Living Outside Boxes

Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.”

My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite genres may be.  But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film “Fantastic Voyage” (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays.

I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was “Barbarella” (Jane Fonda) and another movie called “The Groove Tube” which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up by the collars and getting us out of there.

I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up as a man’s face as its actor-spokesman. Yes, a penis with a mustache was talking to the camera. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the 15 minutes of sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie “Men in Black”. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:

Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies.

They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and uncrossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.

SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.

At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”

In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things more simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.

Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea.

Personally, I’m more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”. But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life.

To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.

We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.

If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box.

People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing?

I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle A Cappella moans and some interesting intonations happening on long drives in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box, even though me and Michael McDonald sound identical.

Well, except for that time in Germany on a Rhine River cruise with friends Rob and Rachel. Rachel is a huge karaoke fan and begged me to sing a song. I reluctantly agreed after a long tumultuous series of offers to buy various desserts.

When the moment arrived and I drug myself to stand front and center for my performance, I whispered to the DJ to que my chosen song, much to the anticipation of my wife who was paralyzed with dread. Then the song “Tequila” started playing, you know, on and on without any lyrics.

Everyone was so confused; why wasn’t the redneck from Tennessee singing? Then, with one collaborative sigh, the whole ship finally got the joke as I confidently sang out-loud the one and only lyric…”TEQUILA!”.

That “box” for those whom are afraid represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I could sing one word, but to sing a legit whole song would have taken a level of something-something I just don’t possess. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box.

You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another simpler and more tasteful box. But will you have really lived?

Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His outer box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.

I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations.

It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that your neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons only relevant to that one person.

Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc.

But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.

And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted friend doesn’t have the same vision as you.

Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?

Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it?

Sometimes, thinking outside the box can produce challenges to those around you who’re used to a much less complicated version of yourself.

Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.

And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. In 2016, I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself.

So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?

So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.

I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries of the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day.

My sister Lisa is an amazing artist. She principally works in the medium of portraiture. But what makes her amazing is not how accurately she can replicate a photograph. What makes her amazing is how she can so intricately produce what she see’s in her head – which could be quite different than how the rest of us see things or people. Lisa can create something entirely original and yet be instantly identifiable as the same thing, only in her own language. I

’m not an artist so I won’t attempt to impress you with a science or vocabulary I know little about, but I think the secret of anyone’s success is an ability to be bravely put forth your product, different as it may be, and own it. It’s your thing, your voice, your identity all mixed up as an ingredient inside your vision of the world around you. Own it.

For myself, I had one little dalliance out of my own box a few years ago and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Chevy truck but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever. Absent that one baby step, you and I wouldn’t have met.

When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?

Should We Be Here? Humanity’s Obituary.

One of my many interests in life is the field of genealogy. I’ve been delving into the woodpiles of my family story for over three decades now and I’m still just as excited about the journey as I was when it all first began. I find it incredibly fascinating that modern technology has given us the tools to collate vast amounts of historical and ancestral data that we’re now able to trace our direct ancestors back hundreds or even thousands of years with relative ease. On top of all that and with the addition of DNA analysis, we can find distant cousins in obscure places across the globe, then assemble individual family records to sort of reverse engineer parts of our family trees otherwise impossible to unravel.

My favorite of all our vacations has thus far been our trip to Wales. During that trip, we were fortunate on one day to have our lunch in a 16th century pub named the “Old Swan Inn” in a tiny southern Welsh village called Llantwit Major. The significance; that pub once was the ancestral home of my 12th Great Grandfather Sir Robert Ragland (b. 1510 d. 1565). Just the ability to know that is super cool; but actually visiting and dining there among the same broken plaster walls, hand-hewn beams and squeaky wooden floors that my distant ancestors also experienced cannot be adequately described.

There were, of course, lots of other interesting and genealogically important places we visited on that trip, but I don’t want to bore you with the history of my maternal ancestry. I just wanted to share the one part of it that I think supports the overall gist of this story and get you thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead of you should you begin pursuing your own family story.

