Enough Fighting! The Solution: Start From Common Ground

It seems like nowadays, there’s constant conflict with no end in sight between groups with opposing ideologies. “I’m right, you’re wrong” conversations based on judgment have overshadowed actual conversations focused on solutions, and enough is enough!
Instead of telling all of you fierce Democratic debaters and Republican retaliators that you’re wrong for your behavior, I’m here to present a solution.
In order to get anything done, it’s important to begin from a common origin – common ground, if you will – and the common ground is an issue I think we can all agree on: ambrosia salads need to be banished.
Forgotten.
Exiled to the annals of history.
And then those annals need to be burned.
If you disagree, you’re what’s wrong with the world today.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and for some reason, we all have a distant relative who decides it’s a great idea to bring a bowl of fruit, marshmallows, and some sort of creamy, disgusting, dairy-based mixture to keep the party going.
This is why you’re a distant relative, Aunt Patty!
Really, have you ever been to a holiday potluck and thought, “Thank god someone brought the ambrosia!”? You haven’t!
It’s one of those foods that’s there, but you only take one tiny scoop so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Then people act surprised when there’s so much left over, and they try to pawn it off on everyone else.
“Take some home! There’s so much left over!”
There’s a reason: it looks like the after photo of what happens in a garbage disposal!

First of all, the name sounds like a skin condition – “Stop scratching! You’re making your ambrosia worse!” – but is actually more arrogant in origin.
It references the food of the Greek gods.
Point me to the immortal being who orders the ambrosia, because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.
Your ass is banished from Mount Olympus!

Ambrosia salad is what you make when you’re broke and all you have left is Del Monte fruit cocktail, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and the pecans you found in the back of the cupboard from last year’s Thanksgiving.
If I were starving to death and you offered me ambrosia, I’d take a heaping spoonful of death.
How this dish keeps appearing on tables at holiday gatherings is beyond me.
When my mom makes sweet potatoes, people ask her to make it again the next year.
When someone makes ambrosia salad, people ask them to never come back:
“Maybe go spend next year with the other side of the family.”
But alas, they’re back, and with a fresh bowl of vomit, completely ignoring the explicit context clue that no one even touched their heaping bowl of why white people need to check themselves last year.
Yet, there they are.
“Guess what I broooooought! Everyone’s favorite!”
This needs to end.
Now.
Democrats!
Republicans!
Heed my words: ambrosia salads need banned, and that’s something you can all reach across the aisle about.
If President Trump tweeted his disdain for the dish, it would be his most liked and least controversial tweet EVER.

I’m not saying that banning ambrosia salad is going to unite all sides on all issues, but starting from common ground and working towards solving other, more controversial issues is much more productive than starting from dissenting points of view.
If we admit that we share a perspective with even our most fervent of detractors, the stereotypes that come to mind when we think of our rivals dissipate, and we see the human behind the label.
Unless the human likes ambrosia salad, in which case I hope they get struck by lightning. Twice for good measure. Because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

Creating Trumps Complaining

Guess what!?

I just got a new Macbook Pro, and boy oh boy does it feel like I’m holding the future in my hands. I mean, it’s half the size of my old computer, twice as fast, and it has Siri!!! I can finally talk to my computer! Goodbye online dating, hello Abigail!

That’s what I named her. And yes, it’s a she.

But I didn’t come on here to brag about my sexy new computer (rawr).

I came to complain about my clunky old computer, Tabitha (booooo).

I got Tabitha for Christmas in 2011, and for a nearly six-year-old Macbook, which is like 80 in people years. Up until lately, Tabitha has served me well, but all good things must come to an end.

For example, at a presentation to for an HR group in Jersey City, Tabitha decided to just flat out not work. I set everything up as usual, was geared up to start my presentation, and when I hit “begin slideshow” in PowerPoint, Tabitha thought it would be fun to play with a beachball (if you have a PC, it would’ve been an hourglass). That’s right. No matter what buttons I pressed, she simply refused to work and I was forced to give my presentation without any of the visual aids that I depend on to communicate each point to the audience.

