Tag Archives: Shame

Dear Mr. President: an open letter

“In America, anyone can become President. That’s the problem.” –George Carlin

Hello friend,

Don’t you ever wish you could get the undivided attention of the leaders of the world and give them a piece of your mind? You know, just sit down over a beverage and try to get them to understand the world from your perspective or try to change their mind on a few things. Or maybe you imagine yourself as the principal and them coming into your office to sit while you stand over them and read them the riot act (my elementary school principal was a frightening dude, so this visual works for me!). Maybe you want to praise them for their wisdom and their class in handling a recent crisis, or perhaps you would rather berate them for the way they have let your country lose its place in the world order. Whatever your agenda, I bet you have imagined one of these conversations (or monologues) with some leader somewhere along the way.

Well, I am not sure if you have noticed, but the guy who lives in the White House these days seems to evoke some pretty strong sentiments from the citizens of the country he is charged to lead. I am one of those citizens.

I have read the Tweets and watched the press conferences. I have studied his appointees, his agreement withdrawals, and his proposals. I followed the seemingly endless presidential campaign very closely, and I have continued to follow the presidency.

It would be an understatement to say that I have an opinion on the matter. I can’t imagine that anyone in America with a head above ground does not have an opinion on the matter! But you know how delicate, emotional, and often combative political discussions can get. It can be hard to be fully honest and feel safe. And sometimes, just for our sanity, we try to bury our heads about what is going on, right? Because with one dramatic turn of events after another, to fully process them all just might be unhealthy.

So I was thinking this week that with the news cycle a little more off politics and onto other disasters, this might be just the time to think a bit more clearly about how we might address this polarizing character at the head of our government. And what better way than our journal, of course! The safest depository for sensitive or inflammatory ideas. It’s perfect! And so, a letter to the President….

Dear Mr. President, 

I am writing to you today because I would like to get some things off my chest. These are just from me. Though my political bent is definitely to the liberal side of the spectrum, I don’t affiliate with any party and don’t wish to speak for anyone but myself today. One voter, one citizen.  

I’m actually a deeply concerned citizen. Frankly, I don’t appreciate your style of leadership or the direction you are steering our country from a policy perspective.  

As far as your personal leadership style and the way you come across as the figurehead of America, I am a deeply embarrassed citizen. I have followed several Presidents in my lifetime and have disagreed with many (sometimes most) of their big decisions or policies. I never deluded myself into thinking any of them were saints. I don’t need my President to be a perfect soul. However, your words and actions have failed just about every moral test I can imagine.  

I often think of this stuff in terms of my children and how they would see it or be affected by it. Up to this point in my life, I can imagine thinking it would be really cool if the President—from either party–were to come to their school to address them or to come by our house for dinner. Despite our political differences, I believed the President would act with class and grace and be a good example to my kids. Now, if given those opportunities, I would keep my children home from school that day and deny the dinner request. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of what you might say or do. That’s a shame.  

I find it disturbing and disheartening how often I hear or read or think of your actions being characterized as “beneath the office of the Presidency.” I don’t need to make the list—it seems that you follow your press clippings closer than I do—but again, it is enough to make me feel bad for the kids. “The Office” seems to be now permanently diminished for your successors. With so few things left in the world to feel some reverence for, it saddens me that you have singlehandedly robbed all the future kids of our nation of something special.  

And again, it is not as though I was expecting a beacon of morality when you entered the office. Whether through your history of housing discrimination, the Central Park Five, birtherism, the Mexican rapists, the anti-Muslim stuff, mocking the disabled, and the Access Hollywood tape, it was clear long before the election that you were—both publicly and privately—anything but a model for social justice and inclusion. Still, I held out a sliver of hope that even if the presidency didn’t chasten you a bit, as others predicted, that it might just tone down the frequency and blatant nature of crassness and bluster.  

I probably would have settled for you just stopping the Tweets. But no, you seem intent upon throwing gasoline on any sparks you may have ignited and making volatile situations exponentially worse, doubling down on your missteps rather than walking them back (never mind apologizing). For someone who bragged so often of his presidential temperament along the campaign trail, your absence of wisdom, grace, and simple personal control is frightening.  