Not all the things I think about in my quiet moments are appropriate for every audience but there are a few thoughts I often have that I don’t mind sharing. One is this idea of how incredibly miraculous it is that any of us are actually here today. When you really sit back and delve into the odds, its unfathomable that we could be here by mistake. When I talk of odds, I mean the obstacles our forefathers and mothers endured to be able to pass on their DNA to us. You and I are the children of the sturdiest, smartest, luckiest, healthiest, strongest, fastest, surefooted’est group of men and women ever born. If they weren’t all these things, we surely would not be here today.

I guess, what brought about all these ideas is my insatiable appetite for history. I love to read. Lately, I’ve gotten interested in the history and evolution of Celtic and proto-Celtic peoples as they spread themselves through early Belgium (Gaul) and Germany (Germania), through the beginnings of a country we now call France (Frankia), then onto the island of Britain (Britannia) and across and up into Wales (Cambria), Scotland (Alba) and Ireland (Hibernia). That is, of course, not the only way humans made it to the islands and areas well-known today for their Celtic inhabitants; just their most prolific path.

This journey, as is the case for every tribe of humanity, was and is affected by a plethora of circumstances and decisions that shaped the future of these people. Some of which they had no control over and some of which they did. Either way, hundreds of millions of people gave their lives along the way, learning and evolving and becoming more disease resistant then passing down that new knowledge and those priceless immunities to their children and grandchildren.

That seams easy to say and read doesn’t it…hundreds of millions of people. Unfortunately, it does even for me. If I were not the author of this story, I might myself roll my eyes at someone talking about hundreds of millions of people. But, when I’m done here, I hope that you think twice or three times about the scope of what it really means to be you and be me.

Just think for a minute about the many things our humanity has survived: famines, plagues, natural disasters, religious inquisitions, and wars. Let’s look at plagues for a second.

Plagues: When you add the deaths brought on by Malaria, the Black Death, Measles, Smallpox, the Spanish Flu, the Plague of Justinian, Tuberculosis, the Bubonic Plague, the Antonine Plague and AIDS, you’re talking about nearly 7 Billion deaths. That’s close to the current (2019) population of the entire planet and about 22 times the population of the United States. There were literally villages in the middle ages that were completely wiped out by plagues. The bloodlines of entire families were wiped out in some cases.

If your family happened to have been one of the victims of any of those plagues, you literally would not be here today. There would have been about a 50/50 chance that you wouldn’t. But your family and my family were made of good stuff…the best stuff; so here you are today playing video games and getting your news from blogs, all so very thankful and mindful of the sacrifices made before you that allow you to simultaneously hold the high score in Donkey Kong AND Super Mario Odyssey for 2 years straight.

But seriously, what would our planet look like today had all those deaths not occurred? The human experience is complex. From massive amounts of death and destruction have arisen new antibodies and disease resistance that helped to carry our ancestors, the ones with the strongest immune systems of their day, on to reproduce and evolve further.

War: If we examine the aftermath of war, which by the way is incalculable, and break it down from Ancient Wars (549 BC to 450 AD), Medieval Wars (534 AD to 1487 AD) and Modern Wars (1494 AD to 2018), it is a scary picture indeed. Ancient Wars took about 60,000,000 people from us. That is not including the spouses and children who died from starvation as a result of the death of their soldier husband/father or the death of civilians when villages were pillaged. Medieval Wars took another 90,000,000 people. Modern Wars, however, have taken more than 465,000,000 people out of our gene pool.

By combining just the known casualties of recorded war acts, the numbers are staggering – more than 600 million people. But the reality is that there has always been war, much of it unrecorded. Entire peoples, languages and cultures have been eliminated by war. Remember the song lyrics, “my baby she’s a Chippewa, she’s a one of a kind”? Well, the tongue and cheek humor in those lyrics aren’t so funny if you’re a Chippewa, except, there are no Chippewa left are there?

Religion: Religious persecutions, insurrections and inquisitions have been quite the DNA altering influences as well. More than 10,000,000 documented people have been intentionally and quite gruesomely murdered at the hands of various religious sects, orders, church’s, etc., in the absolute belief that God instructed them to do it.

It’s amazing to me that even an evolved and otherwise healthy human mind can be influenced to believe and to justify the complete intolerance of another’s beliefs and ideals. We see militant religious intolerance to this very day from every nook, cranny and political sphere known. There are some human conditions for which no cure could ever be invented – because perhaps we don’t want really want to be cured.

Famine: Famine is not something to sneeze at in our world history either. Just in China alone, widespread famines have taken the lives of over 80,000,000 Chinese family descendants. Russia too has a long and painful history of famines; the cumulative effect of which numbers close to 21,000,000 people.

Just think for a minute what it would have been like to live in either China or Russia during any of the dozens of separate national famines of those era’s. I remember news reports from my teens showing thousands of Russians standing in bread lines to get rationed food. These are not just historical era problems from a more barbaric past. Famines are also current events.

When the widespread push of Communism was spreading through Western Europe after WWII, the U.S. and its Allies were just as concerned about famine and hunger as they were about totalitarianism. People were dying by the millions. The U.S. alone spent more than 13 Billion dollars on foreign aid to western Europe from 1948 to 1951 in order to save lives.

Ethnic Indians too have lost nearly 60,000,000 people to famine over their recorded history and Africa has lost 20,000,000 just in the 20th century alone. When you look at famine deaths worldwide, it’s not difficult to figure out that we’re pretty darn lucky that our particular ancestors were somehow able to survive to leave us this healthier legacy – the importance of which we may or may not have figured out for ourselves.

Natural Disaster: Along with all the other drama and dysfunction happening before we existed, our poor forefathers also dealt with other issues you may not have thought about. Our planet has endured 5 separate ice ages, thousands of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, banana peel falls, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, asteroid collisions, pterodactyl attacks, mud slides and who knows what all else. I have no way of calculating the total deaths and migrations associated with the ice ages and it would be impossible to account for the historic numbers of people affected by the other events I mentioned.

I think though it would be more than fair to assume that millions and millions of our ancestors have been eliminated from our genetic heritage as a result of natural disasters. If you’ve ever been fortunate to visit the ancient city of Pompeii on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, you’ve probably met what’s left of some of these unfortunate ancestors in person.

So, for those of you who’ve not been keeping up with the score, we’ve passed the current worldwide population (7 Billion) by over 8 hundred million people. This unfortunate fraternity of humanity, I’ll call the Friends Without Benefits Club, are an anomaly for sure. Many of them never had the chance to pass on their DNA, but we know they made enormous contributions to our survival that will never be fully appreciated as we mostly have no names, books, statues or poems from which to memorialize them.

These were not just heroes of their villages and cultures who sacrificed themselves as soldiers in order to keep their family’s DNA safe. These folks were also the guinea pigs of early humanity who donated their existence to a science that was not yet knowable.

When you are at your lowest moments and you question why you are here or whether anyone would care if your gone, think about all the good karma that saw to it your existence was even possible. Even my dog has a reason to be here. None of us are accidental. None of us are incidental.

And when you begin to feel the pains of intolerance to anyone for anything. Step back a second and remember how radical intolerance begins. It begins with justified intolerance. Sometimes a justified intolerance for people who have a justified intolerance toward you and your ideals. Said differently, they may think you’re just as weird as you think they are.

Try instead to cultivate the grace within you and recognize that everything in this world has its own time, and perhaps…just perhaps, there is a very good reason things are the way they are. Time is temporary. Be patient and tolerant and it will soon all change.

This Little Piggy Went “Wa Wa Wa” All The Way Home

This is 2019; we still don’t have jet packs and I still can’t find an answer as to why I was born without pinky toe nails. When I was a child, I accepted my mom’s perfectly sound explanation, “You’re the youngest of four Chris; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.” Now being middle aged, I’m beginning to struggle with my mom’s explanation. I’m also pissed off that the National Institute of Health has yet to fund any ground-breaking research into the matter.

Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet that is afflicted with the absence of a proper claw for my nethermost nubins. In fact, just last week Emily asked the lady who does our pedicures if it was a common thing. Her reply gave me some shaky confidence, “Oh yes, verwee verwee common, many good customers have foot like you.” But then she turned to a Vietnamese co-worker and said something that sounded kinda like…, “Nguoi dan ong nay coi giay va khac.” Which I later learned could be interpreted loosely as, “This man take off shoe and is real different.”

No one seems to know! Even Wikipedia is silent on the matter. The closest thing I can find on the internet is a podiatrist in Iowa saying that some people don’t have toe nails on certain toes…duh! This doesn’t help me.

