Archive for ‘Life’

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.

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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 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…..

August 24, 2010

At the mercy of the system

Glenn Beck

This man likes pie (Image via Wikipedia)

This morning, I went to court to take care of some traffic issues. I knew I was guilty and I pled the same, yet when my punishment was handed down, I felt like it was unfair. After all, I hadn’t meant to break the law so that had to be taken into account right? This got me thinking; what exactly do I deserve? And while we are at it, what do you deserve?

Glenn Beck’s answer; “I want all of my pie.” I can understand that philosophy. I mean it is his pie. I am sure though that Mrs. Beck probably taught little Glenn, just like my mother taught me, to share. No word on whether little Glenn yelled “socialist!!!” at her. Anyway, I digress.

I spent the first 15 years of my life in Africa. People there work just as hard for a lot less than we do here. A pie is definitely out of the question there. However, Africa is a world away. Here in the United States, there are lots of people who cannot catch a break. They work hard, they put in their time, what do they deserve?

According to the founding fathers, we all deserve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Herein lies their genius. They created a system which although flawed, could be corrected from the inside out. It remains our place to keep the system honest, to challenge it and by challenging it to force it to grow. When nothing is done, we run the risk of having the system start to decay and come apart at the seams. Everything else is a privilege that we ought to be grateful for. Things like the running water, electricity, indoor plumbing etc. And when we remember to think this way, it’s easier to help others less fortunate than ourselves.Flash back to this morning. I thought about all the times I had broken other traffic laws and hadn’t gotten caught. I didn’t immediately drive over to the nearest Police station to turn myself in.  I thought about how lucky I was to even have a job and be able to pay for my car. I thought about all the people in the world who would kill to trade places with me. And I reached my hand into my pocket……

August 22, 2010

The “N” Word and Dr. Laura

Earlier this week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced that she will not be renewing her contract. This means that she is effectively ending her radio show. Dr. Laura, as she is more famously known, said that she is ending her show so as to regain her First Amendment rights. This comes on the heels of an incident two weeks ago, where she used the n-word 11 times in a five minute span. A black woman who was involved in an interracial marriage, called her for advice on how to deal with the occasional use of the word by her husband’s relatives. Instead, Dr. Laura went off on her own personal tangent.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not listen to Dr. Laura. Therefore I believe that this disqualifies me from making general statements on whether she is racist or not. What I am going to do is respond to some of the issues she raised.

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****r, n****r, n****r. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.

I agree that this is very confusing. The black community is not united on how to deal with this word. There are people like me who will not use it but I have friends who do use it. A lot of comedians and rappers use it for various reasons. Some feel that by using it, they’re taking what was a negative and turning it into a positive. This is something we’re still wrestling with. Dr. Laura is allowed to comment on this but could have done so without uttering the offending word. It is not her place to figure out how black people should deal with the n-word.

My dear, the point I am trying to make … we’ve got a black man as president and we’ve got more complaining about racism than ever. I think that’s hilarious.

The premise here is very faulty. The issue of racism has nothing to do with a black president and is definitely not hilarious. Dr. Laura here is showing a lack of understanding that considering her job, scares me a little. She should have known better but frankly, she doesn’t. To be fair, this train of thought did not originate from her. I’ve seen it used elsewhere and it was also wrong then.

It really is simple Dr. Laura, black people want respect just like everybody else. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. When you use that word the way you did, you aren’t being respectful.

August 18, 2010

Adversity Wrapped in Hope

The past few days, we had some pretty atrocious weather here in Chillán. At night, I would lay in bed bundled up in my sleeping bag and with the wind howling at the window beside me and the rain rattling the roof above me, I found myself thinking about the families, who lost their homes in the earthquake and now live in temporary shelters, referred to by Chileans as “mediaguas.” I thought about my complaints of being cold or inconvenienced during our time here and suddenly it all paled in comparison to the plight of these people.

Angry clouds promising the threat of rain rolled in on Sunday, while I stood over a pot of boiling hot chocolate. After stirring the hot chocolate to perfection, we poured it into thermoses to deliver to families in mediaguas along with the chocolate chip cookies and brownies that we had spent baking and packaging the day before.

Rain tapped on my hood as I stood at the front door of the first home. We knocked on the front door and suddenly every insecurity that I’d been intentionally ignoring rushed to the front of my mind like the cold wind blowing at my back. “What would they think of these gringas showing up at their door? Would they understand my Spanish? Would they be blessed by our gift or would they find it impractical and possibly even insulting- the door opened and we were immediately invited in to take shelter from the weather.

I stepped into their home and all my fears melted away with the warmth of their greeting. Like typical Chileans, they proceeded to offer us food and drink. I couldn’t help laughing at the irony. The plan was to bless them, not the other way around. Overall, everyone seemed to be receptive. Most families were pretty open about their circumstances. One family in particular, a single mom with her aging mother and ten year old daughter, touched our hearts though.

With every family, the children were always eager to immediately try a chocolate chip cookie or brownie, but despite repeated encouragement, this little girl continued to decline. I could see it in her eyes. She didn’t want some sweet that would soon leave her yet again in want. She wanted something more.

As her mom was sharing about the hardships of caring for her family, while having no job for the past few months, the little girl began to cry. Feeling the weight of the burden this family was carrying, tears streamed down my cheeks. Trying hard to keep from sobbing, I wondered, “What am I doing here? Who am I kidding? We can’t fix these people’s problems.”

One of our friends, who came with us, circled everyone around the three of them and began to pray. I’ve been wrestling with God a lot these days and lately I’ve been finding prayer with other people to be a bit strange and often uncomfortable, but in this moment it couldn’t have felt more right. When our friend finished praying, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Though the burden was still there, it now felt lighter and a sense of peace was greater.

At that moment, I realized what this little girl wanted and every one of these families we visited are in need of is hope. I wish I could rescue them from their problems, but I can’t even rescue myself from my own. I think I know someone else, who can though. Someone, who often for reasons I never seem to understand, doesn’t always rescue us from our troubles. Yet I can’t deny the grace I’ve always seen given in the midst of those troubles or the times that I or others have clearly been rescued from unwanted circumstances. Some days it’s harder than others to believe that Jesus Christ is our only hope, but I guess it wouldn’t be faith if it was easy.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” Hebrews 10:23 (Holy Bible, English Standard Version).