May 9, 2011

I’m lording it over all of you


My friend Allison of the undividing blog has passed the Overlord Award on to me. Being the self depreciating man that I am, I have decided to accept. With this award comes some responsibilities: (1) List 3 things you would change if you were Overlord; (2) List 5 blogs you think are worthy of world domination; (3) Leave them a message in their comments section saying you chose them.

Here goes. If I were Overlord, my first act would be to cure world hunger. It’s obvious why this would be a good idea.

Secondly, I’d block the “The Fast and the Furious” series from making any more movies. Seriously, we really needed to make 5 of these things?

Finally, I’d bring back afros and bellbottom pants. Afros because they are cool and bellbottoms because of the comedic value.

Last order of business, picking 5 bloggers to bestow this honor upon;

1. Girl on the Contrary
2. Catherine from Simply Solo
3. Jaena from snip snap
4. Pushing thirty
5. My parents are crazier than yours

May 8, 2011

I wish I could quit you

via Google Images

I want to stop watching professional football. I feel that this is something a principled man would do. I think I am a principled man ergo I want to give up on professional football entirely. This is no mean feat and I am not sure that I can pull it off. What with fantasy football every week and all the highlights of big men making big plays. Or the amazing hype surrounding super bowl Sunday, I am just not sure I have it in me. Especially when I keep coming back to the fact that I am just one man and my attempt at a statement will not make a dent in the National Football League’s pocketbook. However, I don’t see how any man with a good conscience can know what I now know about the dangers of football and continue to watch it without guilt.

According to a 2009 article by Malcolm Gladwell, most football players are at risk of ending up with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), “a progressive neurological disorder found in people who have suffered some kind of brain trauma. This disorder shows some of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s: beginning with personality and behavioral changes, “followed by disinhibition and irritability, before moving on to dementia”. What’s worse is that CTE manifests later because it takes some time for the original head trauma to become nerve-cell breakdown and death. Gladwell goes on to talk about two researchers, Ann McKee and Bennet Omalu who have studied ex-athletes’ brains and have found evidence of CTE backing up his assertions with research. Basically, most football players during the length of their careers bash their heads with other players repeatedly. This can result in concussions but since the sport has a tough guy code, getting your “bell rung” is often not a reason for extended time off the field. So these players continue to play risking continued damage to their brains. They may not pay for this in the interim but ultimately this will catch up to them.

Gladwell tells the story of Kyle Turley (one of my favorite players when he played), Andre Waters, Terry Long and a few others. Long killed himself by drinking antifreeze while Waters pleaded for help before shooting himself in the head. Turley is still alive but suffers from multiple episodes. The NFL is starting to take the issue of concussions seriously and insists that players be cleared before returning the field post-concussion but is this enough? It is hard to say and no one seems to have any answers yet on how to combat this problem. Better helmets are not the answer because the better the equipment, the more the players employ them as some sort of weapon.

Which brings me back to my dilemma. My background in Psychology tells me that these players are causing great damage to their futures since it is difficult for the brain to heal. Continuing to watch this spectacle makes me an accomplice of sorts. How can I hold the NFL accountable when the players are pandering to fans like myself by doing what they know we enjoy so much? I desperately want to stop watching professional football but I do not know if I can pull it off. For more on this subject, go here

May 5, 2011

Do something

Via Google

Since I was a child, my mother always told me to change the world. Alright, maybe she didn’t quite put it that way. Instead, she would always say: “if you don’t like it, then do something about it.” Well mom, it stuck. I heard you all those years ago and I still hear you now. Loud and clear. And you thought I wasn’t listening. You thought I threw your advice out like the stale milk you used to pour down the sink. You should never ever have worried. I know it’s what mothers do but come on now……I’m your son.

