Enough Fighting! The Solution: Start From Common Ground

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

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

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

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

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

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Trumps Complaining

Guess what!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Well that took a turn.

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

But this isn’t just about Trump…

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

Instead of complaining, start creating.

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

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

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.

 

Why Y Should Be Your Favorite Letter

What’s your favorite letter and why?

Y is a pretty good letter. It’s not the best letter – that distinction goes to ‘D’ – but that’s only because I’m psychologically predestined to be drawn to the first letter of my name more than the other 25 letters. You are too. (https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/self/name-letter-effect/)

Anyway…

There’s just something about Y that really gets me going. Why? Maybe it’s because one of my favorite books is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Maybe it’s the fact that if the Village People were to make their song about staying at the MCA, no one would ever play it at weddings since no one wants to go to the Motor Club of America. But the true reason is far more metaphorical: y is adaptable.

A, E, I, O, U… and sometimes y.

Sometimes? Y just decided to be a vowel sometimes? Y apparently ain’t nobody’s bitch.

At some point in history, the letter people (not the ones from the show, just a group of people who decided to turn sounds into symbols to make blogging easier) probably got into a heated debate about the letter. Chances are, there was a war that broke out in order to determine whether or not y was a consonant or a vowel, and the war ended in a stalemate, so in order to compromise, both sides agreed that y could be both.

Y transcends categorization and so do we.

We have this habit of shoehorning ourselves into categories because they give us an identity and make us feel safe, but they also limit our potential. Are you right-brained or left-brained? Lucky or unlucky? An optimist or pessimist? Once we’ve shut ourselves into a box, it’s hard to see beyond the cardboard, and even if you cut an eyehole in the side, you’re still limited to what you can see. Want to know why Republicans and Democrats can’t see eye-to-eye? They’ve trapped themselves inside of their own ideological boxes and cut eyeholes looking in different directions, so it’s impossible for them to see the same reality as one another. When we’re children, we’re told what we’re good at and urged to pursue careers involving those talents, then we go through our lives saying we’re “accountants,” “teachers,” or “HR representatives,” and stick within the confines of our job descriptions. This goes against our biology. Like the letter y, we aren’t meant to be confined – we’re meant to develop a diverse set of skills and perspectives so we can live lives of constant expansion, filled with new experiences.

Think of a category within which you’ve confined yourself. How is it limiting you? What new identity can you embrace for yourself that crosses categorical lines and is expansive, rather than limiting? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Creator – When you are confronted with a problem, you quickly shift focus from the problem to what actions you can take to create a solution.
  2. Innovator – You look at seemingly impossible situations and remain steadfast in your belief that a solution is not only possible, but probable by combining old ideas in new ways or by creating new ideas.
  3. Opportunist – You don’t waste any time thinking about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty; you take the glass to the sink and refill it.
  4. Leader – You inspire others to transcend their limiting self-perspectives by example and are focused on serving others in order to help them reach their potential.
  5. Learner – Every moment of every day is a chance for you to gain new knowledge and grow into a more rounded person.

How can you adopt one of these identities today?

Nothing in this world is as neat or tidy as the manmade categories we use to classify things, including the manmade categories we made to classify things to make them neat and tidy. It’s weird. This is why Y serves as a reminder that we are neither consonant or vowel; we are what we make ourselves out to be. The next time you’re on an awkward Tinder date and you get asked what your favorite letter is, tell them Y because you’d rather not stay at the Motor Club of America. You’re way more complex than a fixed self-identity – you’re a friggin badass, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re trapped in a box, so shed your limiting identities and be more like the letter Y.

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?

 

 

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.