Life: what a wild ride! Looking back, I never thought I would’ve ended up here; looking forward, I realize I’m exactly where I should be. As I enter into this new phase of my life, I thought it appropriate to re-introduce my blog into the fray. For those few who have kept up with my little blogging experiment, the name ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery’ should ring a bell. Those early pages chronicled my observations of life as one part personal journal, two parts ranting social commentary, and a pinch of verbose dexterity tossed in for good measure.

A blog is good for many things, if only to give oneself a bit of a bullhorn aimed at the rest of the world. Well here I am (again)! I will once again add my voice to the cacophony screaming for attention (over here…listen to me…yes! Me!). I suppose I do have more observations of the weird world we live in, as well as some unfinished business to tend to. I yearn for the narrative to continue; I crave the spinning yarn that I began six years ago with ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery.’ But why am I calling my new blog ‘Chadstract’s Beat?’

The simplest explanation is that I needed an easier way for people to associate my blog to me. ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery’ didn’t exactly garner any name recognition towards the Chadstract.com mission. The Bonesmuggler handle actually sprouted from a very obscure inside joke between me and a few friends, but other than that, the name had little-to-no relevance towards my writing.

As far as ‘Beatery’ is concerned, the word ‘beat’ has had multiple significance for me. Beat signifies my reporting territory or terrain. It also implies rhythm; I march to the beat of my own drum. Beat is an homage to one of my literary heroes, Jack Kerouac, who is credited as being the “King of the Beatniks.” The word beat means beat-down, tired, but Kerouac attributed beat as a short form of the word beatific.

So this latest incarnation of my thoughts and feelings put into words will take the form of ‘Chadstract’s Beat.’ Here, I will continue my long-running narrative of the world I see, and delve into new territories. This blog will be the hub of my writing platform. It will complement my website Chadstract.com, my niche in the morass that is the Internet. My blog may not always be Shakespearian, but it will be a glimpse into a life–my life in words. And the best part about it is that this is just the beginning…

In our busy lives, it is easy to overlook those who are our constant companions. We see them day in and day out as fixtures in our everyday lives. When their relative health and vitality are maintained, they are often relegated to comfortable background noise in favor of more pressing or more interesting matters.

Weeks and months and years may go by like this, hardly noticing–really noticing–that they’re there, faithfully pining away for our meager scraps of attention. It is only at a time of crisis; a health scare, or inconvenient behavior that their presence comes fully into focus. And when they pass away, we are often left bewildered, asking: “Where did the time go?”

More positively, the quality time we invest in our companionship with others blesses us in ways of magical moments and memories. To establish a true, meaningful connection with another being is one of life’s great rewards. It may not be possible to devote as much time to them as we would like. Perhaps instead of striving for “more time” with our loved ones, we should appreciate when we become “lost in the moment” with them. Those moments where we lose track of time, all sense of self, and we are simply connected.

Our companions will not always be constantly with us. Eventually, they will pass on and we will be left with only memories. What matters is the meaning we give those moments of connection. And who can really calculate the value they add to our lives, especially when we leave our hearts open to receiving what they offer us?

No matter where we are or what our life situation is, we can experience magic moments. It’s not about having wealth or an abundance of time, but rather taking the opportunity to appreciate these moments as they present themselves. The real wealth is in the meaning we give these moments and their ability to inspire us.

I’ve always wanted to live in a place where I could step outside my door and walk along a country road and become lost in the pastoral landscape.

Flanked by corn fields, the dogs pull us faster down the road, noses carving the air as they follow invisible scent trails.

The crisp, pre-snow breeze carries the smells of wood smoke, rusty soil, and corn husks. A train wails somewhere in the distance. A farmhouse glows ochre from the setting sun.

Copses of trees stand as stark silhouettes against the darkening sky. They silently preside over the passing of another day. Is this day special for them too? Or is it inconsequential to these eldritch watchers of ten thousand sunsets?

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“I am as enthusiastic about others’ fulfillment as I am about my own. I avoid treating others’ successes as the cause of my lacks.” ~Stephen K. Hayes, How to Own the World

As today’s events have unfolded, I am reminded of the ugliness of humanity, from one citizen to the other. People are using the inauguration of our new President to jab hurtful things at each other. When Obama was that man, I admonished anyone who treated the sitting President as their own personal scourge. These people gave Obama power over them, if only in their tacit perception of him and the office he held, and he became the object of their scorn. “Why do you give him such power?” I would ask. “He is not in control of your life–you are.”

