Sunsets

“Dusk is just an illusion because the sun is either above the horizon or below it. And that means that day and night are linked in a way that few things are there cannot be one without the other yet they cannot exist at the same time.
Nicolas Sparks
 
The one thing life teaches us at an early age is things have a beginning and an ending. Some endings bring sadness while others are a welcome relief; regardless of the perspective very few endings and beginnings are more indistinguishable than a sunrise and sunset. I have always loved sunsets because they show us regardless of how a day has played out it can end with grace and dignity. I have observed some spectacular sunsets during my lifetime, the following is a description of some of the unique views I have encountered during my life. 
    Sunsets in Florida make you envious for the daylight to extend on forever. Looking at the horizon reminds one of eternity, you cannot tell where it begins or ends; the sun setting on the horizon reminds us that the glory of creation belongs to someone other than man. 
      Sunsets in the deserts of Arizona are like a painting that talks to you; if you watched it for a week it would continually say something different. I have never been in the presence of royalty until I watched an Arizona sunset; the majesty of the moment was almost overwhelming. 
     Sunsets in Hawaii reminds one of why the Island is often referred to as paradise. There is a peacefulness that exist that mere words cannot describe; we realize their will come a day in which peace will rule mankind, I was fortunate enough to be part of such a moment. 
    The final sunset I want to discuss took place in the land of the rising sun. Japan has a beauty, a serenity that is often overlooked; look long and hard enough and you might see your own souls light echo through the sky. The sunsets in Japan didn’t just make me happy to be alive, at times they revived something in me forgotten since I was a youth, the simple miracle of being human. 
     Sunsets remind us that another day is ending and a new one is about to be born. My words are inadequate to explain what my eyes have seen and my heart has felt while experiencing these moments. If you rush through life you will miss much of its offerings; if you miss life’s best moments it will be like Elton John’s song that says “But losing everything is like the sun going down on me”. 

Is the United States really United?

Merriam Webster defines united as Made one, relating to or produced by joint action. The diversity of our country is one of the many things that made this nation great. Most great ideas and institutions have a shelf life (an ending) and our country could fall into that category.  Trying to get a consensus on anything these days can be a futile effort. Is it possible that the country has reached a point where the United States is no longer United?  I steer away from the subject of religion and politics in this blog by design, I will be walking a tight rope with this article. My hope is to talk about the country as a whole and not present a fragmented partisan ideology. I hope to address the question in the title of this blog post and what the alternative might be for our beloved country.    
    We have two major parties in the United States, the Democratic and Republican Party. I was born in the early 60s and have seen the parties undergo re-construction several times. The political climate today has a different banter, it has become toxic, to put it mildly. I believe we are seeing the birth pains of a country that no longer fits into one of the two parties. The parties are being destroyed from the inside out. The Republican Party experienced some of these growing pains with the advent of the Tea Party. The infusion of  Tea Party members into the Republican body was metamorphic and has led to many stalemates in passing legislation and a type of innovation rigor-mortis. We look to the other side of the aisle and see a Democratic Party undergoing the same changes. The move towards a progressive type of government has the Democratic Party reeling and attempting to define its new look, and avoid at minimum a  collapse of its own identity.  This leaves us with two main parties that are coming apart at the seams and still trying to govern one sovereign nation. To add insult to injury, they seem unable to agree on the simplest of subjects. The possibility that an emerging party will overtake the current big two doesn’t seem far fetched. This political environment sets the stage for my next point. Will the United States eventually fracture into several countries?
    Most people are aware that Europe is a large group of countries, with most of its countries belonging to the EU (European Union). The United States is a collection of states that make up one country. Looking at the different areas of the U.S., California compared to Alabama for example, the differences are palpable. We also have state laws compared to National laws that are in conflict with one another. The legalization of marijuana is a prime example. I am currently a government employee. If I resided in Colorado, a state where marijuana is legal it would present a conundrum in the use of a state legal substance. The government categorizes the use of marijuana as an illegal substance. I would have to exercise caution in the places I attended and the foods and drinks I would consume. Any trace of marijuana in my system would constitute grounds for being fired by the U.S. Government. This is one small example, another would be the legality of sanctuary cities, abortion rights, and the list goes on. The U.S. appears to have states that act like different countries while some of the states currently promote the desire to have socialism as a form of government over democracy. I am not making an argument for the merits of any of these topics I am covering in this blog, I am hopefully making the case of the United States isn’t really united anymore. Is it possible one day a conglomeration of countries might replace what we currently call the United States? I not only think it is possible but likely.
       A quick look at the demographics of the current United States shows minorities increasing in numbers that would suggest we have become a very racial and ethnically diverse country. The United States diversity is a gleaming strength an has been for well over two-hundred years. Yet, diversity is a tough balancing act for any country and could promote change quicker than some people would find comfortable. Imagine if you would for one minute, a collection of countries (currently states) based on their own ideology under the umbrella of a central entity that you might call a union. This union would provide a military for protection of this group of countries, much like NATO currently does in Europe. The countries (currently states) could decide on their own health care, taxes, immigration policy, end of life considerations, abortion and many more items. The divisions in the United States is at a tipping point and something will have to change or the disintegration of the United States is a possibility. This idea has many questions that I do not have the answers or the expertise to expound upon, just an idea of possibility to ponder. On a side note, Texas and California have discussed succession from the United States in the past. California alone is the fifth largest economy in the world. The thought of the United States broken up into smaller countries will not sit well with some people, I find some discomfort in the thought.  A large group of countries might be the only thing that ensures the survival of our current structure, the United States of America.
    It is obvious the vitriol that is present in the country covers a host of topics. The country is looking for a leader, a political messiah to bring us together and solve the countries divisions. Some divisions cannot be solved, the departure of citizens from England to form the United States is a perfect example. Henry Blackaby said, ” We get the wrong answers because many times we ask the wrong questions”? Is the United States asking the wrong questions today? I have told people for years “There is no easy way to reverse a bad trend, you have to make a radical departure from your current path”. Is the United States really united? I think most people would agree, not anymore. I have proposed one alternative, there are many more on the horizon. The only thing we cannot do is stay on our current course. Maybe United will mean something very different in the future.

