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One World, One People

The concept of Unity has come to prominence lately, with recent events bringing people together. And with regards to those events and the idea of Unity, I wanted to put in my two cents on the concept. So, here we go.

I’ve seen much of the discussion of Unity come from a religious, spiritual, or philosophical perspective. And while that is a beautiful thought, I have a few issues with what I’ve seen coming out of those camps.

1) Self-righteousness – groups I’ve seen put forth the idea of Unity dream of its implementation through conformity. Christians think the world would be better if everyone was Christian, vegans believing the same if everyone abstained from eating meat and using animal products, feminists think they’ll save the world with feminist, and etcetera. Regardless of whatever measure is used, it all boils down to one thought:  The world would be better if everyone was like me. And to that I can but ask, “Why are you so special? Why is your way the one, true righteous path? Why must all others forsake themselves and their identity for your vision?” Does your Unity only come to fruition by the subjugation of others?

2) Everything would be better if we were all the same – even if the conformity I mentioned in my first point came to pass, would people still be harmonious? Hasn’t religion provided points contrary to that throughout history? Even within the same religion, different people interpret things differently. Catholics and Protestants are both Christians, and share the same basic beliefs. But these groups still come into conflict even with those same base beliefs, as seen in Ireland for Christianity or in the Middle East with the Sunnis and the Shiites. I guess the Devil is in the details, as they say.

In my eyes, Unity is something unlike all of that. It sees others not as threats or rivals, nor does it strive to understand and respect others, nor does it strive to embrace others out of love. Unity is seeing no distinction between others and ourself. All the world is in us, and we are in all in the world.

But what does it really mean? What will it really take to get there?

Can you see yourself in another person, and them in you? Whom do you imagine when you do this: a parent, a lover, a child, or a friend? Indeed, that is the correct answer, but it is also an incorrect answer. Or perhaps more gently, it is an incomplete answer.

Can you see yourself in a rival as well? What about in a stranger? Can you see yourself in a romantic interest who rebuffed your advances? Can you see yourself in another person who practices a different religion, belongs to a different political party, or has a different sexual orientation?

Can you see yourself in an enemy? Can you see yourself in someone you hate or condemn?

The world is not lacking monsters, and they must be challenged and overcome. But each and every monster, every murderer, every rapist, every pedophile is still a person. They may be someone’s lover, just as you may be. They may be someone’s parent, just as you may be. They are someone’s child, just as you are.

Can you see yourself in them as well? Can you cultivate compassion for our fallen brother and sisters, even knowing that they must be stopped – and killed if necessary? Do you grieve for the perpetrators as fiercely as you do for the victims? Can you?

That is the absolute, unyielding cost of Unity. And it is not something we can demand of others – it is something we must first cultivate in ourselves. Only then can we go out into the world and inspire others to follow that path, rather than demanding or terrifying them into converting to our beliefs.

We are one people. We are all in the world, and the world is in all of us – the good, and the evil. Can you open your arms, your mind, and your heart wide enough to welcome home those whom are most lost, and steel yourself to challenge them if you must?

To me, that is Unity. That is One World and One People. It is difficult, but it is also worth pursuing.

On thinking big

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you figured out something that would revolutionize the world. Maybe you discovered out how to let people fly, or the secrets to teleportation. And let’s also say that you’re in a position to spread that knowledge to the world immediately. Would you?

Most people would give an enthusiastic, “YES!” to that question. Whether you share that kind of information out of the goodness of your heart, or you sell it to make a fortune, I imagine most people’s first reaction would be to immediately share or sell what they’d discovered.

I would not, because I’ve given some thought as to what that would do.

If we revolutionized transportation, things would change – and in a big way. Cars and trucks would become antiquated luxury items. This would reduce pollution, but it would also put a whole, WHOLE lot of people out of work.

And I don’t just mean the major car manufacturers. I mean the majority of car dealerships, gas stations, and mechanics – just gone. Heck, the iron and oil industries would probably be hit hard too with such a sharp decrease in demand. The shipping and trucking industries would likely take a hit as well, depending on what the revolution was.

