Income Inequality and Kim Jong-un

Have you been hearing the new catch phrases Income Inequality and Wealth Inequality lately? I have, entirely too much, and to be honest it really pisses me off when I hear it. There, I said it. Y’all know how much I loathe to write about political subjects but I just had to get this one off my chest because my poor wife just can’t take much more of all my long-winded soliloquies about socialism when I hear these idiotic phrases being repeated on radio and television. This national election on the radar with an admitted socialist party member among its candidates has ignited all sorts of latent communist credo’s that the extreme left normally suppress. But don’t kid yourself, those ideologies are always present.

Political speech really gets me fired up and I guess it has that same effect on most everyone else too which is why I typically avoid that/this kind of blog. Blog’s like this one are always going to have supporters and detractors and you end up making people mad instead of entertaining them. I like people to like and enjoy the things I write, it’s a sick kind of flattery I guess, and political speech brings out all the wacko’s (people who disagree with me) who like to trash your site with unintelligible hate speech. But in the end, I guess I need to decide who it is that I think I’m entertaining; you or me? I pick me, not because I like myself any more than you do; but, because I need the entertainment and you’re probably not going to be all that entertained anyway.

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First, the very term “income inequality” is an obnoxiously expressed phrase that presupposes that we are all supposed to be earning the same amounts of income and that something is wrong in the cosmos if we aren’t. It is a hint that we’re supposed to be living in a socialistic sphere and that such a system has actual merit as an alternative to modern capitalism. Sadly, nobody reading this blog gives me any credibility whatsoever anymore in this capitalism versus socialism argument because I’m now a farmer so I apply for and receive a few farm subsidies.

It’s like I’m on welfare except instead of investing in Meth with my welfare check I’m growing beef that people can eat and I’m using eco-responsible grazing and watering methods to improve the eco-systems downstream from us. I’m sounding kinda like Trump explaining all his bankruptcies, “I’m just working within a system that I didn’t design, just like everyone else.”

To address this first issue, we need to agree right now to do ourselves a favor and stop calling it income inequality.  Income is not the culprit and there’s nothing “quality” about my income.  As Americans, we should have no negative associations with the word wealth or income in the context of people having it.  Poverty and social dysfunction are what really plague us; those things cannot be fixed by taking from the haves to give to the have-nots.  To really improve the situation, the have-nots must eventually recognize the value of doing something. OMG; I just lost half my readers.

Not only that, it also assumes that American’s are not already giving significant portions of their income to the bottom earners. In recent decades Congress has chosen to funnel significant amounts of our taxpayer contributions as benefits for lower-income and non-earners through the income tax rather than just writing them a check. Some of these benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Credit for education, actually do make direct cash payments to people who don’t owe income tax. That’s why the lowest earners on pretty much every pie chart show a negative contribution to taxes rather than a zero. They don’t just get a free pass on income tax, we actually pay them to not earn much.

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For people who don’t have ambition, the system encourages people to stay right where they are rather than just be there for tough times. I’ve had them myself. When the building bubble burst, I was laid off and didn’t work for nearly a year. Instead of getting drunk every day or contemplating cutting my wrists, I simply went back to school during that idle time and incubated a developing business model which had some early success then failed but evolved into a fairly decent side business for me.

But most studies show that those bottom earners who pay zero taxes actually receive as much as fifty thousand ($50,000.00) a year in cash and benefits for things such as housing, food, and health insurance. If this particular demographic had to actually report those non-taxable earnings on their tax returns then no one would qualify to be on the poverty tables anymore because it would reveal that our American poor receive more income as benefits than most of the so-called non-poverty low-income earners in the United States – specifically our working young who are graduating high school and college. How many of your kids just graduating college are making $50k a year?

The second big problem I have with so-called income inequality alarmists can be summed up as them having a general contempt for capitalism and an ignorant fascination with socialism.  Let’s get something straight once and for all.  Socialism is not only to be feared, it is to be summarily avoided at all opportunities.  Socialism is economic absurdity.  There is no more sufficient way to describe it.  Even if we were to tolerate the idiocy of wealth redistribution, for instance through taxation and welfare transfer payments, this is merely the least offensive socialist idea and one that we’ve as a country have moderately embraced now for 83 years.

True socialism necessitates nationalization, the government management of all means of production and resources.  The state is the main employer and therefore the main benefactor.  People are reliant on the whims of leaders and technocrats to determine a fair compensation for their labor and creativity.  Because the state sets prices arbitrarily, rationing inevitably follows.  Black markets become a necessity.  Socialism is an economic system that requires a shadow economy to operate.  It is at every level inefficient and global history has more than proven this by now. You don’t just have to accept this blog as empirical evidence, read about world history and look at this great big world around you and study those who once felt that same “Bern” you may be feeling.

Perhaps a better way is to look at a satellite image of the Korean peninsula at night.  North Korea is pitch black.  The rest of the world glows while they dwell in darkness.  Who could wish that on anyone?  We shouldn’t be quick to praise seemingly less totalitarian socialist nations either.  As many noted after the death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela may have lifted up its poor through oil subsidies, but it is one of the most violent countries in Latin America and has one of the highest inflation rates in the world.  As for the socialism-lite of Europe, that’s not to be admired either.  They are facing a very serious crisis.  Spain and Greece have unemployment rates above 25%.  In Greece, poverty and the lack of opportunity are giving rise to neo-Nazis all over again. Just try to see a doctor in any European country for any illness without waiting for 4 weeks. How sick are you four weeks later…uh – dead?