The U.S. penal system is ineffective

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela
    Regardless of your take on crime, it goes against nature to have people locked behind bars. Some crimes deserve punishment, that is without argument. With the increase in the number of people incarcerated in the United States, the crime rate has adjusted very little. I want to take a look at the United States penal system and examine its effectiveness.  
    Let’s start at a prominent place, the mental health of prisoners behind bars. The closing of mental institutions in the 1950s and 1960s took place for a couple of reasons. The care in those facilities and the techniques used to help the mentally impaired came under just scrutiny. The price for adequate care was another concern. The idea was to bring the mental health care into the prisons to help rehabilitate incarcerated inmates. Like every novel idea, this one had shortcomings that would soon be exposed. 
   The growing number of inmates with mental health problems should be of concern for our nation. It is estimated about 50% of all men in prison, suffer from some form of mental illness, that number jumps to 75% for women incarcerated. NPR had a fascinating article on the subject from their 2017 post, here is a link https://www.npr.org/2017/11/30/567477160/how-the-loss-of-u-s-psychiatric-hospitals-led-to-a-mental-health-crisis. The secondary problem with this system is people with mental illness not yet in the penal system. The lack of facilities for the mentally ill is disturbing.  Without proper treatment, statistics show an alarming number of these untreated people with mental illness will end up in prison. The level of medication in prison for the mentally ill is a catch 22, and the problem continues to grow. 
   The number of people incarcerated in the United States is alarming. We live on a planet with approximately 7 billion people. The figures from the United States Census Bureau put the population of the United States at 328 million people. That means the United States has roughly 4.6% of the world population but houses 25% of the world’s prisoners. If that number is astonishing to you, it should be. These statistics show a there is a systemic problem with the method prisoners are prosecuted, processed and eventually incarcerated in America. There are currently 2.2 million people in prison in the United States, that is more than the following cities: San Diego California, Dallas Texas or Philadelphia Pennsylvania. To complete this number game analysis, for every 100,000 people in the United States, 655 of them are in prison. Is crime in the U.S.A. that much higher than other parts of the world? It is surprising that the U.S.A. does not make the top 10 list of countries with the highest crime rates. Venezuela is ranked number one in the world, and it has 100 murders per 100,000 people. America ranks 31st in the world for gun violence, a statistic you would expect to be higher. So, why does the U.S.A. have such a high percentage of the world’s prison population? 
     The reasons for the high percentage of prisoners in America will not be resolved with rhetoric alone. It appears looking at the numbers and statistics that some of this is due to the war on drugs. For example, there are states in which possession of 8 ounces of marijuana could land you in state prison for three years. The person charged with possession of an illegal substance now has a felony record. The Marijuana laws are one of several dozen laws that are not only draconian but leave very little room for negotiating based on the accused’s record. Another factor in the growing number of prisoners is something we call recidivism. 
 Recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend) is another reason for the high incarceration rates. Without proper rehabilitation of our prisoners, we can expect very high recidivism to occur. A study done by the U.S. Department of Justice documented prisoners from 30 states over the period from 2005-2014. The surprising findings showed 5 of 6 prisoners were arrested at least once during the nine years following their release, this is an 83% recidivism, and those numbers are expected to climb higher. California passed three strikes, and you are out in March of 1994. This law stated that a person committing a severe violent felony with two other convictions would spend life in prison. It is hailed as a crime determent and adopted by 28 other states. While it appears to have helped in most polls, the most significant impact on the crime in these states are statistically alcohol consumption and unemployment rate. The one last thing we will look at is the lack of rehabilitation of prisoners. 
      Education of prison populations is usually high school level or less. Indiana tracked prisoners that obtained a G.E.D. while in prison and found the recidivism level dropped more than 20 percent. Today’s prisoners released without skill sets possess very few skills valuable to employers. With prison overcrowding and the lack of funding, prisoners are being locked down for extended hours. Mix into this the statistics we discussed earlier, the number of mentally ill and you have a Molotov cocktail for disaster this is a segment of the population we lock up and try to forget. There are many success stories we could celebrate if we come up with a plan that includes treating our prisoners like human beings. It might seem like a fantasy, but the process we have in place is not working. 
    I believe Nelson Mandela was correct with his quote, “ A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” We have a problem that will not go away by locking people up and hoping they stay in prison. Eventually, these people will get out and be your neighbor, or the person bagging your groceries, or the security guard at your complex. The problem might not be the crime; the problem could be how we look at it.