Forget about thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jobs lost…making such sudden and drastic changes to the world would leave tens of millions of people unemployed.

I could probably think of a few ways to more thoroughly destroy the world, but I’d have to put some effort into it.

Which brings me to my point: thinking big is good, having grand dreams is great, but always think big enough and grand enough to include the consequences of your actions. I don’t say this to discourage people from trying to make the world a better place. On the contrary, I think a revolution in transportation (for example) would do the world some good. But if this or any other revolution is done without consideration for those whom will be caught in the path of change… That will create quite the tragedy.

On being normal

I’ve felt like an outsider quite often in my life.  Whether I’ve been a fifth wheel or a freak, I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve felt out of place.  And sometimes, I desperately want to fit in – to be one of Them.  Sometimes, I just want to be normal.  And lately I’ve come to a bit of a revelation:

Man, fuck normal.  I’m going to be extraordinary.

So many of the things I’ve tried to learn in the past few years have been centered around smoothing out my edges – trying to be more a part of whatever crowd I’m courting.  But it’s never made me happy.  I just get frustrated, and eventually the entire situation leaves me feeling resentful.

I had a post a while back where I wrote about cost efficiency, a concept I learned from video games, and how I try to apply it to real life.  And trying to become “normal” makes me think of another gaming concept:  character customization, specifically emphasizing strengths over filling in weaknesses.

Filling in weaknesses is a good idea, on paper.  You create a character to be more well-balanced and versatile.  However, a jack of all trades is also a master of none.  In most gaming situations, you do not want characters that perform averagely at all tasks.  It’s usually better to specialize:  one character is a durable fighter, while another is a magician whose only form of defense comes from cloth robes.  In some games, you can customize those “clothies” to be more durable, but it always come at a cost.  A balanced clothie will never produce the same level of damage as one who specialized in damage.  And while the damage clothies are affectionately referred to as “glass cannons”, it is always the priority of a good party, raid, or guild to protect their glass cannons during a fight.

So how does any of this apply to life and the real world?

I’m not good with social graces.  I’m usually one of the wallflowers in any given the room.  And I could work on that – try to get out more often, challenge myself to strike up conversations with people, and break out of my shell.  That sounds like great advice actually, on paper.

But the time and energy I spend on that takes away from other areas of my life.  Social events I attend take me away from my writing, and they’re sometimes so emotionally draining that I’m exhausted even before I get to the event in question.  That means I’ve lost energy before I get there, and I lose time afterwards putting myself back together.  Then I do it again and again and again, trying to eventually get it right.

They DO say insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results, so…

What can I do about my little problem?

  1. Do things that you really want to do
    Doing something for practice is good, but that doesn’t mean each and every scenario is equal and interchangeable.  I don’t drink beer, so spending time at parties with a lot of people who are into home brewing is perhaps not a good idea – especially if the only reason I’m there is to “talk with people”.  It might be better for me to hang out at a gaming store or take a writing workshop.  That way I can practice, if I really want to, but the real reason I’m there would be because I want to be and I’m actually interested in what people are saying.
  2. Do things that emphasize and improve on your strengths
    If I want to be a writer, I could spend my time writing instead of trying to force practice conversations.  Or I could read books, watch movies, take classes, study – anything that exposes me to stories and story-writing.  All these could be better things to do over sticking my square self into a round situation and hoping it turns out better this time.
  3. Do things you really need to do
    I could work out, stretch, do yoga – anything to improve my health.  And all of these are things I enjoy doing that will improve the quality of my life, without trying to force myself into the mold of being “normal.”
  4. Say, “Fuck it!”
    Think of the famous people you know – how many of them had quirks and idiosyncrasies that set them apart from the crowd.  And did the world really judge them in the end?  Probably not!  The world embraced these people who had the nerve to say, “You’ll never make me any less than I am!”  Self-love sometimes requires us to look at the situation in question, and throw it the bird.  And I think it’s far better to focus on loving yourself for who you are, than to try to change so that others might like you.

So, fuck it.  I’m gonna stop trying to be normal, and start being awesome.  And good luck to all the naysayers, because I’m gonna be too busy being me to listen.

