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How Well Is YOUR Country Doing?

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” –Alexis de Tocqueville

Hello friend,

I need to tell you about an old friend of mine. He has been so much on my mind lately, and I need to know what to make of him. You see, I have been watching this old friend–let’s call him Tom–not only the types of successes he has been enjoying financially and in his career, but also the decisions he has been making and the way he has been treating the people in his life. I have been taking it all in, and my gut is screaming out one way, but I would like your read on him. So, please indulge me and thank you in advance for your wisdom.

Tom lives in a big, beautiful house in an upscale neighborhood. He owns a very successful business–employs a lot of people and makes a lot of money–and also has made a killing in the stock market in the decade since the recession. Financially, he is sitting pretty. The rest of his life is less pretty. Tom has had some alcohol-related incidents lately, including a DUI and an assault and disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at a local bar. Also, after a back surgery last year, he became addicted to prescription pain medication and has not been able to kick the habit. It has had enormous ramifications in his relationships. He has become physically abusive with his wife, to the point where she has had to be treated at the hospital. After the latest episode–just last week–in which her collarbone was broken, she filed for divorce and moved out of the house with their two middle-grade children. He has not harmed either of the kids physically, but his emotional abuse has been quite traumatic for them both and they were deeply relieved when their mother moved them to the hotel. He has given up his long-held spiritual beliefs and alienated nearly all of his family and friends (though he claims his dealer is a “real, true friend”). He has been able to maintain his thriving business and financial well-being through it all–and he claims that that is the only proof anyone needs that he is “doing just fine, thank you”–but from my angle, it seems like that is just about all he has going for him right now. He seems adrift, bitter, and depressed. A lost soul. If I didn’t know anything about his finances, I would say he is at rock bottom.

What would you say? How is it going inside his world right now? Rate his life for me on a scale of 1 to 10.

I am going to pretend, until I hear otherwise, that you see life in a way that is somewhat similar to the way I see it, okay? So, I am saying that you gave him a low score. Somewhere between 1 and 3. Definitely not above 5. Right? That seems like the rational human answer. When your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found.

I thought of this guy a lot last week as I followed the big news stories of the day on NPR, CNN, and Facebook. Two comments struck me the deepest and got me in my Pondering Mode (which usually leads to a letter to you). The first one came when I was watching CNN in the immediate aftermath of the first vote for the Supreme Court nomination, which happened to coincide with the day that America’s unemployment numbers were released, revealing our lowest rate in 49 years. One of the guests on the show was a Republican strategist–seemingly a clear-minded guy–and after opining on a few different issues, his summary, as it related to the President, was essentially this (I am paraphrasing): “Even if you are like me and find his personality and comments distasteful, based on delivering two conservative Supreme Court justices and the stock market and unemployment numbers, you would have to say that as a President, he has been a resounding success. The country is doing great.”

I am fairly sure that I drooled a large puddle onto my shirt as my jaw dropped onto my chest. He was being completely serious, and my eyes were bugging out of my head, in the same way they might if I had gone to my doctor for a check on a persistent cough and she told me that the diagnosis was simple: I had monkeys flying out of my butt.

I had to pause and collect my mind. After all, I had just written to you in my last letter about how little we know what is in each other’s minds. This pundit forced me to confront the possibility that his read on our President and the state of the union, though preposterous to me, could be a common one. I just hadn’t ever thought of it before, as everything I read and watch seems to be indicate that we are in a historically bad place in our country, led by a man that is historically unpopular.

Anyway, it was in that pondering state that I was looking at Facebook the next day and came across a post from my friend who is notorious for stirring the pot by putting out probing or controversial questions that draw dozens of comments and debates from her large and vociferous Facebook community. She asked something about the Supreme Court fiasco. Amidst all of these folks bashing the Republicans in the Comments section, there was this one woman who stood up for the conservative cause by saying, essentially, “Look how great the country is doing financially, so all is well. (And go Trump.)”  

Again I was staggered for a moment, but there it was, that same sentiment: If the money stuff is good, then we are definitely a healthy and successful country. We should just keep doing what we are doing. If you want to know if you live in a good country with good leaders, look no further than the stock market and unemployment numbers.

As I gave this idea a fresh spin around my brain to see the many ways it would strike me, a memory from my childhood came up. One of the very few things I can recall about politics or elections from that time was a candidate–it must have been Reagan–saying, essentially, “If you are in as good or better shape financially than you were four years ago, then the only logical vote is for me.” I understood where he was coming from and didn’t question his rationale, as I didn’t give politics a second thought at that age (my parents were big Reagan fans, and Republicans were winning, so I just figured they were cheering for the right guys).

But I give it a second thought now. And a third and fourth, too. I am quite interested, actually. (Sometimes I think I should even go into politics, but I wouldn’t survive, as I take the arguments too personally.) So, when I read that woman’s Facebook comment and listened to the pundit, both saying essentially that our strong economic indicators mean that the country is in great shape and our elected officials are doing a swell job, I was stunned initially. Honestly, after the initial shock of each, I was waiting for the, “Alright alright, just messing with you!” type of follow-up. When I realized that they were completely serious, I had to gather my wits about me, realizing that I have been out of touch with a perhaps-commonly held idea.

Of course, I know that the President has his roughly 33% of ardent supporters who are sure he is making us great again. But do people really think that the country is in good shape? Does a good DOW score and low unemployment mean we are a healthy country?

Don’t get me wrong: I like a strong economy. I like more people having jobs and people earning on their investments. But what about our collective soul? The soul of the nation? Does that not count for anything?

The historians that I read and listen to–old guys like Dan Rather and David Gergen, veterans of many administrations and wars and movements and eras–say the country hasn’t been so divided and faith in our representatives so low in their entire lifetimes. Our standing in the world, from the polls I have seen, has never been lower. Speaking just for myself, I have never felt less “at home” here. And, just by the feel of the energy in the air–not very scientific, I admit–it just seems like dark times in America.

I would argue that that stuff counts, too.

So, I guess what I am saying is I don’t buy the glossy, “Look no further than your bank account,” standard when I assess how well my country is doing. And I resent it when someone offers up the obvious moral decay and corruption in our elected representatives in Washington, the damage to the environment and human rights abuses brought on by the policies of the current administration, and the rise in the level of acrimony amongst ordinary citizens as proof of a country whose very soul is in trouble, the response is basically, “Shut up and cash your check.” That attitude and method of assessment is just too shallow.

It’s too shallow to judge a nation this way, the same way it is too shallow to judge a person this way.

It reminds me of talking to my Mom after she has been to some kind of family reunion or had lunch with old friends.

Mom: I had a nice talk with your Uncle So-And-So.

Me: How is he doing?

Mom: He looks good. And I sat with your Cousin Such-And-Such at dinner.

Me: What is happening in her life?

Mom: She looks great! Her hair is so cute. And her kids are adorable!

Me in my head: Who are my real parents???

When I think about my friend Tom–yes, he probably looks good, too–I see his big bank account and want to think he is doing okay, but I can’t get through ten seconds of the thought without my heart feeling overwhelmingly sad for him and the state his life is in. If I had a vote to live in Tom’s life or the life of someone with less money but more kindness and happiness, I would go with the latter every time.

Similarly, I would love to say that America is in great shape and our elected representatives are doing a swell job just because stocks are up and unemployment is down. But I live here and am neither blind nor stone-hearted. I see what is happening in Washington and in my Facebook feed. The level of acrimony is disturbingly high. So many of our recent policy changes strike me as morally repugnant. When I hear from people across the globe that we have become more of a laughingstock than a leader, I can find no fault in their arguments. I love my country dearly, but I am horribly embarrassed and disheartened about its condition right now, no matter what the NASDAQ says.

