The purpose of this blog is to pursue happiness together. My aim is to share my thoughts, thoughts which i have accumulated through the experience of highs and lows in my own life, and thoughts from famous philosophers, thinkers, and humanity at large. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue, and that through discussion of what happiness is, and how we find it, that we can learn to be happy together and to help make the world a better place.

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Hello all! Thanks for visiting my blog. I believe that creating and achieving a state of happiness and joy is the primary purpose in life. My mission for this page is to provide uplifting content, inspirational material, and thought provoking ideas; all of which I hope will help you come to a better understanding and experiencing of happiness and joy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Without Darkness and Sorrow, there is No Light and Happiness



I recently came across quote by Jocko Willink, long time US Navy Seal, martial arts expert, author, and motivational speaker, that accurately worded some of my own thoughts I have recently had. Speaking on the Tim Ferriss Show, Jocko said: “I think that in order to truly experience the light and the bright, you have to see the darkness. I think if you shield yourself from the darkness, you’ll not appreciate— and fully understand— the beauty of life.” This is a profoundly powerful idea especially coming from a man with such experiences as Jocko Willink. Being in the Special Forces, Jocko has likely seen some of the very worst atrocities, cruelties, and barbarism that humanity and the world can promulgate. To be able to have this outlook on life despite what he has seen speaks to the strength of this idea: without sorrow and pain, joy and happiness lose their luster.

I believe that Jocko’s idea here is not something he has realized in spite of his experiences but because of his experiences. Without the opportunity to see the worst of what the world has to offer, how can you fully enjoy the best of what it has to offer. A kind gesture from a stranger will always seem compassionate and polite, but when you have seen people murdering each other over petty notions of righteousness, such as Jocko has, than that compassionate kind deed becomes even more beautiful. Joy cannot exist without sorrow; love cannot exist without grief; beauty cannot exist without hideousness; kindness cannot exist without opposition; and happiness cannot exist without sadness.


This recalls my post about the Danish concept of Hygge, the art of comfort for lack of a better definition. Hygge is critical to the Danish existence and is part of what makes Danes reputedly among the world’s most happy people. As I discussed then: in many ways it defies logic that people from Denmark, an admittedly harsh land particularly in winter, can be home to some of the world’s happiest people. For that matter, all Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland) are among the happiest, despite what could accurately be considered brutal conditions. From these examples of happiness, we are reminded of an important virtue: to not let yourself be influenced by events outside your control. Given the harsh nature of the climate in such places, it would be easy to become sad and depressed. However, Danes and their Nordic neighbors are able to be happy not merely in-spite of their climate but perhaps because of it. Meik Wiking, founder of the World Happiness Research Institute (talk about a dream job) in Copenhagen noted that the very essence of Hygge, the art of comfort, exists because it stands in contrast to its opposite – what we can simply consider discomfort. Without the harsh Nordic winter, that enjoyable night spent wrapped in wool blankets by the fireside is not as enjoyable, it isn’t as hygge. Without those extremely long winter nights in the far north that cover the world in darkness for 18-20 hours a day, there is less joy and gratitude for the beautiful sunset in summer. Without the biting cold gnawing at your finger tips, there is less hygge, less joy in holding that steaming mug of coffee. By that same token there is less joy and happiness without a contrasting period, time, or memory, of sorrow.

One of the greatest ways to be happy is to be grateful. I know that in my lowest moments, one of the most successful habits I developed that made me feel better was to create a gratitude log where I would force myself to think of something in my life about which I could be happy. An interesting thought on gratitude is that it becomes easier to be grateful when you have an opposing or conflicting idea towards which to compare. One of the things I often think of when doing a gratitude exercise is how lucky I am to have the love of family and good friends. I have always had this, but I didn’t always recognize that fact. At times I would feel loneliness and depression, believing myself to be unloved. Recognizing that I am loved and cared for is a major happiness boost, made doubly effective because I can contrast that feeling to the previous, albeit false, notion of being unloved.


Bruce Lee once said “do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a hard one.” For everything in life there is an equal and opposite. To be happy, there must be a sorrow to contrast or compare against. For every triumph, there must be a struggle or an opposing force of some sort. For joy to be fully realized we must be able to know sorrow. The list goes on… Don’t pray for an easy life devoid of pain, sorrow, despair, and hardship. That is unreasonable, we are wise enough to know that suffering in life is inevitable. Understand that to fully enjoy the best of emotions and feelings you must be willing to experience the worst and the lowest. If you have never felt pain, sadness, or loneliness, how will you ever know what joy, happiness, and love feel like. If you shield yourself from the darkness, you will not fully understand. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

A Shocking New Lifestyle Choice and Its Effect on My Happiness



This is going to be one the most shocking and confusing posts I have ever written, and perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever written or said period. Many of you will be alarmed and startled by the revelations I am about to make, particularly those of you who know me personally. I want to reassure you all that I am ok and that I have this situation under control. My hope is that I can catalog my experiences here and use my subjective and objective feedback to educate you such that you may learn by my example. This has been going on for a while now, but I feel like it is finally time to reveal the truth. Here it goes:

For the last 6 weeks, I have been eating a vegan/plant-based diet (pauses for gasps and horror).

Please forgive my dry sense of humor but that is a sentence I cant even write much less say without blushing, mostly because it is so completely different than anywhere I ever thought I would find myself. As those of you who know me are aware, and for those of you who have previously read my blog posts know, I spent about 6 years working in the health and fitness world. I am a self-proclaimed ‘meat-head” with a passion for lifting heavy things, getting stronger, growing bigger muscles, and challenging myself under a barbell. Lifting, training, and exercise, have been one of the most meaningful and enjoyable parts of my life. As part of this culture, I, like many others in the fitness world, believed that meat was king. I fully ascribed to the belief that it was impossible to compete in any sports, much less strength sports, without vast quantities of animal flesh to fuel the process and heal the body.

At my peak I was eating between 1-2 pounds of red meat per day, very little carbs, and moderate fat. I was strong and overall healthy though I had some disturbing trends, most notably that being that my cholesterol was high, and I felt generally lethargic and sluggish. I simply thought this was normal, this is how a 32-year-old is supposed to feel and that I should be lucky for the health I do have. That all changed 6 weeks ago when my girlfriend Ashley challenged me to do a trial run of veganism. She had made the switch to a vegan diet some weeks earlier after having hellacious side-effects after following a similar diet to my own. She felt better in a matter of weeks and opened my eyes to some research including How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger, The Plant Based Diet by Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke, along with some informative documentaries such as Game Changers. Some valid points were made about the benefits of veganism along with some disgusting and disturbing facts about the meat and dairy industry. I wasn’t sold per se but I was willing to give it a shot. I was challenged to do 30 days of strict, pure veganism. This post is about my experience thus far.

Admittedly, I made the vegan choice for selfish reasons: my own health
Knowing I can help these guys out a little is a huge bonus

I want to preface my results with a disclaimer. I am not a doctor or a certified nutritional professional. I am not qualified to make nutritional programs, or regimented diets. There is as much evidence against veganism as there is for it. All that I can do is tell you about my own experience. If you want to make a dietary change my suggestion would be to have a conversation with your doctor or enlist the help of a certified professional. These people will be able to give helpful guidance specifically tailored to you. There may be existing preconditions, genetic markers, blood abnormalities etc. that would raise concern about you trying a certain diet. Again, don’t do this just because I say so. I do not say so. I just want to let you know how I found the experience. Take it for whatever you will, but do not take it for my suggestion that you make any dietary changes without consulting a physician or specialist.  

The following paragraphs are an objective and statistical analysis of my experience with veganism.