P.S. Here’s a comic I found this week, on Chloe C’s GoGetARoomie, that hit me right in the normal feels. (This page is SFW, the rest of this story is slightly more NSFW at times.  It is awesome at all times though, IMO.)

On chasing your dreams

I’m fond of looking for advice in strange places.  Heck, I tell people one of my favorite quotes is from “Pokemon:  the First Movie”.  So I was hardly surprised when I found this little gem this weekend while cruising video game videos on YouTube:

And as I listened to Sky, I realized:  he’s absolutely right.  If you really want something, you don’t make excuses – you pursue it.  You chase it.  You prioritize it.

This coming December is the sixth anniversary of when I started writing.  In that time, I’ve posted nearly 1300 unique poems, published 5 books with enough content to fill 2 more, and earned enough money from my writing that I’ve had to pay taxes on it.  I feel comfortable enough with my achievements to call myself a writer, and even an author.

But am I really serious about it?  Is it really what I want to do with my life?

I don’t writer every day, but there was still a time when I had poems prepared months in advance.  However, these days I’m lucky if I have Tuesday’s post done by Sunday night.  And I wonder to myself, “What happened to me?”

I feel like if I really wanted to be a writer, I should be spending every waking moment on my craft.  But I don’t.  Instead, I’ve spend the past year pursing several fruitless romances, thrown myself into supporting others and their pursuits, and come home from work only to bury my nose in games or books or television shows.  I keep my queue filled, but most nights my writing is untouched.

I’ve been critical of other writers I’ve known in the past for not writing.  I used to meet with a group once a month, and some of those writers would set writing goals only to meet the following month and say that they’d written nothing.  And I would ask the question, “How can you call yourself a writer when you don’t write?”

Harsh words, I admit, but there’s a measure of logic behind them.

And when I levy those words against myself, I can’t help but feel like I fall short too.  Last December I spoke about my ambitions to use this year to write longer content for 2015, and while I’ve kept to that…I’ve only written one thing that hasn’t posted to this blog.  I have to-do lists of story ideas that I’ve never started or left unfinished.  And because of this, despite all of my successes, I feel like a failure.

So how do I live up to my dreams?  How do I rise to meet the potential I see within myself?

  1. There are no shortcuts.If I want to be a writer, I must write.  If I want to be an author, I must publish and get published.  The only way to get there is to dedicate time and myself to the task – everything else will fall short.
  2. It’s OK to focus on yourself, and say “No” to others.I like helping people, but throwing myself behind others’ causes and ambitions has come at the cost of my own.  So once I finish up with my current set of promises and social obligations, I am going to think long and hard before picking up any new ones.
  3. But all things in moderation
    While it’s important to make writing a priority, it’s more important to remember to do so in moderation.  Take breaks.  Visit friends.  Go out to dinner, or to the movies.  Live a life.  Making writing – or anything – the one and only thing you do in your life is not healthy.  Remember to keep things balanced – it will make you happier in the long run.
  4. Experiment
    I spent 2013 and 2014 focused on shorter writing styles – haiku especially.  This year I focused on longer styles, and wrote blog posts or short stories for every week.  That’s good, and a good way to stretch myself and see what works and what doesn’t.
  5. Acknowledge when things don’t work
    And I HATED writing blogs this year.  Precious few were on topics I was passionate about, and fewer still flowed as smoothly as my poetry.  All of them too substantially longer to write than a poem, and that cut into time I could have been working on other projects.  I’ve been thinking of abandoning blogs for MONTHS, but I’m going to keep at them until the end of the year.  But after that…I doubt I’ll focus on blog posts again.
  6. Don’t give up
    You’ll always hit setbacks and snags, but don’t stop because of them.  Don’t let the fear of making mistakes keeping you from trying.  Have faith.  Believe.

And that’s the sentiment I want to end this on:  believe.  Don’t give up, keep trying, and believe.  We are greater and grander than we give ourselves credit for – and it’s time to show the world what it’s been missing out on.

So fight on, oh Dreamers, and believe.