Like I said about Tom, when your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found. I feel like the America I live in today is as far gone as my old friend, maybe more. And that makes me sad.

How about you? How do you rate your country’s condition right now, and what do you base that upon? Open up your journal and make an honest assessment of the land you call home? I think it is important to be clear about what factors you include in your assessment. Do you stick to hard numbers, like statistics a politician might tout as proof of success? Do you mostly use economic indicators, like the unemployment rate or the DOW? Do you factor in our current reputation in the global community? How much of your assessment of our nation’s condition is based on what you hear or read from friends or your social media community, especially in gathering your read on the level of acrimony between people with different views? How much is based on the overall vibe that you feel with your gut or sixth sense? How do you think your view of our situation is affected by whether you are a supporter of the political party currently in power? Specifically, if you are conservative, did you rate the country’s health as GOOD in 2008 when President Bush was in charge, despite the fact that we were embroiled in war and our economy was in a free-fall, then rated it as BAD during the Obama years, and now GOOD again with your party in charge of everything? Does a country have a soul, at least in a figurative sense? That is to say, is a country bigger than a sum of its statistics? Is it fair to assess a country in a way similar to a human: as more than just their job, age, marital status, and income? If it is, do you agree with my reading that America is in a bad spot right now–its soul is struggling–despite some promising economic indicators? How adrift are we? Way gone or just a slight shift in our course? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well is YOUR country doing?

Live open-hearted,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s raise our consciousness.

P.P.S. If this type of self-inquiry appeals to you, I encourage you to take a deeper dive with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, available at your favorite online retailers.

The Satisfaction of DOING: What Can You Check Off Your List?

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day when you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.” –Margaret Thatcher

Hello friend,

I remember this time last year. I was busy organizing my mind and plotting about how I would go about the monumental task of finishing my book and soldiering it to the publishing stage. I was still naïve and unaware of all the million little things it would require, but I knew about the big stuff and that sure seemed like an awful lot. There was much editing ahead. There was formatting. There was cover design, photography, font choice, distribution, the e-book. It was daunting, to say the least.

But I was past the point of letting my fear stop me on this one. My brain was crystal clear about what my heart was set on, so I was not going to be talked out of completing the goal, no matter how many extra, unexpected hurdles popped up to make it more difficult and time-consuming. I just started taking action on the items on my list, no matter how small and distant from the end result they seemed. I whittled down the chapter list. I wrote the Introduction. I experimented with new formatting and learned about Smashwords. I learned about PDFs and JPGs and many other initials that I had no real interest in other than how they could get my words out into the world. Every day I did things to advance the cause.

Every time I finished a task, I breathed a sigh of relief. And I sat up a little straighter. The very act of doing something productive and necessary–whether it was small and simple or huge and totally out of my comfort zone–made me feel so much better about the goal as a whole and about my competence as a goal-chaser. I learned that I could take on things that were challenging and make them work. I learned that I had reserves of energy and resolve if only I dug in and made the attempt. And, best of all, I learned–or at least was reminded–that I was worthy of achieving my goals and dreams. Those were wonderful things to learn about myself, things I won’t soon let go of.

But I also learned something very important about the process of goal-chasing and the very nature of To-Do Lists: they are self-propelling, fueled and energized by the actions on the lists themselves. They are momentum-based. That is, the very doing of a necessary task creates a feeling of achievement and satisfaction that makes me want to get more of that feeling.

Of course, I want to get closer to completing the ultimate objective–publishing the book, in this case–but I also want more of that satisfaction and pride in achievement from conquering individual items on my list. It’s like, sure, you ultimately want to win the war, but the feeling of winning the battles along the way is pretty sweet, too. And the more you win, the more you want to win. Pretty soon you are gobbling up task items like gold stars in elementary school, and all the while, the big goal is getting closer and more realistic all the time. It is a beautiful, satisfying flow, and that satisfaction is highly addictive. And healthy.

This week, I had two fantastic reminders of this beautiful satisfaction and addictive momentum.

The first came in the form of a Facebook post from a longtime member of the Journal of You community. She was announcing the publishing of her own first book for children. The announcement triggered the flood of emotions and memories that I experienced last year when my Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth was finally published. I was so thrilled for her and proud of her (if you can be proud of someone you don’t really know), knowing how much courage and determination it took to make it all happen. Although I am sure our paths to publishing have some things in common, my imagination went wild in considering the many hurdles–artistic, technical, emotional, and more–that she had to overcome and the countless tasks she had to complete to get to this point. That To-Do List had to be miles long! But she checked them off and has an achievement of a lifetime to show for it. That is satisfying!

The second reminder has been building all month long, growing stronger with each checkmark I make on my list. I wrote a letter to you at the end of July called “Maximizing the Summer of Your Life: Are Your Aspirations Happening?” about how, at the start of Summer, I had had such big goals for adventures with my kids and how I wasn’t doing a good job of following through with making concrete plans and taking actions. Well, I am so pleased to report that we are crushing August! I have been downright giddy–and exhausted, I admit–coming home from each new adventure, so satisfied with how the Summer has turned into one big bundle of happy memories.

Just this month so far, we have had a few different weekends at lake cabins with all kinds of water sports and campfires and family, been to the water park, hosted a sleepover, had our first camping adventure sleeping in our new tent at a state park (after a few nights of trying it out in the yard!), hiked through a local forest along a river and waterfall, biked, had lots of play dates, played lots of sports, been to birthday parties, gone to the movies, and been to both the county fair and state fair. It has required discipline from me to put things in the calendar and commit to doing them, whether or not they are in my comfort zone. And each time we do something, on the drive home I mentally check it off the list and notice that sense of satisfaction that is clearly rising as I go deeper and deeper down the list. From that first week of the month until now, I have felt that momentum snowballing. It is an amazing high and makes me even more excited for the final week of Summer and our last great adventures. I am addicted!

That seems to be the way it works for me and my bigger rocks. At times, the big goal– getting a book published or getting in shape or creating the best Summer ever for my kids–just seems too enormous and unmanageable, and I can’t even deal with it in my mind. The sheer scope of the project paralyzes me. It’s only when I can carve it up a bit and see it as a bunch of definable pieces–tasks that I can name, act on, and put a check mark next to–that I can really get my teeth into it and begin that kind of addictive, self-propelling satisfaction that seems to eventually carry the project to completion all on its own. That multiplying satisfaction becomes a force that cannot be stopped.

But it needs action to be started. I need to DO SOMETHING first.

Last year I read a book by Jen Sincero called You Are A Badass. I only recall one line from the book, but it is a keeper: “In order to kick ass, you must first lift your foot.” I love that! Sure, I should have the dream or the goal; it is necessary to do something big. Yes, I should have the excitement for the dream and the right motivation; they help when things get tough. But no matter how noble my dream, how pure-hearted my motivation, or how eager my spirit, nothing will happen until I TAKE ACTION.

But when I do, BOOM! That joy and satisfaction pop up, and the ball starts rolling.

I see now that that is why my life seems to move in spurts. My goals are always out there, but they are floating around as if in space. They often seem too big and distant to act on, so I just kind of slide by for a while in complacency. But then I get antsy and annoyed with myself for that skating, so I reach out and take hold of one of those big rocks and start chiseling. I get my tasks lined up, and I start to get the fever. The momentum builds and carries me happily until the goal is finished and I feel satisfied. Temporarily satisfied. Then it starts all over again: sliding, antsy, grasping, beautiful snowballing.