Let’s begin with a subjective analysis, a discussion of how all of this makes me feel. My biggest concern going into veganism was that I was going to be eating nothing but sod from my front yard every day. That isn’t the case. There is an abundance of eating options available to you, you simply must know where to look and get a little creative with some new recipes. Whole Foods has a tremendous section of vegan/plant-based foods where I was able to find substitutes for many of my staple foods such as plant-based beef, plant-based sausage, cheese, almond milk and more. Some of the best meals I have had in the past year have been vegan meals. My girlfriend Ashley has made several tasty meals with the “meat”-loaf and enchiladas being my favorite. We also had an incredible plant-based shepherd’s pie at our neighbors, not to mention that we enjoy vegan burgers several times a week. Cross that off the list of cons, there is no shortage of tasty foods to be had when eating vegan.

The most notable and most meaningful difference was in how I felt. Within 4-5 days the incessant feeling of mental fog, bloating, and general lethargy had left me. I had always been led to believe that carbs were the devil. I eat more carbs than ever before, and I feel none of the sluggishness I had been warned about. I’m not qualified to state with certainty, but my belief is that the absence of animal fat in my gut has allowed my digestive tract to function more efficiently, allowing my body to metabolize ingested carbohydrates for fuel rather than be made sluggish by their presence as previously. My experiences in the bathroom since starting this diet would second the notion of a healthy gut.

My energy is boundless. Gone are the routine 3pm crashes where I contemplate if its too late for coffee or check my calendar to see if I can squeeze in a power nap. I simply have no need anymore. This increase in energy is evident in the gym as well as I can routinely grind out sets of 15-20 reps with weights that would previously have caused concern at the 10-15 range. I seem to recover more quickly with very little incidence of prolonged delated onset muscle soreness, and my torn bicep muscle appears to be healing ahead of schedule. I did not have a pre-vegan body composition assessment, but my subjective impression is that I am just as lean as I was before if not leaner: I have a visible 6 pack, noticeable quadricep muscle separation and veiny arms. This will be something I hope to get measured soon so I can include it in the objective data section.

The short answer about how a vegan diet made me feel is: it made me feel amazing. None of my concerns were valid. I didn’t get fat, I didn’t grow man-boobs, I didn’t get weak, and I didn’t become tired from all the carbs. I had made the decision that I felt so good during my 30-day trial, that unless my bloodwork revealed a serious NEGATIVE change since going vegan, that I would likely stay mostly consistent with it, though not perfect, as I admittedly do still crave the occasional burger. Still a major step in the right direction even without the full commitment.

Luckily for me I have regular blood work so I was able to compare my vegan blood work to a previous panel taken in March, which we can take to be a reasonably accurate measure of my bloodwork immediately before going vegan. The panel was extremely thorough. For the sake of science, I would normally post the full scripts but for the sake of this blog I am going to simply show the highlights, and no, I am not hiding any measures that go against the script here. I was completely objective of my analysis of this diet. This is my health we are talking about. Trust me, if the bloodwork came bad or if I had a shitty experience, I would say something.

Most measures stayed the same with very little change. What did change the most was my lipid panel. My total cholesterol was down for a net change of 39 from 183 to 144, with my HDL (healthy cholesterol) increasing from 37 (unhealthy) to 48 (healthy) and my LDL (bad cholesterol) decreasing from 133 (unhealthy) to 86 (healthy). My triglycerides decreased from 68 to 47, changing my triglyceride to HDL ratio from 1.8 to .97 - a measure that many physicians consider to be crucial to determining risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease (anything below 2 being good, the lower the better). My total testosterone, free testosterone, and estradiol remained unchanged. This is a big concern by some critics of veganism who claim a high-soy diet can increase estrogen and decrease testosterone. I will admit however that I have been on a testosterone supplement since being diagnosed with low T at the age of 30. We probably cant use my measure here as any valid indicator but I was pleased that it did not drop. The one measure that came back poor for me was iron, which was low. Unfortunately, I did not have iron included in my pre-vegan test so I have no idea if it went low during my vegan diet or if it had been low. Either way, this is an easy enough issue to fix by eating either more green leafy vegetables and or taking an iron supplement.

Again, my knowledge and expertise does not allow me to make suggestions on what you should do. What I can say though is that I feel much better since adopting a predominantly vegan diet and I have the blood work to back it up. I feel better, can workout harder, concentrate longer, and am generally happier and healthier. A believer has been made out of me and I intend to adopt this into my full-time lifestyle with only the occasional meaty comfort meals. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed. If you have any questions about this diet, or any nutritional or health related issue, let me know, and I will happily point you in the right direction to get yourself the best answers.

(I was worried Veganism would make me look like the top Image. Instead it made me look like the bottom - left arm much smaller on account of still healing from a tendon-repair surgery.)

Friday, June 25, 2021

2 Traits of Extremely Happy People : what we can all do to increase Happiness.



Human beings learn through observation and experience. It is in this way that important traits, learned behaviors, necessary evolutions, and knowledge for us to thrive and survive has been passed down from generation to generation.  This learning is generally passed on to future generations either in the form of DNA adaptations, writing, history, parenting, upbringing, observation and more. One of the beautiful things about the technological state in which we currently live is that we now have access to knowledge the world over. Books can be translated from hundreds of languages and downloaded instantly, the world is abound with networking mechanisms that can allow people anywhere to interface and share ideas and nearly anyone with anything to say or discuss has a platform for doing so. We have the ability to leverage the insight, experiences, and even failures of others to serve as roadmaps as we navigate our way through life.

Since making the decision to focus on my own happiness, wellness, growth, and development and since beginning this blog I have used technology to study happy and successful individuals. Happiness and success look different to each of us but l the happiest and most successful people tend to share two habits that I have come to believe are fundamental in leading to happiness. There is without question far more to happiness than just these two traits I want to discuss but for the time being I thought it wise to focus on two simple habits that I think can improve happiness in each of us. No matter the age, gender, status, position, career, or goals of these people, nearly every single one of them do the following: they prioritize both their mental and physical health; and they read avidly. This post is a discussion of why those two habits matter and how they can lead to the realization of happiness.

The body is the vessel through which we experience life and all the happiness, sorrows, and everything in between. The mind is the software that creates, processes, and feels our thoughts, memories, emotions and more. Without a healthy mind and body, it becomes difficult to fully experience happiness. If your body is weak, injured, sick, or otherwise limited in its ability it can create pain and limitations that inhibit happiness. If the mind is ill or weak it can become ravaged by anxiety, worry, depression, or the inability to either experience or remember happy memories and feelings. Without question there are ways in life wherein one becomes incapacitated in mind or in body by means outside of their control such as unpreventable illness, injury, trauma, abuse and more. But to a great extent we as humans are able to ensure the health and wellbeing of our bodies and our minds with proper habits, lifestyles, and conditioning. 


The happiest of people all focus on consuming a healthy diet, which for the most part tends to consist of high amounts of vegetables, whole, natural foods, and an avoidance of processed goods which would more accurately be called food-like substances rather than actual food. By providing our bodies with proper nutrition we allow our bodies to function at the optimal level, reducing inflammation, expediting cellular repair, and more. The happiest of people all put a great deal of thought and effort into ensuring that they eat healthy and nutritious foods in order to care for their bodies. This is something that I believe anyone must do if they wish to experience happiness.

The happiest people do more than just properly feed their bodies. They also tend to stick to a disciplined workout and training program. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all superhuman athletes capable of extraordinary feats, but they do challenge their bodies on a regular basis by subjecting themselves to any number of stimuli including but not limited to resistance training, cardiovascular activity, yoga, martial arts, and more. Regularly engaging in such exercise brings happiness not just because it is a pleasing reward to experience the beauty and wonder of what a healthy, highly functioning body, can accomplish, but also because it keeps the billions of cells contained within us healthy, and allows all the various bodily processes that maintain our existence operating at the highest level possible. Exercise, sports, and general fitness do not need to be your primary focus in life, but if you want to be truly happy, I believe that you must regularly engage in some type of physically challenging or demanding activity that will keep your body healthy.

