Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

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.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

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

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

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

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

Whoa.

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

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

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

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

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

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

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

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

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

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

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

That’s just stating a historical fact.

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

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.

 

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.

Labels: The Real Enemy of Political Progress

 

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

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

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

What about politics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Piece on Peace: The Gun, the Horn, and Bacon Hands

In this week’s blog, I wanted to take the opportunity to present some alternative perspectives on violence and some ideas on how we can create solutions focused on peace. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we were coming up with the right solutions, I would be writing about how to make delicious bourbon braised pork and the news would be filled with more stories about skateboarding bulldogs.

I’m not, and there are no bulldogs to be found, so that means it’s time to at least consider some new ways of thinking.

Solutions and change begin with different perspective. I wrote some humorous shorts accompanied by solution-oriented ways to think about problems. A maintained focus on problems eventually creates more problems while maintained focus on solutions can only create solutions. I use humor and my own observations, which are based on a combination of human history and our psychological tendencies, to break up problem-oriented thinking and replace it with solution-oriented thinking. I hope you enjoy and I would love to hear your thoughts on my ideas and how we can use them to promote peace on this planet we’ve been gifted. – David

(The following are excerpts taken from an article found on Upworthy)

Portland Pacifist Promotes Peace With Pistol

There have been more mass shootings in the United States so far this year than there have been days. Many people would consider this a problem, but a Portland inventor sees this as an opportunity for a solution.

Paul (who refuses to use a last name to identify himself) is a self-proclaimed pacifist and who has come up with a concept that, he believes, will solve the problem of gun violence; it’s called the Fun Gun, and he’s working on getting a patent.

“Essentially, when someone pulls a gun on you, you pull out the Fun Gun, aim it at them, and fire,” explained Paul.

“The subsequent explosion of confetti, flower petals, and little pieces of paper with hilarious improv suggestions will disarm your attacker and initiate a laugh-filled opportunity to make a new friend. As soon as they see the Fun Gun pointed at them, chances are, they’re going to shoot you a smile, put their own gun down, and join you in a joyful jaunt at the ATM. Everyone wins!”

“Hold up the hold up with the Fun Gun”

The Traffic Tantrum of the Pacifist Isn’t Much of a Tantrum at All

Weapons aren’t the only peace-promoting invention up Paul’s sleeve. According to him, he recently invented a horn that shouts, “Good try, but I know you’re a better driver than that; drive safely!” rather than the honk we’ve become accustomed to.

“The normal horn sounds so aggressive, so I went with something more conducive to safety and friendship,” offered Paul with a smile on his face.

“I call it the Helpful Honker because it offers a positive suggestion, rather than criticizing someone else’s mistakes. I want other people to hear ‘Hey, you have opportunity to grow as a driver,’ rather than ruin their day with the car version of ‘F YOU!’ When someone pulled out in front of me today, I honked my horn, and for the next five minutes I drove behind them, they didn’t pull out in front of anyone else. It really works!”

As Paul likes to say, “Stop Going Bonkers and Get Some Helpful Honkers!”

The Helpful Honker should be on store shelves by this time next year.

What’s the Point?

Most people in the world aren’t violent, but if we respond with violence to the few who try to violently exert themselves, we can only be met by resistance, or more violence. This law has constantly repeated itself throughout history. Violence cannot be solved with violence. Debt cannot be solved by spending money and creating more debt. Fire cannot be extinguished by more fire, no matter how much less fiery it is. So what will happen if we try to solve gun violence with more guns?

When we tell someone they’re wrong or that they shouldn’t behave a certain way, they focus on the negative, start to feel negatively, and then tend to search for and focus on all of the other negatives they can think of. We’re resisting them, which drives them to resist our resistance, and no one wins. We’re much better off complimenting someone on what they’re doing well, offering improvement suggestions like “Drive safely,” and giving them words of encouragement that can work to inspire them.  Instead of focusing on what they’re doing incorrectly, we subconsciously prompt them to focus on the opportunity to improve, which lifts their spirits, offers them a different perspective of themselves, and shows them they have some external support.

 

Bacon > Violence

When I was six, I wanted pistol-hands, but didn’t think about the consequences. If you’re thinking about replacing your hands with guns, consider replacing them with something completely different: bacon hands. Gun hands unintentionally turn handshakes into holdups. Bacon hands, on the other bacon hand, turn handshakes into friendships (and milkshakes into deliciousness).

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Why don’t we teach people that when they think a thought like, “Other people make me so angry! I want to shoot someone!” it isn’t very positive? Why don’t we teach people that we can rebut violent thoughts by simply interrupting and changing our thought patterns? “How else can I view the situation in a way that makes me and other people feel happy?” 0r “Bacon is delicious,” are more conducive to solution-seeking than, “I hate the lifestyle of these people and they need to die!” This way of thinking is focused on the problem (the fact that this person hates something about others), and can only create more problems.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a bacon-related mass shooting. If everyone shared bacon (or something else that promotes goodwill), I can guarantee fewer mass shootings and more mass huggings. What if we learned to use our thoughts to grow ourselves and contribute to the world? Our thoughts either work for or against us. If we learn to trace negative feelings back to thoughts, we’ll quickly understand how our thoughts work against us. If we examine these thoughts, explore thoughts that make us, and others, feel better, and think those thoughts, we can replace negative action with action that is more conducive to the well-being of ourselves and our world. Chances are, murderers aren’t thinking, “I want to bring joy to the lives of others today.” If we learn to replace constricting thoughts with thoughts that expand ourselves and others, we realize the level of control we have over our existence and can then experience the freedom of self; one of the most fulfilling joys of all… other than bacon hands.

In closing, some (definitely not fake) motivational quotes:

“He who establishes his argument by noise and command, shows that his reason is weak. Either that or the music is way too loud and he should turn it down so you can hear what he’s saying.” – Michel de Montaigne

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind… Unless we’re referring to eye transplants, which can make blind people see. Are eye transplants a thing yet? If not, I need to invent them before I die from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.” – Albert Einstein the day before he died

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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