears have become primed to hear. 

Insults Never Win The Wise

Insults are the bioweapons of today’s culture war. We are fighting turmoil worse than has been seen in many decades. It’s a witch hunt on both sides of the aisle, and as someone who has talked extensively to people from both sides, I’ve come to one conclusion above all else. Insults can never be used in lieu of a logical argument. Those who resort to them rarely have a sound argument to stand upon at all. 

The instant, logical question to follow this is with regards to whether insults are ever warranted. And the answer, perhaps, is that of course insults have their place. But we must be able to answer a critical question: Why? Why, this time, is this insult warranted? 

Oddly, we quite often see a situation where insults and personal attacks are made entirely in-place of any logical stance whatsoever. And therein lies the beginnings of our problems, where we have completely bogus arguments and illogical stances being taught in our schools as facts. And we accept them blindly because we are fooled by nature of the egregious attacks that are made against us. But all too often, we can never answer the question: Why? 

We are in for a surprise. 

We are so busy fighting each other that we’ve forgotten that we may one day face a FAR worse enemy that we have not yet conceived. Massive uprisings or authoritarian governments do not rise within a vacuum. In the wake of turmoil within society, we’ve laid the foundations for something much more sinister.  Moral authoritarianism is being planted in plain sight, and it’s not something that history judges lightly. 

So, with insults, doxxing, and censorship now being the bioweapons of today’s war between two radically different worldviews, let’s example the nature of our mode of attack. Let’s break down the  elements of these attacks that make them effective. Let’s determine why they work, and why they are dangerous. 

Arguments today essentially depend upon: 

  1. Hurling enough insults to intimidate your opponent
  2. Framing their arguments as “hate speech” – something they undeniably detest, and therefore silencing them. 
  3. Doxxing/censoring people
  4. Creating faulty premises that force your opponent to arrive at a faulty conclusion. 

It’s easy to see the other side as the “guilty one” when reading the above, but both sides do this. Not only this, but both sides do it excessively and rarely look in the mirror. The truth gets lost in the madness, and we may never find out if an argument is worth its salt. 

What is missing? In short, it lacks any logical premises at all. Intimidation is used in lieu of evidence, logic, and facts. 

We have failed to answer the critical question: Why? 

90% of the time, those resorting to insults are doing so because they have no credible arguments left. They are counting on you to care too much about your reputation and image. They are counting on you to be afraid of being framed in a negative light. They are counting on you to be unable to dodge sham arguments with facts. 

And sadly, too many people fall for it. It becomes a powerful form of distraction, and we forget to examine whether an argument is established upon a sound foundation. We forget to examine an argument critically, as we so often train our students in Academia to do. 

The secret to changing the game is to examine the premises.

Deconstruct a faulty argument from the foundations, not from the rooftops. It’s a curveball. It’s not one they expect. And it’s not one they can dodge with insults. Use the very premises that they present, and examine them to arrive at the truth, rather than on an arbitrary stance. 

And this works because it forces the discussion to examine the reasons for an argument, and not just the tip of the iceberg. Only in examining the reasons can we arrive at a consensus that fully understands the viewpoint. We reject the snuck premises that cause us to arrive at illogical conclusions without knowing why. 

And all-too-often, we build mountains on sand. The very foundations that an entire ideology is based upon are faulty and weak, and yet we push them as fact to today’s young and old. And it works. It works because they frame any dissent as unjustified, egregious skepticism. They gaslight the critical man into believing that their experiences are hateful and unjust.

But why? 

And that’s a question that, all too often, the bully is unprepared to answer. Because to do so would be to self-incriminate. 

Insults can never win over the wise. 

Rest in Peace, Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor (a 26-year old medical technician who was killed in her sleep during March) has been a closely watched story for several months. The court case has been followed very broadly in the recent weeks, and Louisville is under a state of emergency in response to the grand jury ruling. Today, that ruling was made: Only one officer was indicted, and it was on a relatively unrelated charge. Sadly, justice has not truly been served. 

This indictment was for only one of the three officers involved in the March apartment raid, and was for the unrelated charge of firing bullets and risking neighbor’s property. If convicted guilty by the court, this charge that carries 1-5 years in jail and does not mention Breonna Taylor, and is completely unrelated to her killing.  It does not feel as though justice was served. Manslaughter would have been a much more appropriate and just indictment. 