I guess I should figure out a system to always have at least one thing snowballing toward completion. That would likely keep me more consistently engaged and enthused about my life and my prospects. For now, though, I suppose it is enough to understand that, whatever my circumstances and however lofty my ambitions, the one thing I need to remember is to LIFT MY FOOT. Just lift my foot.

How about you? What does it take for you to tackle your big goals and dreams? Open up your journal and write about your experiences with achievement. What do you do with your big rocks? Do they mostly remain giant floating bodies in a distant space that you cannot quite sink your teeth into, or do you take hold of them and get right to achieving them, or somewhere in between? When you embark upon a large goal, do you formulate a specific plan or do you just flow with your intuition and change with the circumstances? Are you a list-maker? If so, are the lists written down, or do you just keep a rough list going in your head (I have done both)? Do you get that little jolt of adrenaline or feeling of satisfaction from knocking something off your list? Does one success seem to feed into others for you with your To-Do items, the momentum building the further down your list you go? Is there an addictive nature to it for you? Can you name an example of a goal you reached using this kind of momentum-building? How satisfying was it on the whole? How widely did your satisfaction level vary between the first step in the process and the last? Does successful completion of one goal motivate you to get started immediately on the next one, or do you tend to slide for a while after you achieve something? Is that a healthy balance and an opportunity to refuel your tank, or is that lull a waste of precious time? When you think of the way you might describe the way you ARE–e.g. adventurous, generous, open-minded, outdoorsy, outgoing, faithful, Christian, family-oriented, social justice-oriented, selfless, courageous, kind–how does that measure up with the things you actually DO? Are your actions in line with your intentions, or do you mostly think and/or talk a good game? How does this comparison make you feel? Do you have some work to do? What is the next big goal you would like to achieve? Do you have at least a rough list of things you will have to do to get there? What is something you can do today to create some momentum toward that goal? Are you willing to begin? Leave me a reply and let me know: What can you check off your list?

Take that step,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. We can all DO better!

P.S.S. If you are looking to better understand yourself and move toward a more authentic life, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Child Cages, Moral Decay, and Appalling Silence

“I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Hello friend,

What has been happening at America’s southern border these last couple of months–the separation of immigrant children from their parents and the warehousing/caging of these children–is morally reprehensible. If you don’t think so, I am not sure what I can even say to you. So I am just going to assume that if you are reading this, you have a conscience and at least a shred of decency. Fair enough?

I know that, like every other topic that involves our current President or even anything remotely political, there is likely to be an immediate raising of your walls and a strong desire to withdraw completely from the discussion. I get that. We have developed a poisonous atmosphere when it comes to political dialogue in this country. People look forward to a political debate the way they look forward to a root canal.

With that said, I would like to submit to you that this particular discussion is NOT a political one but is instead a moral one (though I admit that I look at politics as an expression of one’s morals). I mean, we are talking about human rights violations. Do you really want to belong to the group that says, “Sure, we approve of caging babies!” No matter how conservative you are, I don’t believe that is who you are. So let’s take the Republican and the Democrat out of the topic. Let’s just make it about your moral compass, your sense of decency. Okay? So, engage! Just engage as a human. Please.

The thing about this topic of child separation that–like so many other topics–I find so fascinating is not so much its rightness or wrongness (that seems obvious) but rather how much people are willing to stand up against something that runs counter to their professed morals. That is, who says out loud and in public, “This is wrong! We can’t allow this!” and who sits by in silence and allows the wrong to continue?

Maybe I am so enthralled by this concept because I enjoy studying History and, in particular, the many atrocities people have committed against each other, things that seem unspeakable to us from the distance of a textbook and a different era. I like thought experiments such as, “What would I have done if I were a German citizen during the Holocaust?” or “How engaged would I have been if I lived during the Civil Rights Movement?”

I think we all like to imagine ourselves as stepping up and doing something noble in these types of circumstances, speaking in the town square or aiding an escape or marching for justice. But would we really? We can’t know for sure, of course, but something tells me that the best indicator of how we would have acted then is how we act now when our core morality is publicly assaulted. Do we rise to speak and act, or do we swallow our tongues and sit on our hands?

It has been argued that we are in the midst of one of these public assaults daily in this era in America–when lies and threats to civil liberties from the highest offices in our government have become the norm–and that it is our obligation to step up every single time and say, in some manner, “That is simply not true,” or, “No, that is unjust.” There is honor and integrity in that. Of course, that becomes exhausting, and most of us begin to become more selective in our battles (which is why a constant barrage of untruths and incivilities has turned out to be an effective tactic for those employing it). For the sake of our personal sanity, we tend to tackle only the most egregious.

In my eyes, at least, we had one of these egregious public assaults last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the large and violent rally of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis. Many otherwise-silent people felt compelled to speak up and say something to the effect of, “This is disgusting. This is un-American. I oppose this.” Many, but not all. Maybe not even most.

In recent weeks, we have had our latest example of an egregious public assault on our morals with the current administration’s enforcement of the “zero tolerance” policy and ensuing separation of children of all ages from their families and caging them in warehouses and tent cities. Stories of the traumas of these children–and their parents–have been out there for weeks and have multiplied recently as public outrage has grown.

I was heartened to see, after a long silence on the matter, some prominent members on both sides of the political spectrum finally speak out on the matter, naming it out loud, as I did above, as a moral matter, not a political one. Laura Bush, Franklin Graham, and the Pope definitely stood out on my radar, voices I might have otherwise not expected to hear on an ordinary “political” issue. To me, that was essentially the signal to open the floodgates for all decent people to speak out against this cruelty. Some did. But so many still didn’t.

What gives?

I fully admit that I sometimes get angry when I read a post–whether written by someone in my social media community or just shared by them–that I deem to be callous and/or ignorant. But as awful as I might find someone else’s opinion to be, I actually appreciate that they are speaking up about something that matters to them.

I understand that everyone is not on social media and not everything we do shows up there (though most days it feels like it!). Some people have these important conversations with their friends and family. Some people call their representatives and ask them to vote one way or the other. I love this and encourage everyone to do the same.

But let’s be real. Most people share a lot of their ongoing life stories with their social media “family.” I see their meals, their outfits, their product reviews, their new haircuts, their pets, their kids and everything their kids do, their awards, their Go Fund Me appeals, their date nights, their injuries, their friends, their concerts, their businesses, their pleas for extra prayers, their favorite shows, their families, their religious celebrations, their break-ups, the deaths of their loved ones, and just about everything else I can imagine. They expose themselves to me. They reveal to me who they really are (or at least who they want me to believe they are). And I love that they do. It is nice to feel like I have gotten to know new people and reconnected with so many others that I had lost contact with before I joined the Facebook and Twitter world.

But it is exactly this vast volume of information running the gamut of the human experience that I get from so many people on social media that makes it all the more disturbing to me when we have a moral crisis such as Charlottesville or the caged children at the border and I don’t hear a peep from them.

Not a small personal note expressing some disgust or outrage. Not a share of an informative article. Nothing from their spiritual leader. Just nothing.

It’s very disheartening to me. It makes me question myself about whom I have allowed into my life. It forces me to wonder whether the silence is due to callousness, cluelessness, or fear. Or something else?