A couple of weeks ago, I was putting together a last minute presentation with ten new slides, and PowerPoint crashed just before I saved the changes. This was at about 2 AM and I was slated to speak at 8. Want to know what stress feels like? Have you ever wanted to burn your own house down just to destroy your computer? No? Cool, because that thought ran through my mind, and I wouldn’t recommend it on a list of “Top 5 things to do on a first date.” I rebooted, begrudgingly redid the presentation until almost 6 AM, and gave the talk, but man was I wiped out.

Last week, I gave a customized, one-time-only talk to a library staff and, learning from my mistake of not saving frequently on the last presentation, I made sure to save with the frequency of a heartbeat. That is, until I got cocky working on the last slide. If you’ve ever seen one of my slideshows, you know I use eccentric animations, downloaded fonts, and detailed photoshopping. This final slide was the most detailed and active slide of the entire presentation, and took an hour to finish. “This is it!” I thought as I clicked the “Save” icon. I leaned back in my chair watching the beach ball appear on my screen, but it never went away. “Did it register that I saved?” I began to panic. I hit the command, option, escape keys in sequence to force PowerPoint to close, but nothing happened. In fact, the beach ball stopped spinning altogether, so I was forced to resort to drastic measures and turn my computer off completely. After rebooting, Tabitha answered my earlier question: it did not register that I had saved. I had 3 hours to get to the presentation located 2 hours away, so I had to do away with that slide and cut a five-minute bit out of my talk.

Each time Tabitha failed me, in the moment, I wanted to destroy her. I wanted to take her charred remains to Apple headquarters and scream, “Look what you made me do!!!” but I didn’t. After some deep breathing and meditation, I rerouted my thought process to, “What do I want to happen and what can I do to make that happen?” I didn’t scream and curse at Tabitha, demanding she work how I wanted her to work. I didn’t tweet and complain on social media, trying to get other people with computer problems to take my side. I didn’t hold a protest outside of the nearest Apple Store. All I did was ask myself “How can I take control of my results here?” and took action.

Now let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Well that took a turn.

Trump is a president whose leadership style runs contrary to everything I study, believe, and speak about. Though I don’t support his behavior, I still want him to be a successful president and make the world a better place, so I choose not to get frustrated every time he does something. Today, I noticed that congressional Democrats are working to impeach him, every day my social media is riddled with posts denouncing basically everything he does, and the media, from news commentators, to other politicians, to comedians are ridiculing his every move. Now imagine Trump as Tabitha, my old computer. If, instead of getting a new computer, I spent my time and energy shitting on my old one because she wasn’t behaving how I wanted her to behave, would I be working for or against my own interests?

But this isn’t just about Trump…

This is about Congress, your state and local leaders, the leadership at your company or organization, and even family members. If they aren’t taking the actions and producing the results you want, figure out how you can take those actions and produce those results yourself. You can’t expect to destroy your old computer and have that be the solution to the problem without getting a newer and better one. I agree, it feels great to take your anger out, but how much better will it feel when you take positive action to make a difference? The Republicans’ strategy from 2009-2017 was to actively work against Obama, but did that help them achieve their goals and make the world a better place? Their destructive take on political strategy has led to little creation and even more division. Now the Democrats are making the same mistake, and following the examples set by our leaders, so are many people across the country.

Instead of complaining, start creating.

For example, if you’re pissed that Trump is rolling back environmental regulations, find a way to make an impact at your company or in your community by working together with other people who believe in your cause to ensure you live and work in a clean environment. Get a job with an organization focused on creating a cleaner, greener world. Complaining and trashing your old computer isn’t going to get you a new one, but figuring out how to get a new one, then going out and doing it is. Ask yourself:

“What can I do to make the world, my community, my company, or my home a better place?” and instead of focusing on destroying the old way, make a list of actions you can take, and create something new and better. Change always begins with the people, but if we’re so focused on destroying our old computer, how can we expect to come together to get a new one?

Education: How to Make the World a Better Place

Want to make the world a better place than when you found it? Make the people around you better than they were when you found them.

We can spend years discussing the merits of gun laws, higher taxes for certain people, lower taxes for certain people, term limits, universal healthcare, equality, everyone gets a million dollars, etc. Actually, we have spent years discussing and debating these things, and the world is improving, but I’d like to take a moment to bring a new idea to the table so it can improve even more: education.