Probably by now you have guessed that I am not much of a fan of your policy proposals, either.  

If you hadn’t already lost the respect and support of people around the world by the time you pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement—if you recall, the polls suggested you were already vastly unpopular globally—that was certainly the moment, for me, that it felt absolutely obvious that the United States was no longer to be considered the leader of the world, and maybe not even ONE OF the leaders. It seems that in trying to “put America first,” you ended up placing America last and all by itself. The feeling I came away with was, again, embarrassment.  

Your recent plan to revoke DACA, your anti-Muslim travel ban, your pardon of civil rights violator Joe Arpaio, your encouragement of police to be more rough with suspects, your ban on transgender people in the military, and your wink-wink “denouncement” of neo-Nazis and White supremacists following the nightmare in Charlottesville—not to mention the many things you said and did prior to becoming President—have all created an atmosphere in which so many more people in our country today feel unsafe and unsupported.  

I am not here to argue about whether or not you are a White supremacist, but what I do want to make perfectly clear is that your words and your actions have helped create an atmosphere in which White supremacists feel increasingly emboldened and comfortable as a part of our everyday, “normal” society. If you truly are not a White supremacist, I hope you are appalled by that. It seems that you are not.  

One of the things I have noticed since you became President—and for a long time I could not quite put my finger on it—is that the country seems to be suffering from a form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There is this extreme sense of apprehension in the air, like we are constantly worried about which calamity will show up in the next news cycle. Who will you have offended? How will you embarrass us next? Who is getting fired? Which of my loved ones am I going to have to comfort? Who will I have to march for? Are you going to be impeached? Are you getting us into a war? 

With your itchy Twitter finger and your raw nerve of an ego, we just don’t know what madness will await us when we wake up the next day. This state of heightened anxiety, multiplied by that that awful feeling of vulnerability for so many of our citizens based on your actions, is perhaps your most damning legacy.  

So yes, it’s true that a small part of this is just that I wish we had elected someone whose political leanings were more like mine. I am disappointed that the environment is under fire, that climate change is being denied, that your return to “law and order” is leading to increasing injustice, that solid contributors to our society are being sent away, that you cannot find a way to get more people access to health care at a lower price, and that you seem intent on widening the gap between the rich and poor. I am fairly sure I would feel much of that disappointment with anyone from your party in office. I am used to that sense of loss; I can deal with that.  

So you see, Mr. President, my takeaway feelings from your time in the White House are not direct results of you and I not sharing a political party. No, instead I get two overwhelming sensations when I think your effect on our country. The first is embarrassment. I feel such shame that during the campaign you showed us exactly who you are, and we still elected you. We have lost our place in the world as result, and for me, I have lost any sense I had that we are a country to brag about and that others might look to for an example, that “shining city on a hill” that one of your predecessors often described.  

The second overwhelming sensation that overtakes me when I think of your presidency is sadness. As I mentioned earlier, so much of how I view these things is as a parent and a teacher of future generations. Growing up, I always thought of the President as someone who, in public at least, spoke and acted with class and represented America in a dignified way. The kids today get a guy who mocks the disabled at campaign rallies, famously talks at work about sexually assaulting women, and frequently calls people “losers” in public. It doesn’t seem fair to the kids.  

It saddens me that you are the guy that this generation of kids has to see as the example of what the President acts like, and it embarrasses me that the world is watching us and that I have to explain to my own kids that their fellow citizens knew who you were and still elected you. That is a difficult conversation. The embarrassment is for me. The sadness is for the kids.  

So, Mr. President, I wish I had more words of praise for you, because I would much prefer to be doing that right now. Despite all of this, however, I am still hoping, as I was the day you were inaugurated, that you will find a way to temper yourself, to control your ego, and to act in a way more befitting of the leader of a great country. I am still hoping that you will open your heart and your mind to the greatness of the people of this country—ALL of the people: not just the White, male, straight, and Christian ones. I am still hoping you will choose words and policies that make all of us feel safe and respected and welcome. And finally, I am still hoping that you will close your Twitter account. I wish you and your family good health and happiness. 