On self-love

Recently, a friend shared this article with me in a discussion about self-love, and it got me thinking about the world, the culture in which I live, and myself.

I don’t have a great self-image, and my self-love is rather lacking as a result.  I have times when I feel so low that I ask the few close friends I have to “tell me something good about myself”.  And while their words cheer me up, can I honestly say that I take them to heart and believe them?

I don’t feel like America takes self-care and self-love very seriously.  The impression I get from corporate culture is that it’s one that asks for constant sacrifice from us:  “Give 110%,” “Work through your breaks, your lunches, your weekends,” and “Put the company first.”  I feel like these words are rarely spoken, but often implied.

And while these work ethics are helpful in staying ahead of the corporate curve, constantly sacrificing yourself to any greater cause inevitably martyrs us.  You can’t give 110% if you’re skipping all of your downtime.  I’ve even heard from people who play video games as hardcore hobbyists preach about the importance of taking breaks every two hours or so.  And when the people whose hobbies are practically a second job stress the importance of breaks, I take the advice seriously.  It’s OK to work hard, but there has to be a balance.

The critical take-away part of the article for me was in paragraph two and said that developing self-love requires the support and assistance of others.  No amount of positive self-talk can replicate the benefits of having others tell you that they think you’re the cat’s pajamas.  Love, respect, and confidence have to be nurtured, and by those closest to us.  Those feelings do not spring, fully formed, from the void.

But nurturing each other in such a way also feels rare in our culture.  People are guarded, and moments of intimacy – genuine, real, you-can-get-hurt intimacy – are sparse.  I think many would agree that confidence is sexy, but how many of us are willing to be vulnerable enough to build that confidence in ourselves and others?

The only solution is to take a leap of faith.  We cannot expect trust from others without extending trust first.  Intimacy will only come from others only after we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them.  Feeling love requires that we first offer it ourselves.

So be kind to others.  Tell them that they’re important – that they mean something.  Tell them you miss them when they’re gone.  Praise their virtues over criticizing their vices.  Help them to cultivate a positive voice within themselves.

Personally, I want to make the world a better place.  And helping people to love themselves seems a good place to start.  So let’s get started.

I lie for a reason 2

A writer friend of mine recently told me about a Reader’s Digest writing prompt to write a story that begins with the phrase, “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I found the idea inspiring, and below is my second story based on that prompt.

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“The difference is, I lie for a reason.”

Jane sat there, a contented-looking smile on her face while she listened to her husband boast to his coworkers at a corporate dinner party. They’d had some hard times recently, a few lean years, but things were turning around for the two of them. And with the way things were at Tom’s law firm, the two of them weren’t in any danger of decline.

“Our clients do the most ridiculous things, and then they start mouthing off to the first person who will listen to them. But me – I lie to get them out of the messes they make for themselves. I say, ‘Your Honor, my client would never be so foolish,’ but in reality, they’re probably already digging themselves a deeper hole. I swear, some of them are probably making their next mistake before they ever even leave the courtroom.”

Tom’s coworkers laughed at this, and the closest of them gave him hearty slaps on the back. All but one of them were Partners – her husband’s peers. But they were joined by Robert Mullivan, Senior Partner and one of the members of the firm’s Leadership Committee, and it was his endorsement that catapulted Tom to his position ahead of more tenured employees. And with the way he was laughing along with the others, Jane’s husband still had Robert’s support.

“You crack me up Kid,” Robert said with a guffaw. “I had a hunch you had something significant to offer this firm, and I was right. Congratulations on your success!” Robert raised his glass, and the others joined him before swallowing their drinks in a toast.

After finishing his drink, Robert checked his watch. “And as much as I’d like to spend the rest of the night celebrating with you youngsters, my old bones and this watch are telling me I need to be on my way. If you’ll excuse me?”

“Of course Sir,” Tom said, shaking Robert’s hand in farewell. Robert turned to leave, and the remaining partners turned back to Tom to talk shop. As they closed ranks, Jane leaned in close to her husband.

“Honey,” Jane said, “I’m going to go powder my nose.”

“OK Jane – you’ll be back soon?”

“Of course Love,” Jane said, planting a peck on Tom’s cheek before walking away.

Jane heard her husband’s coworkers teasing him over that kiss as she walked away. She didn’t look back, but kept walking: past the buffet, the bar, the restroom, and out the front door. She kept a brisk pace, and caught up with Robert just as he was getting to his car.

“Robert.”

He startled, but quickly recovered. “Jane – you surprised me. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for my husband,” Jane said with a smile on her face.

“Oh – oh, you’re quite welcome,” Robert replied, looking a little anxious.

“Do you have a few minutes to spare, before you have to leave,” Jane asked, lowering her head and looking at Robert through her lashes.

“No, I really have to go,” Robert said

“We won’t be long. I promise.”

“No Jane. Tom needs to make it on his own. If I intervene every time there’s an issue, it will get out and reflect badly on all of us.”

“But there won’t’ be any issues, will there Robert?” Jane asked in slow, measured words as she approached him.

“He’s a fucking idiot! Did you hear him in there: insulting his clients in the middle of a very public setting?! It’s a miracle he’s come this far! I refuse to be a part of this any longer!”

“Now Robert, we’re just so grateful for your support. I only want to thank you on behalf of the both of us,” she said, beginning to stroke him lightly.

“Jane – we can’t…”

“Shh. Don’t worry. Everything will be OK,” Jane said, as she lowered herself to her knees and reached for Robert’s fly.

“I promise you Robert: I’ll make everything OK.”


 

Fifteen minutes later, Jane returned to her husband – her makeup as immaculate as her smile.

I lie for a reason

A writer friend of mine recently told me about a Reader’s Digest writing prompt to write a story that begins with the phrase, “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I found the idea inspiring, though I took some liberties with its execution. But below is my story based on that prompt.

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People tell a lot of lies.  Some lie to others; others lie to themselves.  Some tell white lies, while others spread the darkest gossip.  I’m not like any of them though.

The difference is, I lie for a reason.

I lie for a man, a father, on his deathbed.  I tell him, “I love you.”  He smiles – I’m not sure if he knows I’m lying.

I lie for a woman, her hair streaked with grey.  I tell her, “You were a good wife, a good mother.”  She says nothing – I know she knows I’m lying, but I lie anyway and hope that I can convince her otherwise.

I lie to a girl who lied to me.  Once upon a time, she told me she loved me.  She didn’t.  Now, she tells me her boyfriend doesn’t beat her.  He does.  But I lie to her, and tell her that I don’t remember the last time I saw him.  I do.

The last time I saw him, the whites of his eyes shone like two full moons right after I told him a truth that left the night hushed like the twin kisses of a double-barrel shotgun.  The last time I saw him, he looked like a Jackson Pollock painting of the Invasion of Normandy.  The last time I saw him, he ran out of lies to tell me as I threw one last shovelful of dirt on an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere.

“How could you do it?” you ask?  Maybe I’m just a stone-cold bastard.  Maybe not.  Anyway, that’s not the question you should be asking.

“Did you get the girl?”  No – but I keep an eye on her.  I listen to her lie to her acquaintances and say that she left him, and lie to her friends and say that he ran off with another woman.  Neither are true, and she knows that.  But she lies to them and to herself, out of habit or maybe just to make it through the day.  But that’s not the right question either.

“Do I think I’ll ever get caught?”  Of course not – most criminals don’t, not that I think I am one.  But for all the red this confession seems to paint on my hands, no one will ever find a body.  Even if the cops bring me into the station, they’ll never get the story out of me.  Nothing will come of it.  Anyway, that’s still not the right question.

“Why did you do it?”  Ah…now that’s a better question.  Maybe I did it for the girl; maybe I did it for myself.  Maybe I’m mad, or maybe I’m just the last righteous man in a world full of liars.  Maybe you’ll never know.

Because when I lie, I lie for a reason…

And what if I’m lying to you tonight?  That…that is the right question.  Because anything else…?  Well, how can you believe anything I’m saying?

After all, I am a liar.