This isn’t exactly a new idea – we’ve known the education system has needed help for awhile, we just keep putting it on the back burner so we can argue about what someone shared in an email. As the world changes and continues to get faster and faster, we have a need to become people who can live and thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Meanwhile, our education system is stuck debating whether it’s okay to say a three-letter g-word in classrooms, and its ultimate end product is employees who adhere to this antiquated system.

This has nothing to do with building better schools, free college, or school choice.

This is about making our kids better people than we were. Because they have to make the world better than it was when they got here, they can’t do it with the same ideas we had. We have a responsibility to teach people how to make our ideas better, how to make other people better, and as a result, how to make our world better. Can we say with honesty that our curriculum inspires this attitude? How we contribute to the world hinges on what we learn as children and, now that we’re adults, how we teach our children. How are we teaching our children to treat others? To treat themselves? Is it making the world a better place?

What if you had learned in preschool that other people are different than you, and that these differences are what bring us together? Conflict originates from the belief that it is our differences that separate us when, in fact, they are what make us better. As kids, we didn’t understand why other people had their own motives and were never taught how. To learn how to navigate this world, we absorbed the beliefs of our parents, friends, and teachers, but we never learn how to improve upon them.

What if this class existed? Something called, I don’t know, “World Betterment 101” (I’m open to new names) where kids learn to:

  • accept and appreciate the points of view and beliefs of others
  • work together as a team to complete projects (sharing and being open to ideas, communicating through listening, and supporting one another)
  • use their strengths to better their weaknesses
  • understand the importance of failure, rejection, and mistakes and how to use them as opportunities to grow
  • focus on the gratitude for what they have and for what they have the potential to create
  • forgive
  • treat, not only others, but their surroundings and possessions as if we are them
  • have faith in possibilities, even when solutions seem impossible
  • get excited to expand your mind to new ideas

Learning the alphabet, colors, numbers, and shapes may be kind of a big deal, but learning to work together and make the world better is even more important. Think about how different your life would be if you had this educational backbone?

I just had another idea: change how we see teachers.

Any time we have a thought about someone or something, certain pictures come into our conscious minds that elicit feelings. What are the first thoughts and feelings that enter your mind when I say the word “hangover?” “Congratulations?” “Relationship?”

According to Miriam Webster, the definition of “teacher” is “one that teaches,” but a teacher does so much more than just teach, they’re tasked with being a dynamic influence on the futures of many people. When you hear the word “teacher,” what do you think? For me: authority figure, disciplinarian, tutor, school, homework, educator, and “Listen to me, David!!!” come to mind. For many students, especially those who can’t stand school, the word “teacher” carries a negative connotation. To my teacher friends, “teacher” means: underpaid, under appreciated, overworked, patience, work, school, sacrifice, stressful, and rigid, but also inspiration, understanding, leader, and mentor.

Speaking of the word “mentor,” according to Miriam Webster, the definition of “mentor” is “an experienced and trusted adviser.”

When I hear the word “mentor,” I think of someone who guides, inspires, and pushes me to be a better me. When it came to my teacher friends, they thought of guide, wants to make a difference, wisdom, teacher, role model, leader friend, confidant,

Though changing the title of “teacher” to “mentor,” may not overhaul people’s perceptions of education, it will help. The term “teacher” also serves as an abstraction that de-humanizes them and serves as a barrier in building relationships. Who do you think you would have a stronger relationship with, a teacher or a mentor? When I think of the dozens of people who have had a huge influence on my life, only five of them are teachers.

What if students saw their teachers as experienced and trusted advisers? How would they treat them? What if teachers saw themselves in the same way? If you were a mentor to your students, how would you approach your work differently? What if the government saw teachers as mentors instead, would, say, standardized tests be as important as they are now, does individual growth become more important?

Keep in mind, these are just ideas from one perspective. I’m no expert by any means, but I did stay in a- Nope! Not going to say it. I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, and am therefore not an expert on staying in Holiday Inn Expresses!

Sorry about that. Sometimes I think on my keyboard… Back to what I was saying.

