For the Media: an Interview with Leslie Charles
What inspired you to write this book?
Beginning in the eighties, following my speeches or seminars, people would confidentially tell me:
I hate my job... I hate my boss... I don't like my life... My spouse and I don't communicate... I don't have time to (exercise) (eat right) (relax)... I'm stressed out... Work isn't as fun as it used to be...If they make me learn computers I'm going to (quit my job) (retire early).
After hearing these comments, regardless of where I was in the U.S., I began observing our society the same way I do a workplace when I'm hired as a consultant, looking for "invisible" indicators that something is awry. That's how I discovered the ten trends that influence how we handle time, relationships, entertainment, money, work, technology, health, and lifestyle.
Simply put, "Why Is Everyone So Cranky?" is a self-help book with a sociological backdrop: a "Megatrends Meets Seven Habits." While it covers a serious topic, readers enjoy my conversational writing style and sense of humor.
When and how did crankiness become such an issue in our country?
In the book I present a five-decade history outlining the evolution of crankiness, beginning with the Fabricated Fifties and Skeptical Sixties followed by the Sassy Seventies, Egotistical Eighties and Nasty Nineties. Despite the economic expansion, low unemployment, and high standard of living in the nineties, people were angry and discontent: overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled, overspent, and under nurtured.
And people feel entitled to their crankiness, justifying their anger instead of trying to get rid of it! Too many of us had become self-absorbed, emotionally isolated, and disconnected from each other, with a hostility that was hard to fathom. Never had so many, with so much, been so unhappy!
Consider the popularity of the word "rage" for nearly a decade: road rage, air rage, grocery store rage, parking lot rage, snow rage, pedestrian rage, sports rage, desk rage, surfer rage, you name it. When a word becomes a part of our language it's very telling. Our language reveals something about where we are as a culture, and the word rage resonated.
Consider further that there was never a positive counterpart: no reports about road rapture, air bliss, express line joy or desk delight! But let's focus on the point that has eluded many people: anger is anger; rage is rage! The modifier doesn't matter. It's still aggression and hostility, regardless of where it takes place.
Today the operative word is rude. We've gone from rage to rudeness, so I guess that's progress. Rudeness is less volatile than rage, but it's still a symptom of something awry.
Did September 11, 2001 change the landscape of crankiness?
In the span of a few hours our cultural crankiness transformed into an outpouring of compassion. The numbers of people who volunteered, sent money, or gave blood after the attacks brought tears to my eyes. Our mood immediately shifted but alas, it didn't last. I can't believe the number of people who tell me they weren't really affected by the events of September 11.
People now talk about how great everything was before the attacks, and in comparison to what's happening now, they're right. Too bad we weren't able to fully enjoy the nineties boom at the time. I'm convinced that the less we have to worry about, the more we find to complain about, and it pains me to say this but how could things change too much? All of the same forces that initially complicated our lives and caused the cultural crankiness of the nineties are still there, plus some, and unless we consciously change how we live, love, and look at the world, these same social trends are affecting us, pushing us to the edge.
Think for a moment about how emotionally fragile we were before 9/11. Consider the number of anger management courses that sprung up during the nineties, coupled with the ever increasing numbers of people today who seek medical treatment for their stress.
Not only were we cranky up to September 11, some of us were violent, as if we were at war with each other - and remember, this was back when things were supposedly going well!
In the past decade, people were murdered over fender benders, improperly shoveled sidewalks, barking dogs, shoving matches in lines, and other trivialities. Are we equipped to handle the day to day emotional pressures of living with terrorism in the twenty first century? I certainly hope so!
Is the crankiness you write about in the book any different from what we've experienced the past?
There have always been cranky people in the world, but here's the difference: There are now more of us in the same place at the same time wanting the same space, goods, services, or attention. Many of us are chronically busy, sleep deprived, working longer hours, suffering longer commutes, balancing impossible personal schedules, and some of us don't realize we're close to the breaking point.
For example, do you ever find yourself in a mad hurry to get somewhere you don't even want to go? Do you get impatient or angry, at the driver ahead of you who happens to be going the speed limit?
If you think about it, road rage is an apt metaphor for the rushed way we're living: it's as if we're mad at ourselves for our out of control lifestyles and we're taking it out on others. The nautical definition of the word "cranky" is liable to capsize. Does that sound like any society you know?
Is there anything else contributing to our crankiness?
Blurring social boundaries have also complicated our lives. Thanks to technology, we can now literally take our work home with us, or anywhere else, and many of us do! As businesses go 24/7, the lines between our professional and personal lives have nearly disappeared. And there's more.
With the popularity of cell phone use, there's little distinction between private conversation and public disclosure. Internet sites, shock jock radio hosts, and TV talk shows solicit our opinions, regardless of how much we actually know about a situation.
In our culture, busyness is equated with success, but chronic busyness brings an overburden of anxiety, despite the so-called conveniences that surround us. Some people use their jobs as a convenient escape from inner conflicts and issues, figuring that if they're buried in work they won't have time to think about anything else.
As a result of chronic busyness and compulsive overscheduling, we're moving faster, and so are our kids. Parents tell me they like to keep their kids busy so the kids won't get into trouble. I can empathize, but what are the parents really saying?
Which of the ten trends seem to be most responsible for our crankiness?
