The Way Things Work vs How They Really Work (Well)

Expat forums and expat websites are funny things.
Be careful offering even seemingly innocuous reports of what laws the Mexican Government has changed, or even repeating official US State Dept. advice.

I have participated in 3 different forums over the past 5 years, where each venue has different people, yet each thinks they are very individual, except that almost all of them actually fit into one a few basic archetypes.

I put this under this site’s Politics header, because I expect some people will be offended, see none of the humor, and use it as yet another example of how narrowminded this author is. Disclaimers aside, here goes nothing:

Newbies burst onto the scene, overflowing with questions, pumping old-timers and other sharp folks for their hard-won knowledge, experiences, and sometimes their wisdom.

Others lurk for long periods, and pop in with an occasional comment or question, sometimes afraid of being zinged or gigged for making a mistake, or exposing some weakness, or asking a less-than-informed question.

There are back benchers who rarely ask questions, who mostly make commentaries and give opinions, with minimal foundations of facts.

There are some individuals who like one area and do a lot of heavy lifting, often repeating similar answers to similar-but-new questions, but occasionally they get something new or novel to sink their teeth into.

There are some who jump in with their “piece of the puzzle”, offering some of the facts and their personal experiences, stuff that is part of an even larger puzzle or issue, and the thread grows and evolves until a large, clearer, accurate picture, (rich with details), evolves as an aggregate answer of all the individual answers.

Some like to jump into discussions of controversial issues, throwing in our 2 cents.

There are a few who use almost every opportunity to climb onto their hobby horse, and rock vigorously back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, banging away at their favorite issue, – sometimes even hijacking threads to change the subject, and sometimes even completely derailing the topic to their own ends.

There are the broad majority of people who read, offer questions and/or answer questions only when they feel inspired or when they sporadically check the site.

Then there are the 3 last categories of people:
Those who continually and patiently answer the same questions, over and over, patiently providing factual, helpful, useful, and thorough & sufficient answers.

The rare poster who asks many questions, reads the answers carefully, asks further questions to clarify new or remaining areas of confusion, takes the advice and information to heart, and then thanks the people who helped him or her.
There is even more rare poster, who ultimately comes back later, with yet more thanks and acknowledgments, and then tells their fresh stories of how things worked-out & played-out for them.

Why the burst of “blah, blah, blah” arm chair musings?
I’ve had a wicked cold this past 10 days that has made me house-bound, and has given me time to think. I also wrote what I thought was an innocuous but helpful minor web-article on the recent changes in the Mexican Constitution, how those changes affect us ex-pats, and added a short list of the existing Constitutional limits on our activities here (especially for people who don’t know the historical precedents)… See:…affecting-expats.htm.

In the article, I thought that I had taken a starting-point from a good Mexconnect thread on the recent changes, and expanded on it a bit to include cover a recent local on-going controversy over the major construction of our first underground underpass in Merida. Some local expats here have been giving newspaper interviews on their opinions and somewhat-harsh criticisms of our local Mayor’s show-case project. There reportedly have been multiple violent protests, with the police sometimes physically excersing their responsibilities to arrest people who break the law, especially people at the protests when they have turned “violent”.

Off the Record: One vocal local expert expat was ultimately officially denounced, was questioned, and had their home searched as a result of their public comments and critiques of the construction project, so, I hoped to alert other foreigners to the risks of speaking out on public issues that may affect or involve the political affairs of Mexico.

In the article, I included the standard US State Department cautions about how foreigners should not participate in any political activities or take any actions that affect the political affairs of Mexico. I reminded foreigners that we can avoid problems and avoid being detained and avoid being deported, if we simply turn away and walk away from anything that looks like a protest or rally. I also reminded foreigners that the Mexican Government has deported foreigners in the past who made public political statements, opinions or criticisms.

A few people responded positively, but other accused me of describing their beautiful Mexico as a Nazi State of great repression, including speeches about how “we have Constitutionally-protected and Internationally-protected rights as foreigners to freely express our opinions here in Mexico” , plus some accusations that I know nothing about anything other than tacos and sombreros, and that I should be silent or silenced.

Who would have guessed?

