Saturday, June 25, 2016

6/27/16—Moving America Forward

How many times have you exchanged something for a newer model, only to appreciate the old model more? Like maybe you get a new washer/dryer and it washes and dries faster, but uses more energy and has frequent mechanical problems. We've all been there. And since you can't move backward, you move forward, lower your expectations and learn to adjust.

America is kind of like that dryer. Everyone wants a new one, convinced it's going to change things for the better. One side favors a more socialist way of existing, where everyone shares the responsibility for the whole and those with less get more. The other side favors a more isolationist bully approach, where one guy builds a wall to keep immigrants out, calls for banning an entire religion and shuts out those who disagree with him. Both sides think their ideas are going to make America great again. They both want a shiny new washer that does things the old washer doesn't.

I was watching America's Got Talent on TV earlier this week. There was a performer there named Vello who was a 52-year-old man whose thick accent was only eclipsed by his funny costume. I assume he is a naturalized American. The audience was doubtful at first, then sat stunned by the amazing things he could do with his feet locked behind his head—things you and I couldn't do under any circumstances, much less while contorting. When he was done, the audience went crazy. And in that moment, what I saw was a man who was so proud to be an American...on one of our country's largest stages...playing to a packed front of TV cameras...and having everyone behind him. Who would have thought?

Imagine yourself in his shoes. He left Estonia for the hope of something better in the US. And he came here and was able, not only to earn a living teaching kids, but perform before millions. At the age of 52. As an "outsider." That right there is the American Dream. And if there's anything people around the world admire more about the US—and anything we're more proud of ourselves—it's how anyone can have a dream and achieve it here, if they put their mind to it. Evidence of that is everywhere in the US, across all origins and classes. It's not guaranteed, but it's possible.

So, if we were to close off or slow immigration here, we would have fewer hard-working, persistent dreamers like Vello to keep our American Dream alive. And the hard-working part is critical, too, because immigrants tend to have to work harder and in less desirable jobs than the rest of us. So if we screw with immigration, we lose that depth in the American work ethic we're so proud of and, over time, we lose the foundation of people doing the less desirable work that fuels the lifestyles we love, like keeping 7-11s open all night, running carryouts and performing maid service, to name a few. Over time, the immigrants that fill those positions and work hard will work their way out of those positions, and with further immigration stalled, nobody will want to fill them.

So will the "native" Americans left behind jump in and work extra hard in service areas or achieve the American Dream? Sure. Some will. But we have become so complacent and privileged that some jobs are considered "beneath us". And we've become so jaded that most people just settle into their comfortable-enough lives and skip the risk, hard work and possible disappointment. In places most of us don't even notice or see, a continued flow of immigrants is critical to keeping our country moving.  Their work ethic is critical to inspiring everyone else's and keeping us on our toes, and their ambitions are important to fueling the American Dream. 

In their heads, some think closing our borders will solve everything, but it will just create more problems. In addition to what I mentioned above, it has the potential to make us less knowledgeable and worldly at a time the rest of the planet is becoming more so. So we lose our leadership, our connections to the rest of the world, and we end up in a vulnerable global position. When you are only 4% of the world's population, you have to remain relevant and it's probably best not to be relevant for your xenophobia. We lose our diversity. And, what I consider pretty damning, we lose that spark that lights up in the eyes of people looking for a better life, because they cannot find it here anymore. That's not "making America great again" to me.

And that's just changing immigration. All the changes I mentioned on both sides of the fence have foreseeable consequences if you stop to think them all the way through...consequences that could change stuff you may even value more. But most won't stop to think them through, nor will they be able to think them through objectively. And if you don't believe me, think about the political conversations you've had lately with people whose ideas differ from yours. They can't stop to see your side and consider the validity of your side and let it sink in, nor are you, perhaps, able to do the same. If the conversations are frustrating to you at all, that means you can't do the same. All of these matters are highly complex considerations that go beyond "smart" and "stupid" ideas. So if you're seeing them in black and white, you're not seeing them objectively.