All the Obama doomsayers were proven wrong on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2017. Whether you agreed with his policies or not, Obama didn’t turn out to be the gun confiscating, Muslim, Socialist Antichrist many were convinced he was. Not even close. But those who felt oppressed by Obama are expressing feelings of freedom they haven’t felt in eight long years. This belies a certain breed of insecurity on the part of these “oppressed” individuals.

It is easy to blame one man, or woman, or political party, or institution for our lacks in this world. It is more difficult to soberly embrace responsibility for one’s choices and actions. For that is where the true power lies; in our ability to choose, to take action, and to give context to moments.

Leaders will come and go. Institutions will rise and fall. Trends will be popular, then fade. What remains throughout all of this is you. You, as an individual have freedom of choice to believe what you want, to empower yourself to make decisions, which will impact the world you inhabit.

The question that remains is: What kind of person will you choose to be?

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“I believe in myself. I am confident. I can accomplish my goals.” ~Stephen K. Hayes, How to Own the World

To be at the start of something can be intimidating or discouraging. Whether it’s a creative project, fitness goal, or other life goal, the mere scope of the work that lies ahead can be enough to mentally derail me before the journey has begun. As I approach new goals, ranging from lofty and epic creative projects, to the more routine and prosaic daily life-oriented tasks, the basis for accomplishment is the same: Believing in myself and having the confidence to carry out these objectives. Everything stems from this beginning:

  • I must believe in my capabilities towards achieving more.
  • I must believe in my capacity for learning new and useful skills.
  • I must believe in my tenacity to fight against the pull of petty distractions, or self-imposed limitations, that would divert me from the path.
  • I must believe in my ability to see the broader perspective and course-correct when needed.
  • I must believe in my resilience to try again if I fail.

Belief in myself must be reinforced with real action. When I set a goal for myself, no matter how big or small, I am essentially making a pact with myself. If I can’t even follow through with the agreements I’ve made with myself, how can I trust myself or expect others to trust me? Confidence is built and maintained by keeping those agreements. Confidence is also strengthened through the act of accomplishment, to know the success from setting and reaching goals.

What happens if and when I get derailed? Go back to the basics. Return to the starting point of believing in myself, that I can accomplish what I set my mind and actions to. Work on keeping the personal agreements I have made with myself. Keep tasks and goals manageable, so that I may better succeed. Following through on smaller tasks leads to the confidence of taking on bigger challenges, which steadily builds the momentum needed to accomplish even greater things.

There are times when the road ahead  seems long, difficult, and unsure. Do I walk along the tried-and-true tested path others have worn, or do I carve my own path one step at a time? No matter which road I take, the journey belongs to me. And with the journey comes the choice to step out and venture down the road that will lead to a more meaningful life. The beginning point starts with making the choice to step out, setting my sights on the horizon of unseen future goals.

CH

 

 

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“I believe in my teachers. I show respect for all who help me progress.” ~Stephen K. Hayes, How to Own the World

It is easy, sometimes, to forget the long and treacherous road that brought me to this point in time. The older I get, the more “successful” I become, the more I seem to credit my own merits and a faulty sense of self-satisfaction when I look back at the processes that brought me here. But it is a narrow-minded recollection. Too much self and too little credit is given to the relationships, environments, and mercies that have helped shape me over the years.

When I truly open my heart to a broader vision of the past, I realize I could only exist in this manner through:

  • The careful guidance of those willing and able to nurture my development.
  • Trial and error of making mistakes or accomplishments and learning from them.
  • Those who have presented themselves as rivals or challengers along my path.
  • Those whom I have wronged who have extended grace and compassion towards me.
  • Extending knowledge by teaching others.

All of these things are teachers in some form. Beyond a formal education, teachers will present themselves throughout life, sometimes unexpectedly. Every moment is an opportunity for learning. It is when I think I know it all, or feel I’ve excelled enough, or have forgotten where I’ve come from that I risk missing out on a more meaningful life.