Technology: Is your behavior being affected?

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” ― Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriel García Márquez: a Life
We are sacrificing our privacy everyday. Possibly, the best place to start is by defining privacy. Merriam-Webster partly defines privacy as the following: “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation”. People  today would probably agree the part of privacy we must be concerned with today is observation. Think about the number of times in 2018 that you hit the “agree” button on a EULA (End User License Agreement), this is the page that appears as you are loading in software or apps, the one that you cannot install the software unless you agree.  Have you read a EULA in the past year? You would need a law degree from Harvard to have a remote chance of understanding this license. You are signing an agreement, you are agreeing to terms you might not understand. You are agreeing to things that will affect your privacy. I consistently tell my kids the following “With everything that is given, something is lost. It is alright to sacrifice things to obtain other things, the problem lies with giving away something you didn’t know about”. Are we sacrificing our privacy and well being on the alter of convenience? Is technology adversely affecting our behavior? I hope to answer this and other relevant questions in this blog post. 
      The digital world is a pseudo existence where some people spend a great deal of time. It allows you to be popular or anonymous if you should desire. Everything from false identities to making claims that would be challenged by anyone that knows you personally. This creates, in some the desire for altered reality, a place that previously could only exist in their imagination. What is the harm with a little fantasy here or there? The problem can surface when we intersect with the real world and must deal with people face to face. Living in a gaming world, a world of social media, is understandable for short periods of time. As I write this piece, it could be read by almost anyone, to include people that have no idea about me. Any of the afore mentioned things are not inherently bad; caution must be taken to ensure we spend equal amounts of time with real people, one’s that will hold us accountable for our actions. 
      We are all creatures of habit. I have watched my wife wash her face at night before bed for many years. I have never actually counted but I am sure she splashes her face with water the same number of times each night. Think about some of your habits and routines, (i.e. getting ready for work, going to bed) you can see we are people of repetition. The new apps being used on our cell phones are tracking more of your actions everyday. This data from your devices tells the developers when, where and how often you repeat your routine. This might not be detrimental, but what if I told you the person tracking you is a 19 year old male from San Francisco? What if I told you he also has a restraining order the was swore out against him last year? These statements are of course hypothetical but hopefully, my point is obvious, we don’t know the people collecting our information. Could future software contain algorithms that try to minutely influence when we do something? You need to look at your electronic devices closer, you have given up more information than you can imagine. One last point before we move on. I often tell people the risk with such software is the following: It remembers details long after you have forgotten them. Let that stew for a few minutes. A device that never forgets anything about your life.  If you don’t remember what companies and apps you have given access to your personal information, it might be time to tidy up your digital world. 