I’m no expert on education by any means, but I think it’s time to start thinking of ideas for solutions that move us forward from getting mired in the problem. For change to occur, new perspectives are needed. That’s all I want to provide here. The world needs new ideas, and ideas are created by people like me and you. As they say, “Ideas are what built IKEAs, but ideas can also build better futures.”

(How many times can I write the word “idea” in one blog post?)

How do you think the ideas I presented would improve people? (People = the end product of our education system) What long-term problems can be solved if we learned concepts like empathy, appreciation, and creativity at a young age? What else do you think children could learn so they live a life that revolves around making the world better? If I were to call you a mentor, what do you picture yourself doing to earn that title? What ideas do you have that create a better world for yourself and those around you?

TED is a rabbit hole of useful information. Feel free to get lost in the ideas of these dynamic thinkers, working to make the educational system a better place. Trust me, it’s much more illuminating than falling into the Infinite Facebook Abyss:

“Never stop asking questions because the world is going to keep needing answers.” – Someone who answered the question “When do I stop asking questions?”

“Because without questions, there are no answers.” – The person who asked “When do I stop asking questions?” to his Motivational Quotes 101 professor following his response.

Okay, how many times did I use the word “ideas?”

What the Cavs Championship Taught Me About People

Sports!

Just mindless idiots trying to put a sphere into a circle while the other mindless idiots wearing a different colored shirt are all like, “I don’t want you to put that in there,” while thousands of mindless idiots watching are all screaming “We want you to put that in there!” Right?

Not so fast.

I grew up watching, playing, and getting emotionally invested in sports. I’ve always loved sports, but I’ve recently expanded my perspective of them and grown a bit more distant.

“What’s the point? It’s not like you have any control over what happens.”

Maybe not, but if this is your worldview on sports, you may want to take a step back and reconsider your perspective. It’s not the athletes, gameplans, deals, performance, or even the sport itself that’s so important; it’s the group mentality in pursuit of one thing: a championship.

When the Cavs won, thousands of people took to the streets of Cleveland in celebration, hugging, high fiving, chanting, and screaming with joy in the face of complete strangers without getting punched in the face. Being a witness to this completely shifted my perspective. We can learn something here that has a further reach than any sports championship could ever reach:

Togetherness.

When people have a common goal and believe in the achievement of that goal, they come together. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a combined effort from the team itself, the coaching staff, front office, trainers and equipment managers, and ownership to reach their collective goal. As for the fans, while only a few thousand could cheer their team on in the arena, the rest took to the internet, packed local bars, or sat around their TVs, sending their positive energy in hope of reaching this collective goal. When the goal was achieved, there was such a sense of joy, love, excitement, and positive energy, that people who would never associate with one another were high fiving and hugging in celebration. Then, a few days later, over one million people packed the streets of Cleveland to share their appreciation for the team.

Looking down on the celebration in the streets after the game from a rooftop bar, I couldn’t help but think: “What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating positive solutions to other problems? What if companies came together as one cohesive unit to solve financial issues, rather than just the board making cuts?” (Although a celebratory parade might be a bit extreme: “Come join us for the Hazen, Hazen, & Hazen-Hazen Law Firm Victory Parade for the New Break Room Soda Machine!”) A collective mindset is more likely to create a collective solution. Whether it’s in the workplace, with family or friends, or even with the government.

“What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating a better life for each of us?” Looking at the major issues facing the world with this upcoming election, what if we looked at issues like immigration, not as Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims, Latinos, or even Americans; but as fans of living peacefully. That’s what we all want. It’s our NBA Championship; our collective goal.

If so many people from different walks of life can descend upon a city in pursuit of the common goal of a sports championship, what can we do to come together in pursuit of the common goal of a higher quality standard of living?

What if we looked, not at our differences, but at our similarities, and embraced those?

People would be high fiving, hugging, and sharing their joy with strangers. Sports has nothing to do with mindless idiots. Quite the contrary, in fact. It’s a microcosm of life and what happens when people come together in pursuit of a common goal.

 

Yeah, But What DO You Want?

“What kind of salad dressing does everyone want?” Asks James as the salad bowl makes its rounds around the table.

You and a group of your friends have gathered for a weekend dinner. A smorgasbord of food packs the middle of the large rectangular table, from brisket and mashed potatoes, to brussels sprouts and bottles of wine. The aroma of garlic, onion, herbs and spices fills your nose. Put simply, this dinner is about to be legit.