Sincerely,

William

How about you? What would you like to say to the President? Open up your journal and unload your thoughts. Remember: it is a safe space; no one will ever have to read it but you. As is the case every week, I only shared mine as a jumping off point for you. My guess is that your letter will look a lot different than mine. But how? Is your letter more complimentary? What specific things would you like to praise him about? What about the other side: what specific issues do you want to berate him about? Charlottesville? The Wall? The travel ban? Dreamers? Health care? Climate change? Would you like to address his character and the example he is setting for children? How much of what you would say is driven by what you were expecting when we was elected (whether you voted for him or not)? Has he disappointed you relative to your expectations, or has he been better than advertised? What do you want him to do more of? Less of? Would you share some personal stories of how his presidency has affected you and your loved ones? How can your words help him? If you are mostly angry, how can you find words that are both a release for you but also helpful to him? Do you think there is anything you could say to bring about a positive change? I dare you to try! Ask yourself: What would you like to say to the President?

Speak Truth to Power,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Let us help each other to use our voices for good!

Can You Be Present With Your Mind On The Future?

dsc_0457“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” —Mother Teresa

Hello friend,

I recently finished a book in the Motivational/Self-Help genre. I liked it. All along, the author talked about how great I was going to be and how that greatness was going to come about. I was going to keep my focus on my goals and not lose sight of what I knew in my heart that I would become. I was going to do everything in my power to make that future of my dreams happen. It was a good (and necessary) kick-in-the-pants kind of reminder to keep planning and taking action toward my biggest dreams.

So, the book had me totally looking forward to my best self living my best life and generally nailing my future. I was excited! Then, near the very end of the book, I got thrown for a loop. The author was into the major instructions portion, where she lays out the exact habits and attitudes required to take those crucial steps forward to the life of my dreams. I was chomping at the bit, ready to soak up the wisdom. And there it was….

Just stay in the moment. Be present.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not that vexing answer! My brain began having flashbacks to this issue that I have, in all of my years and efforts to read and understand different spiritual and psychological perspectives, never quite been able to unravel the mystery of. That is, How can you keep your mind totally in the present—live a brand of “walking meditation” continually—but at the same time plan for the future and dream?  

I am a big believer in meditation and the growth that can come from simply quieting the mind and controlling the breath. And I am all in favor of stopping to smell the roses while they bloom. My kids have taught me the beauty of living in the moment.

But aren’t I supposed to be planning to improve myself and make positive change in my world? To grow, to challenge myself and others, to dream big, to plan for greatness, and to seek out the best course of action? My gut tells me that is the right thing to do. But isn’t that stuff, by definition, in the future? And isn’t the future, by definition, not the present? I am vexed!

How do I reconcile these two wonderful philosophies of life? I see the value in both, but I am just not sure they mesh as easily as the author of my recent book let on. In fact, she didn’t explain it at all. She just plopped this brilliant “stay in the moment” suggestion, which is a staple of human growth, smack in the middle of all of this talk of forward thinking, then kept right on going, expecting me not to notice the dissonance my brain started feeling immediately. Well, I noticed! And now, as Fate would have it, I really need an answer.

The owners of my day job just announced this week that we are going out of business. A few short weeks from now, I will no longer have a job. Yikes!

Amazingly, in the days since the announcement, I have not totally freaked out. I have not succumbed to the worry/fear/dread combo that I know are one of one of my options in this situation. I am pretty proud of myself for that, actually.

What has been my reaction? Basically, I have started a mad dash to get a book project and other writing stuff done as fast as possible, hoping to produce something for submission by the time I am out of work. Instead of getting bogged down by what has happened to my job or dealing directly with my shock and sadness over it, I am flinging myself headlong into the future.

But what about the present? 

That is the question that keeps haunting me. As I zip through my plans, hopes, dreams, and visualizations, I sometimes catch myself and give myself a little scolding for getting out of the present moment. That’s what the meditation and self-help books would say, right? “Just be in the moment. The precious present. There is nowhere else to be.”

But don’t they see I need a new career? In the near future! I have to plan, don’t I?