I feel like a freak show every time I strip my shoes off in public. My pinky toes are shaped perfect, they just don’t wear any underwear. It’s embarrassing. I don’t even get a discount for my pedicures which is actually insane to me.

I should, at minimum, get one of those blue handicapped thingee’s that you hang on your car’s rear-view mirror because walking a long distance from a parking space gives one way too much time to think about the lack of appropriately formed appendages.


“You’re the youngest of four; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.”

But now, thanks to ground-breaking scientific studies, we know with certainty how long it takes the average mammal to pee – 21 seconds, give or take 13 seconds. The world was also recently informed of a much anticipated scientific study to determine where on the body a bee sting hurts the most. The nostril, the upper lip and the penis shaft. That’s good news for the ladies out there and a good trade-off for the burden of childbirth. Lastly, we now know without any doubt, thanks to recent scientific studies, that a chicken walks funny when you attach a weighted stick to its ass. I don’t know about you, but I really needed to know these things.

I’m still waiting on one of these chicken-stick scientists to have a child who’s lacking a little bit, you know, down there, and summon the courage to beg the question…why no toe nail? Perhaps if the birth rate of no-nailers could be shown to increase or decrease during years of climate change, we may get the answers we all need.

I’ve decided to make up a kind of Big Lebowski-esque kidnapping story and tell everyone that I sacrificed my baby toe nails to save the planet. Then maybe I can begin to look people square in the face again. “You want a toe nail? I can get you a toe nail, believe me; I’ll get you two!”

An Enigma, Wrapped in a Mystery, All Inside a Tasty Little Cookie

I was dining last week with Emily at a Japanese steak house nearby and discovered a fairly evocative fortune inside my cookie that I just had to write something about. It’s not often that I feel inspiration from a fortune cookie but this one immediately aroused a common theme in which I’m always a sucker for writing about – advice. Probably 75% of my blogs are related to life-advice.

People close to me, pretty much my whole life, have told me that I’m a decent giver of advice. As a result, I’ve become sort of a reluctant incompetently competent supplier of advice. It’s important to note, in case you wanna stop reading here, I have absolutely no paying customers.

Although I’m comfortable to offer advice on some subjects, I’m also keenly aware that giving advice can be a dangerous thing to do. To presume that I should be telling people what to do with their own lives implies something very close to egomania, a condition in which I pray never takes me over.

That said, I think that my inclination to write forces me to place what little intellect I do have on-the-line, whether I like it or not. Otherwise, what would I write about, ugh, maybe fortune cookies?

It’s actually kind of funny to me; while you can obtain all these advice-wrapped fortune cookies pretty much anywhere in the developed world, you won’t find them at all in China or Japan – the places you’d most expect to see them. What does that say about America – or East Asia?

Is the Chinese Buffet some sort of hidden metaphor – perhaps that we all should be ‘getting our fair share in life’? The Chinese have discovered that Americans love getting unsolicited advice so much that they created a plain Jane cookie that draws us in like flies to their restaurants.

Regardless of any of that, we ‘Mericans’ love things to be simple, including our life paths. Just give me my high school diploma, a $50,000 a year job, and a cool house then leave me alone. Simple! But simple rarely gets us where we’d really like to be and life generally sucks a little while before you finally bite into to the big ole piece of chocolate with the hazelnut on the inside.

In the likely event that all four of you readers are wondering… my fortune cookie says, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” I don’t know who to attribute that quote to because the cookie didn’t provide a bibliography, so I hope the blog police aren’t paying any attention. All jokes aside, just let that statement percolate for a minute or two. What statement could be truer than this one?

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I say this because no matter how great a job we have or how much money we’re able to bring home, nothing in my life thus far has ever trumped the joy I’ve experienced in meeting an important goal or achieving an important victory. That joy only amplified when my own creativity contributed to the success of the overall project.

A good example is this blog. No one is paying me to spend my free time writing down my thoughts; my pay comes from the personal satisfaction I experience at completing an endeavor I feel passionate about or where someone I love might benefit one day from my insanity. It’s just something I like doing – made sweeter with the idea that someone else may find it entertaining or insightful.

In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else finds that same value, although I love it when they do, it only matters that I entered into a personal creative process from which there derived something tangible and meaningful. When folks are solving big problems, the last thing they’re thinking about at the moment is how much they’re getting paid.

