Let’s Change The World.

When my kids were young they had this thing about who was the favorite. Now that they’ve grown you would assume that they outgrew that. They haven’t. I imagine the topic still comes up because it always generated a good amount of banter around the dinner table. Accusations and denials of favoritism provided many affirming discussions and faux outrage over the years. It is a topic that is both absurd and compelling and it always felt a little uncomfortable defending how we felt . How could they know, without children of their own, that parenting doesn’t work like that? I look to each of my kids and their unique qualities for various roles in our family dynamic.

This sibling rivalry is not particular to our family. It always IMG_0113used to crack me up when Tommy Smothers, of the Smothers Brothers would suddenly look somber and exclaim to Dick, “Mom always liked you best.” A fond memory I hold about growing up was my Grandpa Caballero having the special ability to make each and every one of his 17 grandchildren feel beyond any doubt that they were his favorite. I suppose it is just human nature to seek the affirmation of those we love. Sometimes we manage that fairly well. Other times we struggle. Why is that?

I look back at the times when I’m most happy, when I am least insecure with my significance among those I love and there is a consistent theme. The times I’m most happy and most at peace is when I’m focused more on others than myself. I suppose that makes sense. It’s a constant in philosophy and religion that inner peace is attainable by quieting our minds in the service of others. There is a profound sense of fulfillment to be gained from helping others. I find that when I’m engaged helping at my church, in civic efforts and coaching weight loss I have less time to worry about my place in the world. We can all make a difference in the lives of others. It doesn’t need to be a world changing contribution to change the world of one or two people. It’s Monday morning. You do matter to the people who cross your path. Let’s get out there and change the world by loving on one person at a time.

Carpe Diem

The older I get the more urgent it seems that I suck every bit of life out of every moment of my day. It’s no wonder that perhaps one of my favorite movies is “Dead Poets Society” where John img_0112Keating, a new English Teacher played by Robin Williams, encourages his students to make their lives extraordinary. “Carpe Diem” Keating whispers to his charges as they stand before images of students who had passed through the same prestigious hallways generations before. “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Commute and journey can at first seem synonymous. Commute is defined as “traveling regularly to and from a place and especially between where you live and where you work.” Journey is defined as “an act of traveling from one place to another.” I attribute a more mundane definition to commute. Commute, to me, embodies a sense of disengagement, of excruciating routine and familiarity. Journey, on the other hand, conjures up images of the unknown and opportunities to see new things. We are often reminded “it’s not about the destination but the journey.” That’s a reminder to live in the moment. A call to embrace the now. The problem with living for another day, with focusing on end-results rather than efforts along the way is that satisfaction can be so fleeting. Who hasn’t worked hard to accomplish a goal and then momentarily thought they could have done better or lost themselves in consideration of what’s next?
I was reminded to embrace the journey from the simple act of riding my Harley into work yesterday. It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was warm on my shoulders and yet the air was crisp and smelled of spring blossoms. The nimble navigation afforded by two wheels provided a sense of sport as opposed to the reclining comfort of my leather appointed SUV. I felt genuine gratitude for the comforts of my life: the absence of hunger or fear, the love of my family and friends, my good health and the consciousness to recognize how blessed my life truly is. I think I just inferred I have gratitude for feeling gratitude. There’s nothing wrong with that. Carpe diem my friends, carpe diem.

Serenity Prayer

I typically begin my day perusing Facebook and lately it’s filled with stories of oppression, atrocities and scandal. I end my day with the img_4914nightly news and it’s filled with reports of abuse, corruption, war and disasters. “The lens to which your brain views the world shapes your reality.” Author Shawn Achor. The author isn’t referring to the lens of physical sight so much as the way we look at things and how we think about them but I want to back up and consider what we are actually witnessing. Even when we try and escape the harsh realities of the world around us we are bombarded with videos of pranking and bullying or the intellectual wasteland of reality TV. We are witness to incivility and hostility at every turn. Occasionally someone will post a picture of a kitten or their dinner on Facebook and I longingly recall when I used to mock such things as all social media was good for.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
People have been drawn to barbarity and conflict since the ancient times. Gladiators and crucifixions drew huge crowds. Today MMA, polarized news outlets and nasty Real Housewives programs draw huge ratings on TV. We haven’t evolved very much. I struggle with that. I’m more likely to accept that I cannot change something than I am to accept some situations are allowed in the first place. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the best we can do is know that for now, we can only hope reasonable people, decency and mutual respect will prevail. In the mean time we must invoke:
the courage to change the things I can,
Will I speak up or will I be silent when I see wrong in my world? Will I contribute to the discontent and discord around me? I wonder if it is enough to confess that gawking at events and content lacking social value is guilty pleasure. If we aspire to better options we need to support them and abandon those guilty pleasures. So many times we see free markets used to degrade our morality as if some noble justification. We have an opportunity to utilize the beauty of free markets to make our world a better place every time we click (or not) a link, change a channel, purchase a publication or sound off in a comment box.
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Author Shawn Achor also reports, 90% of your happiness is dependent on the way your brain processes the world. Other 10% is predicted by external factors such as money, wealth, success. Choosing what we see can transform our lives and if enough of us are willing to do that we could change the world. Serenity, courage and wisdom: I’ve got my work cut out for me today.

Voices Inside My Head.

I’m always searching for the proverbial “keys to life” not so much as a shortcut to happiness but generally to just get me through the day. I swear the world conspires against me some days. Lord knows that people intentionally spite me and refuse to provide for my simple and modest needs. Can ya feel me?IMG_0109
I think the only battle I need ever worry about is the one between my ears. A friend who worries about my occasional self-loathing recently shared a Viktor E Frankl quote with me. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I pondered how that aligned with Miguel Ruiz’s “Four Agreements.”
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
4. Always Do Your Best.
It all really comes down to perspective doesn’t it? We choose every day how we act or how we react as we go about our business. That should be easy enough. Things can get messy when spend too much time wishing things were different. It’s all so cliché’ sounding isn’t it? But then I wonder, why is it so hard at times? Why is it that we are willing to beat ourselves up; telling ourselves we are not good enough, not strong enough, not respected enough, we are too old, too fat, too whatever? Part of being impeccable with our word means that we need to recognize that our internal dialogue matters as much as what we say out loud. Part of taking things personally and making assumptions means assuming good intentions and doing our best to avoid self-judgment and regrets. We get to control all that. We get to choose our inner dialogue and thus our own reality.
I like when I lie down to bed at night and feel good about my contributions to, and interactions with, the people who’ve crossed my path. The best way to enjoy that feeling is by guarding against internal negativity and employing the occasional positive self-affirmation. “By golly, I’m good enough, I’m nice enough and people like me.” Ok, maybe we don’t need to go all Stuart Smally and I hope none of us self-deprecate more than occasionally. If at all. I just need to remind myself, once in a while, that words matter. What I tell myself is maybe foundational to how I treat others. That’s a freedom worth protecting.

I Hope There Is A Heaven.

On Friday I got the news that a friend passed away. It was unexpected, out of the blue. I hadn’t known that he was sick. Pete was the kind of friend who I was always glad to see and now that he’s gone, I wish I had seen more. Pete liked to poke me a little bit and challenge me to think outside my comfort zone. I’m going to miss that. We all have those friends; the friends who live on the fringe of our daily routines yet add a richness to our lives. His passing made me realize I don’t know much about Pete’s life but I knew he faced challenges. I always had a sense that I wanted to help Pete but always stopped short of taking a further step. Maybe that’s why hearing of Pete’s death hit me so hard on Friday. IMG_0106

I had recently posted about creating heaven on earth and to be honest, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for all of the no-risk engagement I have with people in the hope of brightening their day. I even wrote, “None of this costs me anything…” I failed Pete. I’ll never call anyone hypocrite again.
Pete administered a weight loss program at the church. We taught some classes together and then always had a nice visit before class if we had separate classroom assignments. We kept in touch on Facebook. Pete was always hungry to share knowledge, to encourage and to share stories. He rarely complained.
So many times, when someone passes we offer condolences to the bereaved that their loved one is in a better place. We are always sincere about that. If we are honest I might suggest that we don’t really think too deeply about it when we offer those comforting words. On Saturday I was still mourning Pete and feeling convicted that we hadn’t been closer.
And then I had the thought of Pete in heaven. I saw Jesus wrapping Pete in his arms and Pete snuggling in, laying his head on God’s shoulder. I imagined Pete’s smile and sense of relief from the warmth of God’s love following through him and washing away all of the pain and concerns from Pete’s life on earth. I will miss you Pete but I am so happy knowing where you are today. Whatever I could have done for Pete he doesn’t need anymore. I sure need him though. He is still challenging me to think outside my comfort zone. Pete was always good at that.

Heaven On Earth.

From time to time I find myself adrift. Maybe overly complacent is more accurate. I’m a little surprised that still happens at my age. I don’t know if it is the same for everybody but from time to time I have to remind myself that trips around the sun are limited. I don’t want to look back on life with too many regrets. I’m not good with regrets. Regrets can lead to icky thoughts and take up space in my head that could be used for good things like love and hope and joy.

I always seem to feel better in life when I’m mindful of my priorities and actually, deliberately, working to maintain them. I need to be deliberate to first accept who I am and then to live purposefully toward serving others. It always seems too easy to get wrapped up with the business of being the things that I do: Father, husband, parent, employee, homeowner or whatever. All of the things I do in those roles require attention and maintenance and time. If I turn from the things I do, to the things I am, I’m better able have fulfillment in my roles. Only attitude, only living purposefully can determine if I’m living fully or merely existing.

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So that are my priorities? Where do I find purpose? Are you ready for this? I want to live my life in such a way as to contribute to heaven on earth. I’m not saying I’m very good at it. I’m not delusional, well not about this anyway. I take stock in the concept of the butterfly effect. (The phenomenon where the swoosh of a butterfly wing on one side of the world can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world.) I pray every day that I can be the kind of man that God wants me to be. Usually I’m lucky if I can finish the prayer before I fail but that mindset might just put me in a place to do some little, maybe even imperceptible thing that could turn something around for someone or someone’s someone later in the day.

What I’m really hoping to do, when I pray to be the kind of man God wants me to be, is doing things like listening to people. Really listening. Just by being present and attentive you can make a difference in someone’s day. I hold doors for people. I greet and engage people where I can. I especially like to engage people who might otherwise go unseen: the security guard, the maintenance guy, the cafeteria server. I try to be helpful where I see people struggling. Maybe they are carrying packages or dropped an item. Maybe they are running to catch the elevator or maybe they just look like they could use encouragement. None of this costs me anything and I find those micro connections, where you recognize that you let someone know they matter, essential to what I value about humanity.

My personality is such that I tend to do most of those things out of habit. On autopilot if you will. But I don’t seem to reap the benefits and fulfillment of those actions without being deliberate. Those are many ways to serve. When I practice these random connections consciously is when I’m most accepting who I am. With that acceptance I feel like I’m better able to be authentic in my engagements. It is built into our humanity to be social creatures. It is our innate proclivity to community that we have been able to achieve so much in this world.

That’s why it bothers me so much to see all of the divisiveness and isolationist rhetoric being normalized by recent trends towards populism. And we should stop calling what’s going on in the world today populism. It isn’t. Populism is defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people.” That doesn’t seems to match what we are witnessing in society these days. It’s time we took to the streets with a servants heart and see if millions of butterflies can’t just get us back on track and create a little heaven on earth.

Latent Racism

There is a documentary going around exposing Yale students for garish elite entitlement. Support of the point of view is offered by video of interactions between students and university representatives. The film was reportedly made to show us just how over the top the entitled elite students of Yale have become. It is disguised as being about out of touch neophytes browbeating helpless officials who’s response is throttled by fear of lawsuits and perhaps worse, the fear of being politically incorrect.IMG_0101
The thing is, these generational complaints, the ones where comments are made about “those kids these days” are always self-serving and genuinely unoriginal. Socrates, legend would have it, once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” So this has been around forever. My point is, have we forgotten what we were like in college? You may not feel empathy for the students in this story but do you think our parents thought we weren’t just as messed up as these kids are made to look? We were you know. And that’s kind of the beauty of a college education.
We were young, full of energy and ecstatic about the blossoming capabilities of our expanding minds. New ways of thinking were offered not only in curriculum but in the confluence of kids from all over the country and the world in pursuit of higher education. We were no longer isolated in our homogenous hometowns where even if we were lucky enough to have come from a land of racial and ethnic diversity we were still most likely, surrounded by like minded people. College is a place to test out ideas, a place to safely find a voice and learn what works and what doesn’t. It is a training ground for the all too near real world in which they will soon be immersed.
I remember when my kids were young and we would spend weekends in bleachers and auditoriums watching hundreds of kids perform in their chosen extracurricular endeavors. I would hear people then, most likely people without kids at home, complain about the younger generation and the loss of hope for humanity. I always thought, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Those kids then, as I am sure kids now, were as driven and confused and trying to figure things out as we ever were.
But that’s not what bothers me about this video. The reaction to the video, in no small part is veiled racism. The question arises because the issue used to focus our angst at these privileged students was a racial insecurity. I do not condone the actions or comments of the students but I won’t condemn them either. This issue was wrapped in the 1st Amendment but underneath it was about race. These kids aren’t dumb. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They live in a world where nationalism and white supremacy are being normalized. I noticed the filmmaker never offered other instances of Yale students airing grievances. Certainly if the entire campus ran amok with spoiled self-centered egotists they would have been able to demonstrate other examples.
The whole thing reeked of “look at those uppity black folk who don’t know their place.” And the message is working. People are happy to condemn and ridicule the students as entitled elitists and never have to mention the ethnicity at play. The video is the perfect cover for latent racism. It was racism hidden in overgeneralization and supported by opportunistic video clips and clever editing. A better story would have been why, in 2017, are these kids living with that fear.
Yale is going to be OK. I hope the same is true for the students.

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