Makestation and Saturn-moon both support our first responders, men and women in uniform, and our government officials. However, we also strongly believe in racial equality. Racism has no place in our society. When the government officials, first responders, and court officials show racial prejudice, we believe it is society’s job to speak out on the behalf of those for whom discrimination has affected. Sadly, when discrimination and sytematic racism arise, they are often a symptom of cultural prejudice at a much deeper level, and it must be addressed on a large, society-wide scale.

In this case, we feel the story of Breonna Taylor is exceptionally tragic. We pray that she one day will receive the justice she deserves. In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the movement to end systematic racism in our society, and offer my condolences.

Rest in Peace, Breonna Taylor. 

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Identifying Truth in an Objectively Complicated World

I used to sell cars. In this industry, a lot is taught about selling ideas, products, and most importantly, yourself. The lessons learned are profound and ultimately bring light to the fact that people can easily be manipulated into believing things that aren’t based entirely on fact. 

Why does this happen? It’s largely perspective and framing, but it also involves the reasoning process behind why someone believes as they do. It’s not just objective facts that count. It’s the entire process that brings people into making sense of them. Beliefs come from somewhere, and it’s usually not just based on evidence. 

Ultimately, I find that we most often pick an opinion based on a personal experience, affiliation, or feeling, and then seek evidence to confirm it. We spend years defending viewpoints as they were taught to us, and we ignore evidence that is on the contrary. After all, contrary evidence doesn’t follow the belief system that we subscribe to. It doesn’t follow the logical reasoning process that brought us to our own beliefs. 

The most influencial factors include personal experiences, along with personal affiliations. High school cliques operate around this principle. A leader (or “alpha”) is in charge of controlling how the group behaves, dresses, acts, and engages with its peers. The group’s following tends to be biased towards the viewpoint and belief system of the alpha by affiliation. There is a cost associated with disagreeing and defecting from their group. That cost is disapproval. 

People are rarely inclined to change their viewpoints because there is often a cost associated with doing so. Confirmation bias causes people to view evidence through a lens of truth, and evidence that is to the contrary is instantly labeled as faulty. Truthfully, not everything is objective. Almost everyone will argue that their belief system was built upon evidence and facts, but most will never stray from some sort of confirmation bias. We always look for the evidence that proves us right. 

How Facts are Framed

I’m a religious person, but I also consider other viewpoints and am always evaluating. Everyone claims they are right, and while there is most certainly an objective truth, we cannot simply listen without evidence and be assured that one particular viewpoint is “it.” I ask a number of religious leaders from different faiths to explain their viewpoints and beliefs as a means of searching for answers in a complicated world. I was talking to one particular leader a few months back, and I walked away being told that “to be open minded is a sin. God doesn’t want us seeking truth elsewhere.”

This is an example of framing. It’s a psychological manipulation technique that relies on framing a situation in terms of what we fear the most. In this case, it’s disapproval of God. They attempted to frame open-mindedness as something that God disapproves of, and therefore, by me not listening to them with closed ears and unequivocally accepting it as truth, I was earning God’s disapproval. The fear is strong enough to keep many people in cult religions today. Many of these religious cults (including those that involved mass suicides with the belief of imminent salvation afterwards) have manipulated their members much like this. 

Reasonably speaking, truth is truth. We shouldn’t need to be closed-minded to protect the truth. If their words were the truth, they would be very comfortable telling people to have an open mind. It would be based on evidence, and it would arrive at the conclusion that they expect. 

What I’ve done here is I’ve realistically looked at this viewpoint from the opposite perspective than the one that was framed to me. I asked “What if this is false? How would people need to defend it? What behaviors would we expect to see?” And framing tactics that were employed on me during this conversation marked the list. This sort of thing is exactly the kind of behavior one could expect from those defending beliefs that they are unsure of. 

This is, in part, how we are controled by mass media and by our leaders alike. Facts exist, but the facts we hear aren’t always the facts that represent truth. It’s not only what they tell us that counts. It’s also what they don’t. Omission speaks louder than words.