And I’ll take anything, really. I even willingly accept the “This is not who we are,” statement (even though, unfortunately, it is who we are. Selling slave children away from their mothers. Removing Native American children from their families and sending them to “boarding schools,” often never to see their families again. Japanese internment camps during World War II. Historically speaking, America is clearly not above caging children.), because I think people mean it aspirationally. That is, as, “This is not who I wish for us to be, now or in the future.” I’ll take it. It’s something.

I think part of why so many don’t speak up against injustice is that it opens up a conversation that they probably don’t want to have. Most of us are so uncomfortable bringing up issues of race, class, and religion (and politics, of course). I think that part of that is simply insecurity from being out of practice (because we just don’t talk about it in America), but I also think there is a part of it (possibly unconscious) that is about our guilt from either ourselves or our ancestors being complicit in the worst kinds of atrocities in our history, such as the ones I just mentioned. We avoid conversations about current unpleasantness to avoid conversations about past unpleasantness. We just don’t dare.

But I am here to say that it is time to speak up. You don’t have to get “political.” You don’t have to name names. You just have to, when something is happening in your world that is so morally repulsive that it makes you want to cry or scream or reach a hand out to help, say something.

Just say something. Account for yourself as a moral being. That’s all.

I will.

How about you? Are you willing to speak up when something in your country goes beyond the limits of your moral compass? Open up your journal and explore your responses in times of moral crisis, including our current catastrophe with children at the border. Historically–prior to this current issue–have you found yourself compelled to speak up and/or take action in the face of a policy or action that you found to be unconscionable? What compelled you? An unjust war? A policy regarding civil rights issues? A particular debate or Supreme Court decision, such as abortion or same-sex marriage? The cumulative effect of a particular politician’s character (e.g. racist and misogynistic) and policy positions (e.g. doesn’t believe in climate change)? Police brutality? The Women’s March? The Charlottesville white supremacists? Something else? If none of those things moved the needle far enough for you to rise up and speak, is there anything that you can imagine pushing you to that point? Okay, how about this recent issue of forcibly taking children from their parents and holding them in detention centers? How egregious is this according to your moral code? Enough to say something? Have you shared anything on social media about it? Have you communicated your outrage–if you have it–to friends and family members? To members of Congress? If not, why exactly not? If you belong to a religion or spiritual community, what do your leaders have to say about this matter? Have they spoken up and condemned the policy during services? Did they speak out against racism during Charlottesville? If they did not, what do you think it says about your spiritual community in terms of its role in your moral life? What do you think about people who don’t stand up in the face of what is plainly wrong? Would you trust them to stand up for you if you were being bullied? What does that say about the level of trust you ought to give them with your heart? Whether or not you are one to speak out against injustice, what do you think are the biggest reasons people–even “good people”–choose silence in times when silence only emboldens the oppressor and the bully? In the end, are any of those reasons good enough? At what point is silence simply spinelessness? Have you been there? How recently? Did you regret it later? When it comes to the human rights violations occurring with the traumatized children at the border, how do you suppose History will judge people who responded like you did to the situation? Are you content with that? Leave me a reply and let me know: What does it take to get you to speak up?

Make your heart feel big,

William

P.S. If you know anyone who might be well served to consider these questions, please share this letter with them. All rise!

P.P.S. If you enjoy the challenge of exploring your inner world, I think you would appreciate my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That is Your Truth. It’s available at most online retailers.

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

Can We Talk? Opening Your Mind To Broaden Your Horizons

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” –Frank Zappa

Hello friend,

How many times, in the wake of an event that has spurred divisiveness and dragged out the worst sides of politics and social media trolls, have you actually struck up a thoughtful, deep-diving, and respectful discourse with someone from the other side of the fence?

Never, right?

In those moments when everyone’s nerves are raw and the sense is that people who disagree with you are evil at worst and foolish at best, it is usually best to avoid the interaction altogether. You know that if you get into it, you are probably going to let your anger get the best of you and say something you will regret (or should regret), leading to a spiral of hurt feelings and walls up, with no one hearing—much less considering—anything the other side is saying (or shouting).

It is even worse on social media, where, if you share your thoughts—or someone else’s video or blog or article that makes your points better than you can—the trolls come to pounce with every snarky meme, crude oversimplification, and attack on your character that you can imagine. That typically leads to a series of angry retorts from both sides and a growing divide between. More walls.

It begins to feel useless—even unhealthy–to ever say anything about any topic of importance to anyone at all.

I mean, sure, it is nice to talk about issues that matter to you with people who agree with you. They tell you that you are right, maybe even give your main points a little more clarity and nuance. You come away from the discussion with even greater conviction. But how much difference are you really making? Are you enlightening any of those who are ignorant on the other side? Are you changing any new minds, making progress toward that critical mass of people who will make the greater societal change you are hoping for?

While the choir definitely needs to hear the sermon, too, at some point the message needs to travel beyond the thick chapel walls.

It was with this frustrating but ordinary reality that I went to sleep on Sunday night. When I awoke in the early hours of Monday morning, there was a message on my phone from my sister, who had just arrived in Las Vegas with her family the day before, letting me and the rest of our family know that she was safe. I quickly got up to speed on the mass shooting, the numbers for which were updating as I read.

So began the typical week in America when something like this happens, as it so often does. First it is the “thoughts and prayers” moment, immediately followed by—or joined with—people jockeying for position in the gun control debate.

Of course, it never goes anywhere. I already reminded you how public debate happens. Anyway, after a few days of anger, insults, and trolling, our attention wanders to the next hot topic. But in those few days, things are definitely tense and combative. The number of articles written and posts shared spikes, as does the animosity between the two sides and their propensity to dig their heels in and refuse to listen or engage in anything resembling productive dialogue.

America. 2017.

It was right in the thick of this national drama—and my personal frustration about it—that I happened to get a private message from an old school friend whom I had, until a recent, brief contact, hardly heard from in twenty years.

I had, on Monday afternoon, shared two articles on Facebook that I thought were important and helpful thoughts about this moment in our country, good fodder to journal about or discuss with those who are willing to engage this thorny topic in this difficult time. The first one shared grief about the Las Vegas massacre and also bridged into why it is important to again begin to raise the issue of tighter gun laws. The second article was purely informational, a series of charts and graphs explaining America’s unique relationship with guns and gun violence.

I am, as I have made clear many times in these letters and on social media, quite liberal on most of the thorny issues we face—or fail to face, as the case may be—in this country. So I am sure that those two pieces I shared on Facebook on Monday afternoon came as no surprise to my old friend from school.

No, the surprise belonged to me. It was Monday evening when the private message showed up on my tablet. He explained that he had read the articles that I had shared that day and wanted to better understand where a guy like me was coming from so he could have a broader perspective. He gave a little personal history on living in areas with different levels of gun violence and a brief explanation of his gun control perspective, which, you may have guessed, did not match mine. He reiterated that he was merely looking to gain perspective.

I was blown over. Honestly, I had to read his short note over a few times to be sure of what I had just read. I know it sounds dramatic, but I was truly shocked. Delighted, but shocked.

I suppose it is a sad commentary on us all that the occurrence of someone from one political/philosophical bent approaching someone from another (“opposing”) side and asking simply if the “opponent” would better inform the questioner about the opponent’s view so that the questioner could see the issue more clearly would seem such a rarity as to cause shock. But, as I said, “America. 2017.” Here we are.

I, of course, jumped on the opportunity. I knew the potential dialogue was fraught with landmines and that we both might end up cursing the other for being so foolish as to not accept our arguments and blindly convert our positions on gun control, but I was too giddy at the possibility of this rare gem in the form of a genuine exchange of different ideas and opinions.