The two biggest contributors to our chronic stress are time and technology. Our pace of life is continually accelerating, and we keep trying to catch up by moving faster. To further complicate the picture, cell phones, pagers, and high tech devices allow us to be interrupted anywhere, any time, and this constant accessibility - and compulsive use - fragments what little time we do have, adding to our sense of urgency, emergency, and self-importance. We need to learn that we are no longer living in an era of time management: we've moved into an era of choice management!
But thanks to a constantly accumulating stress load, when the computer goes down, a line is long and slow, traffic ties up when we're running late, or the driver in front of us does something stupid, instead of taking these things in stride, people get mad! Maybe it's already occurred to you that technology has made life so convenient we've lost our tolerance to inconvenience.
Is there anything else along these lines?
We're encouraged by ubiquitous advertising and marketing to perceive life as a constant "upgrade parade." We hate having to wait for what we want, and whatever we have isn't good enough. Beneath our ongoing feelings of discontent lie specific expectations about the kind of life we should be living and every letdown, disappointment, or frustration we experience is connected to an expectation that didn't get met.
When things fall short of our expectations, disappointment sets in. We may feel angry and ripped off. We might wonder what we're doing wrong because we haven't achieved the life we were supposed to have. Thanks to this clash of fantasy and reality, we confuse expectation with entitlement. The frequency of "pump and drive off" incidents whenever fuel prices surge is an example of consumer entitlement. Hate mail and death threats are another expression of entitlement. Those people don't realize that the more right you try to be, the more wr ong you are.
Well, you've outlined WHY we're cranky. In your book do you also cover what to DO about crankiness?
Ironically, it isn't usually the big things in life that make us cranky; it's the buildup of little things, day after day, that get to us. This book is about 100 often-overlooked aspects of life that have the potential of complicating our lives. There are quizzes and checklists to clarify these areas.For every problem presented in the book, I offer solutions: anti-cranky alternatives. Here are three of my favorites and they certainly could help with the day to day uncertainty we're now living with:
Are you saying that we're supposed to stifle our anger?
I'm saying we don't even have to go there, and if we weren't so overloaded we'd realize this. Being chronically overloaded and overwhelmed puts us in "react mode" where we automatically treat trivial circumstances as if they're a major crisis. For too many of us, anger has become a default position. There's no longer a "hierarchy" of annoyance anymore; no small, medium, or large: just super size! Do you know anyone who fits this description?
In many cases, anger doesn't even need to be an option. In the book I talk about the importance of finding your purpose in life, and living in sync with your priorities. Once your know what's really important to you, your perspective changes drastically, and incidents that once made you angry won't bug you anymore. You can let the little things go and reserve your anger for when it's appropriate.
Leslie, were YOU ever cranky?
I was cranky long before it was fashionable! As a pregnant teen (age 16), I dropped out of school, got married, and had three kids by the time I was 20. When my husband left, I lost the only "job" I'd ever wanted: to be a wife and mother, even though it was a very unhealthy marriage. I went to work because I had to, and put a lot of energy into resenting it. I was very angry after my divorce and it took me years to realize that most of my misery was self-inflicted.
What motivated you to quit being cranky?
Until my late twenties, all I had known was failure. At age 23 I reentered high school but dropped out a second time. You can imagine how devastating this was! Three years later, when my husband walked out, I felt frightened, resentful, and pitifully insecure.
Ironically, misery was my first big motivator. One night I interrupted my own "pity party," with the insight that unless something significant happened I could spend the rest of my life feeling this bad. I didn't know what I wanted, I only knew what I didn't want: to feel so miserable and hopeless.
Up to that point I'd been waiting for some nice guy to rescue me and my kids. Now I knew that if I wanted my life to change, it was up to me. I took my GED (high school equivalency) exam, quit my job, and signed up for welfare so I could get my community college degree. This was a huge step for me. I learned that I could learn, grow, and change, and I've never stopped. Though I've experienced losses and setbacks, my life today still surpasses anything I could have imagined.
You've talked about the bad news; what's the good news?
Crankiness is an okay place to visit, but you don't want to live there! We have so much potential, and we need to be willing to do the inner work that will direct us toward fulfillment and peace of mind. Some of the good news is that we truly want to reconnect. We want to live "in the moment" and be clearer about what's important to us. Even before September 11 there was a growing movement toward searching for a more solid spiritual base. In addition, support groups exist for almost every life crisis or challenging situation, and there are also many people (like myself) who are making a difference through everyday acts of kindness and compassion.
I begin and end the book with the words "there is a problem and there is hope." I state that the hope lies within each one of us because we have the wisdom and the capability of trading crankiness for compassion, if w so choose. September 11 was a crash course in value clarification and it was a painful one. My heart goes out to those who lost a friend or loved one in the attacks or rescue work that followed. The surprising truth though, and I say this as someone who has suffered extreme loss, that somehow life goes on. Somehow we find the strength to prevail against adversity, and that's why I write self-help books.
Ending on a lighter note, let me make a last comment about handling everyday irritations and nuisances: I like to remind people that you can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond. In other words, while other people can ruin your moment, only you can ruin your day
This document includes the questions I'm most frequently asked by radio hosts and journalists. Should you have any additional questions, feel free to call me at 517.993.5178 or send an email to email@example.com.