      Finally, let’s talk about time. Time is the one thing that cannot be carried over, borrowed or redeemed once it has been used. If you live to be 90 years old, you will experience 4,680 weeks. This sounds like a really long time, but realize every Christmas another 52 weeks is deducted from that total. This number is a great old age, many of us will not live to see the age of 90. I am not trying to depress you but to help you realize, there is an amazing life happening if you look up occasionally from your digital devices. Anything that distracts us from an amazing life is controlling us to some extent. In the past 2 years we have seen a resurgence in sales for paper journals and day planners. This is not an anomaly, but a trend to reengage with the real world. We have all witnessed and maybe experienced people eating dinner together with phones in their hands. No conversation, each person engrossed in their own digital world. I watch people taking selfies with celebrities, political figures even the Pope. They do not take time to engage with the person, they try to capture it on a digital device, and in turn miss the great event. If you are looking at your phone every 5 minutes, your life is being controlled by the device. If you look at it more often you are obsessive and need to rethink this habit. Our devices should complement our lives, not hijack them. 
      Technology is a wonderful thing. I can sit in my living room and talk with someone face to face on the other side of the world for free. Maybe sometime in the future, I should get a card and write them a note in my own handwriting. I hope this blog post has raised some awareness of the danger in letting our digital world control too much of our time. Privacy is a wonderful thing, and something we all need, just be careful not to give away what privacy you have left. Finally, be present with those you love. If you go to dinner, turn off your cell phone, don’t silence it, turn it off. Take control of your life and how you spend your time. In the end, this is the only life you have to live, make every moment count. 

I didn’t mean to do that

“An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” —Mahatma Gandhi
   

Have you ever done something that you thought was very uncharacteristic of your behavior? Perhaps what was being exposed is a deeper issue that simmers below the surface? Maybe, it is revealing the type of people you are associating with during this period of your life? It could be the synapsis are not firing correctly in your brain, but maybe it can be just an honest mistake. There are some mistakes made that are not as innocent as others. Let’s take a look at a couple of reasons you might hear someone say “I didn’t mean to do that”. 


    There are multiple studies on the power of habits. One of the great books I have read on the subject is by Charles Duhigg, aptly titled “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business”. When we act unseemly or react in a way not befitting the circumstance, we often find ourselves questioning our own reaction. Every New Years people worldwide make “resolutions” for the coming 365 days. Experts, have tracked these resolutions in studies and found that 80% of all resolutions fail by February. Some habits affect how we interact with the world at an unconscious level. Anyone that has played sports realizes the way you practice is the same way you will perform. This analogy is true in everyday life. We will react or act exactly the way we pattern our thinking on a daily basis. I realize humans are not machines and anyone can make mistakes in handling even a simple situation. Yet, if we examine an occasional faux pas it could reveal more about our pattern of thinking, our daily habits are likely the foundation of such behavior. 


      Another reason for saying “I didn’t mean to do that” can be a weak alibi or worse yet an insincere attempt at an apology. I have found people, in general, are very willing to be forgiving of others that apologize for their mistakes. The exception is an insincere confession of remorse or worse yet a lack of caring for one’s action. Repetition is another key factor in the acceptance of an apology. I tell my kids all the time, you can make 5 mistakes in one year, just don’t make them all in the same week. Repetition of a mistake may lead a person to believe the perpetrator gives no thought to the discomfort or hurt they are causing. If you really didn’t mean to do that, try your best not to repeat the offense. 
     There is also the occasional error that (wait for it) is no kidding an honest mistake. I once went into a credit union when I was young and the teller appeared to be pregnant. You can see where this is going. I asked her when she was due, and she quickly told me she wasn’t pregnant. I have since learned the number of questions you ask a woman you do not know should be, let’s call it non-existent. Yet, it was an innocent mistake. They actually exist and should be handled with kid gloves when the situation arises. 
     