I think maybe I am trying to be too literal with the “Stay in the moment” instructions? I mean, I understand the general gist of the instruction. I have read enough books on the topic and can easily regurgitate quotes like “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present.’” The idea is not to dwell on the sorrows and regrets from your past, because you can’t do anything about the past anymore (I am pretty good with that side of it), and not to live in worry and fear for your future, because most of what we worry about is out of our hands (and often doesn’t happen anyway). Basically, regrets and fears are a waste of time and energy, and they distract you from the beauty that is right in front of you in this moment, which is the only one that exists.

So, stay present! Be here now. I get it.

I am, by nature, a rule follower. This is especially so when I agree with the rules. And I love this rule! I have reaped the benefits of it. As I said, I see the beauty of it in my children. I am a huge believer in presence and the magnificent gift that it is, both to ourselves and to the people around us. So, I try really hard to color inside the lines on this one.

This is exactly why I am so torn right now over my inclination to plan ahead for my future of joblessness. I want to follow the rule. I want to put my intentions out into the Universe and then just be present, trusting that the right thing will come my way. No worry, no fear.

Ahhhh. That is so calming even just writing the words. Present moment, wonderful moment. Om…….

But darn it, I am about to lose my job! I need income for my family! In the present moment, I have to think about my future and make plans for what comes next. I need to think about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like, specifically how my next job will mesh with my vision. My present has to be about my future! Is there a loophole for that? {That reminds me of my kids’ movie “Inside Out,” when the Sadness character glumly says about Joy’s plan, “You’ll get lost in there.” Joy responds, “C’Mon! Think positive!” Sadness, totally authentically, replies, “Okay…. I’m positive you’ll get lost in there.” The loophole!}

Seriously, in all of my years of studying personal growth, this is the one bee still in my bonnet. How do you reconcile these two animals: 1) remaining in the precious present, and 2) striving for new, better, and more in the future? I want both!

As I am writing this, I am beginning to see that maybe what my tension around this issue is, more than anything else, is that I want permission to have both. I want some expert to tell me it’s okay, that I have, indeed, discovered the loophole. I want the guru to say, “Sure, as long as your time and energy spent focusing on the future involve planning and striving for positive things rather than worrying and fearing about what will come, go for it!” Yes, I think that is it (see what journaling can do!). I guess I just need to get over my need for permission, trust my instincts, and go out and stake my claim on the future. (And then maybe meditate for balance!)

How about you? Which tense do you live in: past, present, or future? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Where do you find yourself? How much time do you spend in your past? Are your thoughts of the past positive ones—which, I suppose, is the corresponding loophole for that tense—or are they full of regret and shame? Are even happy memories just crutches we should mostly let go of in favor of the present? How about the future? How much time do you spend looking forward? Is it more about dreaming, planning, or fearing? Are you a worrier? What is there to gain from worrying? After your thoughts of past and future, how much time is left for the present moment? How good are you about staying focused on the now? Do you have any practices or tricks—meditation, yoga, deep breathing—that help you to be more present? What works best? How aware are you of the workings of your mind and which tense you are in? Are you like me and get annoyed at yourself when you recognize your thoughts have wandered too far off, especially into fears of the future or regrets from the past? Am I crazy to need a loophole in the “rule” about presence to give myself permission to plan ahead or dream of what I wish to become? What is the right balance of tenses? What works best for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is there such a thing as dreaming while being present?  

You are bigger than you imagine,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you understand your mind better, please share it. We are complex characters who could all use a little help. Blessed be.

Body Image: What Do YOU See In the Mirror?

IMG_1667“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” –Amy Bloom

Hello friend,

In November, basically for the whole month, I was having lots of tummy troubles. After lunchtime, I felt bloated and yucky and could hardly eat the rest of the day without feeling even more awful. It was distressing and puzzling, especially since, despite my shrinking diet, my belly seemed to grow bigger and softer with each passing day. I have never been a fan of the scale as an indicator of health—preferring leanness and energy as my guides—and I don’t often get around to standing on one, but I was pretty sure of my weight when I wrote “200” on my driver’s license renewal form in early October. So, in mid-December, when I decided to try the scale in the locker room at my gym and saw “208,” I just about fell over. It really freaked me out. I was both alarmed and seriously disappointed. I guess I had hoped that I had been delusional about my new and growing mid-section, that maybe it was just temporary bloating. The scale made it clear that I was not. So began my version of a psychological mini-crisis.