Not only do happy people focus on their body, but they also focus a great deal of effort and energy on improving their mental health. This takes the form of meditation, therapy, journaling, prayer and more. Whatever their preferred or desired form of mental improvement may be, happy people are deliberate in their pursuit thereof. They are not passive in their pursuit of mental happiness. They are willing to out in the work to hone in their meditation techniques day after day until they learn to master their own minds and prevent the onset of unhappy thoughts. They are wiling to have difficult discussions about their past, choosing to reveal their traumas not necessarily to the public but with at least some people, often their therapists or close family and friends. The whole point is that they are brave enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable and tackle their issues or traumas head on rather than suppress them or run from the confrontation of those painful memories. This focus on mental health wills these happy people to that very state of happiness and is precisely the reason they come across as confident, unbothered, content, and radiant beings. If you want to be happy, focus on your mental health and be deliberate about making progress.

The Paul Barret Jr. Library at Rhodes College
where I probably should have spent more time
as an undergraduate student.

The second trait of happy people is that they all appear to be avid readers. The very reason I began this post with a discussion about how easy it is to share ideas, beliefs, news, habits, and more is because we are blessed with the opportunity that anybody can be a teacher or role model to us. This comes with the obvious caveat that you must be careful just what you believe and whom you trust, but thanks to the rate at which information can be shared, we have almost limitless opportunities for growth and learning. Happy people take full advantage of this, commonly by reading, which they use to build their own knowledge and serve as a guidebook of sorts on how to live and how to be happy. We are provided the opportunity to learn from the lives of others, discerning from their experiences what may lead to happiness, what leads to disaster, what is a good idea, and what isn’t without having to make the same mistakes ourselves or without having to encounter countless trials and errors. Ultimately of course life is to be lived not read and we must get out in the arena, as Brene Brown or Theodore Roosevelt would have said, but we at least are able to arm ourselves with the knowledge gleaned from the lives of others. Happy people are avid readers, with large amounts of both fiction and non-fiction alike. And they use their reading to inspire themselves, to create ideas, expand their minds, and appease their curiosity. I believe that reading is a critical tool in developing our minds and in pointing us towards the path to happiness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Gratitude for a Few Random Things that Made Me Happy Recently



I don’t have anything terribly insightful, exciting, novel, or interesting to share today but I do have some thoughts that I wanted to share. My hope is that by sharing my thoughts, those of you who read this will be able to find things for which to be grateful for in your own lives. Our personalities, circumstances, and interests may be completely different and our lives may look nothing alike. But like all people, you and I want the same thing, which is to be happy, even though what makes us happy may look different for each of us. The best way to be happy is to decide to be happy, and the best way to decide to be happy is to be grateful. Here is a collection of events and happenings that made me feel grateful and happy over the last 48 hours or so.

Seeing love and happiness in the lives of others. Yesterday I boarded a four-hour flight as I departed for a business related trip. Upon taking my seat I was initially dismayed to realize that I would be sharing a row with a young couple travelling with their very young child. I quickly checked myself for my initial negative reaction, first by reminding myself that these were just a few travelers like myself, just trying to get somewhere they wanted to be, and that as stressed as I might feel at having to be near their baby, they were probably more stressed as they navigated their journey while caring for their infant. Furthermore, why be angry or upset before anything even happens? The child slept the entire flight, as did mom and dad. Most of my time was spent watching the Matrix or reading my books. But every now and then I stole some glances at the sleeping family with the baby I came to realize was actually extremely adorable. They were clearly exhausted but looked so content and peaceful all scrunched together in the limited space of our economy-seating. When the flight landed we exchanged a few pleasantries about our reasons for travelling before parting for good. I will probably never see them again and I don’t know their names, but for that brief moment our lives intersected and it brought me great joy to see love and happiness for others. I wish them well.

Last night's Suns vs Clippers game was a nail-biter 

Live sports and fans. The corona virus pandemic may not yet be over but while some places continue to struggle, by and large the world as a whole is healing and returning to normal. During the day I watched several soccer games in the UEFA cup with partially full stadiums and last night I watched the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers in a last-second buzzer beating game winning shot in front of a sold out crowd. I happen to be in Phoenix, and although I was unable to score tickets, it was really fun to enjoy the game with some friends/clients who have recently moved here and to talk about the game with my driver as I rode back to my hotel. Are there more important things in life than sports? Absolutely. But it felt good to put aside my cares and concerns for a few hours and simply enjoy some simple distractions with good people. It felt nice to have the most divisive issue amongst us be what team we were cheering for rather than the litany of other issues it sometimes feel like are cutting the world in half. I am glad that sports are back and that people are able to enjoy the games live and in-person once again.

A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. This is an old saying of my father’s that he adopted from his many years travelling as a salesman. I tend to be more on the introverted side, at least until I feel comfortable around someone, but am making efforts to be more outgoing, friendly, and engaging with random people, I feel that the world needs more positive interactions and so I am attempting to do my part. Today I sat at the bar of a local restaurant for breakfast. I had a brief moment of interaction with the two friends enjoying a meal together as I asked if I could take the seat next to them. A few pleasantries and courtesies were exchanged after-which point it seemed like they would go about their meal and I would enjoy mine in silence alone – not something that bothers me as I am quite comfortable being alone. This time however, I didn’t feel like being alone. I decided I was going to force myself to interact with these guys, casually, and if they weren’t interested I would simply return to my coffee in solitude with nothing lost for the effort and no hard feelings. As it turned out, they were extremely friendly, somewhat older men who had been friends for a long time. They were airline pilots by trade and we talked at length about flying, the places we’ve been, and more. I have already forgotten their names as I am sure they have forgotten mine, and I have no idea where in the world they may have flown off to in the last 12 hours. Nevertheless, I was grateful to myself for practicing my outgoingness, grateful to those two men for their kindness and open-heartedness at letting me join their conversation, and grateful to be reminded that good, caring, people are all over the place, if you simply have the courage to open your eyes and find them.


 New dining experiences. At long last today, I was able to cross off a restaurant that had been on my bucket list probably since I first saw the Big Lebowski when I was 12 or 13 years old. That restaurant was In N Out Burger. This is one of the more widely acclaimed burger chains in the United States but I had never had the opportunity to enjoy it, as it is almost exclusively located in the southwest region of this country. Finally, I had that chance. I ordered two double-doubles: double patties with double cheese – one animal style (secret sauce), and one regular, an order of fries, and a coke. My first inclination was to compare the burger to other burgers, but I reminded myself that comparison often leads to unhappiness so instead I simply decided to enjoy the meal for what it was. It was a very enjoyable experience shared with two friends and I am grateful for the sustenance, the company, experience, and overall pleased with the experience. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at this restaurant and would not be comfortable giving it my best burger in America stamp, but it was a very fun experience that I had looked forward to for a long time. 

One half of the loving pair that waits for me at home
Not to mention the loving family and friends I possess all over the world
count yourself lucky by the number of friends you have

Travelling is fun but coming home is better. As I mentioned earlier, I am currently travelling for work, an experience that I generally enjoy as it provides a nice break to the routine of my work week and often affords me the opportunity to visit new places and enjoy some nice meals on someone else’s dollar. Although I am not a huge fan of crowds, it made me happy to see the mass of people cramming through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, just the way they always used to, and it made me happy to see a full flight of people on the plane here to Phoenix even though I missed having that empty middle seat for extra arm room, with planes now having returned to full capacity. These are signs that things are getting better and people are back to safely doing the things they love. I have enjoyed the opportunity to see a new city here in Phoenix. I have spent some time in Arizona before but never in Phoenix. It is very different from Atlanta where I currently live and it is exciting to experience a new setting in a strange setting. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to travel, see friends, do important work for my company, and have new experiences, I miss my home. I used to not miss home because for me there didn’t feel like much of a home to go back to. Work travel was a way to escape from loneliness and added excitement to what was sadly an unenjoyable existence. That isn’t the case any longer. I have a lovely person and a four-legged hairy son waiting for me at home, and I look forward to coming back to them tomorrow.

