Posts Tagged ‘society’

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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

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

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We Americans are in the midst of a civil war. It is not so much a battle of blood and glory, but of ideology and what is at the core of the American identity. More and more often, I have found my point-of-view attacked by the social network commenting class. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy a robust discussion of diverse opinions and I am certainly not beyond reproach. However, I have been surprised by the frequency and ferocity of these attacks, especially after posting a rather innocuous opinion, or one that had the purpose of uniting. While my political beliefs might be difficult to pin down, they really aren’t very extreme. I mostly believe in sensibility between people, and I use my social media platforms to express my thoughts on current issues. With all of the outrage generated by my posts, I began questioning my values. Was I really that far off-base, to garner such opposition? Was I simply some nobody who should just shut-up and get out of the way of the real thinkers? But I soon discovered that there was a deeper, underlying issue at play here.

ImageWhat mostly set me apart from my critics, is that I actually took the time to articulate a well-thought-out, researched response. I didn’t just spew out someone else’s talking points or resort to using simple-minded bumper sticker slogans. I respected the intelligence of my opponents by responding thoughtfully and intelligently. But, that was the problem. I assumed their intelligence. What I encountered from my opponents, more often than not, was a complete disregard for facts, an unwillingness to parse specific issues within the greater context, and disinterest towards a deeper engagement over the issues. Mostly, their comments and responses amounted to nothing more than childish blurts.

After encountering this so often, I realized that the blurting didn’t bother me as much as did the spirit behind it. Most of the time, there was a distinctive tone of superiority behind what my critics were saying. It didn’t matter what I said or how well I said it, they responded with an “I know better than you” attitude. They weren’t interested in what I had to say. They were merely outraged at the audacity that I would say anything, let alone post it for the whole world to read. These critics adopted the personae of the Protector, crusading against the spreading of all my dangerous ideas.

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Rather than allowing my smarmy critics to take charge of the discussion, I really dug into the issues, presenting a researched opinion. But they consistently failed to answer my points with like-consideration. Instead of a nuanced, intelligent discussion, I was faced with commenters who valued ignorance above open-minded reason. So, after much soul-searching, I concluded that my perspective wasn’t the problem; it was just as unique and valid as the next. The problem really lied within the mindset of the ignorant individual.

This person doesn’t take the time to research or formulate his/her own original thoughts on a subject. He/she accepts half-truths as long as it aligns with his/her world view. There is no room for debate. No room for the finer nuances that might challenge their black and white view of reality. This embracing of filtered reality, of fiction-over-fact has led to a type of American Schizophrenia, one with many competing and often contradictory voices. I have outlined a few recurring themes that keep coming up in my social media circles.

Here are my observations:

mad_max A tribe called America. There is a very vocal contingent of right-wing extremists calling themselves “Tea Party,” who are actually anarchists. The most extreme of this group aren’t calling for less federal regulations, they’re calling for no regulations. In this nightmare scenario, our society would regress into neo-tribal, secessionist territories with questionable or no food, environmental, educational, transportation, or public safety standards. Strangely, these people are at ease with violent upheaval. They (in their disgruntled anguish) are quick to forget that you usually trade one set of problems for another. Mad Max, here we come!

  • Today is opposite day! As Americans, we have learned to accept the complete antonymical identification with the terms “Liberal and Conservative.” In other words, people call themselves one thing and act or speak on behalf of the opposite. Look up the origins of the words, liberal and conservative. Do these definitions really match the values of their respective parties? Why is environmental conservation usually associated with being a liberal value? Why are Liberals so quick to restrict the liberties of others by use of more government regulation? Black is white and white is black. Orwell had a term for this: doublespeak.

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  • Might is right. Most Americans use the terms “democracy and republic” interchangeably. If only we lived in a true republic! But alas, the tide has shifted towards a populist democracy. The problem with this, is that when you have a growing population, the opinions grow ever more diverse as well. It becomes impossible to accommodate all persuasions. With media influence becoming ever more democratized, truth and facts become diluted with half-truths and outright lies. If you don’t have a well-informed public, bad ideas can spread like a virus, leading to fractured factions of mobs who cling onto falsities and misnomers. People think they’re right because they’re mightier. Power perceived translates into real power. Instead of a relatively stable Union, we become captive to the populist political movement du jour.
  • Behold the martyrs! There is a false perception among popular groups that they are in the minority or are being persecuted. Two examples are Evangelical Christianity and what I call the “gun-hugging community.” Both groups are highly popular in America, and indeed dominate the landscape of religious and political influence here. But both groups continue to perpetuate the belief that they are being persecuted. Gun-huggers spread unfounded conspiracy theories by claiming that Liberals, or Obama, or Peaceniks, or shadowy elements within our government, or some other mysterious force is trying to take away their guns. Ok, maybe there is a tiny, outspoken group within the U.S. that would go as far as to abolish ALL guns. But they are demonstrably fringe and non-influential. In fact, despite higher rates of gun violence, guns have become even more popular. It’s like the high school football team saying that the small group of nerds somehow kept them from playing football. It just ain’t so. The same goes for Christianity in America. Christians claim they are being persecuted, all while enjoying tax-exempt status, political power, and absolute constitutional freedom to practice and spread. Christianity is the most popular religion. Period.

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  • The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The internet is full of “yacktavists” opining from their ivory towers, spewing out one set of standards for the rest of the world, while holding themselves to a different set of standards. If you’re for smaller government, but unwilling to cut defense spending, then you might just have a double-standard. If you complain about your lack of freedom of speech by ranting on YouTube, you might have a slight disconnect with reality. If you’re sick of this bad economy, but refuse to identify with those less-fortunate, who really have been negatively impacted by the economy, you might be a bit out of touch with the suffering of others. I mean, it’s not like you lost your house, or second vehicle, or even your internet connection.  C’mon! If you’re going to make these grandiose proclamations, loud political rants, scathing social commentary from the safety of your home computer screen, at least follow your own rules. This is passive-aggressive hypocrisy at its worst. Fellow citizens be damned!

These are just a few symptoms of the greater disorder that is American Schizophrenia. Most of these points illustrate how divided we are as a nation, politically and philosophically. However, I don’t think that people realize that these differences are mostly cosmetic. I think that deep down, we agree on the most important issues: reduced suffering for all, personal freedom (as long as it harms no one), a greater understanding of the world, etc. If you actually go out and meet more diverse people, the level of fear and xenophobia goes down. You realize that the angry blogger from next door might actually be a decent person when you strip away the self-righteous posturing. It’s good to remain humble because you haven’t walked in another person’s shoes, and you never know when you might need a hand up. Even when help might come from someone you disagree with.

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