Also while sick and web-browsing 16 hrs a day, I noticed some people who were afraid to post their questions on their normal home/local forums, for fear of ridicule and being remembered as less-than-perfect. Out of fear, they went to the national forum to avoid local gunk. Reputations can be a precious thing in a small town or small internet community. Like a feather left outside a door, once misplaced, they are often blown away forever. (There’s an excellent traditional Lakota story about this if you don’t know it.)**

Anyway, the anonymous poster truly needed help, and they were surprised when the help arrived, quickly and accurately, from multiple people on a national forum, but all in private. In private, people were willing to go way beyond whatever they might say in public. – Which is a way of saying: We can’t see or know all of what’s going on; and humble patient kind questioners get a lot more responses and much greater help than other more-accepted approaches, and a lot of good things and good acts go un-noticed and unreported.

Anyway, this all got me thinking about how we treat each other on this often-anonymous internet.

Which then set me to thinking about specific examples of what I admire and respect.

(If you’ve gotten this far, you’re either stubborn, persistent, patient, or you skipped a bunch – so, here are the prolonged punch-lines…)

This all leads to a Mexconnect thread on “What should I do if I want an FM3 in March 2012?”.
In this thread, in my cold-induced fog, I think the poster basically asked the same question over and over, but the OP didn’t quite grasp Rolly’s answers, so the OP keeps re-posing his question, over and over, and Rolly patiently repeated replies.

Here’s my goofy take on this:
Rolly Brook (and people of his archetype) has shown the patience of a saint….

paciencia del santo… *grin*

How many ways can one say:
“You are planning your travel at a time in the future, when we do not know the specific rules, because INM is still writing them. ”

“The rules will be issued well-before your planned departure date. ”

“When they are published, follow the rules. …”

I (Yucalandia) was chuckling at this exchange – not feeling hostile or judgmental in any way – but the questioner really is special.

That got me musing over how there should be classes in US High Schools about how to live life well in the Real World, and maybe reduce the jostling our fellow travelers who happen to be sharing the same boat.

Here are a few Rules That I Wish I Had Learned In High School:

1. If you have limited money, only spend what is in your wallet.

2. If you have limited money, then keep track of your checking account balance by subtracting your debits/withdrawals and adding your deposits, yourself.

3. Don’t spend more money than you have at this moment.

4. Only borrow money to get things that appreciate in value, or that train you, or prepare you to do even more valuable things in the future.

5. Always keep a little in reserve. Reserve a little money for a future opportunity. Don’t use the last bit of your air to belt out some note. (Thanks, Ella!)

6. Don’t squeeze the orange of every last drop.

7. Don’t “win” every exchange, even if you can.
(and its corollary: Don’t take advantage, just because you can.)

8. On anything important: Ask a knowlegeable official or guide:

~~“What are all the things I should know about this?
~~ What are all the things I must do for this to work smoothly now, … and in the future?”
~~ “What things can I do now, to make this work even better?”
~~ “What are the deadlines or expiration dates?”
~~ “Is there anything else about this that I should know?”
~~ “How would you do this?”
~~ “What would you tell your own daughter about how to do this or which choice to make?

9.  Always thank the people who help you. And when it is over, go back and thank them, with specifics, … again.

It’s not just good manners, because it does some other things:

Gratitude helps keep our lives in balance as we realize the good things that happen,

It creates a cycle where:

the giver is recognized, and is indirectly encouraged to continue to give & help;
– the grateful receiver realizes that they too might help others in the future;
– bystanders who witness the exchange can see the benefits of helping and being helped; and
– people who see or hear stories about it, become future helpers themselves,
– which builds ever-growing circles of cycles of inter-dependence and community.

9. It’s easy to imagine that it’s all about right and wrong.

the “right” thing, done at the wrong time, usually goes awry.
– the “right” thing, done roughly, rudely, or clumsily, or done poorly often gives the opposite result.
– the “right” thing, is not right at all if it involves violating a confidence, unnecessarily making an enemy, or causes unnecessary pain or suffering.

10.  We are told to try to be winners, avoid being losers, and to look for winners and losers in personal exchanges and decide whom to ally/align yourself with, but a life lived well is rarely is about winning or losing, or allies & alignments.

11. People who do things publicly, walking high on a slopes of talus, should avoid raining rocks onto the people who simply happen to be lower on the slope. Carefully chosen gentle footsteps rarely rain rocks on unsuspecting others.