We are all different people with different lives but we all want the same thing, happiness, even though it might show itself in different ways to all of us. Remember that you can make yourself happy. Choose to be happy rather than react to the world and see if it can make you happy. Take a good moment to think about your life of late and decide what you want to be grateful for. I know you can think of something.

 

 


Monday, June 21, 2021

World Refugee Day: Let's take care of one another and make the world a happier place


 


In the excitement and celebration of Father’s Day, I missed the fact that June 20th was celebrated internationally as World Refugee day – a day to recognize the struggles of and stand in solidarity with refugees across the world. I may now be a day late and a dollar short but I thought it would be better late than never to write a brief post about refugees and what you and I could do to help. 

The United Nations defines a refugee as: “persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” At this very moment, there are over 24.8 million refugees throughout the world, and over half of them are children under the age of 18. Every minute, 20 people across the world are forced to become refugees or make the difficult decision to pack up whatever belongings they can and search for a better life due to insurmountable challenges and dangers at home. At one point or other, 1 in 95 people on earth has been a refugee at some point. If you are one of the 94 lucky enough to have never been in such a position, I urge you to take a moment and give thanks to the safety and security you enjoy that has allowed you to escape this fate. Just imagine how terrifying it must be that your home, the place you were born and love, is being bombed, invaded, looted, and more to the point that you cannot even continue existing there. Instead you must set out, often on foot, into strange lands where you will likely not be welcomed and will certainly faced innumerable hardships and challenging conditions. 

This post isn’t about discussing root causes of issues that create refugees, or about the treatment refugees receive by their new homes. I didn’t think that would be productive and when discussing such an excessive issue of human rights, it is more important to focus on solutions and empathy rather than on blame. War is the main contributor to people becoming refugees, with the 5 countries with the highest number of fleeing refugees being Myanmar, South Sudan, Venezuela, Syria, and Afghanistan, each of which has been dealing with prolonged periods of strife and war. Rather than seek to blame a government, faction, ideal, or chastise people for the ill treatment of refugees I would simply ask that those of you lucky enough to not be refugees give gratitude for what you have and exercise compassion for those struggling with this issue. If you meet a refugee, give them food, water, clothing, or even just a smile – the most basic and simple of positive human interactions. 


My hope for this post is that those of you read it will be more mindful of the various refugee crises going on across the world. I know it is easy to carry on in your day to day without sparing much thought for the concerns of issues. I do this often myself, constantly getting swept up in my own affairs, interests, and issues. Nothing is wrong with this, at the end of the day the person we are most responsible for is ourselves and our dependents. Get your own house in order by all means. But if you can spare a thought, some time, money, resources, or effort, I would encourage you to look into whether or not you can do something to help others. This doesn’t have to be exclusively refugees, despite the theme of this post. Helping anyone in any fashion whether it be providing food, shelter, water, safety, money, time, or just a good thought – no act of kindness and compassion is too small. Remember, “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he thought he could only do a little.”

If you are interested in learning more about the refugee crisis or in donating to a charitable cause to help aid those in need, please check out the UN High Commission for Refugees page here

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy Father's Day


Navigating the waters of life, 
Trust me, he probably appreciates the cheesiness

It is June 20, 2021 and today we are celebrating Father’s Day in the United States. Father’s Day is a day we stop to give gratitude and appreciation for the father(s) or father figure(s) in our lives. The role of a father figure in a child’s life is critical to their happiness and their successful development into a functional, thriving, and successful adult. The US Census Bureau estimates that approximately 1 in 4 children in the United States live in a household without a biological, adoptive, or step-father figure in the household. This post is not about discussing reasons why there may be such a high incidence of fatherless homes. Instead is about the importance of a father figure and about recognizing those amazing men who are present in their children’s lives. Children without a father figure are faced with a litany of issues and compared to their peers who do have a father figure are: more likely to struggle academically, more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become incarcerated as adults, struggle more with anxiety, and struggle more with mental and psychological stability. I do not mean to examine the details of such statistics, but the evidence is quite clear that there is a significant correlation between having a father and developing as a happy, healthy, and functional adult. 

I want to take the time in this post to honor my own father. I have always loved and felt close to my father and the older I get, and the more I see of those who weren’t lucky enough to have a father at all, much less an exceptional one such as myself, the more blessed and grateful I become. Simply having a father figure has been shown to be a boon to a child’s success. I had and continue to have more than just a present father figure, I have a father who has always put my interests and the interests of my two sisters above his own, who has made every effort to educate us, befriend us, comfort us, protect us, provide for us, and simply be a part of our lives. 


Many people, men in particular, will say that their father is their role model. I count myself among that group, and here is why. My father became a father well before he intended, with the surprise birth of my older sister late in his teenage years. Anybody who has made it through their teenage years can tell you it is one of the most difficult, confusing, and tumultuous times of their lives. Imagine adding the responsibilities of parenthood into that. Such was my father’s position. Despite the adversity he suddenly faced he remained unfazed. He rose to the challenge and managed to be present as a father, work long hours to provide for his wife and daughter, and put himself through school in a heroic effort that makes one wonder if he ever slept a minute for those ten years. His commitment to his family was born in this moment and is something that he has embodied to the highest and most admirable degree ever since.

In my own life my father has managed to find the perfect amount of balance in all regards. He managed to provide for us and see that my sisters and I never wanted for anything, but at the same time instilled the values of hard-work and modesty so as to not completely spoil us. He was comforting, loving, and friendly by choice but knew when the appropriate time for sternness or discipline was, understanding that while his responsibility in teaching us to become adults was his primary responsibility, above even his desire to be our best and closest friend. 

When it came to school, hobbies, and more, he made sure that every opportunity was given to us to be successful. He likely realized in me quite early that he wasn’t raising the next Michael Jordan or Albert Einstein but nevertheless he made sure I had all of the tutoring, coaching, and assistance I needed such that whatever I did want to be, I could be the very best at it. More than anything though he has been a rock for me in a crazy and chaotic world. I’ve felt the grips of uncertainty, anxiety, depression, confusion and more throughout my adolescent and adult life and my father, more than anyone else, has been the person always there to throw me a rope, comfort me, and set me back on my feet. No matter what the world has thrown my way, my father has been there to make me feel safe and show me the way. He is perhaps the single greatest person I can count on and is the living example of what I hope to be as a man.

At various times in my life he has been my diaper changer, my coach, my teacher, my travel companion, fishing guide, voice of reason, emergency banker, loving figure, disciplinarian, and friend. He would probably tell you that’s just doing what a father is supposed to do but I would say that is a lot more. The statistic I referenced earlier shows how many children have no father at all, but I know a ton of people who do have a father but who have nothing like the person I have as my father. I am blessed beyond measure to have my father and I cherish every moment we share on this earth, taking as much joy and absorbing as much wisdom as possible in every second. Thanks for being you dad, and thanks for being my father, you’ve done an excellent job. 






Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth Matters for the Happiness of All


 


Today is June 19th, 2021, and from this date forward the date shall be recognized, celebrated, and honored as a national holiday. June nineteenth, or Juneteenth as it has been called, is recognized as Emancipation Day, the day when US Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas and ordered the state to free all black slaves on the same date in 1865. The African American community has been celebrating this date as a holiday for over a century now and at long last it has finally received the attention at the federal and nationwide level which it deserves. 

I must shamefully admit that until last year I was completely unaware of the meaning of Juneteenth or that there even was a holiday called Juneteenth. I am likely not alone in this regard precisely for the very reason that until this year the holiday received no attention and was not even recognized as an official holiday. Hopefully, with the Biden administration making Juneteenth an official holiday, citizens of our country will take the time to educate themselves and others about the significance of this historic moment. 