“Do you have Hidden Valley ranch?” Responds Melissa inquisitively.

“Yeah, would you like it?”

“Ew, no way!” Melissa shoots back with a disgusted look on her face.

“Okay, what would you like instead? I have balsamic, caesar, raspberry vinaigrette, or sesame ginger.”

“Not Hidden Valley ranch!”

“Yeah, I got that. But what other dressing do you want?” His arm tiring, he sets the bowl down on the table.

“How can you even have Hidden Valley ranch? I thought my friends were better than that.”

Not sure if Melissa is being serious, James smiles to test the waters. Melissa’s face remains firmly entrenched in a scowl.

“I… I mean, I don’t use it that often. Mostly for dinners like this when I have guests over.”

“Who in the world likes that stuff??”

Sara raises her hand from the other side of the table, “I like it.”

“Well you’re an idiot for liking it and you’re an idiot for even having it.” Melissa rises to her feet. “Do you know how many GMOs are in there?? You’re basically killing yourselves, and when you do, I’m not coming to your funerals!”

“This balsamic vinaigrette is homemade and organic. Take your pick.”

“You’re so naive – all of you! What if someone who works for Hidden Valley ranch infiltrated your house and contaminated your dressing? It happened with e.coli at Chipotle, and it’s going to happen again with you!”

With that, Melissa spikes her cloth napkin onto the table and storms out of the room leaving everyone dumbfounded.

“Could somebody pass the ranch?”

When someone asks you if you want to go bowling or to the zoo, you don’t rip on going bowling if you don’t like bowling. You simply say, “Let’s go to the zoo,” because you like more things about the zoo, and, out of the two choices, that’s the one you prefer. By making this choice, you just made progress. Good job!

Which brings us to this presidential election, which has been incredibly amusing because I’ve noticed the “Not Hidden Valley Ranch” mindset over and over. Understandably, we all have candidates that we don’t like, but if all we focus on is not wanting that candidate to be president, it takes the focus away from what we do want instead. At a recent Donald Trump rally in Wisconsin, protests formed outside of the venue, mostly of people hating on Donald Trump’s hateful message. If you hate Donald Trump because he’s a hater, all you’re doing is drawing focus onto the hate, generating more hate, and making the situation more hatey. Case in point: one of these protesters was pepper sprayed by a Trump supporter, and, unless you’re part of a really weird family, you don’t pepper spray people you like. At the same rally, a man went around offering free hugs with the message “Make America love again.” Although Trump’s supporters weren’t feeling very huggy, this is a much more powerful message than one that is anti-Trump.

Love is the opposite of hate, and if we don’t want hate, let’s stop focusing on being anti-hate, and focus more on being pro-love.

Homemade balsamic vinaigrette is the opposite of Hidden Valley Ranch, and if we don’t want Hidden Valley Ranch, let’s stop focusing on being anti-Hidden Valley Ranch, and focus on being more pro-homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

The more we focus on the negatives of the presidential candidates we don’t want, the less we focus on the positives of our own.

If you don’t like Trump, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hillary, stop focusing on what you don’t like about her and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Cruz, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Bernie, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Kasich, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hidden Valley ranch, stop focusing on what you don’t like about it and eat another salad dressing. If not, you’re just holding up dinner for everyone else.

Vote for a Leader: What to Look for When Picking the President

Vote for Donald Trump.

Kidding.

Unless, of course, you believe he exhibits more of the qualities I’m about to list than any of the other candidates. These qualities of what makes a great leader were inspired by Think and Grow Rich, the benchmark personal development book by Napoleon Hill about what makes a great leader. Over time, we have learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership. Those who abide by these principles have, time and time again, proven to be strong leaders who inspire others to be the same.

Why am I writing this? Because, as someone who needs life-saving brain surgery once said, “We need a strong leader as president like I need a hole in my head.”