Life has plenty to teach me. When the teacher presents itself, I will be open to seek the opportunity to learn. This is how I will honor those who have helped me progress.

CH

“These then are my last words to you. Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” ~ William James

confusionIt’s hard to know what’s true sometimes. In fact, despite increased availability to information and increased connectivity, what’s really true has become evasive and somewhat problematic to define. Our society is filled with all sorts of political and religious leaders who claim to know the truth. We turn to the gauntlet of the Media Industrial Complex, where facts are often bought and sculpted by special interest groups, paid advertisers, and a host of pundits, who—well, opine for a living.

We come out of the gauntlet firmly crystallized in our various camps of ideology. All of these competing, conflicting personal truths are what makes our culture so diverse, so dynamic. But these differences are also deepening the divides in this splintered world. How are we to hone in on significant ideas, beliefs, and experiences when surrounded by a saturation of noise and chaos?

According to a recent must read article from the NY Times, http://nyti.ms/1NTto2q, people tend to cherry-pick their own personal truths in a society that caters to the fashion of designer realities. While I am not immune to this phenomenon, I still strive to seek deeper truths that lead to meaningful action.

Reality BubblesIt’s important to understand that when we brand ourselves with a particular way of life, we are all merely identifying with what resonates with us. The real challenge becomes stepping outside of our own reality bubbles and identifying with others’ realities. This is what it means to live with compassion and empathy; to forgo your comfort in order to share another’s pain; to feel connected to another person’s experience, even if you are ideologically opposed to them; to realize the underlying theme beneath these seemingly alien encounters with another person.

The human experience, while widely varied, has some common themes. Regardless of political or religious ideologies, these human needs are at the core of what drives us as a species and individually. As explained in the book, How to Own the World, by Stephen K. Hayes, these five basic human needs are:

  1. Authority – A sense of being worthy of accessing life’s great abundance; to be in charge of accomplishing our own goals, and to know we set our own boundaries. We want to be important.
  2. Knowledge – Authentic understanding of who we are and what is true about life; to realize what is true, and to attain personal peace through intelligence. We want to be right.
  3. Connection – Kinship with the community and the hearts of others; to express who we really are, and to share respect, admiration, and love with others. We want to be noticed.
  4. Service – A sense of engagement with the adventure process of life; to expand brightness and good over negative energy, and to know we are part of something bigger than self. We want to be needed.
  5. Personal Fulfillment – Experience of enlightened peace that comes with wisdom; a sense of having the space to live up to our dreams and expectations. We want to experience directly and fully the significance of life.

Not everyone would agree with this list (subjective personal truth again), but these ideas, and variations of, are a good launching point for studying human behavior.

In your interactions with others, try to see the motivating behavior behind a person’s words and actions. What human needs are they driven by? What human needs are you driven by? When engaged in conflict, try to see these encounters for what they are in terms of energy transactions. Try to empathize with them, while also driving the types of self-behaviors that will affect a positive outcome.

Perhaps, if we can approach another person with the strength of compassion, we will find ourselves not so negatively affected by their own version of reality, but closer to an understanding of what is really true.

Compassion

two people arguingToo many times I’ve gotten sucked into religious or political debates online. Whether it’s on Facebook when I see someone posting something I disagree with as it enters my news feed, or vice versa.  Or when I’m reading the comments section of a controversial news story. I read the thread as it spirals downward into name-calling territory and personal attacks and further from the topic.

All too often, these types of conversations devolve into vicious sniping sessions of the worst passive-aggressive variety. I’m convinced that none of these issues will ever be settled by means of a social network platform. I’m not trained in the art of debating. I lack a formal education in the schools of philosophy and theology and indeed the scientific disciplines. But that hasn’t stopped me from having a particular reaction to what I see others posting about these topics.

