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.

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

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.

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.

 

I’m Not White & Neither Are You: A Piece on Self-Identity

My name is David Horning, I’m not white, and neither are you. If you’re black, well, you’re not black either. Are you Latino? Sorry, but that means nothing. In fact, without man-made labels, race wouldn’t exist, there’d just be people who are easier to find in the dark than others. How you identify yourself and others determines your experience.

One thing is true about everyone who reads this: you are you and you’re the only one who is.

Your identity is never attached to a race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; your identity is whatever you choose it to be. Unfortunately, we get shoehorned into categories, and, since we live in a world that categorizes pretty much everything, we confine ourselves to these categories. Our brains are constantly working in an “If that, then what else?” manner, so when we look at our skin color, we confine ourselves within preconceived notions about what it means to be white, black, Latino, Asian, Greek, Inuit, Viking, etc. The same goes with the other classifications within which we identify ourselves.

Grab your water wings and get ready to jump off the diving board.

Sure, David Horning might be my name, but I didn’t choose it. If I could choose my name it would be something awesome like Birmingham Steele. Actually, scratch that; I like a little variety in my life. If I could choose my name, I would pick a different one whenever I feel like it. As some of my friends know, I have gone by several different aliases, demanding they refer to me as something other than David H, David, or David Horning in their contact lists. My given name may be David Horning, but one day I could be Daddy Long Legs, The Monitor, Distinguish’d English Gentleman, Bee Stings, Sticky Pants, or any number of things. Actually, I’m not David Horning, I just am.

The point is: your name and identity were chosen for you, but you don’t have to live your life within the confines of these parameters.

Why?

There have been billions of people with light or dark skin, but only one you.

There have been billions of males and females, but only one you.

There have been billions of rich and poor people, but only one you.

There have been billions of homosexuals and heterosexuals, but only one you.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but only one u.

Embrace these facts fact and allow your deepest desires, character traits, and interests shine through like only you can do.

I challenge you to think about who you really are by pondering the concept of consciousness.

What is consciousness and how the hell did your consciousness become attached to your body? No one can know for sure, but what we do know for sure is that our bodies are limited while consciousness isn’t. You have the freedom to think anything you want. You have the freedom to be whoever you want to be. You have the freedom to interact with others any way you want. What makes it difficult to fathom the infiniteness of who we are is who we’ve been told we are, which is limited and limiting. From the moment we’re born, we start being told who we are: a boy, David, white, Republican, Catholic, middle class, straight, part German and Italian, right-brained, a chip off the ol’ block, an only child (for the first nine years of my life, at least), etc. When we spend our entire lives hearing these things, they become true to us and we accept them as who we are which buries our authentic, unadulterated, uncensored selves under layer after layer of identities. If someone comes up to you and asserts that you’re an architect when you’re a musician, you’d probably think, “What gives you the right to tell me what I am?” This is what happens to us when we’re young, but we’re too young to question these identities forced upon us from the outside, so we accept them and they become who we are.

When you’re old enough, you can either come to the realization that you can change your identity to better fit your unique consciousness, or you can live according to the expectations of others who aren’t you.

When you do the latter, your inner you is constantly trying to alert you that you’re doing life wrong:

When you’re bored at work.

When you’re offended by the opinions of others.

When you feel insignificant next to others.

These feelings are just your inner consciousness alerting you that it’s time to give up the façade you’ve built for yourself and be you. Unfortunately, your identity tells you that it’s the job’s fault you’re bored, the other person’s fault you’re offended, and the fault of your circumstances when you feel small next to someone else. In reality, this externalizing is just your identity’s way of protecting itself from you realizing you can shatter it and embrace your true self.

The identities that are created for us are what limit us and those around us by creating conflicts based on these imagined classifications. Our identity is infinite. To deny this, is to create inner-conflict, which often leads to external conflict. Don’t be who others expect you to be unless you want to live in constant conflict with yourself and others.

There is only one you. There has never been another you. There will never be another you. Why limit yourself into limiting categories determined by others?

This doesn’t mean that I want you to fill in the “African-American” bubble on a survey if you look like me. This does mean that I want you to get in touch with the real you. Strip away the labels, categories, classifications, and limits you’ve been given. If you were given a blank slate, what would you do? Who would you be? How would it feel to express your creativity without fearing the opinions of others? How would it feel to love everyone regardless of who they are or what they do? How would it feel to wake up every day inspired to work on something that engages and excites you? Strip away everything you know and be you.* Create your self-identity based on who you are, not based on who others tell you you are.

I create characters, get on stage, and do silly things because that’s who I am.

Chatham Adams

You’re not white, and neither am I; you’re you. You’re the only one who is lucky enough to be you, so embrace yourself and let the real you shine through to others.

 

 

*People are still made uncomfortable by nudity, so I don’t recommend literally stripping. Especially in public.

 

Now That’s What I Call Everything

NOW

NOW. Is that what I call music or is it the word my parents would use emphatically so I would get off my ass and do something? Now is both and it’s so much more. Now is so much more than three letters or the title of a never-ending music compilation that started in the 90s. Now is like pi: infinite and ever changing. Now is everything. Now is all we have. If you want to make a change, the best time to do it is always now. Life is just an infinite series of nows. Now was yesterday’s tomorrow. Now is tomorrow’s yesterday. Now is when I am writing this blog. Now is when you’ll be reading it. My initial subconscious response to, “I need to write a new blog post,” was, “Just do it tomorrow!” which is silly considering it will never be tomorrow, but it will always be now. If I had a dollar for every time I put something off until tomorrow and didn’t end up doing it at all, I’d be wearing a smoking jacket in an expensive, wood-paneled study, swirling a 21-year old single malt around a snifter, and dictating every word of this blog to my loyal manservant Javier. I don’t know any Javiers, which means there’s no reward for putting off taking action. Other than our thoughts, the most powerful tool we have is right now. This very moment, you, me, the lady next to me drinking a peppermint hot chocolate, the president of the United States, the homeless guy begging for change next to the 50th Street 1 Train station, Elon Musk, and the inmate on death row have the same opportunity: to make the most of now. The biggest obstacles to making the most of now are yesterday and tomorrow; past and future; what happened and what could happen.

Out of the Now and Into the Past and Future

       Time is such an abstract concept that don’t even try to wrap my head around it. What I know about for sure is the power of right here, right now. To dwell on past or future is to cost ourselves the opportunity of the present. When I was in Tennessee last week, I met a very pretty girl at a restaurant. We had a fun, lengthy conversation about food and bourbon (two of my favorite things), said our goodbyes, and parted ways. The entire time, a little voice in the back of my head was whispering, “Ask her for her number,” but every time, I responded, “There’s no way she’s going to give it to you – you’re only here for two days.” The next night, fate decided I should have a second chance, so she came running across the room at a random bar, hugged me, and struck up a conversation. Here was my train of thought:

“Dude, get her number!”

“What if she says no? Besides, you’re leaving after your presentation tomorrow anyway. There won’t be an opportunity to hang out.”

She went back to her friends and we continued on with our nights, but as I put on my jacket to leave, she came back and asked what I was doing the next day. She was giving me every opportunity to get her number, but my head was too in the future to notice:

“It’s getting late and I’ll be so tired tomorrow morning if I stick around. Plus, she probably doesn’t even like you.”

I explained to her that I had to drive an hour for my presentation the next morning, but she gave me another opportunity: “I’m off work tomorrow, maybe I’ll come watch you perform.”

In case you lost track, she had given me at least four opportunities to get her phone number, including the previous night. At this point, I had to ask her, right?

“That’s a long drive just to see me present. Plus, it’s early in the morning and I’m leaving right from there to go back to Ohio.”

Facepalm.

If I had a dollar for every time I have facepalmed myself while thinking about this exchange, I’d be wearing an invisibility cloak and hunting endangered lions on the plains of Africa while dictating every word of this blog via cranial implant to my loyal manservant Javier. I don’t know any Javiers, so it’s obvious that kicking myself over past events isn’t exactly moving me toward lavish, morally questionable safaris. In that moment, I was subconsciously basing my decision not to get her number on past situations where I had failed to get phone numbers and had my ego bruised, and also on a potential future situation that wasn’t guaranteed to happen. How could I know whether or not she’d give me her number? Instead of being in the now and listening to what my subconscious was telling me to do, I was stuck thinking about what could happen instead of what was actually happening. We became Facebook friends (a consolation prize), hugged, and parted ways. Instead of taking control, I shifted my consciousness out of the moment and put control over the situation into her hands. As I left, I remember thinking to myself, “I hope she comes tomorrow.” She didn’t, and it was because I chose to live in the past and future instead of living in the moment. Was she really trying to give me a cue to get her number? I can never know for sure, but I do know I can learn from this and stop facepalming myself when I think about it.

Stop Facepalming Yourself

       Fun fact about facepalms: if done properly, they hurt. Facepalming is painfully metaphorical for what happens when we live in the “what-ifs” of the past and future. When I think “What if?” in regards to this phone number situation, I imagine all the fun I could’ve had with a pretty cool girl, thus leading me to another mental facepalm:

“David, you’re so stupid. You should’ve asked for her number and invited her to your presentation. It could’ve been so fun! Instead you had to be a big IDIOT and leave!”

When I talk to myself using this tone, it doesn’t exactly generate any warm, fuzzy feelings. What this self-talk is actually doing is taking me out of the moment – the same thing that happened at the bar. When we spend now dwelling on past what-ifs, shouldas, and could’ve-beens, and future what-ifs, that-won’t-works, and I-can’ts, we take our attention away from the what-can-I-do-nows. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the past or future as long as it’s working in your favor now. Past events are opportunities to learn from and positive possible future events act as goals. Right now is an opportunity, but so are past events and future goals.

The past is just a series of former nows that we can use to learn from in

The present. Because decisions we made in past nows have led to now, that can only mean what we do now creates

The future. Just like now was yesterday’s future, tomorrow’s future is also going to be now. Yet another opportunity.

Take what you learned from past nows, do something now, and in future nows, learn from what you do with your current now and keep taking action. The next time I’m faced with a situation like I was in Knoxville, I’m going to re-direct my thoughts to the opportunity of now and do something about it. No more facepalms. Just NOWs.

What About Now?

       The next time you feel angry, sad, stressed, tired, self-conscious, nervous, etc., check your thoughts. Chances are they’re focused on the past or future and not the opportunity you have available to you now. Try it the next time you’re stuck in traffic and thinking about your boss yelling at you for being late or all of the things you could be doing, realize you’re missing out on now. The next time you’re about to give a big presentation and thinking about forgetting parts, getting laughed at, or failing to make the impact you want on your audience, realize you’re missing out on now. The next time you have an opportunity to ask someone out on a date, but you’re thinking about how they might say no and looking foolish, realize you’re missing out on now. Catch these thoughts and say, “Yeah, but what can I do now? How can I make now the best now until the next now?” Isn’t it silly to think, “I can’t wait until the next time I’m bored, pissed off, or way too nervous to do something,”? By leaving the now we make these outcomes inevitable. What do you have? All that exists in your life right now. Now ask, “How can I transform now into what I want?”

If I had a dollar for every time a past now led up to my present now, I would have the exact dollar amount I do right now, sitting in a Starbucks typing on my Macbook about my hypothetical manservant Javier while the song “This Moment” by Janine and the Mixtape coincidentally plays over the speakers (Seriously. You can’t write this stuff. Okay universe, I’m listening). This is my now. How can I make it the best now until the next now?

Nothing is Good or Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

The Best Lesson That Can Be Learned From Ferguson

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