I have spent my whole life believing I could look and feel great if only I exercise often, mostly ignoring the nutrition side of the argument. So, after the holidays wrapped up, I ramped up my workout schedule. I added a few minutes to each session, and I eliminated the day or two off I often took on the weekend. I had a streak of 76 consecutive workout days before a travel day broke it, but I haven’t missed one since. I also became slightly obsessed with checking the scale at the gym each morning, begging for good news. Sadly, it has not budged one bit in the right direction. Instead, it is only reminding me that I have become the overweight, middle-aged guy I swore I would never be.

It has really forced me to come to grips with the idea that I may never look physically fit—and what I think of as attractive—ever again (at least not without such desperate measures as eliminating sugar, which I really don’t want to do). It is a reality check, and not just for my middle-agedness.

I guess I have always had a complicated relationship with my body. For most of my years, I have sworn up and down that my physique was not appealing, and I picked at it regularly. For some of those same years, though, I was willing to talk with modeling agents or audition for plays that required a shirtless, attractive body. I didn’t mind doing yard work in just a pair of shorts. I think that under my verbal façade and perfectionism, I must have had some belief that my body was attractive.

I also know that despite my general attitude that says, “ I am not trying to impress anybody,” I am vain. I would prefer to look good. I have mostly conquered my demons with my prematurely grey hair, and I am doing my best to make peace with my body hair (which I really hate, by the way). But the actual physique is another matter. Though I have never tried to dress to impress—I am mostly a sweatpants guy–it is fair to say that I always wanted to be seen as someone who looks good in various states of undress.

I think this complicated view of my humble/vain self has revealed itself quite vividly in recent months with my new belly fat. It is a check on that part of me that always said I wasn’t attractive. The new body is rubbing it in that guy’s face, saying, “So, you want to claim ‘unattractive’? Well, now you don’t have a choice! You’re stuck with it! Now, how does it really feel? Not so good, huh?” It has been a difficult process for me psychologically, I fully admit.

Which brings us to my recent adventures of being bare-bellied in public….

As a mini-Spring Break, I took the family to a waterpark for a couple of days. An enormous and popular destination, we were packed in there by the hundreds. In very close quarters. In our swimsuits! When you are inching your way up those stairs at an elderly snail’s pace, your face is about six inches away from the next person’s bare back. Seeing another person’s body that close doesn’t bother me at all. No, the part that preys on my insecurities is the knowledge that there is a person one step below me, staring at my expanding, hairy back from just six inches away. Are they back there studying how much pudge is hanging over the sides of my suit, how many moles I have, or the uneven patterns of hair growth?

Or, are they freaking out about the person right behind them, whom they believe is judging the girth of their hips or the birth mark on their shoulder?

I am not very judgmental about other people’s bodies in these public pool/lake/locker room situations. I never find myself thinking, “That is gross!” or “What a pig!” or “He should get to the gym!” No, I ogle everybody out of pure curiosity. My comments in my head are more like, “Isn’t it interesting how that guy has such hairy legs but only a few sprigs on his chest, while that guy next to him has no more hair than the first guy on his legs but is covered on his torso, front and back.” Or, “That lady’s stretch marks make a really cool design.”   Or, “Wow, everyone’s breasts are so different, even from the other one on the same body!” I think I am unusually fascinated by people’s bodies. I could easily do an experiment of sitting behind a two-way mirror in a men’s or women’s locker room for a day, just studying the many ways we look: where the fat gathers, what sags and how far, where the hair grows, and all of our different shapes and sizes. It is endlessly interesting to me!

When I am not being fascinated by other people’s bodies, though, I am being self-conscious of my own. I wonder if someone nearby is disgusted by my body hair. I wonder if my physique is still appealing to anyone there, or if I just blend into the “out-of-shape, middle-aged dude that I wouldn’t look at twice” masses. I wonder how I rate and how far that rating has fallen. That is A LOT of stuff churning through a mind just to go swimming in public!