No one understands that fact better than you. When I started keeping a blog about how we all could make the world a better place, I was channeling you. When I tell any of my students to stand up for what is right, it is your voice that I hear. The recycling idea, the Catalyst idea, soccer for the kids at Minnie Street……you, you and yup……you. Perhaps it was the fact that you were always so generous, thinking of everyone else and yourself last. Or that you single-handedly fought to bring our family to the United States, all five of us. It definitely could have been that you never let failure define you. You achieved a Ph.D. with 4 kids and a husband, kept trying your hand in entrepreneurship despite some false starts and rebounded from tragedy after tragedy.

With mothers’ day quickly approaching, you’re on my mind. Then again like I already pointed out, you’ve been on my mind all along. I am going to do something thoughtful for you on Sunday but my biggest way of paying you the respect you deserve is by continuing to take your advice and “do something” about what’s wrong. After all, I am your son.

March 2, 2011

Inspired by Solutions

In the media. From my friends. A random conversation I just happen to hear while passing by. Often, I hear comments about “those” immigrants in our communities.

Why don’t they want to learn English?
Don’t they know they’re in America?
If I lived in another country I’d learn the language!

We have a serious problem here, and it’s not that immigrants don’t speak English. The problem is with our attitude. First, it is void of any true experience with the group that is being stereotyped. Every single immigrant has a name, a story, and a struggle that, more often than not, dispels the myths our society has constructed about these communities. And even more, we’re complaining about a situation and doing nothing to be a part of the solution.

This year I signed up to volunteer as an English instructor at a local community center down the street from my house. I was feeling guilty. Hundreds in my community do not speak English, yet I had never lent a helping hand. Worse, I’d been galavanting around the world trying to help those in need abroad without giving the needs of my neighbors a second thought.

While training to become an instructor, I met a man named Bill who has committed his life to helping immigrants in our communities learn English. He doesn’t call it ESL or TEFL or TESOL or even just simply “Teaching English”. Rather, he is committed to challenging the English speaking population to SHARE their English. His classes have a ratio of one English speaker to one English learner. They are wild, funny, enjoyable, dynamic. He has an army of volunteers who are willing to put aside their stereotypes to be a part of the solution instead of just complaining. And people learn English because of it!

More than giving back to the community, more than helping people create a better life for themselves by giving them the skill of speaking English, Bill is helping every day Americans set aside their stereotypes by giving them opportunities to interact with REAL communities, REAL situations, and REAL lives.

I want to live like that!

Bill’s example of a life dedicated to change makes me ask myself a difficult question: How can I be a solution to the problems I complain about?

February 28, 2011

Deconstructing the American Dream

Image via Google

The American Dream is a term that is very common in American culture. Turn on the news on any given night and you might see a politician or three relying on it to drum up support for their policies. On the other hand, it has also been used as a way to attack opponents or political rivals. For example, Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican in an upcoming book accuses current President Barack Obama of trying to stifle the American Dream. He claims that the president’s policies will lead to the death of the dream. But what exactly does this mean? What is the American Dream?

According to Arnold Schwarzneggar, the former governor of California, the American dream is that “a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the president of the United States”. Yet David Abrahansen felt that “the American Dream is in part, responsible for a great deal of crime and violence because people feel that the country owes them not only a living but a good living.” Obviously, this simple phrase has taken on a complex meaning. However, for the man who coined the phrase, it’s meaning was much simpler.

In his book, The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams wrote that the American dream is a

dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Simply put, the American Dream was intended to mean equality and opportunity for all.

This idea that America is a land of opportunity often brings immigrants into the country. These people come with the hope that they can make something of themselves by taking advantage of the resources that are available. Instead, they find that this notion is just a dream.

Perhaps, it never existed the way that Adams pictured. For one, America is not a land of equality. Back when Mr. Adams was coming up with the phrase in 1931, Black Americans could not even vote. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement helped secure that right. And even in the 1960s, the dream still didn’t exist. Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent Civil Rights activist of that era had a dream that “one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'”. His use of “one day” implies that in those days, America had not risen to those heights.

That day never came in the 1960s and it still hasn’t come today. The American dream is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist in the real world and the fact that it is pursued keeps the American public hostage. As Florence King once said; “people are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be that they’re all asleep at the switch. Consequently, we are living in the Age of Human Error.”