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This is not surprising.  Socialism is not a democratic system.  There’s a reason it has always been accompanied by autocracy—it cannot work any other way.  In order for the state to be able to set prices, wages, and benefits, in order for it to manage all of these resources that the market otherwise would, it has to be centralized.  It may seem to raise up the impoverished, but socialism most certainly does not give these disadvantaged classes a voice.  Instead, socialism silences everyone.  It strips them of the liberty to buy, sell, work, and live how they would see fit.  Anyone who promotes socialism as a way to empower the masses in America should be shamed out of the public sphere completely. The Bern should go down in flames.

In order for an economy to work, someone has to create; someone must invest. In order for a society to advance, someone must invent; someone must produce. HEY YOU GUYS – step back into the Dark Ages. What happened to create a Renaissance period? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was art and architecture and production and the cessation of the church and state killing smart and artistic peoples in order to control the flow of knowledge. If you and your fellow citizens lose the motivation to create and better themselves then nothing happens. Socialism, in every instance of its existence in society, has never done anything but to rob every individual inside it of all motivation to do anything except fight their way out of it.

Fine, you’re a millennial and you’re proud of being flexible. Don’t screw it up for yourself and undermine the one thing that makes it possible for you to continue longer in the undetermined stages of life. Stable societies that empower people to be free and productive offer people the ability to prosper. No other known form of government does that. It was never a guarantee that every single person would prosper because not everyone has the same abilities and not everyone has the same motivations. Capitalism is simply the conduit for wealth-building that can be used by people who give a rat’s ass. Redistribution of a static supply of resources accomplishes nothing and makes no one richer.

People often talk about income as if it’s this fixed thing. “Those people over there are the 1 percent.” “These over here live in poverty.” “That other group is the people in the top 20 percent.” That’s not the way it is folks. Lots of people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their lives which denotes that there are other important catch phrases that never get near as much attention – one such phrase might be something I would call Economic Mobility.

Why is there so much movement in income? There are no real surprises here. Raises, promotions, experience, new careers, hair-brained ideas, inheritance, retirement, and a spouse entering or leaving the workforce can all create large fluctuations in household income. That top 1% you see on the charts evolves and changes fluidly. Similarly, many people in that bottom 90% and even in the bottom 10% will quickly climb into higher and higher income brackets over their lives. That happened to me when the economy tanked in ’08. I will probably never earn as much money as I was making just prior to the recession and never any lower than I was during it. That’s life though. That in no way means I will stop trying; no, I keep finding more and more things to aggravate my wife over.

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The percentiles you see in income charts are living, breathing and evolving. That’s not wealth in the hands of a titled and inaccessible aristocracy as some foolishly intimate.  It belongs to a free class of people that continuously shifts and grows. If America had this much-illusioned situation of an elite oligarchy that controls all the money and opportunity then Forbes would no longer produce its annual list of the top 400 richest people in America. It publishes that magazine annually because the list changes every year. And because reality television keeps exposing us to these crazy-talented unknowns: #OmarosaActuallyWroteABook.

Income and wealth inequality is only a problem if the goal is for everyone to be equal. What we have in this country is opportunity.  The entirety of our globe is in a far better place today with medicines, technology, innovations and science because of this crazy American experience. Technology and the advancement of science grew at a snail’s pace in the scheme of things historically before the existence of capitalism and the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. We did this! Capitalism did this! Be excited about it, don’t be suckered into feeling guilty because you’ve benefited by it more than some other person. We all get what we give in life.

Those in our bottom 80% and our elderly wouldn’t have anywhere near the quality of life they now have it weren’t for that top 20%. The top 20% of wage earners pay 82% of income taxes, but the vast majority of government spending goes to the bottom 80%. Federal and state governments spend a trillion dollars a year just on welfare programs, which does not include Social Security and Medicare. That is more than we spend on national defense. It adds up to roughly $17,000 per person in poverty, over $50,000 for a poor family of three. If you’ve ever had a job, you helped do that. I’m sorry if those people don’t feel thankful for what the rest of us are doing for them just because they can’t have all the same things you or I have. If they want those things, they can have them too without having the government wrestle more of it out of my pockets or by stealing them from someone else. They can actually work and create and invent and save for it just like the rest of us have to do.

The Census Bureau estimates that our current welfare spending totals four times what would be necessary just to give all of the poor the cash to bring them up to the poverty line, eliminating all poverty in America. One of the biggest problems with social programs is the enormous bureaucracies we have to create that are necessary in order to give free money away. It costs governments more money to give money away than the money that they are giving away. America has the means to do way more than it is doing without taking more from its doers. Money that we could use to create more; more opportunity for others to earn, more technology to make life easier for everyone, and more ideas that flourish exponentially into even more of everything because I have it to use or invest instead of the government having it to sustain. If we can find ways to lean up bureaucracies then it would be like instantly finding another Fort Knox that we didn’t even know we had.

Another issue that is important to note is that the term household income pretty much means nothing. First of all, why is it always measured based on household? It makes it really difficult to compare one’s income to others in their industry or area or even to the U.S. overall. It also skews the overall perception of wealth– for example, looking at the charts you’re like, “wow that many people make over $100K per year?” But no, that’s mostly *two* people making $55K/year. Secondly income isn’t a very good indicator of wealth. Sure, it’s a major factor. But taken alone it doesn’t tell you much of anything.

If I made $100K per year but say I went to law school to be able to earn that and have $800 per month student loan payments for 20 years, that $100K doesn’t exactly say much about how much money I actually have. Also, you could work in an industry that includes a lot of highly skilled blue-collar jobs where it’s not uncommon to earn that kind of wage but those people have NO college loan debt, so that level of income means a lot more.

This modern socialistic style of health care is also making it difficult for physicians to earn high wages too. These guys have student loan debt that may require them to make monthly payments as high as $2,500.00 a month. The reason people choose the medical field is so that they can earn big money knowing that they will be relatively poor until their debt is paid. Poor people don’t understand all that because paying debt off is a complete oxymoron. If you pay it, it’s not debt anymore…right?  If we cannot figure out a way for doctors to continue to be rich, guess what? Fewer people will be willing to make that investment with so little return – that means fewer doctors.

Another problem is that someone could live in Boston, San Francisco or NYC and make $80,000 a year and be a virtual pauper but if they lived in Tulsa Oklahoma, Billings Montana, or Shelbyville, Tennessee that same salary/income would afford them a more than adequate lifestyle. The landscape of incomes/lifestyles is very different depending on where one lives.

Unfortunately, I’m concerned with the futures for our younger generation. They don’t necessarily mind work but they definitely lack ambition. I think that our bottom numbers are growing because this generation of young men and women have been given too much to the extent that they can’t imagine themselves without a safety net. They don’t dream and they don’t stress over their futures like the generation before it did. The good news, fewer heart attacks. The bad news, a lesser ability to eat wonderful things that increase the risk of heart attacks.

When my parents were young, they had empty pockets, cabbage sandwiches and Friday night delousing with kerosene and broken combs. Kids back then didn’t have a whole lot. Their parents were still recovering from the depression and even if they’d found a way out of poverty, they were too paranoid to spend money out of fear that the economy would collapse again. Annual de-wormings were not just for livestock. These days, the new school year means y’all kids get a new Xbox game; my parents got their one annual pair of school shoes along with an enema cocktail that killed ringworm and cured tuberculosis.

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But this group of youngsters today seem to be the most unambitious group of people to ever walk the face of this earth. They don’t strive for anything at all; because, they’ve been given everything. Ambition to them means they might have to work extra hours to pay for their own car, iPad, or anyexcuseforapalooza tickets. Kids today graduate high school then take a year off to vacation in Europe. Take a year off from what? Kids graduating high school in the 40’s went to Europe to die fighting Nazi’s – not to sample the hashish menu at the mellow yellow coffee shop in Amsterdam.

The problem with poverty is not only that stereotypical demographic that we are used to seeing: people living with perpetual public assistance, people selling drugs and committing crime to get by. The problem is also being exacerbated by a generation of unambitious non-producers. You cannot grow your own skills or achieve anything by sitting on your ass waiting for an opportunity to come toward you or by spending valuable time complaining about the lack thereof. When one closely examines this every increasing gap between the non-earners and the rich, the bottom number doesn’t necessarily expand at all. The middle earners are growing and the rich are growing too.

You cannot assume that there is only a certain amount of money on the table to be made and the rich are getting more than their fair share while the poor are getting less. That’s the kind of idiocy that is being talked about. No, the amount of income that Americans can figure out how to make can actually grow, just like our debt can grow. How can the poor get poorer if they already had nothing to begin with? It’s not like that. The middle class is growing and the rich are growing and that is a great thing. In 1920 our Gross National Product (GNP) was $78 Billion dollars. In 2016 it’s expected to be One Trillion Six Thousand Six Hundred Thirty One Billion dollars. The stack gets bigger and bigger people.

We also must accept that there are among us people, brothers, sisters, and parents who do not have, and in some cases never had, the capacity to create. Age is a fact of life; physical handicaps, injuries, mental disorders, and mental simplicity all present challenges that cannot be overcome by simple solutions or at all. That is where the rest of us step up and step in. By the way, laziness, and the lack of ambition are not YET listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But, our system of caring for those who cannot do for themselves could and should be improved.

We can do that by adding simplicity to the way we provide assistance. The reason why there are so many rules and so much bureaucracy with providing public assistance is because of the historical abuses and fraud in that system. The government has been forced to react to the problems of fraud instead of being able to thoughtfully come up with rational and sensible solutions. The advancement of technology should offer us ever increasing capabilities of providing higher amounts of government benefits without breaking the bank.

While it is disturbing to contemplate the living situations of people stuck in the bottom income percentiles in the United States, the possibility of such wealth at the top should be thrilling to all of us.  It should not depress us; it should inspire us.  It should not incite jealousy; it should kindle ambition.  People should look at that astronomical green bar and think: How do I get there?  What can I make?  How can I create something of worth?

We know that it takes lots of work and sometimes many tries and failed attempts before an idea takes off. So please try. Who knows, maybe your efforts to be the next big porn star will fail but in the process you discover a cure for premature ejaculation. #HellaBank! – am I right?

That’s what wealth is. Capitalism is not the enemy.  Not for a free people who have prospered because of it. Capitalism has done more to save and enrich lives in Western civilization than we can possibly enumerate.  Perhaps that’s the problem – most Americans don’t know any other way of life.  They don’t understand how miserable, sick, and poor we’d be without the creative power of a free market. More accurately, they fail to recognize what it cost the rest of us to provide them with shitty free housing and all the cheese and baby formula they can eat. Yes, it’s shitty…but it’s free dumbass and it allows you the free time you need to pursue your dream of becoming the next reality television star.

People simply do not grasp how disturbing socialism has been in actual practice.  In the 1930s, in the larger cities of the Soviet Union, abortions outnumbered births.  People had no incentive even to carry life on into the next generation.  People need incentives.  They need to believe that their children will thrive and prosper.  The only system to successfully and consistently instill that kind of confidence is capitalism.  So, yes, socialism is justly to be dreaded and the returns of capitalism are not to be viewed with contempt.

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The real issue that should ignite anger, fear, and sadness is poverty.  We need to concentrate on that and finally forget our misguided and pessimistic inclinations to pillage the wealthiest among us.  Why should we hate them, they’re paying our way – paying more than 80% of this country’s income tax burden?  We should want to be them.  To achieve that, we must unleash our creative forces. We should be concentrating on teaching everyone who enters our public school system the value of capitalism instead of padding our public schools with leftist, pinko-commie, bed wetting teachers who indoctrinate our kids with ignorance and utter intolerance of anyone with a conservative ideology.

We all have to recognize that God put and maintains equal numbers of men and women on this planet and he also put and maintains equal numbers of liberals and conservatives on this planet. Not to fight each other over who’s ideologies are right or wrong, but to influence, balance, and temper the other’s views with empath and observance of the other’s needs. Without that, nothing exists but chaos and extremist somethings – extremist right wing, extremist left wing, or extremist no wings.

An example of this would be ISIS. As a matter of ideology, they neither accept the views of women who are viewed as inferior nor will they accept any other idea which challenges their strict interpretation of the Quran. Any attempt at compromise or an offer of alternative interpretation is summarily followed by a beheading.

It’s a little like our Congress except instead of beheading people we just distort their words and ideas then unleash our “incredibly unbiased” media on them, making smart people everywhere regret ever thinking about serving the rest of us. Who’s left to serve? You got it; dumb people who idolize North Korea, dishonest and pompously fake bureaucrats wearing pant-suits, and self-important narcissists who don’t care that you think they’re stupid because, “look at how hot my wife is!”

The opposite of income inequality is income equality. Income equality, as Churchill said, is the “equal sharing of misery”. He said this because of his experience in observing all other socialist countries where all the wealth is centered in government and all the people are equally poor, equally hungry, equally denied of rights and opportunities, equally frightened of the government, equally distrustful of their friends and neighbors because they may tell the government about your radical ideas, equally cultivated into becoming machines for the benefit of government, equally denied of ideas and information and culture and art or anything that would allow you an opportunity to know. Income equality is death. We shouldn’t even recognize it as a legitimate phrase much less a cause. It is a term created by a hungry but dying mass-media, embraced by the jealous, and propagated by an exploitative political machine for its own growth.

Luck: The Good Choices We Had Nothing To Do With

“You’re so lucky”, how many times have you heard that? Luck — good and bad — plays a big role in all of our lives, right? I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I am ever so grateful. I
am lucky to be alive; I am lucky to be healthy; I am lucky to have been born into a family that could care for me, and in a place where I did not have to fight medical odds just to survive infancy; I am lucky to possess the DNA to let my body develop in a way that is acceptable to my mind; I am also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity to steer me where my luck may provide advantage; I am lucky to have a healthy and intelligent child who loves me back and who I can proudly observe as he discovers all the things I write about independently of me; I am lucky to have found and successfully trapped a wonderful woman who loves me like crazy and whom I love the same way back; I’m lucky to have a good job when a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet; I’m lucky to have a fantastic mother who has always been attentive to both my physical and mental well-being; I am lucky to have wonderful siblings who have continued to support me emotionally throughout my entire life; yes, I am one lucky SOB.

Every single one of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on this planet. I had nothing to do with most of those things, partial responsibility for a few, and I am lucky as crap they all went in my favor. Heck, one time I found a McDonald’s bag in a rental car with $500 cash in it…that’s pretty darn lucky huh? Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just plain ole crappy times. But none of those things – good, bad, lucky, indifferent, or unlucky – are what defines us. We’re way more complicated than that.

The way in which each of us handle good as well as bad luck is what best defines who we really are. If we are willing to learn, the way we deal with both positive and tough times can teach us a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. If things go your way do you get cocky or appreciative…if things go South do you pout and feel sorry for yourself or just try again and again? The knowledge gained from both situations becomes useful in many situations, but especially when we face hard decisions and potential life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have the best opportunities always seemingly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest use of that opportunity. More often, it’s what you’ve learned from failures that will be the thing that propels you forward when an opportunity presents itself.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2 BC-ish)

I drank it

Making the most of any opportunity, indeed even to recognize an opportunity for what it is, you have to be prepared. You must do the hard work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when your “luck” shines upon you, when you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you have been waiting for, which sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for. Luck has a strange sense of humor. She is a 1st cousin to karma.

What happens at that point is called choice.

No matter our relative luck levels and no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations…that choice – that free will — that is what makes us human, right? The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious. But sometimes we do not notice an opportunity for what it is because it is up to us to really make it one. That cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared to do that. Circumstances sometimes limit our choices, but even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is too a choice.

Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the highest rewards, are called “tough” for a good reason. So how do we become more self-prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know better who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious, what makes you intolerable — and you do not learn that kind of thing in the Valley of Unicorns and Leprechauns.

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Polonius told Laertes, his son, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice yes, but the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not, where you want to be, and an amazing amount of other knowledge about yourself that you never even knew you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Although that particular line in Hamlet is one of the more recognizable lines, another of Polonius’ lines I find to be equally valuable is, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Remember that line when you’re out on a limb doing something unorthodox and people are giving you a funny look.

In case you are looking for some sort of reward for all that hard work – your journey to self-awareness not only becomes enlightening along the way but it WILL make tough choices down the road a lot easier for you. Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue on the path you have now chosen. And now we are getting to the real important part, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life” I mentioned in my last blog.

This very blog, the one you are reading now, was written because of a series of small choices made each and every day. I love writing and I love teaching. Making the choice to write more, to teach those around me who I really am inside, to help those I care about navigate life’s up and downs…these are all things that I can do because of decisions I’ve made in my life that allow me to do it – and some good ole luck which provided me with the DNA needed to develop a love for words. The doors we open AND close each day will decide what we become and how we live our lives.

But, sometimes doubt creeps in because I would dearly love to be writing for a living. My failure or lack of initiative or lack of time and money and other distractions in my early life has delayed my own ability to finish what I started with my formal education. I continue to tinker with it but I never seem to find the time to just commit to finishing school. I changed majors 3 times and finally I know what I want to do, I just haven’t done it. That lack of a diploma closes a lot of doors for someone who likes to write…thus some bad choices were made.

Hey, no one ever promised that living life on our own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me, I never found that pot-o-gold at the end of a rainbow, and I still do not have a rocket propelled jet-pack to travel back and forth to work on. Perhaps I would if some rocket scientist out there had taken an unconventional path instead of the NASA path of least resistance. But, that’s another story. Getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, is based on what you should now know to be true – and that is experiencing life to the fullest without fear of failure. I do not know of any better way to move closer toward Shangri-La, which, by the way, is a moving target if you are doing things right.

Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t let them. How lucky are we? How lucky are people with luck? Well, if we have learned anything at all I think it would be that lucky doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Make choices and make every choice matter – good or bad. Living deliberately doesn’t give you the key to every door, it IS the key to building your own door.

Getting The Most From Life…

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What a subjective title I chose…somebody please stop me now before I try to explain what color car is best or which species of animal is most beneficial for the environment. I mean, seriously, what makes my belly quiver in laughter and what makes my wife do so can sometimes be miles apart, and that’s just a comparison between two people on this planet doing one thing. Imagine trying to find consensus in what makes the typical American happy versus a typical Asian or Colombian or Eastern European. I know it seems like I’m arguing with myself but I just wanted to lay a little groundwork and say out-loud that talking about getting the most from life is certainly not as easy as doing it. Whether you lived in the 1800s or are living now, the path to getting the most out of life and living on your own terms was/is paved with challenges and complexities, including having to deal with folks who do not or cannot understand the concept at all.

Henry David Thoreau, in his book “Walden, Where I lived, and What I lived For” wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. …I wanted to suck out all the marrow of life…” Profound as some people believe his writing was, there were those around him, his peers, who not only couldn’t appreciate what he was writing about but who were also openly critical of his the ideas and the inspirations behind what he wrote about. It seems that good writing along with good anything lies in the eyes of the beholder.

In fact, another popular author of the time, Robert Louis Stevenson, called Thoreau’s journey into the woods “unmanly” and something he “tended with womanish solicitude.” John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that Thoreau would have man “lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs.” I think it is safe to say that neither of those men “got” what Thoreau was preaching about. Instead, they took a much more literal approach to his subject than he would have wanted them to take. Author George Eliot did get it though: “People—very wise in their own eyes—who would have every man’s life ordered according to a particular pattern, and who are intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them, may pooh-pooh Mr. Thoreau and this episode in his history, as unpractical and dreamy.”

What? Another intelligent opinion which differs? Actually, this very wise man and famous novelist of the era George Eliot, was not a man at all. Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans who authored seven novels from 1859 to the 1880’s. It‘s amazing how wise her words still are today, especially now considering the plethora of accepted alternative lifestyles of today versus that of the Victorian period when she lived and wrote. The main idea I am trying to convey here is that people around you, including family, will not always agree with the path you are taking and may sometimes be very critical of you. Opinions, no matter how trusted the source, may or may not always be relevant at all to your decisions and choices. We should always appreciate the thought behind a person’s opinions and reasonably consider them but it is US who find the applicability of those opinions or not and US who bear responsibility for following or not following that advice.

Living deliberately, as Thoreau was instructing us to do, if you’re really serious about it, requires first that you know who the hell you are. How do we really get to know ourselves if all we are doing is sticking our toes in the water? Even if you’re taking a road well-traveled, that doesn’t mean that you have to do it in a Chevy just like Paw did. Perhaps you will invent the next means of transportation? If that is your dream, then by all means pursue it. The only promise I can make you is that there will be lots of people along the way who will criticize every idea, every vision, and every version you have about your dream. Trust yourself when everyone else is doubting you but always make allowances for a person’s doubts because tucked away inside those doubts are another person’s failures that you can learn from.

When we or our loved ones carve life paths that are independent, open, and outside of conventional boundaries, we always run the very real risk of losing people along the way. If you are a doctor and your father was a doctor and suddenly your child wants to be an artist or musician, then everyone stops to offer free advice to the young person which may or may not be all that wise for him/her. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not well-intentioned, but equally it doesn’t mean that it’s all that wise. What about college? If you strongly believe your child needs to get that diploma, what do you do when they reject the idea and move on to employment and financial freedom? What if…OMG, your child wants to marry a person outside of his/her race? There are lots of scenarios here, you fill in the very broad blank here.

I wish I could tell you that when you take your life into your own hands and create your own path, all of your loved ones will be overjoyed for you. That they will excitedly continue loving and supporting you, so very proud that you not only know what you want but are also working your ass off to get there — learning, growing, and confronting challenges you had no idea existed. That no matter what you do in life or where you go, you will always be able to lean on the support network you thought was solid. But alas I cannot offer this to you. Some of your loved ones not only will not get it, they will not even care to try. But God doesn’t create perfect humans and never promised any so we have to work with the imperfections. It’s up to the more thoughtful and intelligent ones to not only ignore the emotional clutter caused by ignorant family members but to also empathize with why they care so damn much about what you are doing.

Guess what, living deliberately, sucking the marrow from life, and creating your own path is not about them and their judgments, it’s always going to be about you and your commitment to yourself and your vision for who you are or will become. What are you about? Who will you be? Those things are decided by you every time you make a choice, or respond to a stressful event in your life. Will you go down the road someone else took to get to the real you or will your journey to “self” be independent and directed in a way which best reflects who you strive to become? We are all works in progress and the beauty of life is that we can make bad decisions then later decide to make better ones. Screwing up is just a metaphor for a crash-course. So get out your cliff notes and start screwing up and…yes…grow!.

We all grow up with certain influences, then we live our lives based on certain pre-conceived ideas mixed with those influences. Then, with those pre-conceived ideas and influences, we carve a path through life touching and being touched along the way. Those personal experiences add to our realm of reality. That reality, the one we and our loved ones inherit then expand, is different for us all. It governs our consciousness which makes us want to save you from making mistakes that we recognize do not to fit within our own set of parameters. So don’t take it personal. We just don’t know that you have a different set of parameters because we can’t be expected to know what we don’t know.

Now let me be very clear. It is completely understandable that your mom may not immediately get why you are suddenly writing incessantly about people she doesn’t know, or if she learns of your plan to spend a year practicing Yoga in India; or, that your childhood best-friend cannot wrap his head around your career change from investment banking for teaching; or, that you’re concerned father is freaked out about you leaving the crappy newspaper you work for to do a stint as a photojournalist in Afghanistan. You cannot make enormous life changes and expect that everyone you know will understand your choices and motivations. Sometimes its just love and concern that drive suspicion and insecurity.

But, aside from the concerned, if you are lucky, you will have some people around you who care enough to try to understand. I will…I think.

Throughout your life’s journey, some in your inner circle will prove to be your lifelong connections, regardless of how much you’re stressing them out; they will do so by hanging in there with you even when they question your logic and your sanity. They will talk to you about your life, your goals, your dreams, your decisions, your actions, and try to understand where you are coming from — and hopefully you will reciprocate and keep up your end of the relationship you have always known, only enriched by new experiences and a deeper level of understanding. But don’t grow dependent upon adulation. You don’t need it to succeed. Instead, just be thankful you have it. Success stems from many things but hard work and confidence are among the top contributors.

Now, what about those other folks? The ones that cannot bend and will not try? Unfortunately, we all have those other types of people in our spheres of family and friends — the kind who absolutely refuse to try to understand your life as you envision it, or perhaps as you are already living it. These are people with closed minds and strict ideas not only of their own lives but also of yours and everyone else’s, or as Eliot wrote much more poetically, “intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them.” They cannot fit you comfortably into a proverbial box, which means you threaten everything they think they know as absolute.

You thought these people loved you unconditionally, but, as it turns out, they only support you when you live on their terms, according to their plans and expectations. They may or may not confront you about the mistakes they think you are making, but regardless they cannot help but judge your decisions and withhold love and support based on those judgments, whether they are based in fact or assumption (usually assumption since they do not know enough about your life on which to base a valid opinion anyway).

Continued sanity and lifelong productivity requires us to learn who really has our backs and who among our circles will only be there for us when it is convenient or comfortable for them. I call these types of people conditional lovers. The only way to objectively deal with these folks, sometimes our grandparents, parents, aunt’s and uncles, is to embrace them honestly and accept that they do not have the capacity either socially or mentally to ever understand who you are, and that’s OK.

People who offer conditional love can suck the energy, inspiration, and dreams right the hell out of you if you let them. So do not let them. When it becomes painfully obvious that in certain places all you will find is a wall of judgment, condescension, and conditional love, you have no choice but to either avoid it altogether or to confront it with an ultimatum. When you have tried for days, weeks, months, or even years to keep a relationship going, but you get nothing but criticism and judgment in return, offer them a choice of acceptance or avoidance. Let them take some ownership in whatever the outcome.