Translation:

More important than party affiliation, policy on immigration, or hand size is the ability to inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal. In the case of elected officials, their objective is to provide the environment to foster this pursuit. But what is the common goal? Some would say success, but I believe a fuller term is “fulfillment.” This includes having basic needs met, happiness, engagement in work, finding meaning, pursuing and accomplishing goals and reaping the benefits, and strong personal relationships. Positive psychologists agree that when we meet these benchmarks, we are, indeed, living full and fulfilling lives. Beyond wealth, success, or even happiness is a need for fulfillment. This is what we’re all here for and it’s the common goal of all, but we must remember that it’s not our elected officials’ responsibility to provide fulfillment for us. Fulfillment is created from within, but it is up to our leaders to cultivate an environment that inspires us to pursue this. Our leaders, specifically the president, must, through his or her words and actions, set an example for us to follow. When asked about the direction of this presidential campaign, actor Kevin Spacey said, “I happen to believe that we get what we deserve,” and he is so right. Just read the comment sections of any video, social media post, or article, and chances are people are arguing. Not only are they arguing, they’re hurling hateful insults and making demeaning accusations at one another. People are going to have different perspectives. To respect this fact gives us the opportunity to move forward. To deny it and try to force our own beliefs on others through hateful and bigoted language only denies this progress. What we need is unity in pursuit of individual and community fulfillment. What we actually have is divisiveness in pursuit of fulfillment. That’s why we need a true, strong leader who brings people together. That’s why I’m writing this.

What to Look for When Voting

Do they inspire togetherness? – This includes the setting aside of labels like Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, black or white, etc. in the pursuit of the common good. How can unity be achieved when people are categorizing themselves into opposing categories? A leader must be clear that we are all in the same boat – all of us are human beings in pursuit of personal fulfillment – these labels do nothing but cause us to trip over each other. Does your candidate attempt to pick apart the position of other candidates or do they focus, instead on their vision for leadership? To bring people together, we must be willing to accept and respect the fact that others have different perspectives because, as I mentioned earlier, we all want the same thing, we just have different ways of getting there. A running back stealing the ball away from his team’s quarterback to try to score himself just stalls progress and may cost his team the victory. If the quarterback throws a touchdown pass instead, the team still scores, just in a different way than how the running back would score. There are no labels; only people in pursuit of the same thing: fulfillment.

Do they have a clear and definite vision? – This includes a vision for their own course to follow that lifts others as well as themselves. Are there well-constructed goals and plans? Is there passion and belief in the achievement of these goals? Is this a vision that promotes inspiration in others? Does the leader strive after short-term goals, have a long-term vision, or both? Does the vision involve creating solutions rather than just doing away with problems? If we have a clear, definite vision, we are more definite and intentional with our decision-making because we know where we are going. Believe it or not, a great leader knows what direction they’re headed.

Do they own their shortcomings and mistakes? Do they actively learn and grow from them? Do they blame, complain, and make excuses or do they take action based on what they have been dealt? – Nothing defines a leader more than the ability to accept responsibility for mistakes, even if they weren’t solely responsible. This may be the most important leadership quality because, when we accept responsibility, it means we are in control of our own life. If we blame, complain, or make excuses, we are forfeiting this control and giving it to someone or something else. Sure, the media has its biases, maybe the last president left you with a mess, or Congress is being Congress and reading Green Eggs and Ham instead of leading, but a strong leader can step back and say, “This is the hand I’ve been dealt. Maybe I haven’t made the best choices so far, but it’s what I do with it now that determines what I get.”

Do they have a history of overcoming obstacles, doubts, and fears or do they cow-tow to the desires and wishes of others? – There will be roadblocks, obstacles, detours, and detractors. If a leader has belief in their vision, these are a necessary part of achieving it. If these deterrers cause the person to abandon their vision due to difficulty, they are no longer qualified to be considered a leader. Strategy and actions may change, but as long as the vision and goal remain the same in the face of resistance, they are most definitely a leader.

In the face of opposition and difficulty, do they exhibit self-control? – Leaders must be an example, so when difficulty arises, they must manage their temper, not be careless, and choose wise words. When they fail to do these things, do they sincerely apologize and promise to be better? Just like a parent with a small child, leaders must mind their behavior in front of their constituents.

Do they have a sense of justice? – When power and intimidation are used to rule, it has always backfired throughout history. Those who attain power through spreading fear, intimidation, and violence have always faced a downfall even greater than their rise to power. If you were the boss of a company and you inspired your staff to come to work so that they were genuinely excited to add to your vision, wouldn’t that be more fulfilling than threatening them to do their jobs? Does the leader put himself in the shoes of his constituents to consider the morality of his actions? If not, things can spiral downhill, and quickly.

Does their life, personal and professional, revolve around growth and opportunity or do they continually make the same mistakes? – Evolution is the key to the expansion of life, from an entire species down to the individual. Has the candidate shown growth after making mistakes or do they continually respond in the same way when they are faced with the same or similar situations? Do they view roadblocks as permanent or as opportunities to find a better way to create solutions? We aren’t the same people we were 20, 10, 5, or even 1 year ago because we learn from our experiences. We grow the most when we consider obstacles as opportunities. Is that what your preferred candidate does?

Do they go the extra mile to serve others before they serve themselves? – Going the extra mile to serve is actually an investment. Human beings are biologically wired to reciprocate, so when others go out of their way to serve us, it inspires us to go out of our way to serve others. Great leaders inspire, and they do so by going the extra mile.

Do they have a pleasing personality? – This doesn’t just mean that they’re “nice,” this means that they give other people attention, no matter if they agree with them or not. This means they don’t talk negatively about others. This means that they are honest and genuine. This means that they forgive others for their wrongdoings. This means that they are willing to see the world through the eyes of those with another point of view, or who are less fortunate, rather than just dismissing them. This means considering and being appreciative of the feedback given by others. This means that they tip at least 20% when going out to eat. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t mandatory, but it’s still important to consider how they treat the people that can’t give them much.

Are they willing to cooperate with others? – We are far more effective problem-solvers when we have a willingness to consider the positions of others. When we only consider our views or the views of those who agree with us, we only see a limited amount of the full picture. When we consider all ideas, the whole picture becomes much clearer. Cooperation also means that, when the goal is met, the leader gives his appreciation to all of those he worked with, rather than taking sole responsibility.

Do they surround themselves with other leaders who focus on serving others? – We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Don’t you want your leader to surround themselves with other leaders?

Do they inspire others to be leaders as well? – What good is being a leader when you can’t inspire others to learn from you? What I mean by inspiring other leaders doesn’t necessarily mean inspiring them to take on a leadership role. I mean that they are inspired to exhibit these qualities in their own lives, no matter what job they have or role they play.

To be a leader is to live with purpose, conviction, a service-oriented attitude, and to inspire others to do the same. To lead is to live a life of fulfillment. Don’t you think we should have a president that does the same?

 

 

Perception of Problems Prevents Political Progress

Note: my purpose for writing these politically motivated blog posts is not to claim that my perception is the absolute truth, but to present another perception of reality that politicians, the media, and political experts ignore. All I want is for you, the reader, to take a step back and consider another point of view because, in reality, there is no absolute truth, only matters of perception.

The perception of problems prevents political progress.

Not because of the fact that they’re problems – they’re actually not problems at all – but because they are labeled and perceived as problems. Problems are often viewed as obstacles that prevent progress and are, seemingly, outside of our control. However, the only thing that ensures that problems remain problems is our interpretation of them as problems. Have you ever seen a movie that you hated? You could probably name 25 reasons you didn’t like it and not one reason why it was good. Meanwhile, your friend loved the movie and can’t understand why you hate it. When we label something as good, bad, something we love, something we hate, a problem, or an opportunity, we are commanding our brains to only look for supporting facts that prove us right. Then it becomes increasingly difficult to see the other side of the coin. In politics, the problem with seeing something as a problem, and not an opportunity, means the next action taken will be to eliminate the problem. The problem with problems is that preventing or eliminating them, doesn’t create a solution. When you want to lose weight, you don’t just stop eating crappy food; you have to replace that with healthy food (because you should probably keep eating something). Instead of wanting to lose weight, doesn’t it sound better if you instead want to weigh a specific weight, look great naked, and feel healthy and full of energy? These goals are more powerful motivators than simply getting rid of your old eating habits.

