Yesterday was National Voter Registration Day, not like I must tell you. I am sure your social media apps were covered with messages reminding you to vote. Celebrities championing the message, doing what they can to get people registered to vote.
The message is a good one. The next message will be to. Get out and vote! Make your voice heard! And so on. They are great messages. Voting is one of the key things that make our country great.
The issue I have is those messages are only part of the message that should be pushed on every single American citizen. The missing part of the message is education. Why don’t I see and hear celebrities blasting the message, “educate yourself, the election is almost here”. What about a call for people to do some deep thinking? Shouldn’t people know what issues they care about the most and where candidates stand on those issues? Is it ok to simply vote on party lines – ever?
I am all for registering as many as possible to vote. I am all for all registered voters getting to the polls.
I am completely against pushing those two messages though without another message that focuses solely on education. It’s not clear to me that people that don’t know the candidates and don’t know the policies and ideas that define them should vote at all.
The troubling part of all of this is it takes more work than ever to truly know what the candidates stand for and even then, the winds could change. We have a responsibility to do our best to understand the men and women we put in office.
We must not forget these individuals are no better and no smarter than anyone else. They are there to do one job, serve the people and they must be held accountability to that. Oh, and those celebrities. They are just people too. No better and no smarter than anyone else. And they come with their own biases and agendas. Think for yourself. Be accountable to yourself!
I haven’t posted in five months or so. It’s taken me a lot of time to wrap my head around everything going on in this country. I’ve also had a lot going on personally (good things and challenging things). I’m slowly coming back around to wanting and needing to write. I need to make sense of what is going on and where we go from here (impact on my family and the country). I’m excited to be writing again.
I’ve started reading Seneca again (the Stoic philosopher). My perspective on his writings has evolved as I see opportunities to apply the lessons to the world at large versus the micro view I have taken historically. In the past, I would try to use the lessons, and Stoicism in general, only in my personal life. By that I mean, I tried to apply his teachings to my family life (read my early posts to get a taste of that) or to my work life. I never looked beyond those “walls” though. Not looking beyond my personal situation was short-sighted, which has become crystal clear given the current environment we are living in.
In the last six months alone, our country has come face to face with a pandemic, police brutality, racism, protests, riots, vandalism, violence, and an upcoming election between two individuals that are not inspiring and seemingly have no chance of leading this country out of the mess we find ourselves.
Each of these observations is worthy of a blog post. That thought doesn’t interest me much given how much you can read on these topics today. This brings me to why I am writing. My concern is we don’t really know what is actually going on – and it is getting worse. The amount of inaccurate information – on purpose or not – seems to be overwhelming. It makes those of us who are looking for the truth frustrated and in a difficult spot to make educated decisions. More concerning, this misinformation empowers those that have little interest in the truth. These individuals are focused only on their view of the world. They are always right and the counter argument is always wrong. In today’s highly volatile environment, this reality, and the desperate need to prove how right you really are has led to widespread destruction and at times death.
It’s not clear to me if anyone knows what they are actually fighting for. I think there was a cause early on. I think that cause has turned into a scapegoat of sorts. Radical individuals or organizations looking for a reason to create chaos and destruction in this country – to what end I don’t know. Like Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Throughout the remainder of this post, I am going to quote Seneca. The quotes all come from, The Tao of Seneca, Volume 1, Letter 7 – On Crowds. This letter has helped me frame my thoughts on several very important issues plaguing this country and myself.
“Do you ask me what you should regard as especially to be avoided? I say, crowds; for as yet you cannot trust yourself to them with safety.I shall admit my own weakness, at any rate; for I never bring back home the same character that I took abroad with me.Something of that which I have forced to be calm within me is disturbed; some of the foes that I have routed return again. Just as the sick man, who has been weak for a long time, is in such a condition that he cannot be taken out of the house without suffering a relapse, so we ourselves are affected when our souls are recovering from a lingering disease. To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.”
“Taint us unconsciously”. There is enough data today to clearly tell us that we are being led in a certain direction, based on our preferences and habits. We are the puppets. What’s crazy is the CEO’s of some of these companies are telling us this directly and we simply don’t care. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, “Social-media companies are failing their users by creating echo chambers that encourage polarization”. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon said, “I think social media is increasing, unfortunately, identity politics, [and] tribalism. I think the internet in its current incarnation is a confirmation bias machine,”. “If you have a going in point of view and you go do some searches, you find confirmation of your point of view. If your newsfeed is showing you things, it’s showing you things that confirm your point of view.” Isn’t this exactly what we are seeing playing out today across the country – from coast to coast?
I strongly recommend watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix for more information on this topic from social media insiders. Tech executives and programmers at these companies go on the record telling us all what is going on and how we are being manipulated. There is no incentive for these companies to give us a balanced look at a certain topic – that isn’t going to move their needle.