I stayed up past my bedtime that night, all riled up by both the topic and the chance to open a mind. I wrote out my basic arguments on the issue, then passed on a letter I wrote to you about the topic a few years ago. The next morning I happened upon a video that I thought clarified my perspective a bit and passed that on. Later in the morning, he sent along a couple of notes in response to my points and tried to lay out his position for me in greater detail. The next day, when I finally had time to write down my thoughts—as you know, I have a lot to say—I sent a long retort, explaining how his argument did not seem logically consistent and putting in a few more angles to plug my own position. Finally, he attempted to clarify his position again.

The entire exchange took place over 48 hours, from Monday to Wednesday evening. And believe me, lots of energy was expended, both emotionally and in terms of time and effort. Because I must admit, I was totally into it the entire time. I was invested in learning more about his perspective, so I eagerly awaited his responses each time. And I spent a lot of thought on how to best express my own perspective in a way that was thorough and respectful. I was clearly engaged, that made it all the more rich and meaningful.

And amazingly, I did not get angry during the exchange. I definitely scratched my head a few times trying to make his view seem logically consistent. Maybe I thought he was in denial about some things and short-sighted on others. But I understood where he was coming from. On the receiving end, I admit that I didn’t especially like it when he referred to people who share my views as “infantile, childlike, and naïve,” but I let that slide off me—which is very unlike me—because it was also very informative about his position, which he was being honest about. It didn’t feel like he was trying to deliver me a personal cheap shot. The whole vibe of the exchange was very genuine: passionate but not offensive, honest but not cutting.

And even if I did get worked up in the process, it was a small price to pay for the broadening of my horizons and a greater sense of compassion for others who don’t share my worldview. I was–and still am–deeply grateful for the trade.

I have wondered, in the few days since the dialogue concluded, if we could have had such an open, authentic exchange on such a sensitive topic—especially given the proximity to the tragedy—in a face-to-face setting and still been both respectful and heard. Would we have, in our quest to get our points across in as rapid an exchange as conversation usually is, been talking over each other and been triggered to anger, personal attacks, or caricatures of the other’s view? I am not so confident.

I usually think of the Internet—especially the Comments section of posts—as the place where people are at their most cowardly, hiding behind their keyboards to deliver cheap shots, knowing they do not have to see the face of the person whom they are trying to hurt. But in this case, I think the distance between us helped in that it gave us time to form our thoughts more clearly before we sent them, or at least allowed us to send along a clarification (or supporting articles, videos, etc.) later. It felt more thorough than a regular face-to-face or phone conversation this way. And obviously, I think the fact that we are old friends and have good will toward each other helped to keep it from devolving into the kind of shallow, crass exchanges you see online.

When I think of the exchange as a whole, the word that comes to mind is refreshing. Maybe I had lost too much faith in my fellow humans, but I simply didn’t imagine myself having that kind of dialogue this week (or any week, honestly). As I mentioned, the initial request itself floored me. Even had the discussion gone nowhere of great interest, just that simple request for better understanding—“Help me gain perspective” is my new favorite phrase—would have been enough to restore my faith in humanity for a little while. The fact that the dialogue that followed this beautiful plea was fruitful is all the more refreshing. I wish such a mind-opening gift upon everyone. I know I am up for another!

How about you? Are you open-minded enough to have a meaningful exchange about a sensitive issue with someone who comes at it from a totally different perspective? Open up your journal and consider the degree to which you are willing to both share your own thoughts respectfully with an “opponent” and also give serious respect and consideration to their views, building a true dialogue together rather than a fight. Which of the big issues are you most passionate about and get your blood boiling the most when you listen to the other side’s claims? Gun control? Racism? Health care? Immigration? Climate change? Abortion? Income inequality? The list goes on. Which ones rattle your cage the most? How well-versed are you in your side’s arguments? Well enough to put up a good fight in a debate if necessary? Are you eager to put your views out there and engage debate, or do you shy away from giving your opinions, even if they are strongly held? What is your typical reaction when you hear someone from the other side of your hot-button issue give their opinions? Do you get fired up immediately? Do you get so agitated that it would be difficult to engage in a meaningful, respectful dialogue on the topic? Have you ever been approached by someone who thoroughly disagrees with you on a thorny issue and would like to challenge your beliefs? If so, how did you respond and where did it lead? Has it ever ended well? It is my thoroughly biased belief that people who keep a journal have stronger foundations for their beliefs because, through their journal writing, they have considered the topics more thoroughly than people who don’t journal. I am not saying that we journal writers are more passionate about our opinions or even always correct, just that we are more likely to have logically consistent positions that can be expressed clearly. Do you agree? (Here’s a hint: you have to write one to find out the answer!) Have you ever had your view of humanity refreshed by a single exchange? Have you ever had a situation like mine and been engaged by someone who knowingly disagrees with you but who simply wants to broaden her view of the world? Would you prefer to do it face-to-face and all-at-once or through writing over time? How about the flip-side: have you ever approached an “opponent” with the humble request, “Help me gain perspective.”? On which issue would you most like to submit that request? From my experience this week, I would highly recommend it. Do you dare? Leave me a reply and let me know, Can you open your heart and mind enough to engage an opposing perspective with respect?  

Blossom and grow,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Dialogue is good!

The Best Day Of Summer

“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

This week’s Back-To-School photos on Facebook marked the first sign of the end of my favorite season. Though I am always tickled to see all of those smiling faces looking so much older than the same photos last year, mostly I hate the accompanying thought that my precious days of Summer Bliss are almost gone.

But, since my kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I try to remain in denial. There are still a handful of “Summer things” I hope to do with them, and in my mind, there is still time to make it happen. Honestly, though, I can feel the tick-ticking of the Summer clock winding down and, with it, a rise in my panic level.

It is tough to keep the anxious thoughts at bay: Were we at the lake enough? Did we do enough new stuff? Did we see enough family? Have we had enough adventures? Did we get enough exercise? Have we done enough quintessentially Summer things, like swaying in the hammock or roasting marshmallows? Have we connected enough with Mother Nature? Have we connected enough with each other?  

But the question that intrudes most into my consciousness as my season closes is this: Did I often enough feel that combination of true Bliss and Gratitude that comes in those magical moments that cause me to note, with a smile plastered across my face, “THIS is what it’s all about!”?  

Luckily, just as the panic of that question was about to set in, I happened to stumble upon a WHOLE DAY like that last weekend, just in time to improve my grades on Summer’s report card. It is amazing how one day can transform a world!

We had driven to my sister’s family cabin late Thursday, arriving amidst a cold, howling wind in the black of a backwoods night. Hoping for a hot Summer weekend at the lake, prospects were not looking good when Friday remained dark and windy. I used the day to get my bearings, catch up with my sister, and find the most comfortable spots to read and write. It was good company and a treat to be by the water, but I longed to engage with it they way I can only do in warmth and sunshine. I was wanting.

Ah, but then Saturday came around, and I wanted no more.

I opened the bedroom door in the morning and was greeted by the most wonderful light. My sister’s cabin has wall-to-wall windows on the lake side, and that light was an almost overwhelming beauty each morning. Like stepping into a healing bath of Divine Grace. I was instantly happy and full of a Peace that would linger all the day through.