This past week our representatives showed us that, in some ways, our structure isn't so much broken as ill utilized. Things like filibusters and sit ins give voice to the people even if our representatives refuse to honor that voice. They make our politicians accountable in ways they are usually able to avoid. So we do have ways to work more effectively within the systems in place now. And their entire jobs there are (supposed to be) about progress and moving our country forward. They vote on new ideas every day. What they don't do is accurately represent the voices of the majority of the US while doing it. And yes, that's a problem. But it's a problem we can fix without restructuring big parts of who we are.

Will it be fixed? Probably not...not if we leave it up to our leadership. Will it be fixed by making wide, sweeping changes? Probably not, because every solution has inherent flaws when you're serving a populace of 300M individuals who feel differently about things. America is broken, no doubt. But it's not broken in the ways we think.

Our own individual inabilities to bend or even consider other views is the brokest part of the US. Because of that, we don't even understand the truth of what's going on around us, we only understand our own biased perspective. So we make ill-informed decisions. (Ask the British about that in the wake of Brexit.) Another big issue is our tolerance for representatives that represent private interests and not the people. We can only legitimately complain about how awfully our country is run when we recognize WE hold the reigns of this country and we exercise the power that comes with that. But instead, we sit on our sofas with a bowl of Cheetoes, complain, formulate the views that occur to us, dig in our heels, refuse to listen to the other side and continue to fuel the flames of discord and inaction. We have become complacent and complicit in our misery.

Because of that, I have made a concerted effort to listen beyond the sound bites of my (all-time) least favorite candidate which, no surprise, is Donald Trump. It's not all racism and hate. He has legitimate things to say about what's wrong in our country. The smart things he says don't really make the news. And for every smart thing he says, he says a couple of truly idiotic things. And I believe he's Politifact's all-time most untruthful candidate with less than 10% of the checkable "facts" he states being true or mostly true. But he does have some legitimate, interesting things to say that are worth consideration. I still believe he's a con man who will ruin our nation, but now I understand the people voting for him in a different way and I'm more educated on what America wants, and not just what I want.

I have done the same with the Bernie Sanders supporters, because some of their views are just as curious to me, albeit for different reasons. From my point of view, I would never vote for anyone who stirs up such supercharged blind passion in their supporters as Trump and Sanders. It's a turn off for me, even if I like some of the things they say. The violence at rallies, the rabid obsession, the ways it brings out peoples' dark sides—on both sides—is toxic.

Anyway, I don't think things are so broke as to take the radical measures that those on the far left and far right propose. I think those new measures are going to end up like the new washer. And, both literally and figuratively, I'm not someone who upgrades to new model just because one is available on the marketplace. That kind of thinking, from marriages to consumer goods, is a big place where our country is horribly sick in the head. It is a privileged mindset that is resented by others in the world.

Personally, there are parts of me that really miss things like the sound of a dusty record, being away from phones when I'm out of the office, reading things in cursive hand, and people who are present when you're talking to them instead of glancing at their devices. Progress has brought a lot into our lives and it has also taken a lot away. We continually move toward newer and better as a natural course of life as it is, without having to force it prematurely upon those who don't want it.

It's clear our nation wants and needs change. But right now I think we're throwing ideals at the wall to see what sticks. I don't think we're ready for that change because we want such different things, refuse to listen to each other and haven't thought things through enough to make adult decisions that consider what's truly best for our country, instead of just ourselves. We are a country divided. Both sides have legitimate arguments as to why their way is the "the American way". Both sides are passionate. Both sides are both right and complete idiots, depending on who you talk to.

Sometimes it's hard to see the real issue, even when it's right in front of your eyes. We—you and I—are our own worst enemies. We are the reason our politicians under-perform. We are the reason changes don't get made. We are what's blocking natural, evolutionary progress, not to mention the meaningful progress so many want. I am neither an organizer nor passionate about anything in particular (outside of the gun debate,) so I'm not the answer...haha. I'm actually ok with many of the ways we're broken right now, because I prefer them to what I believe will be the new problems that emerge if we make big changes.

But change doesn't happen just because you whine about how broken and "unfair" things are. You want to beat the NRA? Become as organized as they are. Or, like in an article I saw this week aimed at LGBTQs suggested, join the NRA and change it from within with your member votes. Split their agenda. Cause discord. Fight as dirty as they do. The beautiful thing about this country is that we have the power to do stuff like that, and under the current ways of doing things.