If all of the above is true, then our goal in life might be to play, play, play, work, work, work at something – anything, until such time as we are better able to figure out just what it may be that we most enjoy doing, and what we’re naturally good at doing. Hopefully, a few years of toiling away at crappy jobs while making new acquaintances and conversing about life, one begins to start assessing where he/she is and where he/she may like to go or what job or career may better fit their personality or push certain peculiar buttons that absolutely need to be pushed.

Obviously, not everyone throws caution into the wind to see where things land before picking a career path. Some of us plan out our professional aspirations at dreadfully young ages. Some people are just natural born planners and organizers.

I’m not really writing about those people because those kinds of people don’t really notice people like us, people who start off adulthood without plans. Those other smarter and more organized people suck.

Organizer types don’t have time to worry about us because they, still, are too busy organizing their calendars for what’s happening this afternoon, tomorrow morning and next week. This particular blog/rant is really speaking to the folks out there who may be struggling emotionally because they’re stuck in a rut not knowing what they should do with the rest of their lives or even the right direction their ship should thus be oriented.

Obviously, we are not all alike. While some of us have no problem fixating on a goal then working to achieve it, others of us find it difficult to even pick a goal. I personally think it is an unspoken tragedy of life that we most often seek to understand the goal and not the self. We try to adjust ourselves to the demands of a theory when we might be better off adjusting ourselves to a congruence with our own personal identity. We should never strive necessarily to be a banker, a teacher, a pilot or a policeman. We should strive first to be ourselves.

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I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be a banker, pilot or policeman – what I am saying is that I think we are better off making our goals conform to our identity rather than mold our identity to conform to a goal. In each of us, DNA, environment, socio-economic forces, family values, etc., have all combined to produce a person with certain desires and aptitude, including a profound and deeply ingrained desire to have a life that is meaningful. We all find meaning and purpose in different ways. For some it’s children, or a great career. For others it may be shiny aluminum wheels on their Honda or a mink coat.

So, as I see it, we need not dedicate our entire lives to achieving any pre-defined goal, but instead choose a life we know we will enjoy. Goals are absolutely secondary: it is our functioning toward the goal which is perhaps most important. Allowing another person to define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes us all individuals.

In short, the formula is as follows: we must choose a path which will let us use our natural abilities, which lets us function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of our personal desires, and in so doing we fulfill a need for expressing our identity and avoid frustrating our potentiality and the fear of watching our goals disappear or gradually lose the charm they once held.

Because, after all, every single day we view those original goals from an entirely different angle. As we evolve, those once powerfully attractive goals may lose some of their glitter. If we’ve dedicated our entire lives to achieving a goal which no longer seems appropriate for us; then what? Once I thought about becoming an attorney. Then I met attorneys and realized that they work all day and do homework every night. My perspective changed by means of experience and insight.

Our perspective on life and goals will change. It is not the pilot or the banker that changes, it is us. Each of us are the sum total of our reactions to different experiences. As those experiences multiply, we change – we’re evolving into different men and women. Because we’re different, our perspective changes. Alternatively, if we wait long enough – if procrastination becomes the goal, then it will be circumstance that makes our decisions for us.

So, in essence, we shouldn’t just throw caution into the wind as I was saying earlier. Metamorphoses shouldn’t necessarily be completely organic. You can and should read and listen and expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible. Every nowhere job you’ll ever have will expose you to new ideas and new situations and new people, all of which provide lots of life-lessons. Those absurd and gross people you despise may offer you one little gem of genius that completely transforms the way you think about something unrelated but nonetheless important to you. Wisdom is everywhere, even in assholes. Your greatest inspirations for obtaining the perfect ‘you-job’ will come from having lots of crappy jobs and knowing lots of assholes.

But, all the wisdom you’re accumulating while you are “doing” will give you the tools you need to eventually make big life decisions. Regardless of everything I’ve said about honoring the soul inside the worker, you still always have the goal of creating and achieving because that is something instinctive that must be nourished. We continually do that with information and knowledge that our experiences turn into wisdom. Wisdom of things and life and self.

Today, unlike the many generations before you, we live in a world overflowing with superfluous information. And yet, with such an abundance of information and data at our fingertips, what we seem to be experiencing is a growing scarcity of wisdom. I think it is very easy to confuse the two (very different) things.