After an amazing breakfast of homemade waffles with vanilla pudding and raspberries on top—trust me, this little family recipe of my brother-in-law’s is a delight—I convinced my wife to go out on the double kayak with me. Not much of an outdoor adventurer or risk-taker by nature, my wife’s acceptance of such an invitation was a treat all by itself. And when we got out on the calm lake with nothing but blue sky above us and the pine trees towering over the little cabins on all horizons, I was blissfully in my element. They only allow motorized wakes on their lake between eleven and three, so the quiet of the morning only amplified the beauty and serenity of the scene. As we paddled around the perimeter of the little lake, I noticed my grin and the sense of abundance and contentment welling up inside me. I was already oozing gratitude.

By the time we returned from our kayak ride, the sun was just warm enough to call for a swim, and my son was waiting for me on the shore so we could go together. He did flips and tricks off my shoulders, alternating turns with his cousins jumping off me into the refreshing water. Soon it was eleven o’clock, and the kids were ready to tube. I watched and took pictures from the boat as they giggled their way around the lake at top speed. I remembered the bonds I made at their age playing with my own cousins at a different lake, and how fondly I still remember those days and those special people. I was so pleased to be passing on that priceless gift to my kids.

After lunch on the balcony overlooking the lake, I got to get back in the water to help my daughter learn how to waterski, which again brought back so many memories of my youth. Some technical difficulties caused us to abandon the job, but since I was already wet, I joined the kids on their next tube ride around the lake. Though I am probably “too old” for that sort of thing, the exhilaration of the speed—and the crash–was an unadulterated joy for my still-young heart.

Following tubing and the noise of all of the ski boats, I was relieved at the quiet of mid-afternoon. I grabbed a floaty from the boathouse and floated lazily as I watched the kids play Whiffle-ball on the beach. Then I hopped on a single kayak and paddled out to watch a little sailboat race in the middle of the lake. On such a small lake, with all of the boats parked in the middle watching the sails gliding smoothly across the water, it felt like a regular small-town gathering. So intimate and quaint. I felt completely at ease. No threats, no worries. Just peace.

Riding the serenity of my solo kayak voyage, I came ashore to find the kids eager to get back in the water. With quiet hours in full swing on the lake, they opted for “slow tubing,” a delightful little cruise around the lake, with the pontoon dragging the tube and a knee board on separate ropes. The kids dove off the tube and board at their whim and hung onto the rope as we chugged along at a snail’s pace. They were having an absolute blast as we chatted on the boat, and soon I was feeling like they were getting the better of the deal. Off came my shirt and sunglasses, and I dove in to join in the kid fun as the boat trolled on. It was fantastic—exhilarating and soothing all at once.

As we pulled into the dock, my kids asked me if I would take them out on the double kayak. Nothing would please me more, I was thinking. Off we went, and soon their cousins joined us in the middle on two kid kayaks. It was that time of day when the sun is sinking and everything is colored in the most beautiful light. There was water, the beauty of Mother Nature, and the magic of children. That is my kind of paradise!

We returned to the cabin for a sunset dinner on the veranda before strolling down to the fire pit by the beach to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Those marshmallows had been waiting too long on my Summer To-Do List, and they were heavenly!

That was all warm-up, though, for the grand finale: star-gazing! This may seem like nothing to you, but I can’t tell you how long it has been since I sat out under a clear sky at night away from the lights of a city. Years! I was absolutely mesmerized by the clarity and endlessness of it. Even better was seeing my kids get a big thrill at seeing the Big Dipper and North Star. We were thoroughly amazed by the magnificence of it all.

Though it was definitely bedtime for my body, my mind was on fire with wonder and gratitude. I hated to look away from the night sky. But as I said goodnight to the kids and lay my head down on my pillow, the visions left over in my mind from all I had basked in that day were enough to carry me smiling into dreamland.

From the moment I rose in the morning to the moment I drifted off to sleep, that day was one for the ages. There was no one thing that made it so. It definitely wasn’t some blockbuster event or moment. No, it was a million little things. It was all these perfect, can’t-stop-grinning moments in succession set in my kind of place with my kind of people. It was the small size of the lake, its restricted speed boat hours, and the resulting intimacy that made everything feel so quaint and low-key. It was the middle-of-nowhere sense of where we were, and the feeling of endless beautiful forest around us. Reinforcing that feeling was the fact that we had no cellular or Wifi service, so we were totally disconnected from the chaos and foolishness that defines America lately. It was certainly the water, which always woos me. It was the company: my wife and kids and my sister’s family, all who are very dear to me and don’t do much to push my many buttons. It was also clearly the atmosphere that my sister sets at her place, too: no set schedule or expectations for joining activities, easy meals, no obsession with neatness, just be kind and enjoy yourself. It was seeing the world of my wife and kids expand: new place, new activities, a new adventure. I always love being a part of that. It was nostalgia. And finally, it was that priceless and indescribable sense of enchantment I experience amidst certain settings or activities: the glassy water, the night sky, campfire, eating a roasted marshmallow right off the stick. These are things that fill me with the kind of tingles that I can only translate as a big thumbs-up from my soul, letting me know it is being taken care of.

Saturday felt like an entire day of those tingles. I think of it now, and this grin that cannot be wiped from my face tells me that it was surely my best day of the Summer.

How about you? What was your best day of the Summer? Open up your journal and your mind and walk yourself through those special moments. Which day was it? Does the exact date come immediately to mind? What was it about that day that makes it stand out from all the rest? Was it anchored by a big event (e.g. a concert, family reunion, vacation, or party) that defined the day, or was it quite unspectacular on the surface? Which people were involved in your best day? Are those people regulars in your list of favorite days from other seasons and years? Was it the people that made it the best day? Had you looked forward to that specific day for a long time, or did it sneak up on you like mine did? How early in the day did you know that you were a part of something special? How big of a role did the setting play? Was it a regular spot for you (e.g. your home) or somewhere new? Did food play a role? How about activity? Was it more about what you were doing or how you were feeling or being? How do you think the day rated for the other people who were involved in it? Was it fantastic for everyone, or maybe just an ordinary day for some? Did you talk about how contented or joyous you were at the time, or did you keep it to yourself? Could you create that same type of experience again, or was this a one-shot deal for which everything just fell into place perfectly? What is it about that day that you could put more of into your normal days? Does your best day make you smile just thinking about it? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What was your best day of the Summer?

Savor your moments,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s celebrate our lives!

The Treason of Silence

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Hello friend,

I ask you today to open your mind to a thought that ought to be very uncomfortable for you.

But first, I want you to conjure up a specific image in your mind—you can choose from the many that have made their way through the various media in the last week—of one or two of the torch-bearing, Confederate-flag-and-swastika-waving bigots who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

Mine is the face of Peter Cvjetanovic, clad in his white polo and styled hair, holding his Tiki Torch and screaming next to the other young, white, male torch-bearers (you know, the one who, when outed this week, said, essentially, “I’m not the racist everyone is making me out to be.” Poor guy.)

But you choose your own. There are many photos and videos to choose from, and the cast of characters is huge. But the images seem to reveal some commonalities. They are violent. They are angry. They are organized. And they are ready to break your country into pieces.

Now here is the thought I want you to entertain: Maybe you are a bigger problem for us than they are.

I know, I know, it sounds farfetched. And trust me, I am as hypersensitive as they come and cannot stand to be accused of anything. So I feel you. But bear with me.

You might be worse for your country right now—and for human rights, social progress, Justice, etc.—than those neo-Nazis and white supremacists who stormed Charlottesville last weekend.  

How could that even be possible?