         Finally, there are the mistakes made by children that are just hilarious. Most kids really are innocent, well, at least they start off that way. When James my youngest son was about ten years old, he was outside golfing with his friends. We live in a cul de sac and the boys were “teeing off” from the manhole cover in front of the house. I was in the office when I hear a window break. You guessed it, Tiger Woods Jr. had just launched the golf ball through our window. When I came outside I saw the boys peeking around the corner. I asked James what happened (totally rhetorical in nature). His answer was priceless, “Dad I was certain I could make it between the houses”. That was a young man’s  version of “I didn’t mean to do that”. This is another instance when the mistake, while, not well thought out, was perfectly innocent. Sometimes, you just have to laugh and move on. 


     In conclusion, there appears to be many reasons to use the statement “I didn’t mean to do that”. Some of these reasons can range between insincere to down right hilarious. If you find yourself getting upset often at peoples mistakes, it could be time for you to “Lighten up and live”. Most people are not out to get you, they do not have an agenda, they are just trying to make it through life just like you. So, the next time someone tells you “I didn’t mean to do that”, try something out of the ordinary and believe them. 

People are no longer heard because we have lost civility

There are many ways of communicating in today’s culture. Of the choices, often our default is expressing ideas through conversation, making plans or even disagreeing with ideologies. Our parents have a great deal of influence on our speech patterns and its spoken tone. When viewing debates and disagreements from earlier decades, a striking difference can be noticed immediately, the difference is the civility of the spoken words. Many people today long for the days when people would be considerate in discussions. Is this a utopian trip down memories lane, or can we return to a place where respect and consideration dictate our speech?

 

We will start with the art of disagreement. “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” -Aristotle. We socialize with like-minded people, and this is completely normal for relaxing and enjoying our downtime. Why do we balk at letting someone into our circle of friends if they have a different ideology? Are we teaching our younger generation to think or is indoctrination the modus operandi when it comes to solving problems? Physics has shown that when two people look at an event, they do not see the exact same thing. Yet, we expect compliance, agreement, one accord on critical issues such as religion, politics and a host of other work-related items we face each day.

 

So, we often find ourselves in a situation where a disagreement is obvious. What causes the tenor of the conversation to escalate toward aggressive responses? The debate, discussion or however else it is phrased is about swaying, persuading maybe in extreme cases even manipulating someone to see things our way. Far too often it becomes a competition and the desire to understand is a foregone conclusion. Steven Covey in his book “The Seven habits of highly effective people” says it this way, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”. Do you see the paradigm shift in his approach to a conversation? To keep our conversations civil or even fruitful, a concerted effort must be made on one side (minimum) to listen. This requires us to concede that which is obviously right, or at least, has factual based evidence for the discussion. This requires the educated one in the conversation to be humble and to consider doing what is right above even winning the discussion. When was the last time you told someone in a conversation, “I did not know that”?

 

Another reason people no longer speak with civility can be as simple as someone making a mistake. It could be a cashier ringing up the wrong item, not applying a discount or charging you twice for the same item. I have been in retail stores and watched people behave in the most offensive manner, all due to a simple misunderstanding. I was a manager at Best Buy after my Marine Corps career and witnessed a lady get arrested over a simple cashier mistake during the purchase of a CD (Compact Disc). For those too young to realize this antiquated medium, these were the replacement too cassette tapes, well, I better quit while I am ahead. Conversation can become very aggressive in the face of a mistake, and all civility is lost for the encounter. Why do we look for compassion when making a mistake and forget to give it in return when the mistake is not in our favor? We might have lost our humility and fair-mindedness towards others.

 

I will not even consider politics and the complete loss of civility we have witnessed in the last couple of decades. I will say this; our children grow up seeing the way adult society behaves. They will model the behavior they have witnessed in their youth, and this is a disturbing thought.  It reminds me of the quote from W.H. Auden:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

I fear we are planting seeds that will grow one day, and we will be dismayed at the crop that it will produce.  Why are people no longer heard? It is primarily because they have stopped listening to each other. We are far more concern with having our ideas heard than listening to something new.