Why? Why do I have this reaction? It seems like an easy question to answer, but it is something I’ve had to devote some time into self-exploration in order to understand this behavior. If I am so secure in what I believe, or if the belief-system I subscribe to is to me unshakeable, then why have I devoted so much time and effort towards trying to get people to see my point of view? I mean, what does it matter to me if religious people are making declarations of faith? I am a non-believer, so why does this affect me? When people post politically-charged internet memes and links that clash with my own, why am I so affected? These people have the right to the same freedom of speech that I enjoy, right? And difference in political views is one of the aspects that make our society diverse and robust, right? So what’s the big deal? Despite the grim satisfaction I got from these interactions, I couldn’t ignore the nagging sensation that something about this felt wrong. And then it hit me.

frenemyInstead of spending my time squabbling with Facebook “friends” over unresolvable issues, the more important issue at hand here, is how to convince people why it’s important to seek quality information. And indeed, how to evaluate information critically in order to make more informed decisions. The lack of factual information I’ve seen come across social media is alarming. This, I’ve decided, has been the cause of my distress over the so-called “hot button issues.” So instead of getting quicksanded into endless debating, I will try to tackle what I see as the causes for much of this disparity: Bad information/Bad communication.

The internet has been a great tool to gather and spread information, but—as they say—with great power comes great responsibility. The internet has provided us with the access to more information, but MORE doesn’t exactly mean BETTER. In fact, I would argue that it’s more difficult to attain quality information, because first, you have to sift through all the crappy information (and there’s a lot of crap). Before the internet, information had to pass through a more rigorous process in order to be broadcast for public consumption. Now, anyone who wants to say something has a platform (even me). And this is great, because the internet has democratized information, but the rigorous, skeptical process of vetting information has fallen by the wayside.

The internet has become a morass of half-baked truths, bad ideas, and dangerous misinformation. But what’s even more dangerous are the lazy attitudes people have adopted towards seeking truth and disseminating quality information. Social media platforms have become breeding grounds for virally destructive ideas. Often, these ideas are spread through memes. Sure, memes can be funny, stinging, poignant, and factual. Anyone can create them. I’ve used them before. They are like greeting cards; a way to share beliefs and sentiments across the social webs. There is nothing inherently wrong with memes. But memes (especially ones revolving around hot-button issues), can also be factually incorrect, misleading, or propagandistic. The problem becomes when people don’t fact check. As I see it, this is a two-fold problem:

  1. It takes nothing to put something out there, regardless if it’s true or not. Most people don’t take the time to consider the source of the information, but simply accept its existence on the internet to mean that it must be true.
  2. Some people would rather accept information they suspect is misleading if it supports their worldview, especially if it’s entertaining or acerbic.

This type of negligence toward quality information spreading is problematic because it takes little effort to spread poor information and nearly anyone can be a carrier. People have less time and less desire to get into the details of an issue. It’s more convenient to simply “share” a meme.

meanmemeAlthough it can be tedious at times, it is more important than ever to seek out good information. It is key to being a well-informed member of society. Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating information:

  • What is the source? Don’t just accept things at face value. Find out who or what is behind a particular bit of information. Just because it appears on the internet or on the cable news, doesn’t mean it’s true.
  • Is the information credible? Reliable information should be testable, verifiable. Too often, people react to information on an emotional level, which can sometimes cloud the facts. Try to remove personal biases. Seek corroborating evidence.
  • What does the opposing view say? It’s a good idea to understand all sides of an issue. This is not only a good practice for gathering information, but practicing empathy as well.
  • What is the context? Is there any additional information that is able to paint a more complete picture of an event or news story? Literal or Symbolic?
  • What is the intent? Is a particular piece of information designed to inform, or sensationalize? Are all the facts presented or are some of them purposefully obscured to mislead?

These are just a few ways to look at incoming information with a critical eye. There are many resources available that go much further into detail about how to examine information. I will list some of these links down below.

teamworkhandsOn a final note, one casualty of these internet information wars has been civil discourse. Lobbing word grenades at each other from the safety of our computer chairs has become the norm. This is a sad practice that gets us nowhere. I’ve been guilty of this at times and have felt the sick satisfaction that comes from “putting someone in their place.” But how can I expect another person to listen to my ideas or respect me, if I’m unwilling to do the same? There needs to be a return to thoughtful, respectful discourse. And the best way to create that environment is to put it to practice myself. It may be tempting to pulverize an easy target, but as a friend of mine once challenged me: Be the bigger person.

Here are some helpful links for improving your critical thinking skills:

Author and professional skeptic Michael Shermer writes about Carl Sagan’s famous ‘Baloney Detection Kit’

Radio host and political commentator David Pakman’s Critical Thinking Miniseries

CH