When you are actually in a moment of history, you rarely understand its significance. In the first few years of The Civil Rights Movement, there was nothing called “The Civil Rights Movement.” It was just people like Rosa Parks acting for justice. Only later did we recognize the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a seminal moment in The Civil Rights Movement.

It seems to me that we are in quite a moment right now. I can’t say for sure how this will all look fifty or a hundred years from now and what the history books will say, but I have a suspicion that this era will be in there and that we will be judged for our roles in it.

What urges me to ask this difficult question of you is none other than Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself. Dr. King is on my short list of greatest heroes. He wrote and spoke so many words that have touched me in my deepest places. But the ones that seem to come back over and over to haunt and inspire me are his passages about silence and the role of “good people” in the culture of injustice that has defined America since its inception.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” 

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’” 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

“To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it.” 

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” 

When silence is betrayal. The common definition of treason is “betrayal of one’s country.” But what about a betrayal of humankind in general? A betrayal of Goodness? Of Justice?

You see, when you are crusading for Justice, your biggest enemy is not the unjust but the indifferent.

Let me unpack that. If I am a leader tasked with combatting racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, anti-Muslim sentiment, you name it, the ones who do the most damage to my cause are not those guys in Charlottesville marching with their flags and beating people up. Those guys are the low-hanging fruit; they are easy to address and easy to rally against. They are deplorable and I wish they were gone, yes, but their kind of damage can be measured and contained. They are a broken bone—badly broken–not a cancer. No, the group that has the potential to quietly, casually allow disease to spread through my people are the silent, “good people” who say nothing when the bone-crusher rises up at our doorstep.

These “good people” can’t ever be singled out for using the “N-word” or openly discriminating against the Muslim family down the street. They may or may not have voted for the candidates who support tolerance and inclusivity, but they didn’t rally against them. They are always outwardly kind and respectful. So, what makes them the great “tragedy,” as Dr. King referred to them?

Their “appalling silence” when it comes to defining moments and matters of importance.

By the end of last weekend, you might have known that the events in Charlottesville were a big deal by the amount of media coverage they were getting, but I surely couldn’t tell by the number of my social media community who were speaking out against these people and their disgusting causes. Nearly everyone seemed to be just viewing it from a distance, as though it were a new television series and not a moral crisis point for our entire nation. By the end of the weekend, I was more disturbed by that “appalling silence” of the “good people” that are my social community than by the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

I suddenly became very active on Facebook. I am typically the guy who looks at Facebook a lot but doesn’t post things on my personal page very often. Well, I started sharing and posting about Charlottesville and implored my community to speak up to their communities about it, stressing that silence communicates support for the white supremacists. I made a point of praising anyone who used their voice in any way—a personal post, a share, etc.—to address the issue. But the more I scoured my Timeline for people’s reflections, the more the silence became deafening to me. (I recognize that several days after the event, it started to become more fashionable to change profile pictures to “I stand against racism” and such, and I don’t wish to diminish those small steps. But my point remains.)

This is not a controversial topic. This is not something that a Democrat friend should think one way on and therefore a Republican friend should think the opposite way. Right? I mean, I know that since the election, almost everyone in my feed has become gun-shy about saying anything “political” in their posts for fear of stirring up another hateful argument and grating on all the raw nerves that the very long campaign process exposed. But, despite what some leaders might say about “many sides,” I think we can all agree that there is one side of this deal that is despicable. Saying so should not risk sparking a debate.

So, why the silence?

Honestly, is it not a big enough topic to raise your blood pressure? Does it just not move the needle for you? WHAT COULD BE BIGGER??? Are Liberty, Equality, and Justice not quite enough to get you to clear your throat and throw out a few words? Just a few.

If not now, when?

Seriously, if you haven’t gotten up in your social media community, family and friend community, spiritual community, or any other community this week and said that you disagree with the Charlottesville marchers and that you stand with the people they are trying to oppress, then I honestly don’t know what to do with you?

It scares me to have to wonder what is in your heart on this matter, especially when speaking out against hate would appear to come with no risk involved.

Your silence portrays, at best, indifference, and that indifference enables this type of nonsense to be normalized.   Are you really in favor of normalizing Hate?

The topic demands that you stand up and take a position. Neutrality is not an option on something so big and so potentially damaging.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I wasn’t even going to write this week because I have been preparing for and on vacation. The thing that drove me to carve out the time was the very title itself: The Treason of Silence. I just know in my bones that this moment in time is our moment of reckoning—individually and collectively as a country—and that History will judge us accordingly. As much as “the appalling silence and indifference of the good people” truly does appall me, I know that my own silence on this matter might be my biggest regret. I choose to speak.

How about you? How have you chosen to react to the dramatic events in Charlottesville in recent days? Open up your journal and justify your level of action or inaction, your reasons for speaking up or being silent. Perhaps it is best to begin with how the events—the marches, the swastikas, the violence, the death—made you feel on the inside. What was your visceral reaction? Stunned? Appalled? Overjoyed? Disturbed? Relieved? Angered? Saddened? Indifferent? How would you describe both the feeling and the depth of it? How much did the images move your needle? If you said you were clearly affected by them—and especially if you felt that what was happening was terribly wrong–what did you do about it? Did you talk to anyone? Share on social media about it? Anything? If you did share, how long did it take you? What made you wait? Is this kind of open bigotry and hate becoming normalized? Is it now so normal that you didn’t—or almost didn’t—think to even say anything? Did you have anything to lose by speaking up—any social backlash, such as loss of friends or potentially angry debates with family members? If you had nothing to lose and still didn’t speak up, what do you think that says about your values and your character? Is the answer to that question a bitter pill to swallow? So, how about Dr. King’s sentiments? When evil is done and you are silent about it, are you an accomplice in that evil? Who is the bigger problem for our society today and the bigger barrier to eliminating the scourge of bigotry and hate: the thousands of people carrying the Confederate flags, shouting racial slurs, and beating people, or the millions of people who enable those thousands with their silence and indifference? Are you one of the thousands, one of the millions, or one of the ones who spoke up? Are you satisfied with your response? Did it match the level of the offense? If not, what will it take to get you to deliver a response worthy of the situation in the future? If this isn’t a disturbing enough event for you, what would be? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you one of the “good people” who have remained appallingly silent?

Rise to the occasion,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. We all need to do some soul-searching on this one.

Where is Your Outrage? Getting Angry in an Apathetic World

“If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention.” –Lisa Borden, The Alphabet of Avoidance

Hello friend,

This week I watched the newly-released police videos of the murder of Philando Castile and its immediate aftermath. I watched as Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, sat handcuffed and distraught in the backseat of a police cruiser with her four-year-old daughter. The little girl pleaded with her to stop screaming because she didn’t want her mother to “get shooted” too. At the end of the heartbreaking video, she cries to her mother, “I wish this town was safer. I don’t want it to be like this anymore.” I swallowed hard and wiped the tear from my eye. Then I got angry. Really angry. I wanted to scream, but felt like I couldn’t produce one loud enough to represent the extremes of my outrage.

After last Friday’s not guilty verdict for the officer who fired seven bullets into Castile as he sat seat-belted in his car next to his girlfriend and her daughter, I was devastated. Just after my wife told me the news, I had to pick up my kids from camp and explain to them why Mommy would be crying when we got home. We had to have another difficult discussion about race and injustice in America, including our own city, where the murder took place. It is depressing to be forced to have these conversations over and over with a six-year-old and an eight-year-old.

