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.

Rejection is Feedback and Feedback is an Opportunity

“[We are] going to rescind our request to have you speak to [us].”
I stared blankly at the text of the email, mouth agape.
“This has never happened to me,” I thought aloud. “What did I do?”
I kept reading.
“Eight members of our chapter were in attendance and all were offended by your presentation,” the email continued.
“Offended? I was trying to make you laugh!” My fight-or-flight response had kicked in, but before I found myself going off on a tangent, I decided to continue reading to learn more.
“Specifically, you told a ‘dick’ joke.”
Ah… that’s fair. Using my character, Perspective Detective Dick Ransom’s first name strategically for laughs is admittedly juvenile, but it’s something that people remember. The premise of the bit is based around the fact that when we blame the circumstances or other people when we fall short of our goals, so we should “become a Dick” because “we all have a little Dick inside of us.”

Later in the email, he writes “I won’t comment on the rest of your presentation.” This is what hurt me most, not because they didn’t enjoy my presentation, but because once the Dick joke was on the table, they missed out on the message of the rest of the presentation.

That’s on me.

My talks aren’t your standard HR presentation because the current business climate is mired in complacency, so I take some risks – some pay off and some don’t, which I live with. The key, though is to analyze where I am and ask, “Is where I am better than where I was before this?” To get a more accurate answer, it’s vital to consider all feedback from other perspectives. I only have one way of looking at my reality – my own – so I admittedly have a bit of a bias. However, when other people say to me, “We were offended by your presentation,” that’s a sign that, instead of resisting their POV and getting hostile, I have an opportunity to consider another perspective.

I can’t possibly follow through on all feedback given to me, but I can at least listen, appreciate the fact that someone is willing to take a risk to even give me the feedback, and consider what to do next. My aim is to always improve in some way after every presentation I give, and in order to do that, it’s important to listen. This is as true for me as it is for all of you – even if no one approaches you and says, “Hey, here’s my feedback,” if you listen to the world around you by
-evaluating where you are vs. where you want to be
-paying close attention to the nonverbal clues of others
-considering the perspectives of those who do offer explicit feedback
you’ll learn more than you ever would simply looking through your own eyes.

Though another group approached me after the presentation about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings because they enjoyed the presentation and felt motivated (proof that multiple people can see the exact same thing but get something completely different out of it), my aim is to leave everyone feeling better when they see one of my talks. I don’t expect everyone to leap out of their seats and change the world when they leave, but at the very least, I want people to have laughed and felt good. To have not been able to do that for one group leaves me in a state of self-examination where I realize that “I too have a little Detective Dick in me,” now it’s up to me to figure out how I can do better next time, and it’s all thanks to feedback.

“Rejection is just feedback designed to show you how to be better.”

Why Does This Keep Happening?

When you turn on the news, how do you feel?

When you think about how a human being can do something so barbaric, how does that make you feel?

When you hop on your social media and read people’s comments, what feeling does that create?

When you hear stories about the kindness, generosity, and heroic sacrifices of others, what do you feel?

Which of those feelings do you want to feel more of?

Is this going to be a blog post with only questions?

Allow me to answer that with a question: with so many people offering the same right/wrong, black/white, conservative/liberal opinions, wouldn’t it be nice to hear something different?

How can we bring more feelings of inspiration, love, abundance, joy, compassion, and meaning into the world?

What if each of us set out on our days to spread these feelings to others? What if we refocus our perspective of work, success, and life itself onto making the ultimate goal the spreading of those feelings?

What if, every day, we focused on bettering ourselves rather than being better than others?

What if, no matter the ideologies, opinions, and actions of others, we still responded with compassion and love?

How would your personal relationships be different?

Would your professional relationships become more personal?

What if we spent more time educating our children on kindness, working together, and understanding those different than us?

What if we were to measure our success by the number of people we serve?

What if we smiled more at strangers?

What if we accepted the imperfections of our humanity and laughed more at ourselves?

What if we looked at our differences in thought, belief, and action as opportunities to understand more about each other?

Would this make it easier to work together?

How could our different perspectives be combined to make the world a better place?

How would the world be different if we focused on solutions instead of the severity of problems?

If, every day, most people felt love, joy, compassion, abundance, inspiration and meaning, do you think they would want to inflict harm unto others verbally, emotionally, or physically?

What does that world look like?

How does that make you feel?

How can you share this feeling with everyone around you?

Can darkness exist where there is light?

Can fear, anger, bigotry, and hatred exist where there is love, compassion, understanding, and joy?

Does pointing out the faults of others show them how to grow?

Is fighting anger, hatred, and fear with anger, hatred and fear creating less anger, hatred, and fear?

What feelings does every human being strive for?

This keeps happening because we keep responding the same way. This has nothing to do with politics, being right or wrong, or even guns; it’s much more basic than all of these things. This has everything to do with being a human being, and the most human feelings we can feel are love, joy, compassion, understanding, freedom, kindness, and a desire to grow.