Deconstructing the Frame

An excercise that I often give people to identify truth in tricky situations involves playing a modified form of devil’s advocate. A perfect example of this is practical on the job. Almost every month, someone comes to me asking for advice. They’d like to know how they are performing on the job, and whether their job is at risk. As soon as their manager tells them anything positive, they jump to conclusions and assume that they are safe. As soon as they are in trouble for something minor, they assume they will shortly be fired. Sadly, when there is a lot of turnover on my job, these questions are asked more frequently than I would wish to admit. 

To identify the truth here, we need to ask ourselves not to look for evidence that our jobs are secure, but to look for evidence that our jobs aren’t. But it’s not necessarily quite the same as taking a negative viewpoint. It involves asking what the ideal outcome would actually look like. 

If, for example, my job isn’t at risk and I’m well received at work, I would expect a few things: 

  • Management would be actively invested in my development. 
  • Coworkers would get along with me well and collaborate and respect my experience.  
  • I would receive good feedback from management. 
  • Promotion opportunities would feel possibile and achievable. 
  • I would feel comfortable around management and around my peers. 

Management wouldn’t encourage the above behaviors towards an employee who was underperforming and not appreciated on the job. If those behaviors are absent, it’s a red flag, even without direct negative feedback. If those behaviors are (generally speaking) present, it is generally safe to assume that management values their employee, as they would not put forth this kind of effort into someone who was not well received. 

Asking these sorts of “what if” questions are extremely powerful methods of determining the truth in unknown situations. Ask “what would it look like if this viewpoint were true? What would I expect to happen or to be seen?” Afterwards, compare this outlook to the realistic facts in front of you. Often, you will realize the truth more quickly than you expected. 

We don’t know why we suffer

We spend our entire lives blissfully unaware that we will one day leave this world. And when we do, we cannot take anything with us. So many people pray for their eyes to be opened to the world around them. In reality, this is not something anyone should want. If our eyes were truly opened, we would be horrified of the world around us. We would wish for them to be closed and to unsee the world that we live in. Sadly, closing our eyes does not cause our problems to go away. 

It sounds dark, but it’s true. 

It’s humanity’s greatest question. Why are some blessed, and others cursed? What is the purpose of suffering? Why do so many people face trials so unfairly, punished for wrongs they have no idea they committed? Why are so many people homeless, dead, or out of a job from the Coronavirus pandemic? Why are so many people taken from this world too soon, without a chance to say goodbye? 

Perspective, my friend. Perspective. 

We fall folly to thinking that the universe revolves around us. We live in a huge existence  with galaxies, planets, stars, oceans, glaciers and volcanos, and great things that are unthinkable. We are but a speck, one out of billions, and only a single creature out of a plethora of life forms so large that we cannot name them all. How foolish we are, to think that anything truly revolves around us? 

And yet, in the midst of it all, we make our experiences about us, as if the universe revolves around ourselves. Perhaps it’s modern, western thinking. Perhaps it’s human instinct. Perhaps it’s simply the raw emotion that we were made with, where pain hurts us whether we feel it or whether someone we love does. 

But that’s not an answer. 

Life is meaningful. Nothing matters more than even a single life that we see on this world. Why then, does suffering continue? Why is it allowed in such a huge universe? 

I wish I had an answer. 

I’ve been through things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve been through experienced so traumatic that I have flashbacks to this day, leaving scars with me that I will carry throughout a lifetime. Boy, do I wish I knew the answer to this question. It would ease so many of my own concerns. 

Unfortunately, we simply aren’t promised an answer. 

We are a fly on the wall…

The understanding that we long for is not unexpected in a huge universe. I firmly believe in God. I also believe that even though we are highly intelligent as the human race, that our minds cannot outsmart God. We simply do not know why things happen as they do. 

We have two dogs in our apartment. We have rules and restrictions for them. They are not allowed to eat things off the ground. They are held on a leash if they are outside around other people. We don’t let them freely roam the earth with no supervision. We do so because we care about them. Of course, they don’t understand why we protect them with a leash, or restrict them from eating things off the earth. They simply trust us. And if they don’t trust us, we still protect them regardless. 

This is not an insult to a dog’s intelligence. They are, in fact, highly intelligent creatures. But they do not understand things as we do. They do not have the knowledge and wisdom that we do. We have a responsibility to protect them in ways that they would never understand. If they resent us, it is not out of a lack of our goodness. 

