Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Plastic Community

September 2016 is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and, suffice it to say, the topic is one which is quite personal to me (though NAMI could certainly come up with a better acronym, let's be honest here).

What does this month mean?

In our trend-obsessed culture of hashtag campaigns, and social media activism it can be exceedingly easy to allow ourselves to give an obligatory nod to the showcased cause (if it even gains enough traction to be noticed) and then move right on to the next bandwagon event.

We are a culture of consumers.
We consume commodities and causes alike, all the while not allowing deep thought to penetrate our superficial exterior.

It is very interesting to me, to witness the behaviors of those immersed in western cultures. Human beings, desperate to be known, yet isolating ourselves constantly. Afraid of vulnerability. Obsessed with generality. We'd far rather talk about the weather, or that weekend we got shit-faced once upon a college-time, than to talk about the present.

How are you?

How is anyone, really?

Would I tell you that, as a father, I'm scared to death of the world I'm bringing my daughters up in? Would I tell you that I'm stressed as fuck about money, or that I don't understand the purpose of my existence or, even worse, that I fear I'll never even come close to achieving the things I could if I would simply just apply myself.

No, I'd rather tell you that everything is great.

How are the kids? They're fine.
How is the job? It's fine.
How is your relationship? It's totally fine.

Because, the truth is, that as much as we wish we could share our innermost anxieties, fears and struggles, we are really, truly, painfully aware that we have forgotten what it means to care. We don't truly care about others so why would they care about the things that we have to say?

It may sound callous. It should.

Somewhere along the way we gained everything we ever really dreamed of in this society, and we lost our soul and what it actually meant to be human in the process.

We have all the fancy gadgets, plenty to eat and overeat, nice cars and smartphones.
We have our carefully crafted Facebook life, with the friends we never see, yet kill ourselves to appear funny, hip, or deep to. All for a like or a retweet.

And all the while we are dying inside.

Our souls are decaying because our relationships aren't genuine. Our communities are in disarray.

We try to ignore this simple fact.

Take an overpriced pill, and try not to get mired into the danger of overthinking.
You're overthinking it. Stop it!

I submit to you that we don't think damn near enough nowadays. We could all do with a good bit of overthinking and reflection upon the world we've created. The world we're giving to those around us. The world where all is not OK. The world where we can't medicate the pain away, and shouldn't desire to.

It's time to face the demons.

The path to strength and freedom is through acknowledging the problem exists, and relentlessly attacking the problem until we emerge, bloodied and victorious. Knowing that we've overcome the darkness by showing it light. Light is painful, but it reveals to us the truth. The truth that you and I are broken beings. That we are lonely and desperate for authentic relationship. That our souls are starved for love, and that a computer screen or a slickly marketed product won't relieve that ache we feel when our soul remains without sustenance.

So, when I think about Suicide Awareness Prevention Month, I don't think about a month. I don't think about a period of time. I think about how we've gotten to this place. I think about a society in which people have everything yet feel so empty that they have to medicate or self-destruct.

I think about the world we live in that is more connected than ever yet faces an astronomical deficiency in basic social skills, and feels the effects of mass alienation between neighbors, and fellow human beings in general.

We need to think again my friends.
We must reclaim what it means to be truly human.

This means embracing the pain, and darkness, yet knowing that in doing so we are not alone because we've also reclaimed what it means to have true and honest relationships. Knowing that though we face all manner of hardship, that we never again have to fight it or struggle alone.

I wonder if we would dare to be so bold...

Plastic Community

September 2016 is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and, suffice it to say, the topic is one which is quite personal to me (though NAMI could certainly come up with a better acronym, let's be honest here).

What does this month mean?

In our trend-obsessed culture of hashtag campaigns, and social media activism it can be exceedingly easy to allow ourselves to give an obligatory nod to the showcased cause (if it even gains enough traction to be noticed) and then move right on to the next bandwagon event.

We are a culture of consumers.
We consume commodities and causes alike, all the while not allowing deep thought to penetrate our superficial exterior.

It is very interesting to me, to witness the behaviors of those immersed in western cultures. Human beings, desperate to be known, yet isolating ourselves constantly. Afraid of vulnerability. Obsessed with generality. We'd far rather talk about the weather, or that weekend we got shit-faced once upon a college-time, than to talk about the present.

How are you?

How is anyone, really?

Would I tell you that, as a father, I'm scared to death of the world I'm bringing my daughters up in? Would I tell you that I'm stressed as fuck about money, or that I don't understand the purpose of my existence or, even worse, that I fear I'll never even come close to achieving the things I could if I would simply just apply myself.

No, I'd rather tell you that everything is great.

How are the kids? They're fine.
How is the job? It's fine.
How is your relationship? It's totally fine.

Because, the truth is, that as much as we wish we could share our innermost anxieties, fears and struggles, we are really, truly, painfully aware that we have forgotten what it means to care. We don't truly care about others so why would they care about the things that we have to say?

It may sound callous. It should.

Somewhere along the way we gained everything we ever really dreamed of in this society, and we lost our soul and what it actually meant to be human in the process.

We have all the fancy gadgets, plenty to eat and overeat, nice cars and smartphones.
We have our carefully crafted Facebook life, with the friends we never see, yet kill ourselves to appear funny, hip, or deep to. All for a like or a retweet.

And all the while we are dying inside.

Our souls are decaying because our relationships aren't genuine. Our communities are in disarray.

We try to ignore this simple fact.

Take an overpriced pill, and try not to get mired into the danger of overthinking.
You're overthinking it. Stop it!

I submit to you that we don't think damn near enough nowadays. We could all do with a good bit of overthinking and reflection upon the world we've created. The world we're giving to those around us. The world where all is not OK. The world where we can't medicate the pain away, and shouldn't desire to.

It's time to face the demons.

The path to strength and freedom is through acknowledging the problem exists, and relentlessly attacking the problem until we emerge, bloodied and victorious. Knowing that we've overcome the darkness by showing it light. Light is painful, but it reveals to us the truth. The truth that you and I are broken beings. That we are lonely and desperate for authentic relationship. That our souls are starved for love, and that a computer screen or a slickly marketed product won't relieve that ache we feel when our soul remains without sustenance.

So, when I think about Suicide Awareness Prevention Month, I don't think about a month. I don't think about a period of time. I think about how we've gotten to this place. I think about a society in which people have everything yet feel so empty that they have to medicate or self-destruct.

I think about the world we live in that is more connected than ever yet faces an astronomical deficiency in basic social skills, and feels the effects of mass alienation between neighbors, and fellow human beings in general.

We need to think again my friends.
We must reclaim what it means to be truly human.

This means embracing the pain, and darkness, yet knowing that in doing so we are not alone because we've also reclaimed what it means to have true and honest relationships. Knowing that though we face all manner of hardship, that we never again have to fight it or struggle alone.

I wonder if we would dare to be so bold...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

To Dream Boldly


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

When Marianne Williamson famously quips that our "playing small" does not serve the world, it ought to shake us. How could it not? If we truly understood the narrowness of our vision juxtaposed with the scope of our potential as human beings it would have the potential to either motivate us to a higher plane of perception, or to steep us into a deep mire of nihilism. 

I advocate balance.

Perspective is everything. We must understand our flaws and limitations as finite beings. We must understand that it is our natural state and disposition to care about ourselves only. This is human nature, and it ought to be studied vigorously, because to know one's own tendencies is part of becoming an empowered individual. We can't stop there however...

After we identify our weakness, after we identify our natural tendencies to selfishness, indolence, and lack of perspective, we must vigorously engage those tendencies much as an athlete engages his or her training.

Discipline and exercise are the mediums which lead us from weakness to strength. Do you think the Olympian was born the way he was? Do you believe the scholar simply attained her status by  existing? We shy away from these things, these essential disciplines, because we intuitively know they are going to be attained through the crucible of hardship, and the idea of sustained discomfort frightens us. As human beings we allow ourselves tiny doses of discomfort to reassure ourselves that we are indeed growing, but our growth in these circumstances will be, at best, stunted.

What if we learned to dream as we were truly meant to dream?

What if we could envision ourselves being lifted out of the cage of limitations that we, and others, have continually constructed around us our entire lives?

What if our vision brought us close to the very stars we convince ourselves are out of our reach?

Would it be worth it? Would it be worth defying those who tell you that you won't succeed? Would it be worth brushing away those who ask you to settle in the comfort of mediocrity, the realms frequently tread by the masses? 

Would you be willing to feel the pain of striving for the superhuman, simply to gain a taste of the ecstasy that is realization of our true, hidden nature?

Have you dared to dream boldly lately? 

Or are you too afraid of the cost and allowing yourself to be defined by the accomplishments of the conformists.

Live free, and dream once again my friends...you can't get this moment back.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Activate


What are we doing here? 

When I look around I see things moving, yet moving without purpose. I see existence without meaning. I see religion without action. I see freedom secured with restriction.

Activate your mind, my friend. 

Take it for a walk, give it some exercise and break away from popular culture. Choose to see the tragedy in front of you, saturated with possibilities. Yes, life is tragic. We mustn't shy away from this fact. It is how we handle pain that enables us to experience genuine joy and happiness. If we retreat from the darkness then we are unable to understand why it is we exist. Darkness needs to be combatted. 

Yes, there is pain in life. 

Yes, we love and lose. We witness horror. We experience heart wrenching exploitation and see brokenness in front of our very eyes; but if it is we who choose to look away, to spare ourselves and indulge instead in empty pleasure, then who will remain to heal the wounds of the world?

Who will carry the broken?
Who will free the oppressed?
Who will hear the cries of the suffering and respond?

Religion without action is dead.
Freedom regulated is tyranny.

To break these institutional chains we must activate our minds. We must challenge the status quo, and call bullshit where it exists. We must allow ourselves to see the unseen, and feel the unfelt and we must allow it to change us from within.

The world won't wait for us to step up.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Discipline

We live in a culture of victimhood. It never ceases to amaze me the excuses people will give to justify their mediocrity, and poor choices. It never ceases to amaze me how willing individuals are to find a scapegoat rather than examine their own flaws.

In my most recent reading project, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the principals laid out are so simple. Ridiculously simple. The things that separate the rich and poor in society aren't difficult concepts to grasp. The breakdown comes when individual discipline is required. Controlling oneself is a tall order, it is in our nature to indulge our desires and whims after all, but the few who can have risen above the basic human standard and opened themselves to suffering. It is in that pain, that self-denial, that they have thrived.

Being rich isn't a solution the government can offer. The reason you aren't rich isn't because the "system is rigged" or the rich are crooks. The reason is laziness, a lack of capacity for discipline. 

Stop blaming others for your shortcomings and take a good, long look in the mirror.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Changing the Conversation

In a free society disagreement is inevitable. It is impossible to have a pluralistic society, made up of many diverse groups of people who hold different values, traditions and beliefs about the afterlife (if any at all), and to not encounter passionate, heated argument. The diversity of an open society actually invites this, and it is because of the capacity for dissent that we can be assured that our society remains free.

Yet, in our present age, the methods of disagreement have also begun to stifle the means of free and open discourse, to such an extent that speech becomes limited in its range, thus limiting the liberty of the individual to express themself. This shift has happened, in my view, because of a lack of understanding of the virtue of speech and debate, and a woeful ignorance of what is uniquely individual, and what is simply a concept, external to the individual, which has been selectively embraced by that individual.

In short, I believe William Paul Young stated it best when he intimated his past experience to an audience, while explaining the concept of his book "The Shack":

"I had lost the ability to discern between an honest critique and a value statement."

The problem of open discourse in our public square is simply this: individuals take an external belief, or habit of conduct and they bond those actions or beliefs to the core of who they are. This becomes toxic when this particular practice or belief is challenged. Instead of a critique of the practice or belief, the individual simply hears an assault on their entire being, causing them either to wilt and complain about damaged feelings, or to flare up in an aggressive counter attack which is geared at wounding equally, if not more so, the initial critic.

The inability to separate your adopted values or practices from the very essence of your basic humanity is stifling to the ability to dialogue. How can anyone discuss a prevalent issue, and it's moral implications for society and the individual if they cannot even breach the subject for fear of damaged feelings, or hostile counter attack?

Both sides politically, and many sides religiously are guilty of this, and it is the reason our civic progress has been effectively handed over to the party in power at any given time. Our liberty forfeited, and the minority subjected to the whims of the majority as Tocqueville observed and cautioned against.

A few examples:

A woman supports the practice of abortion cannot discuss the issue of abortion, a pressing societal issue with much yet to be debated as far as ethics and morality of the practice are concerned. She perceives that the critique of the practice of abortion is a critique of her intrinsic value as a human being, and instead of engaging in vigorous debate to defend, using logic and reason, her views as to why it is an acceptable practice, she responds calling  those who question it sexist, mysoginistic, and infers they hate women. This effectively shuts down the discourse, but the issue remains unaddressed, and factional chasms begin to further widen.

A religious individual is questioned about the validity of the tax exempt nature of their churches. Mega churches in particular are brought up in the critique and the fact that some use the tax exempt nature of religion to game the system and parishioners and to embezzle money, as well as others that abuse their status in the interest of pushing political agendas from the pulpit. The church goer doesn't hear any of this honest critique and instead of engaging in a spirited defense of the need for religious liberty, and the ethics of government encouraging such practices, immediately asserts that the one giving critique is attacking his first amendment freedom, and threatens resistance to the tyrannical government in the face of this persecution.

Thirdly, an individual is challenged on the question of gay marriage, and the political implications of the Supreme Court precedent set in the striking down of marriage bans. The individual critiquing also challenges the morality of the practice, questioning if it is indeed natural. The individual being challenged takes this as an assault on their right to associate and love their partner, she also hears the individual calling her an abomination and raining hellfire down on her, rather than simply asking if same-sex attraction is a natural expression of human intimacy. Her response is to call the questioner a religious, hateful bigot and then blocks him on social media. Meanwhile, she posts her own take on the situation to her like-minded friends so they can perpetuate the myth created from the original interaction.

How can we, as a society, hope to address the great cultural divisions, if we won't even entertain conversations that might challenge us, or make us uncomfortable?

The answer is that we can't. 

It is a sign of intellectual weakness when one cannot be challenged on their beliefs or the practices they incorporate into their daily lives. Our society is constructed to protect individuals and their property from harm, but our government is not instituted for the purpose of protecting hurt feelings. A vibrant constitutional republic is built on the ability to share and dispute ideas, even unpopular ones, and so should it ever be.

Now, since ad hominem attacks seem to be the natural response in public discourse, how does one go about engaging the culture at large in earnest, passionate debate, without being maligned or misrepresented? 

Here are some ways I have found helpful in keeping the discussion civil:

1) Detach as much emotion as possible from the argument.

Emotion doesn't make sound arguments. It is easily manipulated, and assumes much about the person you're engaging. Passion is necessary to address moral or ethical quandaries, however, it musn't be unbridled in its application. It takes an individual of self-control to make an effective argument.

2) Stick to the subject matter, and try to address the root dilemma when debating.

So many debates end up in tangent city, and so many good conversations are ruined by extraordinary case studies that, in no way represent the entirety of the issue at hand. When engaging an individual who wants to drive off into left field, refocus on the issue at hand and offer to address the additional issues briught into the argument once the core question has been satisfactorily addressed. You would be amazed at how many discourses end civilly by not allowing distraction from the true issue. You may still disagree, but at least you know that you have satisfactorily addressed the issue you came to talk about.

3) Treat the person as a human being , not an evil troll.

It's amazing what a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t can do for an argument. Remember that your dilemma is with their ideology, and that this individual came to their belief through some sort of chain of reasoning, much the way you came to hold your very own beliefs. It's basically the golden rule here, people. If the opposition starts asserting that you have made certain personal statements about them that are untrue (you of course haven't because you're staying on subject and addressing the actual issue, not letting your emotions draw you into petty name calling), then ask them to point out where you made said assertions and offer to apologize in earnest if you have done so. You won't have to because you didn't. You're just making them think or re-read what you actually said or typed.

4) Actually know something about the subject before you shoot your mouth off.

You don't have to be an expert, but this should really go without saying. 

5) Ask them a lot of questions.

Don't simply try to jackhammer them with your dazzling array of facts and knowledge. Odds are they don't care. Mostly allow them to expose either their lack of knowledge on the subject, or allow them the opportunity to share their story a bit. This not only gives them a human element to you, which can lead to more pleasant dialogue, but it also allows you to see their reasoning and cajole them into thinking about the flawed bits. Remember, you'll never convince them you're right because you say so, but if you guide them along, letting them share their personal story, it allows you to penetrate their natural defenses, and gives you license to challenge them on the logical inaccuracies if you find them.

6) Grow thick skin.

Even if they get personal, you should already be approaching this with the mentality that they will use guilt, or name calling to try to shut you up. If you go in prepared for insults, they will bounce off, allowing you to stick to your case, and to come across the bigger, much more well informed person in the debate. It also helps you as a person to learn to be the better person in life in general. Sticks and stones....ya know.

Anyway, that's it. Those are my suggestions for engaging and changing the nature of conversation in our society.

Thoughts?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I Caved...

I have officially given in an obtained an e-reader. Not a super pricey one, mind you; it cost about 60 bucks on Amazon. This move, however, is a landmark one because I have always been notoriously snobby to the e-reader crowd. I have always preferred the physical book "experience", if you will, the smell and feel of a tangible book in my hands, turning the pages, pouring over it into the long hours of the night.

Nevertheless, I have obtained a Nook Glowlight.

I wouldn't have even bought one if the e-reader I had in my possession previously (a gift from an ex-girlfriend who clearly didn't know what a snob I was) had still worked but, alas, it didn't.

The reason I caved was because in my subscription to liberty.me, a social media platform dedicated to discussing political issues, I have access to a large library of e-books, which I wanted to take advantage of since I've paid for use of this platform. I didn't, however, want to sit on my laptop to read these books, and honestly I don't have time to sit on the computer let alone read. My reading consists of breaks at work, kids nap time and after bedtime on nights my wife is at school.

So that was my justification. Call me a hypocrite, but I have enjoyed my experience thus far, and while I still anticipate enjoying accumulating physical books to the e-reader experience, I will admit the advantages of convenience when it comes to this little device.

My current project is: Omnipotent Government by Ludwig Von Mises, a critique of the economic authoritarian mentality, and how it hinders true freedom civically and personally.

Music today is: In This Moment- The Blood Legion, and Beast Within

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gifts


I think I'll make 2016 a different sort of year. Oh sure, everyone says that each new year, but my focus may be a tad different than the typical lose weight, eat healthier, get more active bullshit.

In 2016 I'm going to stop giving.

I should clarify. I'm going to stop giving out of obligation in 2016. Each year the holiday season comes roaring in, causing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. Inevitably, I know, that people may be buying me presents, this instructive instinct causes a visceral reaction within me. 

Why?? 

I don't honestly know. I think it's a complex concoction of symptoms, cultural, familial, and emotional among others. I love giving people presents. Most people do. I believe we are created to give, so when you give shit to people you're doing something vital to your being.

Here's the irony, I don't hate getting gifts, I hate getting gifts when I don't have a gift to give in kind. Weird, huh? I'm not crazy about getting stuff on my birthday, or my birthday in general for that matter. I genuinely don't think I've done anything special to deserve anything on the day nature decided to force me into the bright, loud, scary world.

I don't like Christmas gift culture. It feels to contrived, almost as if capitalists all decided to bastardize a religious season, and all the zombies (myself included) ate it up. I admire making a living, and working hard for what you earn, but I hate the commercializations of it.

So what is at the root of my gift hating syndrome? 

Since I think about things way too much I think I have a few ideas:

1) I hate feeling indebted to another. 

I know the purpose of a gift isn't to elicit this feeling. To the contrary, the "gifter" probably just wanted to do something nice for the "giftee", and if I was in the position of giving, I wouldn't think twice. 

Nonetheless, I still feel a sense of indebtedness after receiving a gift that just won't go away. It's horrible. Part of it is probably how I grew up. The concept of getting something for nothing is so closely related to welfare, something I can't stand. 

I need to work on this. Welfare and charity are distinct and mutually exclusive.

2) Holidays always strike when I seem to be in a fiscal hole.

When holiday season comes roaring in, and all the companies unleash their new plastic shit for the masses to consume, it is hard not to join the feeding frenzy. I hate that I can't participate. Even though the very participation in such an event means contributing to the cheapening of the season. More of that in point three...

3) A gift shouldn't be scheduled!

This defeats the very premise of giving a gift. Now every year, like clockwork, people are laden with expectations, intentional or unintentional. 
"Oh, what did you get so-and-so for Christmas??" 

"Do you know what we are doing for Christmas gifts this year?"

"What is on your Christmas list??"

We have been trained in our culture to simply assume that Christmas comes hand in hand with presents, and that Thanksgiving is the unofficial time to begin to worry about getting family and friends the flashiest things before they run out. Profit margins must increase, after all.

And each year we get the recap of how successful or unsuccessful Black Friday and holiday sales were. Almost like a report card.

The nature of a gift isn't, and shouldn't be compulsory. Many would argue that they never asked for anything in return, but when you get to sit in a room where everyone got everyone else something, you are being inadvertently socially shamed. Sadly, we as people are social creatures who largely crave inclusion, and acceptance. This varies per individual, but nonetheless we all have some degree of this. 

I'm just far worse than most in sensitivity to this.

4) I hate the expectation reacting to a gift.

Ever opened a gift that just completely screamed useless? Something of no value to you? You look up, frantic, see the searching eyes locked on you, waiting for you to elicit a shout of joy because this useless item should be everything you ever hoped it would be??

I exaggerate of course, but sometimes it feels that way. Not only do I have to worry about receiving a gift which I cannot reciprocate for, but I also have to mind my mannerisms so I don't hurt the person who took the time to buy my broke ass a gift.

I can't stand the pressure. 

These are all the qualms I can think of, but if there are more, I'm quite sure I'll do a second part of this post.

Long story short, this year, I resolve to return to the meaning of the word "gift". I will not submit to the compulsory societal traditions mandating gift giving to the individual. I will not submit to peer assumptions (intentional or inadvertent alike) that certain events stipulate that gifts must be exchanged. When I give, I will give when I can and what I can. It will be from the heart, and not the calendar. 

This is, I think, a return to the freeing joy of giving.