February 22, 2011

Change is inevitable

Recently, change has been on my mind. Not the change that Barack Obama promised, but something a lot more personal to each of us. There is the time worn cliche that; “change is a good thing” yet I find that most people are afraid of change. Why is that? I think it’s because change for us represents something new, an X-factor of some sorts, an unknown. And fear of the unknown is one of the more common fears out there.

However, change should not be an unknown. Change is a reality and is consistent and a constant. Almost nothing is permanent but we like to pretend that our favorite things are and we make our decisions accordingly. Let’s apply this to the recent financial meltdown. It has been blamed on greed and rightfully so, but it is much more than that. A majority of the population did not imagine a world where things could be different. Tragically, we believed that the economy would always boom but the truth is where there is a boom a bust soon follows. What goes up will eventually come down. Had we been cognizant of this lesson, I believe we might have acted differently.

The world is changing. Democracy is spreading in places where we traditionally believed that it was impossible. The most amazing thing is that it is happening without direct American influence. We didn’t invade Tunisia or Egypt to set up democracy. Instead, these people are choosing it for themselves. In turn, this is sending shock waves throughout Africa and the Middle East. It is also forcing countries in the West to re-evaluate their foreign policies.

This is of course an oversimplification of a much more complex situation but remains a valid point. We need to embrace change and include it in our planning. Relationships evolve, the Stock Market goes up and down, jobs are gained and lost, and above all opinions change. Approach life with an open mind, challenge your assumptions constantly and do not be afraid to stretch yourself. Change is inevitable, and that is a good thing.

February 17, 2011

Learning to Listen

xcd.com via Google

One of the best things you can do for anyone is to listen to them. By so doing, you are affirming them, confirming that they are alive and that they do exist. Think about it. Without a voice, you do not leave a mark or a dent. Our voices are the ripples that we make in the pond of humanity. And with no one listening, these ripples go unseen. Yet, we do not listen to others. Taking things a step further, we do not know how to listen. There is a lot of vitriol, angst and pain around the world today and I believe that what we need are more ears.

It begins by asking the right questions and then doing more than just hearing an answer. You see, listening is more than just hearing what someone has to say. Listening is active while hearing is passive. To hear what a person says, all you have to do is receive the sound waves out of their mouth. Listening on the other hand, involves dropping all of your preconceived notions and ideas, and engaging a person with the goal of understanding them. Dropping our own perceptions, notions and ideas is the hardest part. Every time we talk to people, their voice is distorted by the soundtrack we have playing in our heads. To listen we have to turn off our music or take off our headphones and then we can hear the speaker’s song. When we do this, then they feel like they exist and are understood.This is most important when the person doing the talking is underrepresented in society. These are the people whose voices are the faintest. To continue with the analogy of music, their songs are almost inaudible and we need to turn up the volume.

But the underrepresented are not the only ones that should be listened to. Everyone should be listened to. Questions like; “How do you feel about…….?” or “Why did you do what you did…..” are very powerful. They give the person a chance to respond and be heard. We don’t have to agree with them, consensus can almost never be reached, but compromise can be achieved and that is more than enough. For example, I was in favor of the Health Care Bill that President Barack Obama’s administration passed. To me it was a no brainer that we needed a way to stop “pre-existing conditions” from being a part of Health Care conditions. But then I heard a parent of one of my students talk about the issue. He was losing a lot of work because of the new law and his family was being negatively impacted. I listened to him, not so I could formulate a response but to understand his story. He didn’t exactly cause me to change my stance but he did force me to re-examine how I saw things. Now when I meet someone who is anti Obamacare, I don’t automatically get defensive. I just wonder where they are coming from because of my new understanding. I probably won’t ever reach a consensus with them but I can definitely strike a compromise.