The United States was founded as a nation with the aspirations of providing freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Written into the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the document that represents the very best of what this nation can be, are the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights were described by Thomas Jefferson, the author of the document as unalienable – rights that could not be rescinded. 

For much of our history however, those unalienable rights have been denied to African Americans and their African slave ancestors who were brought over in slavery and chains before them. Eventually the issue of slavery would come to a boiling point as one of the critical issues contributing to the Civil War in 1861. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation, declaring the abolishment of slavery. It is important to note however that President Lincoln only ordered the freedom of slaves in the southern Confederate States, states which had declared themselves free and independent of the United States and thus not under the authority of President Lincoln. Thus, the emancipation proclamation was largely ignored, until Union soldiers liberated slaves from the southern states one by one as they moved threw the territory. On June 19th , 1865 union forces liberated the slaves of Texas, the last southern state to be reached and ordered to free their slaves. It was not however until the ratification of the 13th constitutional amendment in December of 1865 that slavery was officially made illegal in all states – Delaware and Kentucky for example were states where slavery was legal, but did not fall under the scope of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation because they were loyal to the Union. 

At long last, slavery was made illegal. The formal abolition of slavery did not immediately rectify the unjust situation of African Americans, not by a long shot. With one form of oppression abolished, several more would rise to take its place and African Americans would continue, and still do to this day face racism, oppression, and discrimination on both personal and systemic levels. There has been much celebration of Juneteenth being recognized as an official holiday and for good reason. This is a long overdue move by our nation to acknowledge the violent and oppressed history of our African American population. With Juneteenth becoming a national holiday we have the opportunity to educate ourselves and others about the history of racism in this country. If we are to move forward and become the nation of ideals and principals, a nation of liberty and justice for all, then we must acknowledge our violent and messy history. While the creation of this new holiday is a major step, the struggle for equality is far from over. My hope is that this will be the first in a series of moves that allows us to more critically examine the history, but more importantly the presence of racism and oppression today. If we can do this then we may actually become that ideal nation that the declaration of Independence set us up to be.  

Happy Juneteenth to all. 

President Joe Biden signs a bill 
making Juneteenth an official holiday.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying


 


“Get busy living or get busy dying”. That is one of the better-known quotes from “the Shawshank Redemption” a film that revolves around Andy Dufresne, a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and forced to spend the rest of his life in Shawshank prison. Andy says this to his friend Red shortly before he escapes from prison to go enjoy his freedom on a beach in Mexico. This quote embodies the mindset that there are really only two choices in life: to get busy living or to get busy dying. We know that much of what happens to us and to the world is not under any of our control. Andy had no control over the outcome of his trial, over the fact that he was imprisoned even though he knew he was innocent. He could have chosen to spend his life bemoaning his fate, railing against the unfairness of his situation, and feeling miserable knowing he deserved to be free. Instead, he recognized that he couldn’t control his sentence, but he could control his life by remaining steadfast in his values, making friends in a difficult situation, and at the same time working tirelessly to earn his freedom. Andy spent years tunneling out of Shawshank prison before he was finally able to escape. That much he could control. He made the decision to get busy living. 

I enjoy not only this quote but also Andy’s decision for two reasons. 1) Andy’s decision represented the best in stoic behavior, as he refused to let his mind, reason, and outlook be changed even by his unfortunate circumstances. 2) The reminder to get busy living is something that I have come across several times lately throughout my reading and I thought it was important to discuss that here in today’s post. An important reminder in stoicism, Buddhism, and practically any philosophy, or at least any that interest me, is that they are simply guides to how to live happily but are not the ultimate source of happiness in of themselves.  Both Buddhism and Stoicism, to use them as my primary examples, repeatedly emphasize that they are intended to educate and guide people on the path to enlightenment, the good life, or happiness. In order to actually realize those goals however, the individual must get busy living. Get out in the world and live your life, let your guiding philosophy show you the way and help you in your decisions but do not forget to actually live. 

Buddhism continuously iterates the point that Buddha did not claim to be a god,  but was merely a man who felt as if his wisdom had given him a unique perspective, and who wished to share that perspective with others. He was fond of saying “my teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon,” reminding his disciples that he could only point them in the right direction. In order to find the path to enlightenment for which Buddhists seek, the must find it themselves and that the way to do that was by living a life in accordance with their values. 


There is a certain sect of Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism wherein the monks completely withdraw from public life, existing in solitude in complete devotion to losing their sense of self and removing all suffering. This may be the stereotypical notion of Buddhism but is likely not what the Buddha really wanted. In his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Buddhist Scholar Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that Buddha’s teachings “were not to escape from life, but to help us relate to ourselves and the world as thoroughly as possible.” Walpola Rahula, another Buddhist scholar of note, believed it was more praiseworthy to practice Buddhism living among your fellow human beings, to help one another and build happiness together, saying in his book "What the Buddha Taught": “if a man lives all his life in solitude, thinking only of his own happiness and salvation, without caring for his fellows, this surely is not in keeping with the Buddha’s teaching which is based on love, compassion, and service to others.” 

These two scholars remind us that the important thing about Buddhism, among other religions and philosophies, is that they are intended to make us better people such that we can get more joy out of life and put more joy out into the world. While you may find a sense of inner calm by retreating into solitude, you are missing the best of what life has to offer and you are missing a chance to play an active role in improving the spirit of the universe. 

Similar sentiments are regularly expressed in Stoicism. Epictetus was born a slave but he focused his thoughts and efforts on what was in his control and was able to become a wealthy free man. He didn’t lament his lowly position in life, instead he got busy living and won his freedom, while still keeping a humble appreciation and gratitude for the simple things in life, rather than letting fame and wealth corrupt his spirit. Seneca was exiled after having been falsely accused of crimes against the emperor. He didn’t bemoan the loss of his status and privilege but remained steadfast in his reason and continued to live an exemplary life. Marcus Aurelius taught us to: “get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue—if you care for yourself at all—and do it while you can.” This is his reminder to us to get busy living. The Stoics often remind us that the entirety of their teachings are worthless if we simply absorb them in private but never venture into the public sphere of life and actually practice what we learn. 

Philosophy is a lesson in living, not a lesson in how to think happy thoughts while living alone on an island and interacting with exactly nobody. Sometimes we are so busy focusing on improvement, or on our current circumstances, that we forget to just enjoy life. We either lament our misfortunes and forget to take in the beauty of existence or we spend so much time waiting for the right moment or chasing perfection that we forgo the chance to enjoy the here and now. I was recently reminded of this. I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself: whether it be my fitness and health, learning languages, my job, writing, reading etc. – I am obsessed with trying to become better at anything. These are all worthwhile pursuits as they add value and meaning to my life, bring me happiness, and help make me a better person but they often distract from simple joys and happiness with people that matter. Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending several days with my sister visiting our parents. I had a lovely, care-free time, during which I barely spent any time reading, writing, or studying languages, things I normally do daily. Why? Because I was so busy just living in the moment, getting busy living. I have done the same thing for the past several nights since returning, opting instead of reading like I normally do, to simply cuddle and watch tv with my girlfriend instead. The past week has been extremely relaxing and gratifying because I took the time to get busy living rather than constantly stress over progress or other extraneous concepts. Of course I am not giving these pursuits up, but it is important to put such things aside from time to time so we can shift our perspective and remember to be happy in the little things and to simply enjoy life. As they say, if you enjoy the present enough, you might just make a life out of it. 


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Understanding Karma


 


I have been reading several books on Buddhism lately as I find it to be a particularly interesting and compelling religion. I would not call myself a converted Buddhist but their emphasis on kindness and compassion as well as their general outlook towards life deeply moves me. An interesting revelation I had during a recent reading was on the subject of karma. Many people associate karma with some sort of good doled out by the universe as a reward for a positive deed, or as something bad sent by the forces of the world to punish us for our bad deeds. That is not the case. 