If you have a leaky pipe, that’s a problem. If you curse the pipe and throw your phone over your damned luck, you’re just angry and the problem is still a problem. If you cover the leak with duct tape or place a bucket beneath it to catch the falling water, that’s a temporary fix, however, the problem is still there and can even grow in size. If you simply get rid of the pipe, the leak turns into an explosion of water. If you go into other people’s homes and burst their pipes, that doesn’t fix your pipe situations .If you get rid of the pipe AND THEN get a new pipe, the problem has suddenly transformed into a solution.

That’s the key: perceiving problems as opportunities for solutions.

The first step to turning problems into solutions is to identify the problem as something that needs fixed. That’s it. That’s the end of the situation being a problem; it’s now an opportunity for a solution. If a problem stays a problem, it actually limits the number of solution options we perceive because we’re so focused on said problem, that we miss out on the opportunities outside of that tunnel vision to solve it.

But how can this be applied to politics?

In the words of immortal rapper Mac Dre: err thang (translation: everything).

Is poverty a problem?

You bet.

Is poverty a problem?

Didn’t you just ask me that? Yes.

Is poverty a problem?

YES

Is poverty a problem?

Is this a test of patience? Because I’m not going to pass if you ask me that question again.

Thank y-

Is poverty a problem?

(Throat punch)

Of course poverty is a problem, however continuing to view it as a problem perpetuates the problem and makes it sooooo much harder to create a viable solution. By continuing to look at poverty as a problem, policies are passed, such as the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which was intended to dramatically lower the country’s poverty rate. Since that act passed over 50 years ago, the poverty rate has decreased from 17.3% to 14.5%. The National Center for Policy Analysis has concluded that the “War on Poverty” has cost $22 trillion, more than every American war combined, yet the poverty rate has only been lowered by 2.8%. Maybe in another 50 years (and after another $22 trillion), we can lower the poverty rate to 11.7% and we can put that on bumper stickers (Come to America, where the poverty rate is only 11.7%!).

This act has largely been a failure, not because of the policies put in place, but because of the perception of poverty that has motivated policies such as this. Continuing to perceive poverty as a problem ensures it will remain a problem and one of the frontrunners for the presidency has focused the majority of his campaign on the problem rather than the solution. What if poverty was simply an obstacle that can be overcome in order to achieve wealth, and not an indestructible barrier? The longer we consider poverty a problem and not a solution opportunity, the more permanent it will become.

Hell, look at the War on Terror and the War on Drugs – further proof that focusing policy around eliminating problems is a hindrance more than a help. A friggin’ expensive hindrance.

To be clear: problem-centric thinking will never create solutions, no matter the problem.

What if, instead of attacking problems, we created solutions? Solutions are the opposite of problems, so what is the opposite of a leaky old pipe? Getting rid of the pipe just creates a bigger leak and bursting other pipes does nothing to improve the quality of your pipe, so what is the solution to a leaky pipe? The answer: a perfectly solid, working pipe that no one has to worry about because it’s piping at an optimal level of pipeness. The next time a pipe bursts, you’ll be able to spring into action and create a solution because you’ve trained your mind to focus on the solution instead of the problem.

Back to politics. Hooray!

Pay attention to the next presidential debate: every single solution is going to be centered around eliminating problems. Focusing on eliminating problems will never create solutions unless problems are viewed as opportunities. Poverty will never be eliminated unless wealth is created, no matter how much money is distributed to those living in poverty. Terrorism will never be destroyed until peace is accepted as an agent of change, no matter how many terrorists are killed. Leaks will never be stopped until new pipes are installed, no matter how many pieces of duct tape are applied. Problems will continue to be problems until they are replaced by solutions.

Identify the problem, figure out what the opposite is, and focus on creating that, and not just on eliminating the problem. This is the solution, and the blatant blindness to this fact in our political system is one of the real problems – I mean opportunities for a solution – facing the world today. Living a problem-focused life only created more problems for me, so I have learned to live my life focused on solutions, and it has changed literally everything for me. I have less stress, I take more action and am more productive, and I’ve found a way to make a living conveying this message to live audiences by doing what I love to do. Hardships and obstacles aren’t problems unless you perceive them that way. Likewise, hardships and obstacles won’t be opportunities for solutions until you perceive them that way. Perspective is a choice, and the labels we use determine that choice, which determines our reality. Which choice will you make?