If you are otherwise living a good life and someone else is judging or criticizing you, it is not about you. It is about them. It is either about their own insecurities, failures and unhappiness or perhaps it’s about their own inability to move on and forgive your mistakes of the past. If they do not want to make the effort to understand you and your life, that is their loss — and not your problem.

How you react to the actions of others is always your choice, and you can either allow conditional lovers to suck up your time and energy, letting their snide comments, judgments, and lack of a desire to understand break your heart over and over again, or you can follow Thoreau’s example and continue to suck the marrow out of life on your own terms, live-deliberately, be mindful of each and every precious moment, and cherish the wonderful people around you who do love and support you unconditionally.

And for the subjective record, I think fish are the coolest animal species on the planet because you can catch and eat them whenever you want but you don’t have feed them, clean up after them or step in their doodoo. Just sayin.

Grow! (Re-Post from FB)

Spending so much of my off time this year writing about negative things, I decided to begin writing about positive and hopeful subjects in an effort to evolve last year’s sarcasm into a brighter theme for the remainder of the year. Perhaps a new theme every year might be in order, maybe not. Let’s just see where this takes us. That said, my last blog was about thinking outside the box. Honestly, I was just writing my thoughts on the matter to my son who always surprises me with his intuitiveness but in the end I thought others might enjoy my journalistic journeys in the same way that people sometimes enjoy watching bloopers on television or turtles getting stuck upside-down.

What I optimistically think I will end up with are short but insightful vignettes of life. The ramblings, mid-life assumptions and truths of “my-world” honed by experience, tribulations and incredibly stupid decisions. Since everyone knows I am fond of assigning short and pointed phrases or words that get right to my points or ideas (laughing), I have decided for the remainder of 2014 to have a one-word theme: GROW.

At this age, one never enjoys wishing away time, but for me, I couldn’t be more ready for 2014 to end and for 2015 to begin. Adopting this one-word theme may, in some way, help to guide us through the next four months, embarking on a new year with enthusiasm and gratitude for having survived 2014. This year has been one of my most challenging — certainly not what I had envisioned when I was thinking about the context of my New Year’s resolution, because I had not bothered to think about this year’s elections. Who would have imagined how I would have been thrust into such a thing, nor how I would have reacted? I guess I’m growing as a person and a reprobate all at the same time.

It seems unfair to me that experience, in some situations, actually does more to stifle a good time than to play saxophone for it. When you’re 20, life is all conga’s and bongo’s; at 50, it’s a tambourine baby. Now even the perpetually young Dick Clark has euphemistically walked-the-plank of the USS Minnow along with dozens of my other childhood benchmarks, all being replaced by their Generation X versions of which I seem less and less connected. Growth is not always appealing.
While there were some amazing highs in 2012 and 2013 like finally seeing Hawaii with Emily or her and me vacationing with my son in Europe, the emotional investment of an online inquisition has pretty much deflated my hot air balloon. Although 75% of people loved it, 25% are now my sworn enemies. But the canvas of 2015 is yet before us. Whatever images or color palette that make their way onto the tautly stretched fabric of our lives will come from how well we interpret our subjects and how we position our brushes for the down stroke. The main idea is that we are growing our works. We may have to sidestep or even back up occasionally but we’re moving and improving nonetheless.

A decidedly up-hill year like this can either break or make you stronger, and I feel confident I will be falling into the latter group. Though, of course, nothing worthwhile comes easy. Happiness, a basic human desire, cannot be obtained without emotional and intellectual growth and maturity. For this type of emotional growth to occur, we need to teach ourselves to be more expressive of our feelings and come to terms with whatever outcomes rise ahead. Intellectual growth is best achieved by expanding your knowledge through cultural, technical, professional and scholastic endeavors. If you are not pushing yourself into uncomfortable places, you’re probably not growing. Being open to new ideas, learning new skills, considering opposing views, involving yourself in the community, reading books or attending lectures, art exhibits or traveling to faraway places to experience alternative cultures can all provide great opportunities to grow.

How we react to challenges and obstacles can really define us? If you’re unable to rationally respond to a mini-crisis, then you could benefit from a broader perspective. Perspective and perception are so important in approaching life’s big and little challenges. Most of what we hear from others are opinions, not facts. Everything we see is a perspective, not necessarily truth. So don’t let others control your direction. Grow your perspective through experiences of every kind so that what you see is closer to reality and stop giving other people the power to set your limitations. If you take the time to listen to good and bad, real and fake, truth and lies…you will grow.

I love GROW because it encompasses many different types of improvements — the continued development of our religion, education, relationships with family, our children, grandchildren and spouses, a new or evolving professional direction or talent, or just the intimate relationship with ourselves. I also like GROW because the concept is closely related to increases instead of losses. Much as I would love to slam the door shut on 2014 and never open it again, I know this year’s events will continue to influence me in 2015 and beyond . . . and that is never a bad thing. That indeed is the very concept of growth isn’t it?

So bring it on, 2015, because you when you get here, we will potentially be armed with an entirely new one-word theme. I’m just not sure what it will be yet.