“But nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of lounging at the games; for then it is that vice steals subtly upon one through the avenue of pleasure. What do you think I mean? I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings. By chance I attended a mid-day exhibition, expecting some fun, wit, and relaxation—an exhibition at which men’s eyes have respite from the slaughter of their fellow-men. But it was quite the reverse. The previous combats were the essence of compassion; but now all the trifling is put aside and it is pure murder. The men have no defensive armour. They are exposed to blows at all points, and no one ever strikes in vain. Many persons prefer this programme to the usual pairs and to the bouts “by request.” Of course they do; there is no helmet or shield to deflect the weapon. What is the need of defensive armour, or of skill? All these mean delaying death. In the morning they throw men to the lions and the bears; at noon, they throw them to the spectators. The spectators demand that the slayer shall face the man who is to slay him in his turn; and they always reserve the latest conqueror for another butchering. The outcome of every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword. This sort of thing goes on while the arena is empty. You may retort: “But he was a highway robber; he killed a man!” And what of it? Granted that, as a murderer, he deserved this punishment, what crime have you committed, poor fellow, that you should deserve to sit and see this show? In the morning they cried “Kill him! Lash him! Burn him! Why does he meet the sword in so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly? Why doesn’t he die game? Whip him to meet his wounds! Let them receive blow for blow, with chests bare and exposed to the stroke!” And when the games stop for the intermission, they announce: “A little throatcutting in the meantime, so that there may still be something going on!”
This last line rings true doesn’t it? We have a constant need to know what is going on in the world. The phone dinged or vibrated, I have to look. Maybe there are message or notifications that I cannot miss. If I have to go to the bathroom, my phone is coming with me. Exercising, traveling, eating, I can’t be without my phone. I need to know what the latest news is. It seems we are more and more incapable of existing in our own head space.
I think the question that needs to be asked is a simple one, why? Why do I need to look at my phone and those apps all the time? What am I getting out of it? Am I actually learning anything? Is there any real value being provided by these apps? I don’t have the answers, but I am asking myself these questions.
“Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbour, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it! You must either imitate or loathe the world.”
This is where I truly get concerned. Our reliance on our smart phones and computers expose us to the entire world. We know that other countries are taking shots at us. They are poking holes in our character and at the moral fabric of the country. We know about Russia and China intentionally interfering with our elections. We would be naive to think it stops there. The crazy thing is even with this knowledge we don’t make any changes to our habits. We don’t delete Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We can’t see this interference directly, so we simply go on with our day. I am not sure we would change our habits even if something happened directly to us. Sounds like an addiction doesn’t it? You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t stop yourself.
Our country seems to be headed for some disastrous event or events if we continue on this path. The only solution that seems to have any chance of success is a large group of people coming together and talking openly and honestly about the issues that plague their communities and their families. Clearly there are polarizing topics that will never be “settled”, but there is no reason compromise and moderation cannot be our path to a peaceful and developing society. We clearly aren’t on that path now. Reading Seneca makes me wonder how much we have really evolved. He died in 65 AD and his words seem to speak directly to our world today.
This post has been on my mind for a couple years now. It looked a lot different back then compared to what I am about to write.
UBU (You Be You) was an idea that my oldest daughter and I came up with several years ago. It was born from her desire to help people feel confident in being themselves and my desire to encourage her to never stop being the fiercely independent girl (young woman now I guess 😢) that she is. I never want her to lose the free spirit she has in her. UBU would come up from time to time in passing, but really not much more than her asking me when will we do something with this idea. Can we put it on a shirt or do something “cool” like that? Nothing much happened until a couple months ago when I found this really cool local small business that prints designs on all kinds of products. They do it inexpensively and without having to order dozens of products to make it worth you while. I surprised my daughter with a UBU hat recently. It’s “real” now! Kidding aside, although small and insignificant, it was kind of cool to see our idea on a product.
UBU has really taken on a life of it’s own in my mind. A confluence of thoughts banging around in my head have brought it into focus. It’s also expanded rapidly and grew into something much more. Let me explain what is going on in my head.
First, the very clear racial divide our nation faces was brought center stage by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. These deaths and all the other information coming out about how difficult it is to live in this country if your skin isn’t white is overwhelming. It also took our simple idea of UBU and turned it on it’s head. For some, UBU is simply not possible, not without the threat of violence and death on your mind. Story after story about black people not feeling comfortable going for a run or taking a walk in their neighborhood sadden me. Reading a story about a black man that purposely doesn’t walk in his own neighborhood without his daughter because if she is by his side then he is “ok” was sickening. So much for UBU.
It is hard to comprehend that in this country, in 2020, we have large groups of people that are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin. It embarrasses me and I feel ashamed. Obviously this is a very complex topic and I am doing my best to work through as much information as I can. I want to figure out how best I can help to change this crisis our country faces. For now, I will read and I will listen.
While our country is playing chicken with what feels like a race war, we’ve had challenges inside our own home with our three adopted kids. I’ve written about them before. I’ve written about the immense challenges they face and the challenges we face trying to parent them. I won’t repeat those stories, but can say I am certain there is nothing harder I will ever do in my life than try to navigate this very complex world of fetal alcohol syndrome and significant trauma. Fortunately, I haven’t had any stories like my daughter yelling “stranger danger” as I try to get her back in our car recently. Unfortunately, what I am about to write is really much more difficult.
I’ve come to the realization that I have to be a much better dad to my adopted kids, to my brain damaged adopted kids. These kids have damaged brains because of what they were exposed to before and after they were born. We won’t ever fully understand the extent of the damage, but we are starting to see some of it play out as we watch our two little biological girls grow and develop very quickly on one end of the age spectrum and my two older biological kids thrive at the other end of the age spectrum.
These kids can be really, really hard sometimes or maybe most of the time. Their behaviors are extremely challenging and very difficult to understand. We go out of our way to make accommodations and do what we can to keep the peace for as many minutes of the day as possible. These accommodations help, but they can’t fix the damage that was done.
They are good kids though. I know their behaviors are not intentional. Unfortunately that doesn’t always stick in my head as the daily grind gets the better of me. As time has gone on and they have gotten older, it is becoming clear they are lagging behind their peers as it relates to school and play. This hasn’t been easy for me to adjust to. I’ve been very fortunate. My older biological kids are “easy”. They do very well at most things. I’m able to push them and challenge them to be better because I know they understand why I’m doing it and I know what they are capable of. I can already see it in my 2.5-year-old too. I haven’t adjusted to the fact that our soon to be 11-year-olds’ play similar to my 2.5-year-old. It’s even harder for me to comprehend that my almost 9-year-old’s play hasn’t evolved in the entire time I’ve known him (5+ years). His play consists of banging two legos or blocks together for hours on end, using very few words. My favorite (sarcasm) is at about 8PM every night he begins pounding on the floor directly about our living room for hours. It can be a lot.
So where does UBU fit in? I realized these kids can’t be themselves without feeling judged either. Judged by strangers, judged by their peers, and although it’s painful to say, judged by me. It may not be verbal, but I know I do it. I know my facial expressions tell them I am trying to figure out why they are acting a certain way when I should simply be ok with who they are and where they are today.
As I continue to look inward in 2020, I realize our UBU idea is a very good one. It is a meaningful one, even if I am the only one that gets something from it. UBU should be practiced and said throughout the day. It is my mantra, I say it often now. Instead of cracking that innocent joke when we see a guy driving by himself in a car with a mask on, I smile and say UBU to myself and my kids. This change in how I think has been a positive one for me. The innocent jokes were never meant to hurt or harm anyone, but I think they were harming my mind. The bottom line is if you aren’t hurting anyone, including yourself, then UBU – always!
As time has gone on something else was taking shape too. The guiding principles I want to live my life by were becoming clear. UBU took me to what I call my 3 Pillars. The name is not creative and I spent no time coming up with it, but regardless let me lay it out for you.
The 3 Pillars help guide me towards living my very best life. They are Accountability, Courage, and Effort (A.C.E). These pillars are surrounded by the Koru. The Koru is a spiral shape based on the appearance of a new unfurling silver fern frond. It symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace.
Let me define each of the pillars.
Accountability is defined as “answerable for actions or decisions”. As it relates to my life, I break it down further into what I am fully responsible for:
Everything I do and say
The roles I’ve chosen to take on
Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens oneself”. This means two very important things to me:
Courage to live your authentic life, free of concern of the crowd – I am not a sheep
Courage to evolve based on constantly learning and questioning my thoughts, opinions, and actions
Effort is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt”. This one seems like it is the easiest, but I think in today’s world it may be the most difficult.
I will show up and I will do something
I will make forward progress, without concern for how much or how little I gain each day
As I explained above, the Koru is a symbol for new life, growth, strength, and peace. I think the Koru is a perfect symbol for how I choose to live my life. I will continuously grow. It won’t be easy and it will take time, but I will continue to grow.
How will I apply what I wrote above? As it relates to the world and specifically the injustices the black community continues to face, I’ll listen. I’ll do my very best to understand. I’ll take what I hear and will find a way to make a positive impact. Maybe that is as simple as educating my kids or maybe there is a larger role for me to play. Regardless I’ll put in the effort necessary to make a difference.
As it relates to my family, I will find a way to meet the very unique needs of my adopted kids. I’ll meet them where they are without judgment. I’ll support all of my kids in whatever way is best for each of them. And when I screw it up, I will try again.
We are living through unprecedented times in our country’s history. Perhaps this is the moment my generation will have that goes down in history. When I look back or talk to my grand kids about this time I want to do so proudly. I want to be able to say I showed up and I tried. I was courageous because I asked myself the hard questions and was willing to answer them honestly. I put away my preconceived notions about many things and began to look at things through the lens of those living it. I want my kids to know I was strong enough to evolve and get better every day.
Father’s day is several days away and on my mind. When my kids think about me, I want them to remember me as someone that always showed up. I want them to remember their dad was far from perfect, but never ever stopped trying to be better. I want them to know I was willing to challenge everything and everyone on my quest to live an authentic life. I want them to know their dad was not a sheep. More than anything though, I want them to know that regardless of what was going on at the time, their dad always had their back and always loved them!
Why do I write this? I write it for my kids. I want them to be able to look back when they are adults, parents, employees/employers and know it’s ok not to have the world figured out. That things can be hard or they can be easy. That ultimately if you have your heart in the right place everything will work out.