That’s why I wonder if other people are going through the same drama. After all, I still showed up, still pretended it was no big deal to be hanging around a large group of strangers half-naked. So did they. Are we all just great actors, or are they not as self-conscious as I am? Maybe people’s bodies and the feelings they have about them are so fascinating to me because it seems like such a taboo subject in our society. I simply don’t know what other people think and feel about their bodies, because I have never had those conversations! I have them with myself, but I have no idea if I am representative of the population at large.

The body parts of others are fascinating—not gross or embarrassing–to me, as I said, but I am guessing that they, like me, judge all of their own parts harshly, and, consequently, feel some level of shame about each. It is this shame I wonder most about.

American society has sure saddled us with some serious hang-ups about our bodies! The Hollywood and Madison Avenue version of the human body is not just difficult but completely unrealistic for most of us to attain, not to mention maintain. It is easy to get sucked into the spiral of self-loathing when it comes to our bodies. Too easy. I have seen it too many times in my friends and extended family. I still hate listening to teenage girls, who seem most prone to internalize the message and harm themselves as a result.

But honestly, I think we are all victims of it to some degree. I know I am. I think back to the few days I worked as an extra on the TV show “Baywatch,” how everyone on the set had that model body. What do they all look like now? More importantly, how harshly are they judging themselves now? It is weird how we played into the message, even while we were victims of it simultaneously. Of course, twenty years later, I am still judging my body by the same standards I did then. Even though I understand intellectually that it is a silly waste of energy to attach any emotions to my body, and that it has nothing to do with who I really am, I keep doing it. It’s a bad idea, I know, but that is where I am right now. I just don’t much like how this old bag of bones looks anymore.

How about you? How do you feel about your body? Open up your journal and dive into this sensitive subject. Which direction do your thoughts tend to go when you look into the mirror? Do you immediately focus on the parts of your body that you don’t like? Are there parts of your reflection that you really like, and do you allow your mind to appreciate those parts, too? Which parts of your physique do you wish you could change? How strong is that wish? Are there any parts that are truly embarrassing for you? Do you have any parts that you like to show off a bit? Overall, on the spectrum from praise and confidence on one end to shame and disgust on the other–with “I don’t give it a second thought” right around the middle–where is your relationship with your body right now? How has that changed over the years? How comfortable are you in talking about this subject with friends and family? Why do you think that is? I know that one of my reasons for not engaging others in a dialogue is that it seems very easy to offend others’ sensitivities, as we all have different standards for ourselves (e.g. a person who is usually extremely lean and fit but gains 10 pounds may feel awful about their body, but complaining about it to her friend who has spent a lifetime battling obesity just seems a recipe for ill will). How judgmental are you about other people’s bodies? More or less judgmental than you are about your own? Does it make any sense to feel actual shame about a body part, something that doesn’t reveal anything about your true character? Do you feel it anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you feel about your reflection?

The real you is beautiful,

William

P.S. If this letter helped you to know yourself a little better or think in a new way, pass it on. Thank you for your support!

Show Us Your Beads!!!

DSC_0224“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” —Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

Wanna make some jewelry with me? Okay, this is what we are going to do. Each of us will make a necklace out of colorful beads and a piece of string. I will give you the string and six Dixie cups full of different beads: white, black, yellow, red, brown, and blue. Next, I will name someone in your life, and you will put a bead onto your necklace corresponding to the race/ethnicity of that person:

  • White Beads = Caucasian/White
  • Black Beads = African American/African/Black Caribbean
  • Yellow Beads = Asian American/Asian/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander
  • Red Beads = Native American/Indigenous People
  • Brown Beads = Latin American
  • Blue Beads = Multiracial

Make sense? Okay, let’s make a necklace!

Mother, Father, or Caregiver—With my Mom a true Scandinavian and my Dad a mix of German and Irish, I come from one pasty bunch! Two white beads for me.

Three closest friends now—Here I get to add some color to my necklace. My three closest are one guy who is as white as me, one Filipino, and one African-American. Add a white, black, and yellow bead to my string.

Significant other (current or immediate past)—My wonderful wife is African-American, so another black bead for me (I imagine two beautiful blue beads for my kids, too).

Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.

Favorite author—So many to choose from—I LOVE books—but I will go with Henry David Thoreau. White again!