 

Racial tensions today remind me of the early to mid-1970s. We are caught in an endless loop that always brings us back to the same point. It reminds me of my dog when he chases his own tail. We know the problems, we even have a very good idea of the solution, we just cannot discuss it with any kind of clarity. Once a remark is taken out of context or seen as being biased in one direction, the conversation becomes “passionate” and from that point forward people stop listening. No man on the face of this earth can know what another is going through. To remotely understand a person you have to listen, really listen to what they say, not what you think they are saying. I have a three-second rule I try to employ these days which allows me time to process what has been said to me in conversation. If it is not clear, I will ask for clarification. Sometimes, regardless of the effort to listen to someone, I just cannot understand their point of view. If we judge people due to misunderstanding them, what are the chances of having a civil conversation?

In conclusion, we need to re-learn civility. Every adult or child you have a conversation with today is a human being. They have dreams and goals just like you. They also have bad days, again, just like you. If you look at the problem we have today with rudeness and inconsideration in our conversations, it can appear to be an insurmountable problem. Yet, all great accomplishments have come through a group of people deciding a change is necessary. I will leave you with a quote from Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Are we approaching Charity burnout?

“To give is better than to receive”, “I want to give back something to society”.  Similar statements are repeated by philanthropist often in the media. There to be a  constant barrage of organizations and even individual people that are vying for your resources. Do you ever find yourself wanting to say “Enough please”?
This might sound selfish and could very well not sit well with societies image of a good person. Yet, I think almost everyone can identify with the frustration of constantly being asked to donate. Is there a sensible solution that allows us to be charitable to our fellow man without feeling guilty for saying no? Let’s examine this topic a little further.
      Even though giving amounts have risen in the last decade, the percentage of households donating is in decline. The stock market has seen meteoric growth for years (not counting the downturn around 2008) and has allowed philanthropy, especially for businesses to elevate giving, which in turn has led charities to become more bold with their marketing plans. I hope this does not sound disparaging toward charities. They do fantastic work for the underprivileged and those that cannot support themselves. Yet, all non-profits require additional funds,  a few examples are churches, schools, girls scouts, the United Way, and the list goes on. So, how does a person support worthy charities and still maintain a household budget? The solution might be in percentage giving. Once the percentage is set in your budget, you are free to pick the ones that have captured your heart. This will help avoid the last minute calculations to determine if the gift is affordable.
      Another trend has surfaced which involves giving in someone else’s name in honor of their birthday or other special occasions.  This has several problems, some that can leave people pondering what their level of involvement should be. The first scenario could be “I don’t want to support that charity”. The second one could be “I did not budget for donating at this time”. The third one may present the greatest dilemma“Do I say yes to you and no to my other friends”? Again, I hope this does not sound like a negative narrative about giving to charities, nothing could be further from the truth. There is just a fatigue factor involved with hearing anything too frequently and we might reach that point with charitable giving unless we exercise some prudence. Remember, people’s resources are limited. I will put it this way, imagine trying to give a Christmas present to everyone you have met in the last 10 years. This is not feasible and neither is trying to give to every charity. Choose wisely the method used to obtain these donations. A little planning will go a long way in preventing Charity burnout.
      We plan our budgets, we also plan for vacations and we even plan for dinner out with the family. The same amount of care should be taken to plan for the charities we support. Give all you can to help your fellow man. Psychiatrists have known for years the selfless acts of giving will produce happiness in a person’s life consistently. Hopefully, charity burnout will be avoided by people taking care of each other and not always relying on monetary donations. Taking someone food, cutting someone’s yard, adopting pets from a shelter. Give yourself to people, it is a gift that has an endless supply.
       So, is it possible to become hardened by the constant solicitation for donations? I believe it is, and that would be a tragedy for more than one reason. We don’t have to look long or very hard to find people less fortunate than ourselves. Guard your heart against cynical thoughts. There is a whole world of people waiting for your help.
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Only one Day to Live

You wake up in the morning and start your daily routine. This could include exercise, reading, meditation, or just a good stiff cup of coffee. We are all creatures of habit; our routines most likely look very familiar from day to day. What would a morning look like if you knew it was your last one? I am not attempting to be morbid but to ask a question each one of us faces daily whether we realize it or not. I will be discussing a hypothetical scenario we will eventually face, but few of us care to consider. I have not lived out this scenario and almost anyone that has is now gone. My blog is too Listen.Think.Act. I hope this post will inspire us to live the life we have in front of us with passion.