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Many of us think that by having access to more information we can produce more knowledge, which automatically results in more wisdom. The reality is that the opposite is true. The reason I say this is because when a person inundates themselves with more and more data without the proper context, it only jumbles our understanding of the world rather than elevating it.

I see real life examples of this all the time at work. Someone is assigned to lead a task; the leader is naturally a person who lives and breathes those types of issues and thus is highly knowledgeable about the subject matter. Bureaucrats who are intelligent but not experienced in the subject matter quickly digest information from the task leader, along with information found by way of Google, as well as a few phone calls and all of the sudden they become experts themselves, regurgitating lines back to the leader that they learned from him/her not 10 days prior, no longer needing and many times rejecting the wisdom of the task leader because that wisdom and experience doesn’t align with Google’s version nor their own political agenda.

It happens all the time. What is lost is the deeper understanding of experience which can predict and help you avoid pitfalls that 40 hour experts will rarely ever see. Our society has become overly dependent and unconsciously confident because we all have a smart phone and Google to answer every question one could possibly present. Oh, if I had just had access to Google when I was a teenager, instead of the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, I could have been overwhelmingly smarter than my parents (just kidding mom).

There is a stepladder of understanding that takes a logical path from gaining information to achieving wisdom. At the bottom is a piece of information which basically tells us some small fact about the world. Just above that step is knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of how different little morsels of information all fit together to disclose some particular certainty about the world. Knowledge hinges on an act of association and clarification – it puts the information into its proper perspective.

Pigeon Poop cookie

At the very top of this stepladder is finally wisdom. Wisdom is not just a deep knowledge (i.e., I read those crib assembly instructions ten freakin times and called two buddies about it), wisdom combines a moral component to knowledge. It is the application of information that is worth remembering and knowledge that matters to the understanding of not just how our world works, but also how it should work. Trump haters know all about this concept.

To have true wisdom, one requires a moral structure of what should and shouldn’t matter, as well as an idyllic vision of the world at its highest potentiality. And once you’ve achieved some wisdom, you must convince your ego that whatever wisdom you may have acquired, is only wisdom about that one subject under that one set of circumstances. Throughout your life, there will be lots more work to do and many more subjects and circumstances to tackle.

Not chicken cookie

So while the fortune cookie, in its most basic form, can provide us with all the spiritual and motivational insights as our tummies and our appetite for Moo Goo Gai Pan can endure; the magical tickertape stuffed inside those cookies cannot by themselves offer us the true wisdom we all seek or need. It takes a lot of effort, a good heart, and the shedding of our narcissistic tendencies in order to recognize the depth of all that lie before us.

And sometimes, what we have before us are just ordinary people – people with unique experiences and information and failures and successes which are all different from our own. Yes, sometimes we are not allowed to have wisdom in certain areas because we can’t have experience in every area. In those cases, our wisdom comes from recognizing the value of other human beings around us.

Wisdom allows us the capacity to understand that mastery over any subject is outdated the very moment one achieves it. True wisdom is completely void of any independent identity. It is never about any one person or one group. It only exists in the collective because each of us contributes to the evolution of it every single day. Wisdom follows the doctrine of universal responsibility. It is akin to saying that every part of our body longs for our eyes, our lungs, our legs to be healthy; if one part suffers, we all suffer.

Work and living and parenting and every other important aspect of our lives are most positively affected by just being real. Being true to yourself in your profession, in your relationships, etc., allows you to function at your highest possible levels. Your wisdom will come from expending your energies and experiencing your world with a clear mind and an unambiguous path not littered by obstacles and chaos created by unrealistic expectations or less than honest intentions.

Lastly, I am no expert. I’m just a 53 year old husband and a hopelessly paternal dad, a placeholder of my job and a life-long old guy who loves to write about advice that I wish I could have ignored when I was young. My greatest achievement in life is the recognition that as my son gets older and more experienced, he is finally coming to realize that I may not have been as ignorant as I may have once seemed. Which mainly means I’m now entitled to be as crappy as I want and still exceed all expectations.

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.

income inequality zmscience

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.

income 20%

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.

Bullying and Depression

One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.

 The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.  

 Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.

 When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.

 Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.

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So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.

 Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.

 Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.

 If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life. 

 My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.

 It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.

 Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.

 Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.

 If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.

 As I’ve written about previously, if the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.

 Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.

 Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.

Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.

 Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done. 

 

Good Luck.

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 good and bad times can tell us quite 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 great opportunities constantly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest and best 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. People who don’t try, never fail. If you never fail, what have learned and how will you apply the wisdom from failure when luck avails 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, means 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, what will you do? Luck has a strange sense of humor; it 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 really is. Clarity cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared for it. Circumstances do 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, meet new people, try different professions, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not. You will discover other people’s methods and decide to take them on as your own. You will learn where you want to be, what you want to do, and an amazing number of other things about yourself that you never knew you didn’t know.

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 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 I finally 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 allow it. 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…

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 does the same thing for my wife can sometimes be miles apart, and that’s just a simple 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 first 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 today, the path to getting the most out of life and living on your own terms was/is paved with daily challenges and overwhelming complexities. This includes having to deal with other folks who don’t or can’t 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 the ideas and the inspirations behind what he wrote about. It seems that good writing along with good anything generally lie 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, you may find it interesting to know that 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 ever doing is timidly 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 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 early employment and financial freedom? What if…OMG, your child wants to marry a person outside of his/her race? What if your child chooses a partner of the same sex? There are lots of scenarios here, not necessarily related to career choices, which can challenge you to rise up and forge new uncharted paths. Trust me, life almost necessitates you filling in one or more of a very broad array of blanks here.

I wish I could tell you that when you take your life into your own hands and create your own path, all 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 won’t get it,  but there are some who won’t even care to try. But God doesn’t create perfect humans and never promised any, so we have to work with the imperfections available to us. 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. This life is always going to be about you, 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…grow dammit!.

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 others 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 quite know yet 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 it’s 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, 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.” These folks 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 life 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 to 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 require 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, aunts 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 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 positive life and someone else is judging or criticizing you, the issue 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 repeatedly, 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.

Casual Observers Need Not Apply

In November of last year, my wife and I along with my son vacationed in several European countries in and around the former Yugoslavia. These included Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro then we polished off the two-week trip with a few extra days in Venice, Italy. During our time there we were expertly guided by a friendly Slovenian named Elvis.

Not exactly the most popular name in Slovenia, no. Elvis was awesome, of course, and provided some particularly informative local-information and history about the areas we were visiting as he had lived and grown up there during the former Communist regime of Yugoslavia. What made Elvis so great was that he also watched and lived through the transition (1989 to present) of the entire region to what I would now consider a quasi-capitalistic country.

Don’t you just love seeing a place through the eyes of someone who is utterly and madly in love with it? Elvis obviously loved his home country, and his colorful stories and self-deprecating style of humor made the trip so much more fun than it would have been with any ole other guide. The travel experience which would have normally been full of uncertainty and apprehension was instead transformed into almost full immersion. I think, as a family, we have come to enjoy and appreciate guided vacations much more than the typical do-it-yourself trips for that very reason. Another unexpected bonus is that my son made friends with Elvis and they’ve continued to communicate long after our return to Tennessee.

While we were there, we stumbled upon a couple who were deeply involved in sponsoring the educations of young women and girls in Africa. Their devotion to this cause was obvious and inspiring. So inspiring, in fact, that Emily decided right then to also sponsor a young African girl. Her name is Peace and we’ve really enjoyed sending and receiving letters from her about her life and the African perspective. I don’t exactly know what happens in a person’s life that causes them to take on these enormous responsibilities such as this couple is doing but it is truly moving and inspirational to watch how their passion for doing good envelopes and captures others along the way to do the same.

I guess paying it forward begets paying it forward which makes for better karma if you believe in such things. But regardless of what we call it or how we frame it, we’re really talking about people who refuse to be normal, who refuse to be casual observers. These are people who go the extra mile, make the extra effort and spread the extra icing on the proverbial cake while they are simultaneously eating it. They’ve found something that they truly care about and they’ve found the passion within themselves to do it 110% and really make a difference in the world around them.

Each of us are deeply moved or affected by different experiences in our own way but one common truth we all recognize is that in life there are few accidents, at least as it pertains to success, failure or opportunity. Great things can happen to you organically, but you must be out there experiencing life in order for them to present themselves to you. Ripe apples don’t fall in your lap unless you’re intentionally sitting underneath an apple tree at the correct time of the year.