12. How can we define or identify our personal responsibilities in life?

Said another way, when going into a room, or any situation: Consider quietly looking around to see:

– what needs to be done.
– what needs to be said.
– what needs to be started.
– what is out of balance that can be put back into balance,

If it is something that no one else is able to do,

if it is something that no one else will do,
if it is something that no one else is willing to do,

and if you can do it, then maybe that suitcase has your name on it…

If you think these things are just an old fart’s scoldings, with little to do about a blog on Mexico, you might notice many of these qualities are valued and lived here by my Yucatecan family and neighbors (a.k.a. my latest teachers in the crazy school of life) – except for Item 12.


I’m sure that there are lots of other “Lessons we wished we had learned in school”, or
If only I had known“: Things that make things go much more smoothly – for us and others.”

Maybe this thread could continue the theme with other people offering their experiences?

Happy Trails to you…

* * * *
Feel free to copy while giving proper attribution: YucaLandia/Surviving Yucatan.
© Steven M. Fry

Read on, MacDuff.

11 Responses to The Way Things Work vs How They Really Work (Well)

  1. Pingback: The Way Things Work vs How They Really Work (Well) (the post) | Surviving Yucatan

  2. norm says:

    #7 is the key to a happy life. Nice post Steve.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hey Norm,
      Good to hear from you.

      As both leader, negotiator, and a good friend, you know the consequences of trying to wring every last concession possible out of people and negotiations.

      Attitudes that try to squeeze-out every last drop, lead to qualities that are not fondly remembered.
      Generosity, persistence, kindness, courage, and compassion create legacies that far outlast people’s personal, intellectual, and monetary “victories”.

      Americans often learn and then believe that everything is a competition, where each person is player, and there are only winners and losers. Some even join groups to enhance, expand, and leverage their personal power. A few seek to lead those groups to “win” even more people to “their ” side, magnifying their imagined power.

      An unusual few see the game(s) , and choose not play, (due to ideas of independence?).
      On occasion, there are a special few who see that we are actually sharing a boat with other people, and then work to get people to stop squabbling and competing, and instead to row towards things that benefit everyone.

      Compromise? eternally and universally a dirty word?.

  3. Johan says:

    I read it ALL Steve. Didn’t skip a single paragraph. Wanted you to know that because I often wonder if people read my articles when they get longish. Nice!

  4. Thanks Steve, I sometimes wonder when I have had an email exchange with some blog reader what happened? No feedback. It’s easy for me to wonder if I’m just blowing hot air. I agree with norm #7 is way important. One of the most difficult ones for me.


    • yucalandia says:

      Amen, Theresa.

      A wise friend once told me that: “If you write a blog, do it for yourself. Don’t try to write about things or write in ways to please others, because you’ll always come-up-short (of their expectations?).”
      Happy Trails,

  5. norm says:

    The concept of saving money for a rainy day is pretty important. I used to preach to my fellows in the ironhouse that they should save one forth of their wages for the downturns that happen in a field like steelwork. We made a crazy amount of money during boom times, we lived in the mill and had no choice in the matter but the money flowed; those that lived on straight time were able to retire at 30 years service if they wanted out. Those who spent it as it flowed are still there waiting on their SS.

  6. Eric Chaffee says:

    Many thanks for your ongoing attitude of sharing, Steve. Your shared insights have been most helpful.

    I tuned in this morning because I had a thought which you might be able to facilitate, or further. It is prompted by your contributions at YucatanLiving regarding the Mayan language. I’ve put up Google Translate as a gadget on my browser’s homepage. And I just looked for a way to translate Mayan, but it’s not there on the pull-down menu, with all those many other languages. Perhaps you or someone you know could somehow see this handy tool become fluent in Mayan? (Just a thought.) Here’s hoping you’re feeling better!


  7. Excellent advice…. You’re right Rolly has the patience of a Saint…. RVGRINGO on MEXPAT also has great patience , answering the same questions over and over. Why these people don’t go look at past archives I don’t know. I would get frustrated and tell them, maybe you should stay at home and lock the doors. Sometimes I answer the questions and I feel that they don’t believe me because it’s not the answer they want to hear. They want to hear .. “.ït’s going to be easy as pie, the authorities are going to give you special priveleges cause you’re an American”. If that was true we would be up to our elbows in gringos… its not easy to move here and its not easy for a Mexican to move to the States…. in spite of the many myths you hear.
    Keep up the good work Steve, If you get too frustrated down a pony of tequila.

  8. Pingback: Common Electrical Power Problems and Practical Solutions in Mexico | Surviving Yucatan

  9. D says:

    Thanks, Steve. I, too, loved #7 and must learn to take that good advise and use it regularly. I thoroughly enjoy your site.

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