So what can you do to create those feelings within yourself?

What can you do, starting now, to inspire those feelings within others?

Start now. Share with others.

Let’s change the narrative and make the world and the people in it better together.

 

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?”

You Are the Writer of Your Own Life

Breaking News: You Have Been Given Full Creative Control Over Your Life!

As someone who received a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and wanted to pursue a dream in comedy writing, I had to train myself on how to write scripts – screenplays, TV scripts, sketches, etc. As I researched and wrote, I realized that the characters I was writing were rather robotic and way too similar too each other. So I began reading books on psychology and why people do the things that they do. What I discovered is that there are undeniable parallels between writing a strong script and life itself. As a writer, I have the ability to create characters and put them in situations where they must grow and achieve what they want in order to tell a well-rounded story. I have full creative control over what they say, do, and think. When I really analyzed this, I realized that I also have control over what I say, do, and think. In fact, all of us do. We’re the writer in charge of our own lives. We decide the ending and what it’s going to take to get there. So get ready to pick up a pen and start brainstorming because you have been given full creative control over the script that is your life. You know the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, figuratively speaking, that little stick of ink (or feather quill – which is what I hope you’re imagining), is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. We have full control over whether the protagonist, you and me, saves the kingdom, wins the championship, falls in love, learns and grows, and has a happy ending. Or do we write a flat script with a stagnant protagonist that no audience would pay a penny to see produced? In this piece, I take five of the steps for writing a good script and turn them into five steps for writing a great life for ourselves. We have full creative control over our lives, so why would we choose to write anything other than the best? I’m going to show you how to write the life that you want:

1.) Research

As a writer, you don’t just begin writing a script without learning how to write a script. If you write a screenplay with no structure, it’s going to suck no matter how good the idea was. Life is the same way: if you don’t know how to live before you live, your life is going to suck, no matter how good your ideas are. This means learning about ourselves, including our psychology (our thoughts, conditioning, and emotions), our bodies (nutrition and exercise), our spirituality (meditation and prayer), and interpersonal relationships. If we don’t, we go through life letting our thoughts run on autopilot and we fall victim to our emotions, our bodies weaken and break down and we fall victim to sickness and fatigue, we fail to maintain meaningful relationships without conflict and we become spiteful and untrusting of others, and we never discover ourselves and our callings. There are thousands of books, documentaries, and online articles available that cover all of this thoroughly so this vital information for our everyday lives is very easy to access. Instead of “researching” Mila Kunis’ relationship with Ashton Kutcher, who is rumored to be in the new Star Wars movie, or a video of a toddler hugging a chicken, why not research ourselves? You wouldn’t trash your new car if you plan on driving it for the next ten years. You’re going to be together with yourself every day for the rest of your life, it’s probably a good idea to figure out how to make things run as smoothly as possible. I wouldn’t write a script about a congressman without doing research on how being a congressman works. You shouldn’t write your script without doing research on living a life worth living either.

2.) Brainstorm

This is my favorite stage of writing. It’s when I unleash my creativity without censoring myself or worrying how everything will work. I simply let loose. It’s when I’m in touch with myself most and I value that time because I know many people who don’t know who they truly are. Sometimes hours fly by without me even realizing until they’re long gone. Conversely, sometimes I worry about how I’m going to do something for so long that I miss the opportunity altogether. We all do this. How am I going to pay the bills? How am I going to find the time? How am I going to make a career doing that? All of the “hows” do nothing but create self-doubt and disrupt the creative process in your brain. I have to turn off the WiFi in my apartment when I write so I don’t distract myself on Buzzfeed or Facebook because it takes another half hour to get back into a creative flow. The same goes for stopping to ask ourselves “How?” It halts our creativity dead in its tracks. There is a place for “How” later in the process, but asking it while brainstorming will stop ourselves from considering all possibilities. Worrying about what might not work makes figuring out what will much more difficult because our focus is diverted from what we want to what we don’t want. If I write a screenplay about a character with super powers and spend too much time worrying about how realistic it is, I’ll never consider introducing a pond with radioactive waste that he swam in as a kid. All thoughts need to be considered because you never know which ones will end up growing legs (which is what happens when you swim in a pond with radioactive waste). As humans, we have a gift of creativity that no other creature has, so why do we stop ourselves from using it by worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet?

3.) Create your character

There is an ongoing debate between writers about whether character or conflict is more important. The truth is that there should be no debate – character and conflict work in unison with one another. Without character, there is no conflict, and without conflict, we have no character. They’re two sides of the same pillow. Characters create and respond to conflict and their results come directly from their choices. If an external conflict arises – a tornado, an affair, or a murder – how the character chooses to respond determines the outcome of the story. Even if the character isn’t directly responsible for this conflict, how he responds to it defines him as a character. If the character creates the conflict himself, it is up to him to grow and overcome what he did. If the character spends his time relying on other characters and fails to resolve the conflict himself, he fails to show any growth and the writer has failed to create a true protagonist. You’ll never see a Jason Statham movie where the supporting characters kick the bad guys’ asses while he does nothing. No one would turn that script into anything more than tinder for a fire. The same goes with your life: if you let everyone else fight your battles, you fail to grow and your life becomes tinder for a fire since everyone else is living it for you. Create a dynamic character for yourself and grow to overcome conflict to reach your happy ending.