On a crisp November day, these kind people stopped what they were doing to make a sincere effort to get to know us. There are some people in this world who God put here for the sole purpose of listening, Dave Thelen is one of those people. At the time, I had just lost my brother so it wasn’t particularly easy for me to open up to a stranger but miraculously I did. He and his wife shared their lives and experiences with us and we were moved enough to do the same and we’re both much better off today because of it.

So many small moments of that vacation were magical, but something that has stayed with me was when Dave launched into a lyrical Aristotelian lecture about how important it is for people to work together in order to bring ideas to fruition, for each person to share his or her talents to work toward a common goal. It is all “a process,” he said, one that requires different perspectives and skills. The greater the width, breadth and diversity of the talent pool, the better the result. But you must be invested, you have to work at it if you expect any real change.

As my wife rattled off sentence after sentence, I said next to nothing during the hour (or was it two?) we walked the road encircling the enchanted Bled Lake. While in full view of the misty snow-capped Julian Alps, the 17th Century island-church in the middle of the lake and ancient Bled Castle on over-watch, I tried my best to concentrate on what was being said. Instead, I just snapped lots of photographs and listened — allowing Dave’s words and the surreal surroundings to wrap themselves around me, seep inside my brain, and make such an impression that I would never forget them even without the pictures.

I am naturally a quiet person and a listener at heart, but I am especially silent when I am in awe of someone, when I know this person has so much to teach me that my best course of action is to just shut my mouth and listen. In those situations, I relish the chance to absorb the information and tuck it all away to process later in quiet moments of reflection.

Now, almost exactly a year later, I realize that during those moments, I was gradually reaching a precipice to begin a new chapter of my life in order to write, blog (in whatever means) and encourage others to find and appreciate simple pleasures, live more deliberately, and to cut out the physical and emotional clutter from their lives.

By that point, I had been considering the thought of writing more seriously for years, but I was at that proverbial crossroads, still unsure of so many things — how would my family and longtime friends respond, etc.? I didn’t want to have one of those “Who are you and what did you do with my dad?” kinda moments, mainly because I’m not generally a vocal person.

Wanting to make a difference, I’ve realized that my greatest natural gift is my ability to communicate in writing. So here I am, doing what I’ve always done best, in order to help, promote, encourage, facilitate, inspire, or whatever. Although I hope that I can eventually achieve at least one of those, it will probably be “whatever”, and I’m completely ok with that.

I love to write, so I took this man’s thoughts about community, humanity and “process,” and applied them here among an already growing population of readers. I put faith in the idea that by writing about what I believe in and feel passionate about, those on the same wavelength will willingly offer up their own talents, skills, and visions, and together we can learn and grow together as a community.

Though my soft spot is for my son and his life’s expeditions and tribulations, I try very hard to write to everyone so that others can benefit from the rare positive energy I occasionally expel at a moment’s notice. I want Dave’s unselfish wisdom to be used and cultivated among anyone who cares to read it and pass it on.

That short visit to Europe reinforced my desire to not only keep this dream of writing and blogging alive, but also to make my ideas stronger, to enrich connections with family and friends, to explore topics and ideas that dig a little deeper, to make us all think and feel a little bit more — and, most of all, to continue to share our positive experiences with one another. Said differently, casual observers need not apply, because being a friend, spouse, parent or member of a community requires real effort, real honesty and real generosity. Not necessarily generosity of things; but generosity of thought, vision, historical and contextual view, passion and advice. To have a friend, you must be a friend.

Today I want to be your new friend like Dave was to me that day. I want to encourage you to get out there and seek connections, overtly enrich the lives of your friends and family by opening up and sharing yourself and your ideas with those who may not know you as well as they’d like to. Don’t just be a parent or a brother or a sister or a spouse. Be real.

Allow the real you to be known and understood. I want my child to really know who his father is, not just that I was his father…not just the parental side of me. I want to plant the seeds of acceptance and understanding so that when I’m gone, I haven’t inadvertently deprived anyone that I love of the one thing they will never be able to know afterward – Me.

Grow!

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.

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 my own experiences, 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: This one is the word 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. This year has been one of my most challenging yet — 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 must be 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 of which are 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 I 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, and 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, however thoroughly 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 a 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 we have 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.