But I'm just not for turning America into Canada (or North Korea) in order to make it great again. We are great because, for now, we're still the land of opportunity. We're great because we're allowed to have this conversation out loud. We're great because we're diverse in our colors, origins, religion, attitudes and beliefs. We're great because we have a wonderful lifestyle, good education and are relatively "safe" within the world, despite all the homegrown violence we face.

And when we forget all the things we're truly proud of, that's when we're not so great. That's when we end up as we are now, believing we're broken, bickering over everything and solving nothing. In fact, we're like a profoundly unhappy couple who airs all our dirty laundry publicly and on social media. We've lost our pride in what made us great in the first place. We've lost our self respect. And we're embarrassing ourselves in the process.

Think back to a time when you thought America was great. At that time, we were less informed about what was going on in our government. We were more trusting of our government. We understood you don't get everything you want. We spoke to our neighbors and had actual face-to-face conversations with each other. The news we got was largely objective and not partisan. We had fewer outside threats, despite immigration laws. We were more cooperative, polite and respectful. We didn't draw lines in the sand. There were no memes proliferating lies disguised as fact. As individuals, we were less violent. We were different. (On the other hand, many Americans didn't have equal rights, like women, blacks and gays. So how "great" was that for them?)

The truth is, this isn't all the government's fault. When they refuse to get along, they are just reflecting the attitudes of Americans as a whole. WE don't get along. So the blame lies on our shoulders, on the shoulders of global intercommunication and travel, on the shoulders of progress itself and, sure on the government (and many other things.) But it won't get fixed until we fix ourselves. And some elements, like globalization, can't and shouldn't be fixed. So we have to learn to accommodate progress without losing our humanity. Because progress has been slowly chipping away at it, especially in the digital age, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Normally I try to avoid politics and I tried to stay away from this campaign, too. But alas, I let buttons get pushed and I have caught some passion myself...I'm passionate about stopping all the whining for one...haha. And I'm no doubt a contributor to that from time to time, I'll admit. I'm afraid of what will happen if Trump becomes president and I know I'm in the majority on that score. And when you see Great Britain with a good deal of buyer's remorse over Brexit because they believed a liar and didn't even understand the implications of what they were voting on, it worries me we'll end up in the same place.

So, for my part, I've made a point to speak out more this year, instead of just be silent. The thing about Trump and the NRA (for example) is that they don't sit quietly waiting for us to pay attention their POV. They inundate us with it from every angle. They train advocates to take up their cause in social media. They indoctrinate their followers to "fight the good fight". It amazed me that Hillary won the primary, because my Facebook feed certainly didn't have anyone speaking her praises like the other candidates had. But then, the others were as successful as they were because they were so vocal. So I'm speaking out.

And another thing I've done was look at that which I find so ugly, in order to understand the needs of those who support Trump (and, to a certain degree, those who support/ed Sanders) so absolutely. That tack has not changed my vote or what I want for the country. That's not the point. It has given me an understanding of the different things people define as "great" and it has alerted me to weaknesses I hadn't considered in my own thinking before. Maybe because of that, my involvement in creating meaningful change will grow and I'll contribute more to the harmonious US I'd like to see.

So, instead of just complaining about what's wrong with America, what do you think is right and precious? And do the changes you propose impact those things in any negative way when you think it through from all angles? Have you researched the complaints and concerns of those in countries that have instituted similar changes? Are you willing to pay more taxes to fund your changes? And the biggest question, are you willing to open your mind wide enough to see where your thinking may be flawed? Before we can move America forward, we have to move Americans forward.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

6/20/16—Sharing Five Things About Happiness

Here's an odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Because tonight I'm really tired. And instead of writing a brand new post from scratch, I'm going to share a classic one from two years ago with you—Five Things To Know About Happiness. 

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're happy and it stays that way. We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Happiness is a Choice. In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those can be improved improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is. And since I promised you only five things...

3a. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on or tell someone you're having a good day, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash. Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

5. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Monday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer.