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?

Republicans v. Democrats v. Progress

“I hate all politics. I don’t like either political party. One should not belong to them – one should be an individual, standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.” – Ray Bradbury

“Democrats, what are some things you think of when you think of Republicans?”

“Hunting”

“NASCAR”

“Bible thumpers”

“Racist, homophobic, misogynistic”

“Rich white guys”

“Republicans, what are some things you think of when you think of Democrats?”

“Tree huggers”

“Enablers”

“Bad at money”

“Atheists”

“Hippies”

The previous was an actual exchange in my Political Parties class during my senior year of college, and I’ll never be able to forget it. This day in class served as an eye opener for me because each response was a degradation of another ideology by your future community leaders and policy-makers.

If you identify as Republican, what are some things you think of when you think of Democrats? If you identify as Democrat, what are some things you think of when you think of Republicans? All good things, right?

Imagine a company where half of the board never agreed with the other half. That’s right, they intentionally set out to thwart everything the other half did:

“Yes, I have a proposal to re-allocate 5% of our budget and incrementally increase profits as that money is invested in a more worthwhile venture.”

“No! That’s a terrible idea. How are you going to pay for it? It’s never going to work!”

“If you’d just let me give my presentation-“

“I know that, because you’re in accounting, it’s going to be a disaster! You’re a disgrace to this company!”

“But I put together a proposal with-“

“BOOOOO! NAY! I say NAY!”

Something tells me this company isn’t exactly going to flourish. To make progress, we must be open to new ideas, no matter what department or political party the other person is in, and be willing to ask “What if this guy’s idea could actually work? What can I add that will make it even better?” instead of immediately shooting it down.

Unfortunately, our political system is one comprised of labels, and being labeled as Republican or Democrat means that your ideology must fit within parameters, and parameters limit perspective. Thus, new legislation is often met with the same response as the previously mentioned hypothetical company. The law of the universe states that if it is believed, it is possible. What this means is that if we believe an idea will work, our brains will scour our world for opportunities, pinpoint reasons why the idea will work, and get to work on taking steps to ensure its success. Inversely, the same is true if we believe an idea won’t work. Immediately saying “no” and discrediting an idea only prolongs or destroys the chance for the discovery of a solution. When we work together to search for opportunities to improve upon an idea and work toward a common goal, we create a diverse number of paths to reach that goal. When we’re more focused on our differences, like many policy makers are, reaching that goal becomes more about defeating the other ideology than creating solutions. Imagine if both ideologies were combined to work together instead of used as an excuse to repel each other…

The 2-party system creates an us vs. them mentality; shifting the focus from achieving results to achieving victory over the opposition

If the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers got together this coming Sunday to determine new, creative ways to keep football players safe from head injuries, about sixteen people would tune in. We’re drawn to us vs. them conflict because we like the idea of clear winners and losers. To be able to say “I’m better than you,” has become a need for our programmed egos. While this concept works great in a football game or other sort of competition to determine a winner, it doesn’t exactly foster productivity. With election season in full swing, we’re being bombarded with candidates looking to run the other candidates’ reputations through the mud to prove that “I’m better.” The media, playing off of our egoic desire for winners and losers, has perpetuated this format, and dammit, it’s working. We want to see candidates either stomp on the opposition or crumble under the pressure. We want to know who “won” debates and which party will edge the other in the election. Are we talking about solutions to situations facing the country? No; we’re talking about which candidate we want to win. In reality, all good politicians want to improve this country, and we, as human beings, all want the same things:

  1. Basic needs to be met (food, water, sex, shelter, etc.)
  2. Safety and security (including health, family, property, and job security)
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Confidence, self-esteem, achievement, and respect
  5. Self-actualization through acceptance, equality, morality, problem solving, creativity

However, the need to defeat the opposition has become more important than achieving these needs, and that’s why party labels are not only cracking the foundation of our political system, they’re setting the explosives to blow it up.

To trump (pun not intended) the competition and make them look bad has become the goal of politicians. If this weren’t the case, why are Republicans simply trying to repeal Obamacare while not offering to help craft a new healthcare plan that more people can get on board with? Why are presidential candidates focusing their campaign strategies on tearing down their rivals instead of presenting solutions to problems? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all about the showdown because the showdown instills emotions in the voter base, and emotions draw ratings, clicks, and passionate (frequently hateful) comments. Creating solutions isn’t sexy, but conflict is.

If we’re looking to make progress and improve upon our current system, which, deep down we all want, we have to focus more on progress and not on trying to win or make the other side look bad. In the Super Bowl this Sunday, no one is going to come up with better helmets, more efficient rules, or stricter medical procedures to improve player health, however, someone will win and someone will lose, just like with politics. Except, in the case of politics, when the focus is on wins and losses instead of fostering growth and pursuing the security of all basic human needs, we all lose. Once we eliminate party-line labels, become individuals, and focus on leadership and growth, we can start thinking again. Thinking expands our perspective, introduces new options to propel growth, and inspires a group mindset in pursuit of a common goal. In that case, there don’t have to be winners or losers because everyone has an opportunity to win.

Labels: The Real Enemy of Political Progress

 

I don’t see labels. I mean, I do because we were programmed to believe in labels, but (after pushing down my programmed beliefs), I’m able to take a step back, see a person, event, or thing and cut through the labels. Now, I view reality from a completely different plane where I can see it from so many different angles and it has, for the most part, freed me from the insidious absoluteness of labels. Labels like: good, bad, gay, straight, black, white, poor, rich, pessimistic, optimistic, boring, awesome, etc.; all work to confine our thinking within their parameters. Once you decide to label something and view it from a certain perspective, it becomes all too easy to miss anything that doesn’t fall within the parameters of said perspective.

Outside of the label lies opportunity after opportunity, but without perceiving something as “an opportunity,” there’s little chance of even noticing. Instead of saying something as absolute as “this” or “that,” what we should be learning is how to trash the labels and realize that things, people, and events just are. They exist, and that’s all we can know for sure. When you’re able to strip away the labels, it widens your perspective, and widening your perspective opens you up to so many new opportunities that were near impossible to see before. To look at an event labelled as “bad” (like war, climate change, or a break-up) as an opportunity actually activates our imagination and our brains begin to search for all of the potential opportunities lying beneath. If we keep seeing it as bad, our brains search for all of the reasons it’s bad, and our imaginations cherry-pick other aspects of the event that may not even be bad (or related to the event in the first place) and label them as bad too.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Basically, nothing means anything; things just are until we think about and classify them by using labels.

What about politics?

Modern politics is ALL about labels. From Republican or Democrat, pro or anti, to racial, socioeconomic, and religious labels, these labels confine, not only the policy makers, but anyone who identifies themselves, and others, within them. Labels are the primary reason why the political system hasn’t made significant progress in recent years: it has been confined, and now, must be freed.

Is the political landscape the best it will ever be? Not even close. There’s work to be done to improve upon what has already been accomplished over the last few millennia, yet today’s excessive labeling is holding back growth. In observing the behavior of politicians, political candidates, and the press over recent years, I have noticed an increase in labeling. They label other politicians, bills, political parties, etc., as and these labels create barriers to progress. These people are serving as our leaders and leaders lead by example, so, as a result, many people have been following this example and using labels to define their lives and their perceptions of others. Labeling is so, so destructive. My labeling of labeling as being destructive is destructive. Solving the labeling problem is tricky, but the first step is to identify that there’s a problem, and then work toward a solution. Over my next few blog posts, I’m going to refer back my experience as a political science major, combine it with the recent research I’ve done in human behavior and positive psychology to:

1.) Identify a label that’s confining the growth of politics

2.) Cut through the label and reveal the truth (that it means nothing)

3.) Predict what could happen if the label is replaced with an opportunity perspective.

Labels are something we have programmed into us from the day we’re born, so it might feel a little bit uncomfortable to imagine life without them. If someone tells you they got fired from their job because their boss is an ass, they probably expect you to respond with, “That sucks. He is an ass. I’m sorry.” They definitely don’t understand when you respond with, “That is,” or, “Is that really true?”

When I was a kid, I was told I was white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, nerdy, and many other things that I never challenged. When I realized I wasn’t born with any of these labels, that I just believed them and went through life applying them to myself, I picked the ones I wanted to keep and started to really come out of my shell. At first, it was uncomfortable and often difficult to shirk some of these, but since coming to the realization that I’m not my labels, I’ve found what I love to do, am pursuing a career doing it, and loving every minute of it! I realize that nothing will ever be “perfect” (another label) and my life won’t play out exactly how I have it planned, but every day is an opportunity to get better, no matter what happens. I have grown as a person beyond what I could have been if I stuck to what I was programmed to believe. Anyone can. I’m not white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, or nerdy; I’m David Horning and I am the way I am because I choose to be.

Over the next few weeks, let’s work together to break down the barriers that labels build in our lives and start growing into who we really are.

What kind of labels do you use to describe yourself? The people around you? The events that unfold in front of you?

Play Chess or Die!: A Parallel Between High School Extracurricular and Secular Extremism

“Play Chess or Die!” The message rang loud and clear over the TV morning announcements at West View High School. The school’s chess club, known as Checkmate, had taken another hostage. This time, it was Craig Townsend, a reporter from the school’s newspaper, The View of West View. He was reporting on the boy’s tennis team moving their after-school meeting to room 206 the previous night, when members of Checkmate nabbed him. With the swipe of a sword, Craig became just another victim in the name of the Queen. Checkmate’s demands are simple: more funds for new chess boards, the freedom to meet in any room they want without staff approval, and for everyone in the school to renounce all other extracurriculars to play chess. Their tactics are barbaric: hostage executions, bombings, and mass shootings, the most recent of which really put a damper on student morale, even amidst an 8-1 football season.

Through the 40 years of the school’s existence, this narrative has repeated itself over and over. Checkmate is sick of the fact that all of the other extracurricular clubs and organizations don’t play chess all the time, so they use guerilla tactics with the intention of terrorizing the other students into playing chess. Yes, some people have joined, but most of them have joined out of fear rather than because of genuine enthusiasm in chess. Junior Jeremy Kellenson joined when Checkmate sent him a grainy video threatening to capture and behead his brother. Even though he may be part of the club and playing chess, he doesn’t exactly look forward to going to the meetings.

Checkmate interprets the rules of chess to be symbolic: you can only win a match by eliminating the other player’s pieces or by forcing them into submission. This means that total extracurricular dominance can be achieved either by murdering anyone who isn’t part of chess club, or by forcing them to join. However, it seems as though the murder aspect is deterring people, so meeting attendance is declining. …actually, that might have more to do with all of the suicide bombing… The club believes that if they kill the tuba section of the marching band, it will scare the trombone section into joining. We can only hope Student Council rallies the other clubs to do something about preventing further tragedy…

Would you rather have your kids get excited about playing soccer and want to do it on their own, or would you prefer to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the minivan? When you propose, would you rather your girlfriend say “Yes!” emphatically with tears of joy streaming down her face, or would you prefer if she says “Yes,” because her father made an arrangement with your father about land acquisition? Would you, as president of chess club, rather have people join because the meetings are so much fun and people genuinely want to join, or would you rather capture and decapitate a school newspaper reporter to scare people into joining? As a student who isn’t part of Checkmate, does the prospect of joining excite you when you’re threatened with murder?

The call to action here is simple: if you want others to believe what you believe, show them why it’ll benefit them. Don’t mortar their cheerleading practice. Trying to force them will only cause resentment and you won’t have converted anyone authentically. We can’t control the thoughts or actions of others, but we can control our thoughts and actions around others. This is why the tactics of extremist organizations, American military force in the Middle East, disruptive protests, or telling your friends that they’re idiots for not watching Game of Thrones will never work – you’re not inspiring anyone. The power of inspiration is much more effective than persuasion because we’re driven from within instead of from an external source. If the leaders of Checkmate are killed and the chess extremists are destroyed, are people like Jeremy Kellenson going to remain members? Of course not! External motivation is temporary, and when it goes away, so does our motivation. Following the recent terrorist attacks around the world, we have an opportunity; not to use force to convince others of our beliefs, but to inspire people to believe differently by showing them love.

We all have beliefs and they guide all of our actions. Without beliefs, we wouldn’t have our identities, so when someone else tries to force us into believing or doing something we wouldn’t normally believe or do, our identities fight back. It’s natural. I don’t have an exact solution, but if we were to view extremist violence from a different light, it may be the catalyst we need to get a different result. No problems will ever be permanently solved with a “My way or the highway” approach, but by using a different approach like love, we can interrupt the routine of violent coercion and inspire those with hurtful intentions by showing them the benefits of love, peace, and togetherness. Every human being has a need to be loved, appreciated, and made to feel important in the world. When we lead by example and show that these things can be accomplished without violence, others will respond in kind. This is the law of our subconscious minds and the universe. When we force others to agree that we’re always right; we’ll always be wrong. When we can inspire others to see things from our perspective by acting as a shining example, we can change the world. Every conflict serves as an opportunity to grow ourselves and inspire others to do the same. Using this perspective, chess club can now grow their membership through genuine inspiration to join, and actually have engaged members, rather than members who fear for their lives. If we can inspire others to consider our beliefs instead of forcing them, that is a true checkmate. (I had to)

The Real Reason You Should Boycott Starbucks

“Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?”

“Grandé soy milk latté. No whip.”

The familiar gurgly whir (that’s the noise it makes, right? A gurguly whir?) of milk being steamed commenced as I waited in anxious anticipation for my beverage, served in the familiar, festive cup I’ve come to expect this time of year.

“David?”

Finally.

But I stopped when I saw it sitting on the counter. Something was amiss. “Oh… I’m sorry but my cup is red.”

“Yeah. It’s our holiday cup this year.”

Holiday cup?” I could feel the blood rising to my face. How dare they call my blank red cup a “holiday” cup. There was nothing holiday about it. “To which holiday do you refer?”

“Christmas.”

There it was. I went from irritated to infuriated.

“Christmas? Christmas!? What about your brown Thanksgiving cups!? What happened to those?”

“We’ve never had-”

“Oh, you’re a liar now? You’ve never had my ass! Every year, come November, I look forward to coming into Starbucks, ordering a coffee, and getting it in a brown paper cup. What is wrong with the world!?”

The barista had no answers for me. Neither did the police officers who removed me from the premises. That’s why I’m boycotting Starbucks. That’s why you should boycott Starbucks too. It’s an absolute outrage.

Last time I checked, Thanksgiving was a holiday. Last time I checked, Thanksgiving falls in November and Christmas in December. Last time I checked, no pilgrims died to celebrate Christmas. The pilgrims came to this country just to share a meal with the Native Americans and you, Starbucks, have the nerve to call these red cups “holiday” cups!? The real holiday is Thanksgiving!

I said nothing two years ago when Starbucks removed the black pilgrim hat lids from their Thanksgiving cups. Last year, when they did away with the Indian headdress cup accessory, I did nothing. But this? This is too far! They’re not even allowed to say, “Happy Thanksgiving!” They told me to “Have a nice day.” Tell me, Starbucks, if the pilgrims were alive today and came into one of your stores, how do you think they would feel if you handed them a red cup instead of a brown one? Let that sink in.

The cornucopia decorations have been replaced by holly, faux snow, and snowmen. I’m hearing “Deck the Halls,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” instead of the cheery melodies of Thanksgiving carol classics such as “Away in a Mayflower,” “The Little Injun Boy,” and “The Pilgrim Who Died of Hypothermia.” The festive flavors of mashed potato mochas, green bean lattés and turkey hot chocolates have gone missing in favor of peppermint, gingerbread, and eggnog. Something is very wrong with this picture, so here is my call to action:

BOYCOTT STARBUCKS

And if you do go to Starbucks, tell them your name is Happy Thanksgiving. They have to write it on your cup. That’ll show them! How dare they belittle my pilgrim ancestors! How dare they minimize the reason for the season! How dare they take the Thanksgiving out of Thanksgiving! Join me in starting a movement! Tweet out #happythanksgivingstarbucks. Wear your buckle hats and bring your bows and arrows into Starbucks to offend them. Don’t be politically correct, just be correct.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING

When Did You Stop Singing?: What Caitlyn Jenner Taught Me

When did you stop singing? Going through school, I noticed that the older I got, fewer and fewer people openly sang, and by the time we got to junior high, singing in public became basically uncool – even if it was in a setting where we were SUPPOSED to sing. It wasn’t cool to sing in music class, church, or into the PA system of a grocery store, so people stopped singing altogether. “What will So-And-So think if I sing? Even though I want to, I’m not going to.” “What’s-Her-Face isn’t singing, so I’m not going to sing either.” “Last time I sang, Cool Guy looked at me funny and started laughing with his friends, probably at me, so I’m not singing anymore.” We become so self-conscious of what others think of us, that we hide our authentic selves from being seen. We WANT to sing, but unless it’s in the shower or in our cars by ourselves, we’re afraid to put ourselves on the line because of what others may or may not think of us. Here’s what I’ve realized: those who criticize or condemn something that someone else does are insecure about who they are because they’ve been going through life suppressing their authentic selves. Subconsciously, they don’t want others to be authentic because THEY’RE not being authentic. It’s the, “I’m not having any fun, why should they?” principle. I know this because I’ve done it. For example, in junior high, I went to school with a girl who claimed to be part-wolf. She even went as far as bathing herself by licking her arms and rubbing her face with them in the middle of class. My friends and I all laughed at her and made fun of her because her actions weren’t fitting within the parameters of what we considered normal. Being an only child for nine years, I didn’t have anyone at my disposal to wrestle with, so I wrestled myself in my family room probably up until I was in high school. I would have never done this in public because I would have been embarrassed, but it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed doing it. Weird, yes, but why do we try to shoehorn ourselves into the parameters of “being normal” when we’re not being ourselves? It’s a compromise to our own authenticity; to our happiness. It’s why I create characters and do comedy now – so I can be myself and center my life around being myself.
When Bruce Jenner decided to finally release the self that he had suppressed his entire life, people were outraged. From my perspective, calling it an LGBT issue is short-sighted and barely scratching the surface – it’s much deeper than that. By revealing herself and making herself vulnerable, Caitlyn Jenner taught us a lesson that is being misconstrued by many of the people that I’ve seen who have offered an opinion on it: be yourself. Those who are angry aren’t angry because she “switched” from being a man to being a woman, they’re angry because they don’t have the courage to be themselves, so they’re misplacing it onto someone who does. If, deep down, who we are isn’t “popular,” or “acceptable to societal standards,” we suppress this part of ourselves until we become afraid to sing. When this happens, often the next step is to try to bring those down who have no problem singing their lungs out so that we have company in our misery. This behavior is subconscious and we don’t realize why we do it. It’s a defense mechanism that we use to avoid the facts. The conversation about Caitlyn is often deferred to politics, morals, or something that is actually completely unrelated and the lesson that is sitting right there in front of us is overlooked: have the courage to be yourself. If you catch yourself talking critically about someone else, ask yourself the question, “How am I holding myself back?” because that’s the subconscious reason why you’re trying to take away from others in the first place. Think of it this way: if you were an alien, disguising yourself in order to live on Earth, you would become gradually unhappy because you couldn’t be the real you. You’d want to levitate to the rooftops and shout, “I’M AN ALIEN AND I HAVE POWERS!” while zapping the next pigeon that gets close to you. Zapping pigeons is frowned upon in our society. So is levitating and being an alien, but if these were things that were part of who you are and you couldn’t do them openly, how could you claim to be happy? We only live once (as far as we know), so why not be the you who makes you the happiest? That is, be the you that you were before you became afraid to sing. Studies are consistently showing that we perform most effectively when we’re coming from a place of happiness, and we are our happiest when we are ourselves.
What if we had the courage to be ourselves? I’m talking about the “dance like no one’s watching” selves we all have tapped into at one point or another. How freeing does it feel to have this mentality? We’ve all felt it. Whether you’re an artist born into a family of doctors who insist on you being a doctor, someone who finds freedom in singing and dancing while walking down the street, or Xantha, a mystical interplanetary being forced to live in exile on the planet Earth for 450 human years, your life becomes authentic if you just allow yourself to be yourself without worrying about what So-And-So, What’s-Her-Face, and Cool Guy think. Finding our way out from under all of the layers of “You should do it this way,” and, “Why are you acting that way?” takes a concentrated effort. It’s like finding that note you wrote to your friends in 4th grade that you know you saved, but you’re not sure which box it’s in – it’s there, you just have to make the effort to get to it. Start singing again. Be confident in who you really are, and when you hear people snickering and criticizing, realize it’s because they’re jealous of your courage to just be yourself.

“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”
― Amy Poehler

Nothing is Good or Bad

Pop quiz: label the following situations as either good or bad:

-A car accident
-A wedding between 2 people deeply in love with each other
-The Great Depression
-Winning the lottery
-A job promotion
-Death of a loved one
-The company you work for is downsizing
-A customer screams in your face about how poorly you’re doing your job
-You run into a long lost friend
-Someone spills hot coffee on your lap
-You buy a new car
-Smoking a cigarette after quitting for a year
-The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl
-A sunny, 80-degree day with a slight breeze
-ISIS
-A baby’s first steps
-The car in the previously mentioned accident has 4 murderers inside and it crashes into a giant propane tank outside of a convention center hosting a murderer’s convention, and everybody dies in the ensuing explosion
-You’re confronted with a pop quiz when all you want to do is read a blog

No matter who you are, when you labeled the previous situations, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you would consider bad and what you would consider good. I’m also willing to bet that not everyone would agree on each one of these. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan may label a Browns Super Bowl victory as bad (and, let’s face it, would probably would label “death of a loved one” as good), a Buddhist monk may label the mass-murderer-massacre as bad, or you may love the burning sensation of scalding hot coffee on your crotch. The point I am trying to make is succinctly quoted by one of the most respected and brilliant minds throughout history, the Bard himself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“But I just got laid off from my job, that’s obviously a bad thing!”

I’m very sorry about your job, but let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING EITHER GOOD OR BAD, BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO. I know this is a difficult concept to entertain because we are raised and educated in a world where everything is either good or bad, but this is a linear way of thinking in a world where we are able to think without constraints. Ultimately, the determination of what is good and what is bad is subjective, proving that there is no consensus on what is truly good and what is truly bad. I could walk outside right now and say, “I love this crisp weather. Being able to see my own breath is hella cool,” while the person next to me says, “This weather is miserable… and also did you just say ‘hella cool?’” By attaching a good or bad label to something external, even though we’re both looking at the same thing, the experience we get from it is going to be completely different. Once we slap the almighty “good” or “bad” label onto something, our internal filters will only allow us to see the things that fall in line with that label. So He-Who-Hates-the-Cold, no matter what happens, will only find the things that make him miserable when it comes to winter. Whether he knows it or not, his labeling ensures his negative experience of winter. Meanwhile, He-Who-Loves-The-Cold will miss out on the negative and, thus, miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow. Labeling something as either X or Y causes us to miss out on all of the other letters of the alphabet.

“So if I don’t label things as good or bad, then what do I do? How will I live? Things have to be classified as something, otherwise what is there to live for?”

You’ll live better without this classification system. Another side effect of thinking in terms of good and bad is the fact that it brings pain into our lives. (Disclaimer: from this point forward, I will be putting quotes around the words “good” and “bad.”) At the end of every day, I used to pray and thank God for letting me have a “good” day. If I didn’t have a “good” day, I would skip that part of my prayer. To label something as good is to admit that there is a possible opposite, or a “bad,” and that if things can’t be labeled as “good,” then they’re “bad.” Because there’s a “bad” on the flip-side of the “good,” we live with a constant underlying fear of when the “good” goes away and the “bad” comes back. Because the laws of the universe state that like will always attract like, living in a state of fearing the “bad” grows that fear, and when we make choices in a state of fear, we create more of exactly what it is that we fear: the “bad.”

“So THAT’S why I lost my job. When I got promoted, it was good, but being so worried about losing money – or the bad – actually made me lose my job. How could I be so stupid??”

Actually, no. You didn’t lose your job because you were worried about the “bad.” You probably didn’t have any control over the fact that you lost your job, but the label you attach to it does affect what happens next.

“I want what happens next to be good- er- …well, you know what I mean. How do I stop labeling so I can do that?”

Even if we stop doing something, say a bad habit, it will always come back unless it is replaced by something else. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” but everything has, within it, an underlying good, or an opportunity, if you are looking for it. EVERYTHING. If something is labeled as “good” or “bad,” we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from it because we’ve already determined what that thing means to us. Subsequently, we resist the chance for growth. For example, with the Ferguson, Missouri incident, it is glaringly obvious who has labeled the outcome as “good” or “bad” because of their actions. Angry tweets, looting, protesting, arguing, etc. are the result of labels being attached to an external incident that we don’t have any control over. Because of this, many opportunities for growth are being missed and events like this will continue to occur. I realized the power of the underlying good when my aunt was murdered. It was easy to label the situation as “bad,” because a life was tragically lost. But I didn’t like the emotions that my labeling created, so I learned to see things differently. By looking for the opportunity to grow, I began to grasp the power of laughter. Because I chose to see a tragic situation, not in terms of black and white, but in terms of how I could improve myself in response to the situation, I began a journey into a career in comedy and as a writer. Without that powerful realization, you wouldn’t be reading this and I would probably be complaining on social networks along with everyone else.

It’s time to make a difference and this message must be spread. If we are to improve as a society, we must change our perspective first. Human beings aren’t made to think in terms of either or, we’re made to expand ourselves through critical thinking. By searching for the underlying good in every situation, our brains will filter out everything that won’t contribute to our growth, rather than everything that supports our “good” or “bad” labeling. Any time you hear yourself labeling something as “good” or “bad,” remember: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Happy Thanksgiving

The Best Lesson That Can Be Learned From Ferguson

One thing that our society is sorely lacking is something called acceptance. Not the acceptance where everyone is included or favorably received in a group, but acceptance of what is. In the Michael Brown case out of Ferguson, the only messages that have been spread are messages of blame, complaint, victimization, and hate. Acceptance of what is relies on living in the present moment and not allowing the past to create pain for the present and future. When we live in the past and try to figure out what or who is to blame, we do nothing to move forward. When we accept what is in the present moment, we can see what the most effective action will be, and in a state of acceptance, that usually begins with forgiveness. Some guy named Jesus once said, “Turn the other cheek.” This doesn’t mean “Let your attacker knock the snot out of you,” it means to stop resisting what has already transpired so that the now (which is really all there is) can be fully accessed and positive direction can be taken. Violence is a negative byproduct of resistance, and if we continue to resist what is, violence will continue. This shooting has nothing to do with violence between races, it has to do with resisting what is. By accepting, we initiate the process of taking action, initiating change, and achieving goals. Don’t focus on one of the 100 things that could happen, but instead focus on what can be done now to spread acceptance. I have developed an important statement that I live by if I sense myself starting to deny the present moment by resisting: “It’s not ‘what if?’ it’s ‘what now?'” What’s done is done and nothing can be done about it but to learn and grow from it. “What am I doing that I could be doing differently to bring about the results I want? What am I not doing that I could be doing to get a different result? When should I start this behavior? NOW.” Protesting won’t do anything. Blaming and complaining about corruption won’t do anything. No positive result is EVER achieved from a place of resistance. Only acceptance. By accepting what is, we are more likely to view our surroundings using different perspectives and, therefore, make more educated decisions. The goal is peace, right? So is what you’re thinking, doing, or saying bringing us closer to this goal? If you’re resisting, 100% hell no, it’s not. Accept. Ask “What now?” Learn. Grow. Create the future you want. There is a greater good hiding under every event. Find it and expand it by accepting. That’s all I have to say about this.