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.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

Check Your Privilege, Kermit

EVERY. YEAR.

Every damned year, Al Roker/Matt Lauer and whatever physically appealing female co-anchor that happens to be working for NBC go flipping crazy when that Kermit balloon appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. All we hear about is how everyone loves him, how he’s one of the main attractions, and then there’s some obligatory joke about Miss Piggy. The heaps of praise and unwavering love for this frog isn’t equal to the love for many of the other balloons and I say, “No more!”

Where’s the praise for cartoon characters? Corporate mascots? And there’s not even a Caitlyn Jenner balloon; it’s blatant disrespect.

Check your privilege at the door, Al Roker. There’s more to this parade than just Muppets.

What about Sonic the Hedgehog? “There’s Sonic. He’s making his 6th appearance in the parade.” That’s it!? That’s all you got!? No mention of his rings or the fact that he SAVED THE WORLD FROM DR. ROBOTNIK!?

Hello Kitty? They’re just like, “Hello, Kitty. So anyway, how’s your turkey coming, Hoda?”

When Bart Simpson appears, it’s a bullying slugfest. “What trouble will he get into this year?” “He’s probably been up to some mischief.” What, because he’s yellow that automatically means he’s been doing something mischievous?  Get off your high horse, NBC.

I’m sick of the puppet privilege this amphibious ass gets every. single. stinkin year! Enough is enough!

When you see that smug son of a salamander snake his way onto your screen, switch off the set and watch something that DOESN’T rub puppet privilege in our faces. Like football.

Big Bird too! Such an avian a-hole.

Just watch and see what I mean. How do you think the other balloons feel about all of the attention these Muppets get? It’s time to take a stand. I, for one, won’t be watching the parade and will be watching Home Shopping reruns. I won’t be shopping at Macy’s anymore either because I can’t, in good faith, give my money to a corporation who obviously doesn’t care about equality. Join me in my defiance and let’s tell the man that we won’t stand for this inflatable injustice any longer!

Krush Kermit

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)

Good News: You’re the Worst Bully You’ll Ever Have

“You have no business talking to her. She’s way out of your league.”
“You’re an idiot. You’re going to look and sound like an idiot and no one is going to like your presentation.”
“A comedy writer? Seriously? That’s impossible. You’re never going to be able to do that for a living. Just go to law school.”
“You always mess everything up. No wonder you broke up. You’ll never be happy again.”
“F*ck you, you piece of shit. You have no friends and no one likes you. You might as well just hang yourself with those Christmas lights.”

I’ve been bullied my whole life. In grade school and high school, I had to put up with all of the creative modifications people came up with for my last name. I had to deal with the repeated accusations that I was gay when I’m not (okay, maybe I set myself up with the pink and turquoise double popped collar). I remember being given the Stone Cold Stunner and being put in the Sharpshooter at recess in 5th grade, but I stopped being bullied by other people in high school. If you don’t know me, I have a pretty easygoing personality and I try to make other people laugh every chance I get, so this demeanor caused the external bullying to naturally dissipate. All of the lines in quotations at the beginning of this piece? In case you didn’t read the title, they were all said to me by me over and over again throughout my life. What a dick. Fortunately, I have trained myself to listen to my thoughts and challenge the ones that sound like this. Whenever I hear myself being a dick to myself, I ask myself the following question: “Is it true? Is it true that she’s way out of my league? Only if I don’t talk to her. Is it true that no one is going to like my presentation? Only if I perform with that underlying belief. Is it true that being a comedy writer for a living is impossible? Only if I don’t try because I think it’s impossible. Is it true that I’m never going to be happy again? Only if I listen and look for all of the reasons why I won’t be happy. Is it true that I’m a piece of shit that no one likes? …I have at least three friends.

Internal bullying, or self-depriciating self-talk, is the skier that starts the avalanche. One of the most important things I have ever learned is in the book “What to Say When You Talk to Your Self” by Shad Helmstetter: Our repeated thoughts become our programming. Our programming creates our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, whether they’re actually true or not. Our beliefs color our perspectives, or attitudes. Our attitudes make us feel a certain way. Our feelings directly influence our actions. Our results come from our actions.

If we’re not getting the results we want, trace them all the way back to the words we use when we talk to ourselves. If something doesn’t go as planned for me, I listen to the words I tell myself and correct the ones that aren’t serving me so that next time, I get a better result. Self-bullying with negative or limiting thoughts is like shooting yourself in both legs before a marathon and expecting to finish first – it stops us before anyone or anything else even has a chance. Even if anyone or anything else tries to stop you, it’s your thoughts about that thing that can either stop you or propel you to success. No matter if you have re-programmed your brain to think positive, you’re still going to get that asshole bully voice popping up in your thoughts to suggest that your big sales pitch tomorrow is going to end with you losing your job, your wife leaving you, and your brother finding your body hanging by a strand of blinking Christmas lights from a support beam in your basement. Think for yourself, not against yourself, and remember to ask, “Is it really true?” If the thought is negative, chances are it’s that bully again, and the only way to give a bully power is to give truth to the words you say to yourself.

So don’t.

Instead, train that bully to be the coach who will support you and expect the best out of everything that you do.

Words, Words, Words

*This blog uses language that is NSFW… or does it?

Fuck.

Just 4 letters put together to make a sound, given a definition by some shadowy council, and given meaning by anyone who uses it or hears it being used.

verb
1. Have sexual intercourse with (someone).
2. Ruin or damage (something).
noun
noun: fuck; plural noun: fucks
1. An act of sexual intercourse. A sexual partner.
exclamation
exclamation: fuck
1. Used alone or as a noun the fuck or a verb in various phrases to express anger, annoyance, contempt, impatience, or surprise, or simply for emphasis.

(I’m not going to include the Urban Dictionary definitions because it muddles the meaning of the word even more.)

Who decides whether or not a word is vulgar? Who decides whether or not they are offended by someone’s words? Who’s to stop me from re-defining the word in my own life?

“I’ve been fucking all day.”
“Watch your mouth, David!”
“What!? I didn’t get much fuck last night, so I thought I’d take a nap!”

Words are arbitrary. The number of definitions given to this word, largely considered profane, prove it. If someone says something that we may be offended by, it’s because of the meaning we give what was said, and not what was actually said that determines our response. Words mean nothing, yet. for some reason, such a high value is placed on them. One person could listen to a racially charged, profanity- laced tirade, get offended and try to get other people to get offended, while another could hear the same tirade, think, “What an idiot,” and move on. When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.

Art is the same way: one person may see a painting of a bowl of fruit while another may be moved to tears because of their family’s history of scurvy. Or they’re offended by pears. While watching The Departed with my parents, my mom would gasp every time someone said “fuck,” and, in turn, hated the movie because she missed out on the story to count “fucks.” What we draw from an external experience depends solely on the meaning we give it. No one actually likes to be hurt by words – negative emotions don’t feel good – but it’s the thoughts we think about what was said that impact our beliefs, which determine our attitude, which generates our feelings, which influence our actions, which directly define our reality. People who use hateful speech aren’t worth your time – giving them attention by criticizing their words just adds fuel to their intended hate. If words really hurt, take action by softening the blow. How? Swear with character and cuss with kindness. Since words and their definitions are man-made, change their meaning. Redefine fuck. For example:

-When someone says, “Fuck you,” define it as, “You embody the person I wish I was.”
-When you’re called an idiot, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
-When someone calls you a “motherfucker,” assume they’re using “motherfucker” in place of the word “friend”, give them a wave and a smile, and go on with your day. Even if they mean to accuse you of fornicating with mothers, they’re not worth your time. Sticks and stones, right?

You can do it with your own words too! For example:

-Say, “Your dick is showing,” if you see someone’s tag peeking out from their shirt.
-When you see someone wearing a cool hat, say, “Nice hat, asshole,” then flash him a smile. You just said, “Nice hat, handsome.” Now that’s polite!
-When you see a couple with a newborn baby, tell the parents, “Oh, what a cunty baby girl!” Of course their newborn daughter is beautiful, and you complimented them using an adjective appropriate for the miracle of childbirth because that’s what “cunty” means to you.

No one likes being angry or feeling offended, but these feelings are a choice based on our programmed thoughts about something external that really has no value until we apply value to it. There’s more than one way to view a situation, so why not attach the meaning that makes you happiest?

Fuck you (have a great day)!

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

A CatCall to Action

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The term “catcalling” has taken center stage on social media lately, but it has nothing to do with the fact that Snowball isn’t very good at answering the phone, like I originally pictured. A video surfaced about two weeks ago, showing a conservatively dressed girl walking through New York City being hollered at by men on the street. “Hey beautiful,” “God bless you mami,” and lots of iterations of, “Dayum!” are some examples of the catcalls hurled at the girl. Catcalling, AKA street harassment (which sounds way more dramatic), can be an uncomfortable experience for anyone. First off, I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as me supporting catcalling. I’ve never used it (although I say hi to people on the street all the time) and I think people who do use it need a lesson in manners (sheesh, I sound like my mother). Catcalling is disrespectful, inappropriate, and, “Dat ass tho,” should never be used as a formal greeting. What this video does is raise awareness of the problem, but it is also self-defeating, and I will explain why by diving into the flaws of our social sciences – the lens through which we’re conditioned to see the world.

Social science (psychology, political science, cultural anthropology, sociology, etc.) is founded on the principle that the environment is the driving force behind why we do what we do. As a result, the last century and a half have been founded on a system that is really good at exposing wrongs, but has a hard time with proposing solutions. As a result, we miss out on the individual actions we can take when something we can’t control (like someone else’s unacceptable behavior) happens to us. When we focus on how other people have wronged us, we take the role of the victim and give power over our lives to those people. In this case, it completely nullifies the purpose of the video. Instead of coming up with a solution, we instead stay stuck on how bad the situation was or is. When this happens, the proposed remedies are always centered on the principle of fixing things by banning something so it never happens to anyone ever again. But when has banning something ever really worked? Prohibition? Gay marriage? The war on drugs? Freedom of speech? Just a few examples of bans that have crashed and burned wonderfully. These examples are focused on stopping the problem rather than creating an effective solution.

The way social sciences are set up creates a culture of blame instead of one of problem solving. Need proof? Just watch C-SPAN for ten minutes and you’ll see political science in a nutshell: it’s always the other team’s fault. So this video exposes the wrongs of catcalling, but it does nothing to propose a solution. If we want to make a difference with anything, we must focus on the solution instead of the problem. People who catcall do it every day and probably have no idea that what they’re doing is rude, and that, “How you fit all that in dem jeans?” can be interpreted as, “I’m surprised your pants fit, fatty.” Not exactly the same as, “Lovely weather we’re having,” right? So instead of saying, “Hey, we’re exposing this bad thing, now let’s ban it,” why don’t we educate the catcallers on the proper way to treat others? Instead of telling the perpetrators to stop, why don’t we replace it with something more positive and productive? Empower yourself and others by presenting a positive solution instead of victimizing yourself by focusing on the problem. This way, when someone comes up to you on the street and says, “Have a nice afternoon,” he means it, and we don’t immediately become the victim of a guy who simply wants you to enjoy your day.

Shooting the Blame

Is it too soon for a shooting joke? I write comedy, so I need to know when it’s not too soon. Shootings seem to be happening so frequently that it’s always going to be too soon, which is unfortunate. Not about it being too soon to joke, but about the frequency of shootings. The question that needs to be asked is “Why?” In the case of the Elliot Rodger shooting, male misogyny and societal expectations of sex were blamed. In the Columbine shooting, bullying was blamed. In the Sandy Hook shooting, mental health issues were blamed. And in all shootings, lack of gun control is blamed. Notice a common theme here? No matter the news story, there’s always someone or something to blame, and this way of thinking is teaching people that they are no longer responsible for their actions. Why are all of these shootings happening? Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with guns or bullying – it’s about character. Each of the people who carried out these shootings lacked character, and by blaming something else, we sacrifice character in order to explain why we do what we do, and this leaves little room for growth. The idea that outside circumstances explain why we do what we do has been the basis for social science as we know it – psychology, sociology, and political science – since the latter half of the 19th century. Placing the blame on the environment means that people are no longer responsible for their actions since the causes lie in the situation and not the person. But we don’t take credit away from anyone if they succeed at something. If an actor gives a brilliant performance, we don’t say, “It’s because of his acting coach and the fact that he had supportive parents,” we give the actor the credit he deserves. So why do we place the blame for someone’s negative action on outside circumstances?

            By blaming outside circumstances, it makes solving the problem at hand much more difficult. If you want to fix a leaking drain pipe, you don’t replace the faucet. When we blame the situation, it advocates being driven by the past rather than by the future. It makes us victims to someone or something else and we become powerless to change anything. We even miss out on the credit for our success, which undermines our confidence and proves that “nothing we do matters.” False. When we realize that we are responsible for our results, we look for what we might have done better and then work on that area. Rather than banning guns, bullying, or violent video games and movies, we need to educate people on real life skills that each of us use every day. Teaching self-esteem, confidence, personal responsibility, effective communication, goal-setting, and positive mental fitness is just as important, if not more, than teaching math, science, and history. If these shooters had just learned the power of taking personal responsibility for their actions leading up to these tragedies, their self-confidence would be at a healthier level and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. But when we learn that our situations in life aren’t our fault through the media and our conditioning, we feel like our lives are out of our hands and we blame others for our suffering. We must stop blaming and start educating – ourselves and others – to take back control over our lives and make peace and cooperation our common goal. In developed countries, the world is arguably better than it’s ever been! We have more purchasing power than ever before, more people are going to college than ever before, there are more cars than there are drivers, and there’s an app for everything! But depression rates are growing – the mean onset age of depression is down from 29.5 years old to 14.5 years old in just 50 years! We’ve been going the blaming route for awhile now, and these senseless acts of violence are still happening. Isn’t it time to try something different? We all share this planet, why are we finger-pointing and focusing on the problem instead of focusing on the solution: becoming responsible for the one thing we all have control over. Ourselves. That is how we can bring positive change to the world, one person at a time.

Here’s an alternate take from my web series “Creative Differences” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL8d0MSCKiU