Karma actually has nothing to do with reward or punishment. Karma is explicit to cause and effect. There is no divine or spiritual judge that determines an appropriate reward for a good deed or a painful punishment or harsh reminder for something done wrong. First of all, the Buddhists don’t believe in such a divine power. There is no “god” figure, no being in the clouds who watches everything we do and sees that we are met with appropriate recompense. There isn’t even non-anthropomorphic version of god in Buddhism. There is simply life, that which is. They believe we are all bound together as one and that there is no true sense of self, only an illusion of such. Therefore, there is no force that would serve as executor of any karmic will and karma has nothing to do with justice, a reward, or punishment. 

Karma is simply about cause and effect. Good thoughts and good deeds create good consequences. Bad deeds and bad thoughts create bad consequences. It is really that simple. What karma is truly defined as within Buddhism is “volitional action” as Buddhist scholar Walpola Rahula teaches us. 

With the emphasis on volition, one could surmise that it really is the thought that counts. If our intent is do something good then we generate good karma, not in the form of a reward but in the form of good consequences not just for ourselves but for the universe and all living things. Even if what we intended does not go as planned, and something objectively bad happens, the kindness and compassion behind the volition of the action is felt as a ripple effect through the world and good consequences may ultimately come of it. A hypothetical example would be to suppose that you give a stranger on the street $5, presumably for shelter or food. Your intent, your volition, was to provide a service for a stranger in order to ease their suffering. Suppose instead that that stranger spends the money on alcohol and gets wasted instead, passing out in an ally covered in their own vomit, perpetuating their suffering. That would seem a negative outcome no? But suppose the next day or maybe a few days later after the hangover at least, that stranger realizes they have had enough and decide to get their life together. Or suppose that someone else saw that kind gesture of yours. Maybe this person was a selfish scrooge of an individual, but upon seeing your random act of kindness, they became more compassionate and charitable, and decided to give their time and wealth to enrich the community rather than buy fancy cars? This would be a good outcome as a result of your good volition. Good karma if you will. 

I find this definition of karma to be truly beautiful for two reasons. First, because karma is about the intent behind a thought or action and not the result, it gives more leeway for mistakes or mishaps. If you’ve ever tried your best at something and still failed or tried to help someone with kind words and instead only made things worse, then you know how bad it can feel that all that hard work or good intention goes to waste because of the wrong result. Karma isn’t about being perfect or about being good, but it is about trying to be good. If we continuously put good thoughts and good intentions into the world, then eventually good consequences will happen. 

Second, I love the idea that karma, being at the core of Buddhist belief, believes that we should do good for goodness sake rather than for the sake of any sort of reward. If your values or sense of right and wrong only exist because someone tells you they must exist, and that you will be punished for failing to abide by the rules, then do you truly have and morals or values? How good is a charitable deed if the only reason you did something was because you wanted a reward? Not good or at least not as good as it could be. Think of the prevalence of random acts of kindness we see on the internet. I really love a lot of those videos but somewhere amongst them there have got to be those deeds that are either outright staged or done merely because the camera is rolling, and the good Samaritan wants to make sure their kindness and heroism is acknowledged for their own selfish reasons. I suppose in that kind of example that the silver lining is at least that good things are being done but the intent does matter. 

On the other hand, if we only abstain from committing evil or doing wrong because we are afraid of some sort of divine retribution, then what does that say about our lack of morals and character? If your only reason for not murdering the person who bumps you into the sidewalk is because you don’t want to go to hell, then you probably have issues with humanity that you need to address. If your only reason for being faithful to your partner s you are afraid of god’s wrath and not, simply concerned with the happiness and feelings of your partner then that demonstrates a lack of moral depth. 

Not only is karma about doing good for goodness sake without any hope of reward. It is more aptly identified by the Buddhists as the natural law. It isn’t about judgement or a decision to reward or punish deeds. It is simply the laws of nature that good thoughts and actions beget good results and bad thoughts and actions beget bad results. There is no decision in the outcome, only the initiation. As Walpola Rahula says: “good karma (good intention in Buddhism) produces good effects, and bad karma (bad intention in Buddhism) produces bad effects.” 

With this in mind let each of us set out to attempt to put positive thoughts and kind actions into the world such that we may all receive the good effects. We do this not for a reward or because we fear a punishment for failing to do so, but because it is the natural order of the universe that good karma produces good effects. This would cause less suffering and the happiness of the entire world would benefit as a result. I hope you will consider the idea of karma as you navigate your lives. 


Check out the book: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. This book was the first book of Buddhism I have read that clearly defined and explained Karma. This book was inspirational in my writing of this passage and in furthering my understanding of Buddhism. 


Monday, June 7, 2021

Why Pride Month Matters



It is now June, and we are celebrating Pride month. Pride month has been observed every year since 1999 both in the United States and around the world. The month is marked by celebrations, parades, concerts, speeches, symposiums where members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transexual community celebrate who they are. Above all else, the month is about celebrating life and for people to enjoy themselves for the amazing people they are. It is also a moment for raising awareness and pushing for progress. Though great strides have been made particularly in the last two decades, the fight for equality amongst those in the LGBT community is far from over. This post will give a brief discussion of what Pride is and why it is needed. We will also detail the history of oppression to freedom and happiness that the LGBT community has faced.

The history of discrimination and oppression of the LGBT community goes back centuries, but this discussion will focus on the more modern context of those events leading directly to the formation of the modern pride movement and specifically within the United States. Following World War II there was a strong conservative movement in the United States as we found ourselves facing what was considered by many to be the supreme evil in the Soviet Union. Policy makers and the public alike called for a strong return to traditional values and pro-American sentiment such that anything deemed unamerican was considered dangerous and severely repressed if not outright banned. Of most obvious concern were communists and anarchists however the scrutiny and oppression was not limited to these groups alone. The United States State Department identified homosexuals as security risks, believing that they were susceptible to blackmail and could be used by Soviet Agents to destroy America. As such, the FBI kept a list of all known homosexuals and their associates. Prior to the 1960’s, homosexuality was essentially outlawed as anti-sodomy laws existed in all 50 states until the law was eventually overruled by Illinois in 1961.

At this time gay establishments including bars, clubs, and inns began opening in select locations. They were frequently raided and assaulted police forces and faced constant threats of violence and harassment from other members of the community at large. One such raid took place early in the morning of June 28,1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This raid involved several gay patrons being forcibly removed from the Inn, beaten, and then arrested for resisting. Crowds quickly assembled in response to the commotion with outrage to the brutal actions of the police, who responded with greater violence until a riot broke out. The riot would last for 3 days and would eventually thrust the plight of not only gays but all members of the LGBT community into the spotlight. Eventually, Bill Clinton would designate June to be Pride month in honor of the Stonewall riots.

Those who are not fully informed or aware may wonder why there is a gay pride month. Why not a straight pride month? Why not just have it be June, sexuality doesn’t matter does it? Wrong. The reason there needs to be a gay pride month is that throughout all modern society, members of the LGBT have been discriminated against, persecuted, harassed, assaulted, murdered, and received less rights as individuals. The anti-sodomy laws I mentioned above, which essentially made it illegal to be gay, weren’t repealed until the 1960s. Gay’s were directly targeted during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, being required to wear a pink triangle, denoting their homosexuality and announcing that they were specifically targeted for their sexual orientation. In the UK, known homosexuals were required to serve jail time or be chemically castrated, such that they might not reproduce and spread their gayness genetically (absurd).