The current protests in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., present a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the United States. The people there want to be free from tyranny and we can definitely relate to that. But we haven’t always done that. According to Nicholas Kristoff in this article, American Foreign Policy has always seemed to revolve around our own selfish interests. We’ve made alliances with dictators in exchange for stability in the Middle East. This has caused us to appear to be anti democracy in the region. It was also responsible for the current Administration’s hesitancy to jump into the fray during the protest in Egypt. However, we can learn from this experience by listening to the people. Some of the Egyptian demonstrators kept saying that they wanted “freedom like there was in America”. This is great news for American interests and I think the Egyptians will work with us as long as we allow them to direct their country’s future. People will always tell you what they want and sometimes what they need if you’re listening.

February 14, 2011

The World’s newest Country facing new problems

On January 9, 3.8 million Sudanese turned out to vote on a referendum. The issue at stake was the fate of the people to the South of the country. Much of the nation’s resources, with oil being king, is found in the South. In spite of this, the region has largely remained poor and underdeveloped as the government in the North diverted most of the benefits to their own ends.  In 2003, this friction between the Northern based administration and the Southerners boiled over into war in Darfur. This war has been very controversial with much of the casualty unclear and Human Rights Groups calling it a genocide.  It ended with a cease fire in 2010, about seven years after it had begun.

The aforementioned referendum was to determine whether Southern Sudan should secede from the rest of Sudan. According to the results, 99% of the voters were in favor of the South being its own country. Surprisingly, the Sudanese government accepted the results and Southern Sudan was born. However, the Global Post reports that this new nation is facing some health issues. Hopefully, the United Nations and the rest of the West can come to their aid.

February 13, 2011

Multitasking and a resolution of sorts

Looking busy

According to Webster’s dictionary, multitasking is the “performance of multiple tasks at one time.” I pride myself at being a master at multitasking but somewhere between being unable to eat without a book, and checking my email while on the phone, I realized I had a problem.

For one, it is now practically impossible for me to focus on just one thing. I find my mind wandering while completing a task. For example, my television is on right now as I am writing this blog. I text and check email while I am at work, read while I listen to music and carry my computer everywhere if only to feel like I am doing more than one thing at once. My attention span is suffering for it and I now expect everything and everyone to grab me within the first few seconds or lose me.

More importantly, I am slowly losing my ability to actively listen. Actually, that is a bit redundant as listening is by nature active. So what I meant to say is that I am losing the ability to listen. This is a huge challenge as listening is key to my self image. I have trained myself over the years to really hear, to look beyond just words and dig deeper for hidden treasures. Something just has to change.

Therefore, I am making a resolution. Yes I realize that it is February 13 and that it is a bit late but I get to do what I want. And what I want is to make a resolution. My resolution is to focus on one thing at a time. I am going to intentionally avoid multitasking and choose quality over quantity. I will start with something simple like not reading while I eat……or having the television off while I blog or read. I hope that by so doing, I will get to fully enjoy each experience as unique. That I will devote all of my energy to one thing and be great as opposed to being average at a few things.

January 2, 2011

Lessons Learned in 2010

1. I still have a lot to learn: I generally see myself as an intellectual, someone who is well read and loves to collect extra knowledge. However, this year was crazy even for my standards. I had new worlds opened to me that I did not even know existed. I look forward to exploring these in 2011.

2. Relationships are complicated: 2010 was very tough on my relationships. A year ago, I was surrounded by friends who were really close to me. I had no idea what was to come. Events would test these friendships and bring them to a breaking point. Decisions that were made by a couple of these friends would bring a lot of pain and troubles. As 2011 begins, I am faced with the question of what to do with those relationships and how to repair them. Above all, I realized that relationships do not exist in a world of black and white. Instead, there is a lot of grey area where people can make decisions that hurt the very people they love.

3. I met an incredible woman who I am currently dating: enough said

4. I discovered the true meaning of forgiveness: the aforementioned woman’s mother demonstrated that. Without getting into details (need permission), I learned how my girlfriend’s mother forgave a major wrong. It’s an amazing story that I would like to be able to tell here sometime. I found it very encouraging and saw it as an example of the best of what human beings are capable of.

Those are a few of the things from 2010 that are on my mind. Here’s to 2011 and new beginnings…..

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.