Starting Where You Are

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The phrase “start where you are” has been rattling around inside my hard head for a few days now. I am not exactly sure where I first heard it, but I immediately recognized the value of writing about it. Now that I just launched my own blog, it seems especially poignant that my first official blog would be about starting wherever you are with whatever idea or project or goal that you may have.

Trying to find the meaning of a phrase like this could take us in several directions, any of which would be equally worthy of exploration. One direction my mind initially took was about allowing ourselves to move forward by embracing rather than denying the painful aspects or events of our lives. I think most of us can find, though some have done a good job of repressing, painful or hurtful circumstances or events in which we’ve been wounded without having properly dealt with the aftermath. Sometimes we are hesitant to move ahead after a traumatic event, if for no other reason than to show respect and remembrance for what or whom we may have lost. Just that word “aftermath” evokes a powerful memory for me after having recently dealt with my brother Mikes’ death.

One of the most important steps forward I made emotionally with that event was coming to terms with it on my brothers’ terms, not mine. It’s so easy for us to internalize what others do; and in fact, I believe that is what generally hurts us most. Being a man, husband, father, uncle, brother… you don’t always get to grieve with the rest of your family because you’re too busy making sure everything is taken care of so others don’t have to deal with the difficult parts. When I finally started to vocalize my feelings out-loud to others and remove the weight of my own emotional state, I could more easily empathize with what was going on with him. Suddenly I wasn’t so concerned with myself and how it affected me but instead my thoughts were directed my brother and his feelings. It was literally like flipping a switch. I remember so clearly the day I suddenly recognized that I was no longer thinking about him while bathing in the morning because that had been my daily ritual for months.

But that’s what we do isn’t it? We assign our own logic and our own feelings to everything that others do, like somehow others make their own choices based upon what we think. They don’t. Not only are people not respecting our values or our feelings when they do things in which we don’t approve, they probably don’t even share the same logic, mores, or reality that we have. Like I said before, our reality is shaped by our own personal experiences. Our realities are not always the same. So before embarking on something new, let’s first shed some old skin from our past and gain a fresh perspective. Forgive what you can never fully comprehend anyway, recognizing first and foremost that it was never about you.

But that concept, as important as it is, is not what I have been equating with “starting where you are” in my head over the past few days. Instead, I was interpreting it much more literally, much more practically:

To stop making excuses for why you can’t do something, and just do it.

I don’t know about you, but I have a perfectionist inside of me who defers to waiting until the “right” moment, until I have all the necessary tools or facts or information or whatever it is he believes I need to begin. An example is when I was 5 and my mom enrolled me and my siblings into a YMCA swimming class. My mom is fond of telling that for the first few days I refused to participate, patiently watching others swim from the edge of the pool, until suddenly and unexpectedly, after having learned from watching everyone else, I just jumped in the pool and started swimming.

That perfectionist in my head, as humorous as his stories are now, has not really been the best role model for me. He’s quietly worked behind the scenes of my life to write a script that is much more reserved and skeptical than I wish it had been. I have had to fight that guy mightily over the years, and I have won a few battles, but he can be stubborn. He rears his curly head any and every time I think about trying something new, doing something outside of my comfort zone, or when confronted with stretching my possibilities.

Will I be smart enough?
Am I adequately prepared to go down this path?
Will I *gulp* fail?

As I have clawed my way forward and pushed through those seeds of doubt for nearly five decades the result has surprisingly always been the same; Yes, I actually can. No matter where I was, I started right there and I succeeded by learning and growing into a new starting place. Like a caterpillar inching along at a snail’s pace, I and you slowly but eventually find our center then quickly re-orient ourselves to a new normal. An old proverb says that just when the caterpillar believes his life is over – God says nope, you’re a butterfly. Although it couldn’t fly yesterday, today always marks the beginning of a new story – a new life.

As so often happens in my life, opportunities come to me at exactly the right time. Precisely when I need to hear a word of encouragement or to feel like I’m somehow making a difference, an opportunity or a person comes along to fulfill that need. There’s no guarantee, however, that we will even notice that opportunity or that special individual. You have to be aware and observant of your own needs to recognize it. When it happens, you can’t be afraid to own it. You can’t allow yourself to believe that you don’t deserve it or that you’re not prepared to accept it. We all know I could never deserve a wife like Emily. Yet, here we are married and happy. This is a perfect example of me starting where I was, woefully inadequate for the task, then believing with all my heart that I could eventually grow into the role. I’m still growing…

Sometimes we hear words of encouragement from others that we should be able to tell ourselves, but that perfectionist inside us can gobble those words up before they can reach our brain, or heart, or wherever. Don’t be afraid to recognize how awesome you are. If you don’t believe you deserve something good, you’ll never recognize the good that waits for you all around. Somehow words of encouragement come so much easier when inspiring someone else to follow his or her path. So just in case you need to hear some words of encouragement, here you go:

Start where you are.
You can do it.
Now go and do.

Do not let anyone, especially that perfectionist in your head, tell you that you cannot succeed or that you are not smart enough. Also understand that painful events happen to everyone. It’s our ability to hear our own voices that helps us recognize what we need to do to move beyond. If you can’t hear yourself very well, no one else will either; speak up! You are good enough and you are smart enough — or at least you will be — but you will never be either without starting…right where you are.