Nowhere in the world was it legal for gay’s to be married until the first same-sex marriage took place in the Netherlands in 2001. Today, twenty years later, only 29 countries have legalized same-sex marriage. The United States did not fully get on board until the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states in 2015. Same sex couples could not adopt children in all 50 US states until a Mississippi ban was overturned in 2016. It isn’t just the legal discrimination. The LGBT community faces hatred, violence, and discrimination from the public at large. Members of the LGBT community are 4x more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than their heterosexual counter parts and are 5x more likely to have attempted suicide.

The statistics and information I have just given are exactly the reason why we need pride. Because being heterosexual was never illegal; because heterosexuals were always allowed to be married; because heterosexuals aren’t ostracized from their families for being straight; because heterosexuals aren’t assaulted for being straight. I could elaborate but I think the case is made. Imagine being told by the world that who you are is wrong, that your very existence is a crime against society and an affront to nature. Imagine being so tormented for just wanting to be yourself that you turn to suicide. Imagine that holding hands on a walk with your partner could get you assaulted as part of a cheap thrill for some assholes. This is reality for the gay community.

It is time for society to wake up and acknowledge the wrongdoings against the LGBT community. We must embrace and celebrate every individual for who they are because everyone is special. This blog is about promoting fairness, happiness, equality, and love to all. In honor of Pride, I first want to say that I proudly stand with and support the LGBT community and celebrate their existence. As part of that I pledge to take the time to be more aware of how my own thoughts and actions might contribute to any negativity and make a conscious effort to be part of the progress. I would urge all of my readers to take the time to educate themselves about the historic struggle of the LGBT community. Think about how you can be an ally and how you can help support the lives of your fellow humans. I am thrilled at the progress that has been made but I know that we have not yet arrived at equality. The fight will continue. For now, let us celebrate and honor the right to happy and joyous lives for the LGBT community.


Here is a list of books that you can use to learn more about the Pride movement and the struggle for LGBT equality. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Importance of Critical Race Theory



Critical Race Theory is presently a concept of great discussion in the United States. With the historic level of awareness, activism, and support for addressing and combating racism in 2020, a number of education systems have proposed the idea of introducing critical race theory into the curriculum. Critical race theory is the idea that racism is not just merely a phenomenon perpetuated by small numbers of bigots and spiteful people but that it is a social construct imbedded within legal and social structures of our society. To study critical race theory means for individuals to take an introspective look at within themselves and for each of to be more mindful of how the socio-political system within which we operate generates racism. 

It also means taking an objective look at the history of our nation rather than merely highlighting the praiseworthy accomplishments we wish to emphasize in order to paint ourselves in the best light. Critical race theory is uncomfortable because it means acknowledging our faults and it requires us to reconcile with our own role in the existence of an inherently racist system. 

The history of the United States is and always has been racist, plain and simple. To deny that is to deny the very truth of our foundation. From the beginning of the founding of the 13 British colonies in the 1600’s, this nation was built and farmed by African slaves brought here in chains against their will. The Native American’s who lived here before white settlers saw their thriving and prosperous villages and cities and their beautiful culture reduced to bygone memories as they were pushed into the most undesirable parts of this continent at the ends of white bayonets as their land and resources were pillaged in the name of manifest destiny. This is not an opinion but an irrefutable fact. 

These unseemly truths of our history have been relegated to mere footnotes in history. The standard history textbook might dedicate a single paragraph to the trail of tears and describes that event as if it was a friendly send-off by President Andrew Jackson and his cronies as they waved goodbye to the Cherokees on the way to their new happy life in Oklahoma. The way the saga of the African Americans is reported seems to suggest that yes things were bad but then President Lincoln freed the slaves and made everything better. It was good but not great but then Martin Luther King came along, fought for Civil Rights and now everything is equal, racism is cured, and all men and women are equal. 

Wrong. The prosperous Native American community was massacred, subjected to chemical and disease warfare, forced to become refugees, starved and were the victims of what should rightfully be called genocide. Our African American population descends from people who were stolen from their homes in Africa, brought overseas in horrid conditions and chains, sold as property and forced to endure backbreaking labor and cruelty often being treated worse than livestock. Emancipation did little to improve their lives other than to formally declare them free, though every attempt was made by lawmakers to perpetuate their slave like existence. To this day compared to White Americans, African Americans receive poorer rights under the law, are disproportionately incarcerated for petty offenses, are more likely to be killed by police, earn less income, receive worse healthcare, have less access to education, more difficulty receiving a loan or getting a mortgage, and until the 1960s were denied the right to vote, a basic right of all citizens. That is a more accurate discussion of racism past and present in this country and it barely scratches the surface. Yet it is still more than the average student will learn in school unless critical race theory is introduced or some other legislation that requires for a more broadly honest and holistic approach to our history. I cant even accurately write about racism towards other groups such as Asians or Hispanics because I am ashamedly unaware of the full scope of this trend, partly because I am the product of an educational system that doesn’t accurately address the reality.

Naturally, the introduction of critical race theory into school curricula is being staunchly opposed by conservative republicans. They feel that teaching critical race theory does not discuss racism or work towards a resolution but that it creates racism. This is simply not the case. A problem exists in this country and it must be addressed. This is self-help 101, in order to improve a situation or experience growth, problems must first be identified and then resolved. The opposition to critical race theory aims to sweep the problem of racism under the rug and pretend it isn’t real. This is quite possibly the worst approach one could take. 

A great deal of the opposition to critical race theory is the guilt that is associated with it. I understand that feeling. As a white man in America I have had painful revelations about my own privilege and about the inherent racist tendencies that become embedded in those of us who are brought up in such a way. This discovery can be shocking and uncomfortable. The truth is, is that to some extent, every white person in America is complicit in a racist system because that is the system we grow up in. Part of the issue is the way we think of racism. Referring to racism does not inherently refer to the idiot with a confederate flag who uses the N-word or someone who goes out of their way looking for minorities to assault, although there are those people. Racism more truly refers to a system that both overtly but more often subtly introduces racist concepts and behaviors into mainstream society. That is the trickier area to identify because it is less obvious than the people who revel in spraying Black folks with fire-hoses. 

Like it or not, that racist system has and continues to exist. To deny it is fallacy. That doesn’t mean that one must feel guilty. No one of us created this system or is morally responsible for its existence. To be racist does not mean inherently evil or bad. Yes, many racists are bad, and racism is bad, but to be subconsciously complicit in racism does not make you a bad person incapable of redemption. What you should feel bad or guilty about is not your unconscious participation and belonging in a racist system, but your refusal to even educate yourself on the matter such as those conservative-republicans who want to ban the teaching of critical race theory. That is evil and that is the lauding of ignorance. Ignorance is no longer a tolerable excuse. To fight critical race theory is to promote willful ignorance in the sacrifice to paint ourselves as the greatest nation in the world. To come to grips with our racism would be to acknowledge our flaws, and we simply cannot have that because too many are more concerned with creating the fa├žade of an American Utopia rather than embracing reality. 

It is more than merely ignorant to ban critical race theory, it is harmful as it prohibits the opportunity for growth, progress, and greater peace and prosperity for all. The reason I am discussing this on Happy Together is because bridge to reconciliation, and a happier and more inclusive society for all lies right before us but we cannot cross that bridge unless we are prepared to acknowledge our unpleasant past and take a critical look at ourselves and how our attitudes and behaviors contribute to the less than ideal status quo. It is understandable that one may not be conscious of their role in perpetuating this system but is unacceptable to intentionally block the possibility of a more equal and happy existence for ALL. Failure to acknowledge our messy past prevents us from realizing a bright and happy future. It pains me that some people are so concerned with maintaining the aura of perfection and exceptionalism that they are unwilling to look at the whole picture. History only makes us better if we look at the good and the bad. If we can acknowledge the bad and understand the present, then perhaps we can build a better future. That is my hope, and that is why I think it important that critical race theory be taught in school. 