Favorite celebrity/athlete/person in the news—I am wildly unhip when it comes to celebrities, but I definitely follow sports. For the last few months, I have been glued to all things LeBron James. I’ll take another black bead, please.

Musical artist you listen to most on your MP3 player—I have been pretty full of Joshua Radin lately. White bead.

Two TV characters you identify with/want to be friends with—I probably don’t deserve any beads for this category, as I hardly ever watch television shows (I watch sports occasionally). However, the one show I try to keep up on—Parenthood—has mostly White people in the cast. I will take one white bead only (but you should take two if you watch more than I do).

Your doctor—That reminds me, I need to find a doctor! I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I do not have one, but it is the truth. If I want a bead in this category, the best I can do is claim my children’s pediatrician. What the heck! Give me another yellow bead.

Your dentist—While I am pretty much a free agent in this category, the last work I had done gets me another white bead.

Your spiritual leader (i.e. rabbi, minister, etc.)—I do not get a bead in this category, but you probably do.

The person you most admire—I am going to look at this in two ways: all-time historical heroes and people currently alive and in your life. Tough one! My all-timer is Gandhi, and my contemporary is my wife. There is much to admire in each; I am so glad I chose to study one and marry the other. Yellow bead, black bead.

Your three closest co-workers—I am in the palest office you have ever seen! White, white, and more white.

The last person you invited to your home—I have a huge, multi-racial birthday party at my house this weekend—can I get a blue bead boulder for that?—but the last one I had over is my Filipino friend, who brought his White wife and multiracial kids. There are options there, but I think a blue bead is most accurate.

Majority of the people who live in your neighborhood—I live in Minnesota and in the suburbs. Definitely white!

That’s it. We did it! Let us clasp our necklaces and see how they look. The first thing I notice about mine is the absence of brown and red beads. That is fair, though, as I have very few Native American and Latin American people in my life. I also find it interesting that, despite the fact that I have created a multiracial family, I have only one blue bead on my necklace. (This makes me wonder about the accuracy of the exercise in terms of measuring the range of diversity in my little world.) Of the other 19 beads on my string, twelve of them are white, four are black, and three are yellow. That feels like a lot of white, but is it?

While doing this exercise, I felt this odd pressure to produce a perfectly even spectrum of colors. I suppose I hoped it would show that my life is a shining example of diversity and inclusion. When the white beads started piling up, I admit to some gnawing feelings of guilt and shame. Then I started to wonder if I was subconsciously “cheating” to get more non-white beads, having conversations in my head like, “Sure, you have been obsessed with LeBron for the last three months, but over the long haul you are more of a Roger Federer (white) fan.” I had to keep reminding myself that the purpose of this exercise is to gain an AWARENESS of the diversity of my personal social network, not to make a judgment about it. Even so, I occasionally got defensive anyway, and thought things like, “Yeah, but this isn’t accounting for the diverse sexualities and religions of my social group. And what about age and economic class? “ I was reaching. I guess that I have always felt so grateful and enriched every time that I have been exposed to difference of any sort—whether it was traveling internationally or simply befriending someone at a local event and learning all about their life—that I had a hard time keeping myself from thinking, “The more colors, the better!” In the end, my necklace speaks for itself. It is my current reality, so I won’t run from it. I am ready to bare it.

How about you? How does your necklace look? Get out your journal and explore your social network. Does the look of your necklace surprise you at all? What stands out about it? Did you ever feel uncomfortable selecting a bead? Did you—like me—start to feel guilty after picking a lot of the same color, as though you had to justify the result? Although this exercise is to bring awareness to the diversity—or lack of diversity—in your life rather than to make any judgment about it, should we feel some shame if we have a relatively monochromatic necklace? I don’t believe so, but it should certainly make us think. Does your bead string motivate you to actively seek out situations of greater diversity to broaden your worldview and social network? Of all the people representing beads that I mentioned, which of your beads is going to be the next one to change color? Picture your necklace if you did this exercise ten years ago: in what ways is it different from today’s, if at all?   How do you expect it to be different twenty years from now? More colors or fewer? Would you be willing to wear your necklace to a social event and explain it to curious companions? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to show us your beads?

Celebrate you today,

William