 

Can we really know what we would do if we only had one day to live? This is going way out on a “let’s suppose” branch but I will try to set some conditions. Most of us do not believe this will apply to us anytime soon. This increases the odds of us not taking the question seriously. So, let’s be a little macabre and say it is true. What would your list for the last 24 hours include? Would you bring out your short bucket list for the remaining day? Would you try to make amends with people you are estranged with from the present and past? Would you scramble to make sure all your affairs are financially and legally in order? If you think time management is chaotic on a daily basis, this is time management on steroids. Maybe some of us would look for peace, the kind of peace that might have elusive up to this point in our life. Maybe this will give us a better feel for a 24-hour day.  Many great things can happen in one day, let’s examine a couple of them further.

 

I want you to think of a great day in your life. It could be the day you were married. It could be the birth of a child. It could be a vacation that was simply magical. It is amazing the number of memories that can be generated in a 24-hour period. Why wait to be told you are not going to live long to realize the things of importance? The point is to live your life one day at a time. If you could do something amazing in the next 24 hours, what would you do? The next question is why aren’t you doing it? Most of life is lived doing redundant activities. We all sleep a certain number of hours each day. We eat meals, we brush our teeth. Many of us do laundry, wash dishes, and the list can go on for a long while. Yet, there is this unique opportunity each day to take the mundane and make it special. It is not the event, but what we bring to the event that really matters. If we could slow down and not treat everything like an item on our to-do lists, the events could seem less ordinary. If we could learn to laugh more, be less critical and really except people as they are, things would definitely change. I hope you can imagine one of these 24-hour periods and try to recapture that feeling. Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is better than knowledge”. If you are not enjoying your days, maybe you need a fresh shot of imagination, but do it today, do it in this 24-hour period.

 

Dying does not require a skill, an instruction manual or even guidance from another human being. Just as being born was beyond our thoughts and control, death will be the same. The skill is in living, not just breathing and working and eating, but living. Larry Norman a music artist from the 1970’s said it this way “To live is a privilege, to love is such an art”. Regardless of the type of life, you have lived up to this point, you can start over again. This is how Mahatma Gandhi stated this point: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”  Take tomorrow, and imagine that it is your last day on earth. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Now take this knowledge and build on it each day.  Live life one small bite at a time. I once heard the following analogy about time and thought it was fitting.

“If you want to know the value of one year, just ask a student who failed a course.

If you want to know the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.

If you want to know the value of one hour, ask the lovers waiting to meet.

If you want to know the value of one minute, ask the person who just missed the bus.

If you want to know the value of one second, ask the person who just escaped death in a car accident.

And if you want to know the value of one-hundredth of a second, ask the athlete who won a silver medal in the Olympics.”

So, it appears life is lived in very small segments. What will you do with the next 24 hours?

Prejudices

I spent my entire childhood growing up in the Southern United States. I was a child of the 1960’s and a teenager in the 1970’s. This was such a transformational time in our country. We landed on the moon, experienced the Viet Nam War and watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold. I witnessed the prejudices committed against people and the confusion that ensued from such acts. It begged the question, did I have the same prejudices? This blog is not intended to solve the obvious problems people have with each other, the objective is to shine a light on problems that have not changed since my early childhood. I hope to look at some of the reasons we have prejudices. I welcome your comments and thoughts on the matter.

First, let us see if we can agree on a definition for prejudices. This is the dictionaries explanation of prejudice: “Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” If this definition is accurate, and it is “not” based on experience, then what is the basis? Ah, the first part of that definition uses the word “opinion”. Do some of the problems with prejudices stem from an incorrect opinion? I believe sensible people already know the answer to this question, and it is yes. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion the previous statement is true and we have incorrect opinions. Let’s try to examine things that affect our opinions and attempt to discover their connections to prejudices.