 





Thursday, June 3, 2021

Addressing one of the Worst but Least Known Events in American History


 


This is one of those posts that is going to seem like anything but happy. It is a post about cruelty, destruction, and murder during one of the darkest and most unknown events of American History. That event is the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. On May 31 and June 1 1921, a mob of angry white Americans, with the help of state and local government destroyed the black community of Greenwood in Tulsa Oklahoma.

If you have never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre, you are not alone. I did not know anything about this had happened at all until I became aware last year, and until recently I still knew next to nothing. The 100 year anniversary of this crime has recently come and gone and my discussion of this topic is now late. Part of the reason for the delay is that I wanted to take the time to educate myself about this event before saying something. The fact that this is such an unknown part of our history is shameful and part of what I wanted to discuss. I cannot say that I am an expert at all now, in fact I am barely qualified to speak on this matter and all, but I have taken some time over the last few days to learn more, and I hope to encourage you to do the same. I will only discuss the history of what happened in brief detail. You can take the time to educate yourself on what happened with some of the resources I will provide at the end. My primary intention is to bring to attention the fact that this was a major incident in American history and that there is a massive attempt to either ignore or cover up what happened. Striving to be better as a nation and as a people does not mean only highlighting your strengths and accomplishments. It also involves taking ownership of mistakes and making concerted attempts to rectify past transgressions. Until such incidents as the Tulsa Race Massacre are widely discussed and addressed, then we ignore the possibility of attaining true equality, peace, and prosperity for all. The reason a post like this belongs on my blog about happiness is because ignoring this fact prevents us from realizing a happy and joyous life for all. Until the opportunity for a happy and joyous existence is offered equally to all, then we are living in self imposed suffering and shame.

In the 1800s, a number of African Americans had migrated to Tulsa Oklahoma. Oklahoma was a territory at the time rather than a state, and as such it offered the opportunity of owning land and property to African Americans who were elsewhere denied that right. Tulsa in particular became a hub of economic growth and prosperity with the discovery of oil. The prosperity and allure of Tulsa prompted several wealthy and prominent African American businessmen including O.W. Gurley to purchase land in Tulsa, at what would eventually become known as Greenwood. Gurley opened banks that gave loans to African Americans and purchased more and more land which he would in turn sell exclusively to African Americans. Though Oklahoma became a state in the early 1900s and brought with It the restrictive Jim Crow Laws, the opportunities to own land and be part of a black utopia of sorts in Greenwood enticed more and more African Americans to move to the area. Because this neighborhood was black owned and black friendly, the local economy was boosted providing growth and prosperity for the residents. The neighborhood was so prosperous that it became known by many as “Black Wallstreet.”

Naturally the success of the Black community drew the envy and ire of local non-Blacks. There is and there was a widely accepted notion across our nation that White’s were the superior race, that this country belonged to them and that success was theirs and not for others. That a Black Community could thrive and prosper right here in their very own back yard was an affront to their concept of American, and particularly White, exceptionalism. This has and always has been an attitude of imperialistic societies: that there is a master race and then there are those beneath them.

The specific incident that sparked the powder-keg of growing tension that was Black prosperity and White hatred and envy for that prosperity involved claims of assault. Dick Rowland, a 19 year old African American, was accused of Assaulting Sarah Page, a teenaged white girl, on the elevator which she operated. Rowland was arrested by local authorities but never charged. Reports have it that a white mob demanded that Rowland be handed over to them for extra-judicious sentencing, a theme played out time and time again with white mobs lynching any African American even remotely associated with any sort of transgression against a white person, including something as minor as looking in their general direction.

In response, a group of armed African American veterans from Greenwood marched to the courthouse and offered to protect Rowland. What happened next is precisely what happened any time throughout history where a group of the oppressed has the audacity to stand up for their own basic rights against their oppressors. The armed Black citizens provided precisely the provocation that the white mob needed and violence ensued. The immediateness and apparent level of organization in the white mob’s response indicates that such an event may have been planned for some time, needing only the ideal situation to justify a violent response. This is yet another theme played out in history of imperialism and oppression, one that is often called brinksmanship. This is when one group, typically the more powerful, will put pressure on another group in the form of subtle but effective aggressions such as economic sanctions, destruction of rights etc. Eventually the oppressed group stands up for itself, typically in a violent or aggressive outburst. It is often minor in the relation to the aggressions first committed by the oppressor but it allows the oppressor to point to a single act of violence and justify their often grossly asymmetrical response. It is what happened at Pearl Harbor where the United States froze Japanese assets and restricted the critical import of oil and other goods, provoking the Japanese attack. It is what happens today in Palestine where Israeli forces repeatedly restrict the basic human rights of Palestinians and aggressively assault them, provoking a predictable response and thus eliciting the opportunity for even greater Israeli aggression. This is precisely what happened here in Tulsa. The White mob murdered over 300 Black residents of Tulsa, destroyed approximately 5,000 homes and other properties completely crippling the community in such a way that it still has not recovered to this day.

The only thing more egregious than the attack itself is the apparent cover up or refusal to acknowledge. With the destruction of the one and only Black owned newspaper, the Tulsa star, no media coverage was given to the attack. It was simply as if it had not happened. An official inquiry was made shortly after with documents never released to the public. What little attention was given was blamed on the veterans who were portrayed as instigators. Repeated appeals have been made in courts to seek restitution for the surviving victims and their families. These have been repeatedly rejected despite having been brought all the way before the US Supreme Court. Even legislation demanding that this event be taught in school was repeatedly denied.

The official response to this atrocity is telling. It simply is not important enough to warrant any attention. Why? Because the crime was committed against of people who do not matter to the country and because acknowledging what happened would paint the ruling class in the wrong light. Imagine if the roles were reversed, and an angry Black mob destroyed an entire White community? I cannot even begin to imagine the ferocity of the outrage and the response to such an attack. It wasn’t until the last decade or so that any sort of an empathetic response was given though these were in the minor forms of officially renaming the commission from The Tulsa Riot Commission to the Tulsa Massacre Commission, having a baseball stadium named after John Hope Franklin, and finally allowing the history of the massacre to be taught in schools.

You should be upset when you learn about this stain on our history, and you should be outraged at the lack of a meaningful response and at the collective ignorance surrounding the event. I was appalled when I found out about this and I was mad at myself for not being aware until I was in my 30s. That does not mean you should feel guilty. What you should feel guilty about is if you do become aware of this and do nothing about it. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. If this country is ever to live up to the ideals upon which it was supposedly founded then we must take ownership of our worst sins. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the rights that Thomas Jefferson rightly called out as unalienable, they cannot be taken and are deserved by all. Yet history has shown us that in the United States, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are repeatedly denied and stolen from minorities, with the African American community historically being one the most targeted. Such instances that run counter to the idea of our own moral and spiritual superiority are avoided because they cast us in a light in which we are ashamed to be seen. We have the potential to live up to the ideals that were to make this country great. Until we confront our past head on and address the issues of the past, still present today, then we have not created a happy and harmonious society but merely the illusion of such. A major step towards the recognizing the pursuit of happiness for all is to acknowledge, educate, and make amends for our past. To acknowledge our errors, to recognize our faults, and ensure they are not repeated is the only way to progress. Ignoring such a past does nothing but promulgate the further aggression, brutality, and dehumanization of others.

I do not write this with any sense of moral superiority because I have made myself aware. At this done I have hardly done the bare minimum, but I hope this is a step in the right direction for myself and others. Please take the time to educate yourself about Tulsa and about the history of oppression against African Americans and other ethnic groups. It is not fun and it is not comfortable whether you belong to the oppressed or oppressors. It is however, necessary. If we want to build a happier and more just world for all to enjoy, we must come to terms with our history, learn from it, and strive to do better.

If you are interested, please utilize the below resources for continuing your own education about the Tulsa Massacre. 

Tulsa 1921, Reporting a Massacre

Unspeakable: the Tulsa Race Massacre

The Groundbreaking: An American City and It's Search for Justice