Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

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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.

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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

I am disheartened by the failure of leadership by the Executive and Legislative branches of our government.

This recent financial crisis has illustrated the dysfunction in our current political system. Too many people get distracted by the political kabuki created by their respective political parties and pundits. They are quick to assign blame to individuals while ignoring the larger systematic failures of the institutions. It is sad to see our country in such decline.

It is only by luxury that our elected leaders are able to squander the economic progress we have made over the last few years. They play around with our financial capital as if it were Monopoly money. They play political games while real people have lost time, money, and resources. The result is that we are more divided and rightfully cynical about our government’s ability to lead.

Most Americans are actually pretty moderate in their beliefs, but tend to cleave towards arbitrary poles when the partisan cheerleaders roll out their song and dance.

I believe in America; not my America or your America, but a place where we can all live peacefully and prosper. I support ideas that benefit the whole country, not just an elite few. We need to stop living by the rule of “every man for himself,” and start looking out for our fellow citizens. If we don’t, then we have lost something far greater than our country; we will have lost our soul.

Conspiracies are all around us.“A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum – the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide rather than unite us.” -John Avlon

The latest string of gun-related violence has brought the issue of gun control once more into the forefront of national debate. We are a fractured nation over this issue, many of us fed up with the lack of progress towards a solution. The left-wing is clamoring for stricter gun laws, and the right-wing is screaming for more guns in public places. There are no easy answers, as the gun control debate highlights a much larger epidemic involving mental health, media violence, and civil liberties. It is a complex issue convoluted even more by the right’s persistent inclusion of paranoid conspiracy theories threaded within the subtext of its ideology.

The first decade of the new millennium belonged to the fringe left in terms of conspiracy theory. They promoted a deeply-held belief that the draconian machinations of the Bush Administration were part of an agenda to achieve nothing less than world domination abroad, and total subjugation of its own citizens domestically. During those years, the right-wing surged in power and influence. Left-leaning activists shouted from rooftops and street corners, warning us that our civil liberties were over and that George W. Bush had essentially “torched” the Constitution. Names like “Skull and Bones Society,” “Bildebergers,” and “Project for a New American Century” floated their way to the surface of leftist debate, and for a moment, our imaginations were allowed to ponder the possibility of a New World Order, complete with dictators Bush and Cheney at the helm.

Now that much of the dust has settled since the Bush Administration, we can see that a majority of the fringe conspiracy theories were unfounded and rather silly. Trust me, I hated the Bush years as they were happening, and I had indulged in my share of conspiratorial speculation. Over time however, I realized that my loathing of the Bush Administration had been for more practical reasons, such as its poor fiscal management, terrible foreign policy, and intolerant social agenda. During those years, I feared that we were regressing as a nation and that there was no end in sight to what was beginning to feel like the new normal.  Yet, as the torch was passed from one regime to the next, the world at large became a less-scary place.

After Obama was elected President, we were presented with a more tolerant and compassionate administration. More emphasis was placed on personal responsibility towards making our lives, our communities, our nation a better place. It seemed that the conspiratorial curtain of government abuse and mistrust had been lifted and exposed for the facade it was; a largely non-existent monster under the bed. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. It seems that a different kind of torch has been passed, from the left hand to the right.

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Once the purview of the left, conspiracy theories are now championed by the right-wing. The same group who had dismissed the left as being absurd and “anti-American” for entertaining notions of an Orwellian government agenda, now have a bevy of their own conspiracy theories. Ranging from the relatively harmless (the so-called Birther Movement), to the dangerously absurd (Obama wants to steal our guns), these theories have sadly become the new standard of thinking within the ranks of the far-right. Most of these theories have stemmed from the peculiar notion that Barack Obama is a socialist dictator who—wait for it—wants nothing less than world domination abroad, and total subjugation of its own citizens domestically.

For anyone who has kept up with Obama’s record as president, it is clear that he is neither a socialist nor a particularly fervent leftist. In fact, many of his policy decisions have put him at the center-right. Those who believe otherwise are either ignorant or are purposely obfuscating truth to create a more protracted reality. It is this group who now dwell in the lunatic fringes, refusing to live outside of the bubble that they have conveniently constructed around them.

These same conspiracy theorists, while claiming that the left is attacking their civil liberties (including free speech), use the very tools of mass communication to spread their delusional ideas. In other words, in a dictatorship, the right would not have the ability to freely share their ideology by use of a mass communications platform. So I think it is safe to say that our form of democracy—as flawed as it may be—is a far cry from a socialist dictatorship.

What I believe to be the undercurrent of all this, is the perceived shift of mob rule from right to left. The right-wing was disbelieving and upset over Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and never really got over it.  Obama’s reelection seems to have only angered the right more. Members of the extreme right express vehement (and sometimes violent) opposition to anything that Obama says or does. These misguided individuals cry out in righteous indignation that seems to be laced with—dare I say it?—racism.

Whether or not members of the right-wing are motivated by racism, there has been a discernible ideological shift from right to left. Rather than grow up, evolve, or progress, the extreme right ideologues would rather sulk in the corner at the kids table, commiserating about the good ol’ days when they held the power. This was none-so-apparent as the 2012 election, where the right proved their commitment towards outmoded ways of thinking. The right remained in the relative Dark Ages of social and economic policy, choosing to interfere in women’s reproductive rights and favor the wealthiest of our citizens, among other things. The American voters decided to stick with the President and with progress.

This has done nothing to diminish the resolve of the right-wing, which has only retreated further into the recesses of obtuse thinking. The real danger is when extreme ideas have infiltrated the mainstream and are no longer confined to the lunatic fringes of the party. Otherwise reasonable-thinking individuals parrot the vitriolic views of extreme ideologues who, if for no other reason, wish to maintain absolute control over how we think and what we do with our bodies.

When asked about the influence of fringe groups on the masses, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski stated during an interview:

“In a country of 300 million people, you have to allow that there are a few nuts. Some of them speak out. Some of them have access to the mass media. And some of them have a lot of money. And that’s all right, that’s normal. But you shouldn’t take them too seriously.”

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Now as a nation, we are faced with the perilous predicament of dealing with escalating gun violence in a never-before-seen way. The right has ramped-up its response to its feelings of inadequacy by resorting to fear-mongering, agitation, and bullying. The news channels are brimming with angry members of the right-wing, who continue to promote a pro-gun agenda, their rhetoric seething with conspiracy theories. They maintain that the reason to continue to allow citizens to have access to military-grade assault weapons, is to protect against the impending martial takeover (someday) by our government.

Despite the various conspiracy theories that surround the gun violence issue, the fact remains that there is a very real connection between the gun lobby and the right-wing. The fact that many on the right choose to ignore or deny the pervasive influence that the gun lobby has over gun policy in the US, shows the complicit refusal by the right to adequately deal with gun violence.

Those who are committed to maintaining the partisan standard are, by nature, the very agents opposed to advancing consensus on what to do about gun control. This issue isn’t about right or left; it’s about protecting innocent citizens from criminals. It’s about understanding the origins of the problem and doing our best to make sure that these weapons of destruction don’t end up in the wrong hands.

 

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