 

A logical examination of opinions might start with assumptions. We make assumptions every day and often are correct with these non-calculated predictions. Life is lived in patterns and can be very predictable at times. The patterns do not reveal much about a person, they just uncover some of their rituals, habits or schedule norms. We do ourselves and others a disservice when reliance on assumptions is treated as irrefutable facts. Prejudices can start with people relying on assumptions with little to no knowledge about the subject or the person. One problem is identifying when assumptions, surface in our interactions with people. These assumptions are so ingrained into our personalities and our thought patterns, identification of bad assumptions most likely will need to be from an external source. So, how can we examine our assumptions in a vacuum to determine if their tendencies lean toward a prejudice? I believe we must slow down and Listen.Think.Act, the slogan I use for this blog site. We overestimate the accuracy of our assumptions. We are wrong far more than we care to admit. If this is a true statement, then assumptions appear to be an inaccurate way to form opinions. The best opinions are formed over time and with a great deal of thought. Do not allow assumptions to foster feelings of prejudice.

 

There is an old adage that says: “We live and we learn”. The bulk of learning happens well before our teenage years. Even as adults we watch and emulate the things we try to learn. The process of watching to learn is so evident in small children. It stands to reason, that most prejudices are a learned behavior and this occurs primarily by watching people we love and respect. We can all remember times, in our early years when we watched our parents behaving poorly. Did they make racial slurs? Did they belittle another religion? Were they struggling with their own prejudices and trying to work them out as we observed? I often tell people I know there are some things in life I wish I could (pardon the incorrect language) unsee. The things we see, hear, speak and feel are an indelible part of our memory. These prejudices that we witness in others over time can slowly become a part of our behavior. To prevent developing prejudices, we must pick our friends carefully, develop conversations that respect others and be aware of how easily prejudices develop. We are teaching the next generation about civility and respect for individuals by our actions, this will not happen by chance.

 

It has been said: “We fear that which we don’t understand”. Many prejudices are based on misunderstandings and fear. The degree of friendship we enjoy with others is based partly on a willing attempt to understand and accept people. Have you ever been afraid of something you realized was irrational? The same things can exist in our stereotypes, phobias and of course the prejudices we carry each day. Some animals run in packs and so do human beings. We feel most comfortable around those that look, think and act in the same manner as ourselves. There are acceptable exceptions to the rules, but not many. I have befriended people of many races and religions over the years. Trying to find something we had in common was at times an exercise in futility. Yet, the one thing we did have in common was the acceptance of each other, without pre-conditions. I would love to say we are doing a better job with prejudices, but it is an anomaly to see it done correctly in society. So, how do we overcome the underlying fears we have of people that are different from our description of that which is normal? I think the first step is to realize they are human beings. They have goals, ambitions, and fears, and this is our common ground. We might eat different foods, worship a different God or have customs and traditions that are polar opposites. The commonality for most of mankind is the desire to be happy. Living in peace with one another is crucial to maintaining that happiness. Just remember accepting others as they are doesn’t mean you agree with them, you are just acknowledging their right to be themselves. Acceptance provides a world we all could live in peacefully.

 

The last thing I will discuss might be the most disturbing of all. Black Sabbath had a song years ago named: “The mob rules”. The news is riddled with constant examples today of mob mentality. I am not condemning peaceful demonstrations of injustices, they have ushered in great changes in our world. I am referring to angry demonstrations that are divisive and many times escalate to violence. A person cannot shout loud enough to intrigue people into listening. A great idea will stand on its own and violence will silence even the best message. Your idea is not correct because a group of people gathers to impose their will on another person or group of people. The civil rights movement in the 1960’s was effective utilizing marches that refused to use mob mentality. We all have a prejudice or two, this will become apparent with honest self-examination. You might have great ideas that need to be heard.  Group mentality is not a bad thing, it can go sideways quickly if prejudices are the platform and peaceful dialog is not the focus. Gandhi almost single-handedly brought the British empire to its knees and he followed a non-violent agenda. Your idea should never impose an unfair equity on another’s civil rights as a human being. Be careful that your group associations represent the core value of your beliefs.

 

Some of my readers may have experienced the awful sting of prejudice. Race, religion, and gender make up just a few of the groups of people exposed to this terrible type of thinking. Will there ever be a day when prejudices are a thing of the past? Unfortunately, I think the answer to the question is no. It is only when we realize that our differences are really our greatest strengths. There is an old adage that states “If two people agree on everything, one of them is not needed.” To change prejudice, we must first change the way we think, and let our thoughts change our actions. I will leave you with a quote to ponder: “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
―  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations