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Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

witch

The annual commencement speech at the University of Oz was delivered by the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister unable to attend the ceremony because she was bogged down with housework.

Good afternoon graduates. While it is customary to be warmly embraced by your commencement speaker, it is not in my purview to offer you hollow plaudits and pleasant platitudes. I will not coddle you, I will not play nice-nice with you, and I will most definitely not bull shit you.  You have a legitimate reason to celebrate because you did finish what you started out to do when you graduated from high school. That’s more than the close to 50% of college bound students can say who didn’t pass the finish line. But don’t get a swelled head. Across the fruited plains of America two million undergraduate degrees are being awarded.  Mathematically that means you are not even one in a million.

Economic statisticians love to point out that college graduates have a much higher life-time earning potential than non-graduates. Big deal. So you spent about $200,000 to get where you are today.  It will take you a decade to break even with your non-graduate contemporaries’ earnings. Imagine what you could have done with that $200,000.  Instead of earning 15 credits studying abroad for a semester, you could have actually lived abroad for four years and come away with a lifetime of valuable experiences.  You could have invested your $200,000 and bought a nice car with the interest.

But for the moment let’s forget about earning potential and let’s focus on what happened to you after four years on the Yellow Brick Road. What did you really learn? What did you really learn here in these hallowed halls and rolling hills that you couldn’t have learned somewhere else? How many hours did you spend in class and working on papers and projects that were wasted hours?  If your four years of college were an orange, how much juice would you have actually squeezed out?

If we were to be really honest you would know that it wasn’t the courses you took in college that made all the difference, but it was the course you set to navigate the waters of higher education. If you didn’t set a course, all the credit courses you took were for naught. But don’t think for a moment that your course had to be a rigid one because many a boat has been dashed upon the rocks because the navigator failed to trim the sails or let them fly when necessary.

Graduation is not a final destination. It’s a port. If you got the most out of your education you will see the open seas and be overwhelmed about all the opportunities that await you.

Please don’t think for a moment that your diploma is equipped with a GPS. Your diploma is like a driver’s license. And if you can remember the day you passed your road test you had no problem saying you still had a lot to learn.

Sometime in the next week or so, check your parents’ odometer and see how many miles they’ve journeyed on the Yellow Brick Road and ask them what they’ve learned in all the years they’ve been driving.

It is totally out of character for me to say anything that is not a tad wicked, but I will break character today and say this. You life is what you make of it and if I can offer you a suggestion, your life will be full of meaning if you take full responsibility for your actions, your motives and your decisions. You will never have full control of what happens to you in life, but you can retain control over how you deal with what life throws at you. So don’t spend your life blaming others.

Formal education eventually comes to an end, but learning does last a lifetime…if you choose a lifetime of learning.

Now get out of here before I turn you into a Munchkin.

 

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english muffin whole

With social media taking over our lives I fear that we’ve moved from having superficial relationships to having what I call “surface-ficial” relationships. Many of us are no deeper than our facebook profile photo. Of course that’s not true, but it is so much safer and easier to be surface people. But as we trod the YBR we gain so much along the way.  Every knock and every boost goes into making us who we are. But rather than reveal the inner us, we show the world our outside.

Just think about the many people who have been or still are in your life. Just think about the hundreds upon hundreds of people you have met and will meet on the YBR. Because we travel the YBR at breakneck speed we don’t have the time to see more than what we see on the outside of  person.  Of course there are people whose insides show on the outside.  Sadness seems to rise to the surface and hardships also can shape the surface.  Happiness and joy can also radiate on the surface as well. But for the most part we hide much of what is inside us.

In the classic musical “A Chorus Line,” the opening lines in the opening song say, “Who am I anyway. Am I my resume.”  Well, modern man can often be reduced to a resume, but that only scratches the surface.