When you create a character, you have to start in the present. Where is the character when your story begins? What is he doing with his life? How does he view the world? Everything that has led up to right now has shaped these things. In writing terms, these past events make up the backstory. Every character comes equipped with a backstory, but what determines a dynamic character is what he does with it. You and I both have our own conditioning, or backstories, and they shape every facet of our current predicaments – our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and actions – all are based on our backstories. How a character recounts his past determines the course of action he will take in the present. Bruce Wayne watched his parents get murdered, so he vowed to wipe crime from the streets of Gotham so others wouldn’t have to share the same fate. He easily could’ve been traumatized and remained reclusive inside Wayne Manor, but then no one would tell the story of Bruce Wayne. Just like Master Wayne (Michael Caine accent), how we recount our past determines how we approach the present. If we’re paralyzed by the negative things that have happened, we fail to grow and we never become a strong character, ruining any chance of writing a compelling story for ourselves. Molding our own character means being fully self-aware and it sometimes takes being brutally honest with yourself, but this honestly will create a much more dynamic character in the long run.

Strong characters compel us as an audience, because they eventually overcome a limiting belief set by their backstory. We’re sucked into the story because we too want to overcome the limiting beliefs set by our own backstories, and we do it vicariously through the main character. The protagonist is never able to overcome conflict until he overcomes a limiting belief and acquires the necessary tools to become victorious. That’s exactly what our character must do to strike down the conflicts and obstacles that arise in our own lives. If we overcome a limiting belief set by our backstory, and grow to overcome our obstacles, we have created a compelling character that will achieve what we want.

4.) Outline

Outlining is one of the most important stages of writing your story. It is used to write screenplays, sketches, novels, plays, articles, and college research papers. I had a political science professor spend an entire week lecturing about outlining for an 80-page research paper that I wrote. Without that outline, I would still be in college trying to figure out how to write page after page on sex offenders and the rate of repeat offenses. Outlining gives structure to our writing and allows us to lay out our thoughts in a way that’s easily accessible and customizable. If I get off track when I’m writing, which I often do, I simply refer to the outline to get back on task. Just like outlining in writing is essential to create a successful piece, outlining in life, or setting goals, is necessary to create a successful story for yourself. In a study of Harvard MBA graduates, 84% had no specific goals, 13% had goals but didn’t write them down, and 3% had clearly written goals. In ten years, the 13% were earning twice as much as those without goals, and the 3% were earning ten times as much as the other 97% of graduates on average. Although this is simply a snapshot, it has become clear to me why the top 1% earn so much more than the other 99 – they have an outline for their lives. Try writing a screenplay with no outline or story board. Chances are, you’ll give up because there’s no structure and nothing to put you back on track, making the process frustratingly impossible. As you write, sometimes the outline will change and improve the screenplay. As you live life, sometimes your goals will change and improve your life as you grow. Sometimes something better than you planned will come along, but since outlines can be easily customized, we can make room for these unexpected surprises that can occur taking our screenplays from good to great. Remember as you write your life “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.” So outline, outline, outline!

5.) Write and rewrite

No one writes a perfect script the first time, but we have to write that first draft to see what needs to be improved and better understand how and where to make those improvements for the next draft. Sometimes you write a bad script, but as the jokes fall flat during the table read and no one laughs, you know what parts need strengthened or removed altogether. There’s nothing worse than hearing crickets when your script is being read aloud as joke after joke bombs, but once you get past that initial discomfort and all of the thoughts saying, “You’re terrible! It’s best to just give up!” you’re going to write a better script. You never learn to keep your eye on the ball if you don’t strike out first. The most successful people see adversity as a stepping-stone rather than a brick wall. Leading positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar states that it’s better to face difficulties and drawbacks early so that we’re better prepared to deal with the inevitable obstacles that will arise in our lives. There are even companies who train their new hires to fail so that they can choose to think dynamically and overcome their failures to succeed better at their new jobs. When crisis eventually rears its ugly head, these employees are ready to meet them head-on. If we meet adversity by curling up into a ball and giving up, we never learn what it takes to overcome it. In fact, we have a terrible habit of using the experience of one failure to expect failure in all other facets of our lives, a paralyzing choice that is anything but true. Yes, failing is uncomfortable, but we’ll never write our story to its fullest potential if we crumple it up and throw it away after the first draft. So instead of meeting failure with submission, meet it with the enthusiasm to write draft after draft until you tell the compelling story that you’re meant to tell. So pick up your feather pen, dip it into your ink well, and get writing without worrying about the first draft being great, because as long as you keep writing, it eventually will be.

Please comment – I would love to hear your POV!