Of course, we cannot truly know what goes through the mind of a canine. But we do know that out of an entire universe, we are insignificant in our wisdom and knowledge. There are things that are beyond our understanding. We are the pet on the leash, or the fly on the wall. A higher power is the master. 

We are, in fact, not promised an answer to the suffering that we face. I would do anything to understand why we go through what we must face, but in the end, we cannot claim we know the answer. 

Until I know more, I simply pray, and I hope for the best. I simply trust that there is a reason beyond our understanding. I simply choose to be still and know that there is a God who will one day answer these questions for us, and who promises to care for us in our darkest hour. And in the end, that’s all that we can do. 

In the Mirror

We often assume that those around us think as we do. We wrongfully assume that the actions of others have something to do with us. In reality, everyone is different, and more often than not, people think of themselves more than they think of you.

The circumstances they face, the challenges they encounter, and the reactions that they give are not identical to ours. Not everyone is of the same mind. People do things for differnet reasons, and those reasons don’t always have to do with us. 

The true battlefield is of the mind…

Much of this stems from the fact that the reality we construct for ourselves is not necessarily synonymous with the reality of the world in front of us. When we see people, jobs, relationships, and friendships, we see them through a “lens” that we have constructed of them. This lens is not necessarily an accurate view of them. There is bias, prejucide, first impressions, and many other factors that contribute to our view of this person. In reality, when we judge them, we believe that we are doing so fairly and impartially, but we are doing so on the basis of our lens and our view. This view does not necessarily portray them accurately, even if we feel strongly that it does. 

The end result is that we end up assuming that we can read the minds of those around us. We assume that everything that they do has something to do with us. We assume that the coworker whose attitude suddenly changed is upset with us. We assume that the parent who doesn’t respond for several hours is retaliating against us. We assume that the boss who says “This was good” was insulting us because they didn’t say “great.” 

It’s hard to see the folly of this manner of thinking until we see the other side of it. We live our lives this way entirely oblivious to the other side of the coin here. I recently realized this myself when I found myself doing anything and everything to please someone who could never be pleased. I quickly realized that it’s exhausting to meet someone else’s expectations of us, particularly when they are unrealistic expectations. Most importantly, it’s impossible to live up to someone else’s view of you when that view (or “lens”) has nothing to do with the real you.

The truth is that everyone has constructed a version of us that exists in their mind, and we are constantly being compared to those expectations. The version of us that we assume is often not the version that we are perceived as. 

In the World Outside…

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in us. On one hand, people have stuck together in ways that we have never seen before. Never before have I seen so many people coming together to make sure that they are fed, employed, taken care of, and in company. Groups of people that would formerly walk past silently in the grocery store aisles and the school hallways now converse about almost anything, and the human connection is desired more than ever before. 

That is, for most people at least. 

We’ve also seen the opposite. People have assigned blame where it isn’t due, and have unfairly taken out internal frustrations on those around them in profound ways. Even the roads are dangerous; drivers are more aggressive than ever before. There are people cutting lines and getting into fights in grocery stores. People are paranoid of the unknown and instantly label a stranger as an enemy. We are deathly afraid of that which we do not know. 

I have encountered this firsthand on the job. More than ever before, I have been the target of a lot of very rude customers who feel that their struggles are my personal fault. I have seen people distance themselves from me and acuse me of bad practice, only to get very near someone else with whom they are familiar. I’m stared at and instantly regarded as “bad” – all without due process or fair assessment! I have been cursed out and unfairly blamed more times in this past month than I ever had been in the past year entirely. 

It’s only natural that we take this sort of behavior personally, but this is not the correct approach. Truthfully, they have constructed a version of me in their own minds. According to this view (which has not properly been assessed based on real circumstances), I’m bad, harmful, and am somehow the enemy. They are only acting in accordance with their real and genuine beliefs of themselves and of me. 

Likewise, I construct a mental image of them as harmful people who are attacking me. I feel that I am right in judging them as so and retaliating against their rudeness. In reality, they are much like me, simply trying to protect themselves from the unknown. They are probably nice people (in general), who are simply afraid of the unknown and assume the worst in a stranger. 

It isn’t you. 

The truth is, many of these people are acting out of internal fear, and their harshness towards others has nothing to do with us. It is not a personal attack on us, no matter how much it may feel so. It is not an acusation or a rational fear. Rather, it is the overflow of their own frustration being taken out on anyone in their path. It truly has nothing to do with us. 

Some people are impossible to please. They simply have irrational or incorrect “views” of who we are. These circumstances are entirely out of our control, and simply aren’t hills worth dying on. During these times, we should strive to stick together, be our own allies, and see the best in the world around us. Not everything is personal, so take a deep breath, cut yourself some slack, and relax! 

 

 

When the Bully is in the Workplace

It’s not always easy to handle a bully, but when the bully is your boss and your workplace is your social life, the pain is immediately profound. 

Two years of pain. Two years of me blaming myself, feeling (mistakingly) that I could somehow do better and the bullying would come to an end. I was brutally unaware that the their behavior never had anything to do with me. There is nothing I could have done that could have ever changed their minds. 

This sort of conundrum faces more people than we would like to admit. According to workplacebullying.org, 1 in 5 experience it. The victim is often portrayed as the perpetrator. Lies are told and rumors are spread to justify the behavior of the real perpetrator — the bully behind the veil. Toxic people portray themselves as the good guy at the cost of you and your reputation. You sink, and you did nothing wrong. 

Two years later, I finally gathered the courage to put an end to it.   During that moment, I was labeled a bad person, falsely branded a drug addict, and tagged with stories and humiliations that never were true. In the end, the only explanation they ever had was that it was because I was “super laid back, and people couldn’t keep up with me.” 

My heart sank. 

Lessons were learned in that moment. And the most profound lesson of them all was that nobody can mistreat you without your permission. If you allow it, they will do it. Bullying never has to do with you. It has to do with the narcissism and insecurity of the bully.  

I began a new job at a car dealership and became full time after leaving my previously toxic situation. I was embraced with open arms, well respected, and treated right. I was amazed. After years of being beat down like a tree in a hurricane, I felt peace. I felt accepted. I was complimented for hard work and dedication towards my job. I was treated like a person – one with feelings and with a purpose. 

These toxic people from my previous job still try to bring me down. In a sense, they won. Justice isn’t guaranteed in this world. They got their way, and ruined my reputation. 

But I won too, and I won by doing better for myself. I won by finding people who deserved me in their life. I won by gaining the courage to put an end to it myself. 

Bullying never has anything to do with you. It’s only a reflection of the insecurity that the bully cannot unfeel. 

 

Be Slightly Incompetent

Leaders come in two categories: Those who lead, and those who want to be seen as leaders.

True leaders care more about their actual performance than they do on their reputation. It is the performance of their team that matters, not their perception. Sadly, among seasoned leaders, this is too-often a rare find. 

This problem is compounded by the fact that leadership is largely a soft skill that can usually only be taught by experience. There is no encyclopedia or user’s manual for how to manage effectively, and certainly no tailored process that caters specifically to each individual’s personality. Management may feel like an obstacle course of epic proportions, but leadership is necessary for the success of almost all projects. Constant decisions are being made between a rock and a hard place, and there is often no right decision. Someone must make the final call. 

However, there is a single lesson that solves more problems than just one, and it took me many years to realize it.

There is an irreplaceable advantage to being slightly, if ever so slightly incompetant. 

Why? Slight incompetance gives your team room to shine. 

Let’s face it. If you are a leader, you probably are relatively competant in what you do. You are probably leading for a reason, and you want to be respected as such. However, you don’t know everything, no matter how much you hate the thought. Many of the decisions you will make are life-and-death decisions, but others are minor. While it’s tempting to want to control every aspect of the process, not every decision is a deal breaker. 

It’s okay to relinquish control. You will not lose respect for admitting your own limits. Step in on the deal-breaking decisions, and delegate everything else. 

Team members who feel valued will respect you (and work harder) much more than those who don’t. It allows them to truly know their own importance. And ultimately, those who feel important will often step up to the plate in ways that surprise even the most seasoned leaders. 

Be a true leader. Let your team shine, and never let your ego stop you from recognizing your own limitations. It pays to be slightly, (if only slightly) incompetant.