Take the ordinary English Muffin. On the surface it looks like most other English Muffins. It’s not until you fork-split one, that you reveal what the makers of Thomas’ English Muffins call the nooks and crannies.

nooks and crannies

If you fork split open a person you reveal not just nooks and crannies, but every knock and every boost of a person’s life.  In short, once fork-split, we reveal our character. And it’s only after you do this can you actually understand who someone is and how someone became the person they are.

So many people who mean something to us step off the YBR without us ever having ever seen all those “nooks and crannies.”  And once gone, it’s too late.

I had an Aunt Mary who was an extraordinary English Muffin.  Fortunately as I got older (and I dare say, wiser) I got to see inside my Aunt Mary.  She had far many more knocks than she did have boosts, from being abused by a wicked step-mother, to having a very challenging marriage to my uncle that eventually led to a permanent separation.

But through it all and sharing all her love to raise two amazing sons, she glowed and had a laugh that was contagious.

Unless we see the “nooks and crannies” that make up a person, we can never say we know them.  Unless we are willing to let people see our “nooks and crannies,” we will never be authentic.

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wicked witch

Today we toss words around like a volleyball and as a result the words not only lose meaning but get turned inside out.  The word “deserve” comes to mind because a young neighbor of ours just lost his mother suddenly and his father, who is divorced from the mother, is battling cancer.  My wife said that no family deserves that much hardship.  And while I agreed with her that such a burden was more than anyone can handle, I disagreed with the word “deserve.”

A very old word that once simply meant the benefits accord to someone who was worthy of them because of what they had done.  Being deserving was not a trivial honor. It was a high form of “earned”recognition.

Today you might hear someone say that a young Boy Scout who was working in a soup kitchen did not deserve to have his bike stolen or the young rock star did not deserve such praise and adulation.  In both cases the sense of deserving is purely subjective.  We, in our often misguided ways, think we have a right to determine who should or should not be deserving.

Did the Wicked Witch of the East deserve to die when the housing market dropped?  She was evil and if we are to believe the Munchkins, she ruled Munchkin Land as a cruel despot. So, did she get what she deserved? And did the Wicked Witch of the West get what she deserved by being melted away?

I believe in the demise of the Wicked Witches we are talking about our sense of justice which is “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.”

In our daily and ordinary lives we often confuse deserving or not deserving of something with our sense of “fairness.”  We don’t think it’s fair when someone we believe is good , and therefore deserving of good tidings, is stricken with cancer or suffers some tragedy.  We also don’t think it’s fair when a rich and powerful person gets richer or more powerful…for no reason.

We need to forget about deserving and fairness in the human condition unless we can say justice has been abused.  And when justice is abused we not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight to see that justice triumphs.

I think the worst thing we can do is bring in a “supernatural being” into the equation as if this “being” is the cause of or responsible for usually allowing bad things to happen. When we do this we minimize we make ourselves a pitiful victim of a whimsical god.

Bottom line?  We should be advocates for justice (and mercy). And we should stop thinking we deserve anything just because.  I don’t “deserve” to be treated fairly.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions. I can only be responsible for the way I think and the way I act.  I need to live each day being a positive force.  I need to be kind and caring. I need to put others before me. But that does not mean I should not stand strong against injustice.   That’s where I stand firm and say no one “deserves” to be the victim of injustice.

Complicated…right?

 

 

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circus-elephants

A high school friend recently posted on FB about how bittersweet it is that the circus era is coming to an end.  Bittersweet it is because many of us have circus memories etched into our childhood DNA.

We could debate the issue of the circus closing until the elephants come home, but that won’t be very productive.  In my mind, the issue is much larger than the big top.  It has to do with change…be it radical or simple.

The status was pretty  much “quo” in Oz until Dorothy crashed landed.  After that the balance was forever tipped.

We are not the first generation to be challenged by changes.  How many people were bereft when the horse and buggy was replaced by the Tin Lizzie?  How many blacksmiths lost their jobs when their services were no longer needed?

Change is inevitable. We all know that.  But there is something different about the way things have been changing in our lifetime. Change that is gradual and organic is something we can come to understand and even eventually embrace.  But change that is sudden and that comes like a tornado often leaves us breathless.

Animal rights advocates launched a campaign to end the abuse of the majestic animals that were the mainstay of the circus.  Having looked into what had to be done to take a wild animal and have it dance, prance and jump through burning hoops, I was sickened.

With what I know now, should I cringe at having been thrilled when I was held captive under the big top as a child?  Is ignorance really bliss?

I only have to take a look back at the way it was when I was a kid, a time when women’s rights were limited, when segregation was the “law” of the land, when people who suffered from mental illness were institutionalized, when being gay was a punishable  “sin,” when….

I think none of us really have a problem with changes that “change” the way we operate. Who had a problem throwing out the ink pen that used to blot at the worst moment and started using a ball point pen?  Who held a rally to stop automakers from introducing automatic drive, power steering and power breaks?

I think many of us who are open to change don’t know how to handle the militant advocacy that often precedes change.

That’s not to mean that militant advocacy is not more often than not necessary or needed. I mean how far would the Civil Rights movement had gone had advocacy not been the spur? Where would women be if the fight for change was not loud and open?

As much as we could point to other moments in time when change washed over us in tidal wave proportion, that was then and this is NOW.

Should we go with the flow and welcome change?  Should we stand firm and resist change?I mean, is change always good?

I have no answers. All I can say is that life is so friggin’ complicated!

 

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fork-in-the-road

I’m in the state of confusion, the 51st state of the Union where I seem to have taken up permanent residence.  Lately I’m very confused about the definition of words we toss around with reckless abandon.  Words like Democrat and Republican, in my opinion, are totally useless words that should be banned from use in private or public.  But words like conservative and liberal are two words that need some attention.

The dictionary defines the two this way as adjectives:

liberal – open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
conservative – holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

The “troubling” words in the liberal definition are “willing to discard,” because discard is so close in meaning to toss or throw away like a piece of trash. The words “cautious about change” in the definition of conservative are, in my opinion, less offensive, but can easily be used to stop progress.

What I hate about the two words, aside from their lame definitions, is the fact that both words have driven a wedge between us.

I am a conservative.  I conserve water, energy, and natural resources.  I am a liberal. I am liberal with the time I spend helping other people, in using my money to help the less fortunate, and in praising people when praise is deserved.

But, I am not so cautious about change, when change is beneficial to us all, even if it might benefit some more than others.  I am not willing to discard traditional values without some gut-wrenching decision-making because, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.

I have no problem embracing relationships of and between genders. I have no problem with people who are working hard to legalize marijuana. I am a big supporter when it comes to making sure everyone’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are defended. I am not a big, vocal proponent of abortion, but, I am against making it illegal because that won’t work.  Does that mean I’m too weak to defend the lives of the unborn? No.  It just means that I think a woman does have a right to make a decision despite the fact that I believe life is life…but a life has to be wanted, and I don’t buy the argument about so many couples want to adopt children.  (The issue is far too complex to fit into a blog.)

But I also fear that we are living in a society where anything goes without giving a second thought to traditional values that perhaps might  have some permanence and universal viability. These values, in my opinion, include respect, honesty, tolerance, selflessness, compassion, etc.  My conservative genes believe that today it is hard to maintain values in a world that spins on an axis of entitlement.

When I was in college during the big anti-war movement of the 60s, I was amazed how a “liberal” student could come home from a peace march and turn up his stereo to a deafening volume, but would say “fuck off” to a conservative, aka, hawk, when asked if the stereo could be scaled back.

I sometimes believe that extreme liberals and conservatives make it hard for all of us to create a world of mutual respect and admiration.  There are numerous forks in the road and we have to believe that not all of the roads to the left need be taken nor should we take all of the roads to the right. As a secular people we have to understand that our rights can be found in our founding documents. As a secular people we also need to know that we have a right to make changes in our laws and that our “laws” are not necessarily sacred.

Progress is not a dirty word. It does not, pardon the expression, trump, using our heads or following our hearts in the pursuit of creating a just world.  It does mean it is going to take a lot of internal courage to support justice for all.

 

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tinman-crying

Life is a song – sing it.
Life is a game – play it.
Life is a challenge – meet it.
Life is a dream – realize it.
Life is a sacrifice – offer it.
Life is love – enjoy it.

Sai Baba

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fishermanplank

WARNING: This blog might be offensive to people who are strictly literal by nature or default. I prefer absurdity over anything.

I had a difficult time coming up with an image for this blog because I didn’t want to take the easy way out and post a picture that ridicules the subject of this blog, because if anything destroys an open dialogue it’s mockery.

I was reduced to bat-shit bafflement the other day when I watched the news coverage of the opening of the Noah’s Ark (amusement/bemusement) attraction in Kentucky. I might cringe at Bible Villages and Water Parks (Old or New Testament) and other religious themes attractions, but I am rarely left dumbfounded.

It’s not that a certain conservative Christian raised money to reconstruct Noah’s Ark using a Biblical blueprint. It’s the fact that one man’s religious conviction/faith is dismissively arrogant and steel-trap closed minded.

The founder of this Biblical attraction is of the school of a literal interpretation of the Bible. His many visitors/followers are of the same school. That there has been a very vocal negative reaction to this Arktraction (my word) can be found by a simple Google Search.

What saddens me more than the literal reading of the story of Noah in Genesis, is the ripple effect such an interpretation has on almost everything else. Not only does it reduce scientific research and discoveries to a pile of saw dust, it supports such “arkaic” notions regarding life in the 21st Century.

But, and it was a big but that went off in my head like the big bang, Noah’s Arktraction is too easy a subject to attack when “we” are so willing to “accept”  other sacred stories, dogmas, religious rules, etc. on face value.

If we want to poop-poop the Ark ( and there must have been a lot of shit in the hold of that boat at the end of the voyage), we have to be willing to poke a stick at some of the other “big beliefs” proclaimed as truths by the other major world religions.

Walking on water, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, immaculate conceptions, virgin births, transubstantiation and resurrections, also have to be free game for thinkers and non-believers.

And lest we forget, Christianity is not the only belief system that obliges followers to strict adherence of dogmas and laws.  Have you ever taken a glance at the 613 Mitzvots (Commandments) of Judaism?  Oy! Made me shake my head so many times I risked having it fall off.

Not to mention some of the eye-opening “beliefs” put forth in the Book of Mormon (not the  musical) and the Koran.

Proving or disproving any belief system is a waste of time.  People who are wired to a particular belief system are usually not willing to abandon their beliefs…and people who are adamantly opposed to a particular belief system are equally unwilling to embrace the “thoughtology” of another person.

Because I have pushed the boundaries of a belief system imposed on me as a dumb ass kid and opened my mind to dozens of belief systems, I can no longer be a literalist in any fashion.

Joseph Campbell, a man who devoted his life to unraveling religious thought, once said, “Mythology is someone else’s religion.”

And to be very honest, I am not particularly concerned with religious truth. I wake up each morning excited about possibilities.  I live my day making an effort to be kind and compassionate and when I see a wrong, i.e. where someone’s life, liberty and the pursuit of joy is jeopardized, I will speak up and out.

I don’t need an afterlife. I might need an occasional breath mint after dinner, but I don’t do anything during the day to secure an orchestra seat in a place many people call heaven.

I no longer believe in a God presented in any so-called books of sacred scripture. If there is any truth to the idea that I was created in the image and likeness of “God” I don’t have to take it literally.  I’ll just think that I have to power in my little hands to do my part to create a world where all people can bathe in the sunlight of life.

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