I had been thinking since the verdict about this sad fact of racial injustice in American life and how it pains me that my kids need to know this stuff so young. But seeing this new video of that poor little four-year-old child not only witnessing a murder of a loved one by a police officer but also being cognizant of how little it would take for them to kill her black mother, too, well, that just takes it to a whole other level. As I said, it broke me into tears watching it.

But my heartbreak morphed quickly into its natural successor: outrage.  

I was really, really mad. Mad that Castile’s murderer got off. Mad that this woman had to sit in handcuffs when she had just witnessed her boyfriend murdered and she wasn’t charged with or suspected of any crimes. Mad that this innocent little child had to witness both Castile’s murder and her mother’s humiliation. And so damn mad that we live in a world where that kind of scene—from the phony, racially-profiled traffic stop all the way to the Not Guilty verdict—is commonplace for people of color, just a regular part of what it means to be black in America. It is such a damn shame on us.

But what makes me more outraged as I simmer down from all that other stuff is that this whole thing—which was actually quite famous due to Reynolds’ Facebook Live video capturing Castile bleeding out while his murderer’s gun was still pointed at him—doesn’t seem to even cause an eyebrow to be raised for most people outside of the black community. Nothing!

We cry about it at my house and have long talks with my children, and then I write and share about it on Facebook to both educate and grieve communally. As I scroll through my Newsfeed, though, there is barely a mention of it.

Some of my black friends and a couple of my white friends—literally a couple—that live in the city of the killing share their sadness and disgust. Otherwise, crickets. Silence.

That silence, of course, chaps my hide even more. When I shared on Facebook the video of the handcuffed Diamond Reynolds and her weeping daughter in the back of the police car, along with a call to action, I got a grand total of five acknowledgements in the next 24 hours. Not comments—none of those—but Likes or Sad Face or Angry Face. Five! I bet I could get on social media right now and type “I love chocolate ice cream!” and get twice that number of responses in an hour. Apathy.

I am outraged by the lack of outrage!!!

No wonder most black people in America feel like they can’t trust white people: we do nothing but let them down over and over again. And not just by killing them and getting away with it, but mostly by our absolute apathy about such injustice. It’s not the killers that are so hurtful; it’s the vast silent mass of passive condoners of the killing who act as a rubber stamp of its approval. Our collective silence does more damage than that officer’s bullets.

I just don’t get why everyone is not more upset by this.

Why do you have to be black or have black loved ones to feel outraged by injustice toward black people? Or disabled people. Or poor people. Or LGBTQ people. Or whatever! What makes us so unfeeling, so uncaring about stuff that doesn’t happen in our own house?

And I am not saying that we all have to share exactly the same sensibilities and all have to be upset by the same things. I am outraged by what is happening in Washington, DC almost every single day, too, but I know people who are perfectly content with it. Fine.

But there is so much obvious injustice in our world and so many things that would seem to bind us together in our collective outrage. Alas, I just don’t sense it out there. Not from the crowd I am listening to. My family. My friends. My social media contacts. My world. It breaks my heart how silent and unmoved you are by things that matter so much to me (and that I want to believe would matter to you).

It is this deep sadness, this disappointment, that always remains when the fire of outrage quiets. I am more often sad than mad about stuff. I think that is part of my disposition. But I am feeling—deeply, passionately, painfully—and if nothing else, that reminds me that I care. I just don’t know about anybody else.

I am looking for it, desperately wanting to feel that flame from others the way a captain lost in the storm wants to see the lighthouse. I long for some sign, some indication that it’s not just me, that I am not alone in my pain and indignation at injustice. I want to know that the collective response to everything isn’t just a shrug, a “Whatever”. I want to know that there exists some degree of indecency, immorality, illegality, or injustice that will cause a critical mass of us to not simply raise our eyebrows but also our hearts and voices.

I feel myself both inside the world and outside, knocking on the door and wondering if we are still in here, if we will answer it or if we will turn down the lights and hide in the basement until the knocking goes away. I need to feel some reassurance that we are going to answer, because right now, I am getting nothing. That silence makes me want to scream.

How about you? Is there any rage coming out of you from the way our world is working? Open up your journal and consider what, if anything, raises you to the level where something has to be said or done about it. Is there anything? When was the last time you felt truly outraged about something? What was it? How did you vent your frustration and anger? A group protest? A Facebook rant? A vent session with a loved one who empathizes with you? Or did you just stuff it all down inside you to keep stewing? What type of thing usually draws your ire? Social justice issues? The ineptitude and acrimonious dealings of our elected officials in Washington? Environmental issues? Concerns of unfairness in your workplace? Income inequality and the dominance of the wealthy few over the many? Mistreatment in individual relationships? Why does expressing our outrage over blatant societal injustice have to be polarizing and scare us into not expressing ourselves? Is it actually controversial to say that Philando Castile was dealt an injustice or that his family was dealt another one with the verdict? I think it takes a fairly high degree of denial to survive and remain sane in this society, because there are so many causes for outrage around us. Do you find that to be the case, and how do you filter the many triggers? Do you ever worry that you have taken that filtering and denial too far, to the point that nothing outrages you anymore? I feel like most people have gotten that way about the mess in Washington. Do you think some outrage is healthy, though, as a sort of proof that you are alive and engaged with the world? I like the H.L. Mencken quote, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” How often should you allow this outrage to surface in order to remain happy and balanced? How can you apply your outrage to activism for positive change? On a scale of one to ten, with one being always silent, passive, and even-keeled, and ten being outraged, vocal, and actively engaged in protest, where do you generally fall on the spectrum of outrage regarding societal injustice? Does that feel like a healthy spot for you, or is it time to make some changes? What aspect of your world needs your outrage and your voice? Are you ready to give it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is your outrage?

Speak and act your Truth,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. I would also love to hear from you, either in the comments or on Facebook, especially about which of the many injustices in the world rile you most. Thank you for energy.

DISASTER STRIKES!! What Would You Take With You?

“If we fear loss enough, in the end the things we possess will come to possess us.” –Rachel Naomi Remen

Hello friend,

True confession: I am a bit of a hoarder. My mother teasingly calls me “Pack Rat” over my unwillingness to throw things away. She ought to know: her basement is still full of my old t-shirts, trophies, and football cards. I wish I could say I have become better about that with age. No, I still find reasons to keep just about everything that comes my way, no matter how useless or out of style it is or becomes.

I am not sure where this comes from.

Some of it is pure nostalgia. I like the Air Jordan shirt I used to wear in college—when Jordan gear still had the Nike swoosh on it—because it makes me smile whenever I go through my stuff. Do I ever wear it? No. I like that smile, though. The same goes for old books I will never read again, expired driver’s licenses, even eyeglasses I used to wear.

Some of it is in anticipation of hard times. I save for a rainy day (and I am cheap). I know that the gurus tell us to anticipate abundance and live accordingly, but I am really bad at that. When I worked in Tennis, I got some free gear every year. Like a squirrel preparing for Winter, I saved everything I could in anticipation of the day, some years away, when I would return to playing, or when my kids would get serious about it. Same for when I worked in Running: I stocked up on free or cheap shoes so that I won’t need to shell out any money for several more years of exercising. It’s all here in my home, stuffed in every nook and cranny.

When we were planning to buy a house several years ago, one of my requirements was that it be large enough to accommodate two of my defining idiosyncratic needs: 1) my boatloads of nostalgia/junk (depending upon who you ask J), and 2) my own space to be alone. I got my wish: we have a house that has lots of space, all of which is filled. My clothes are in the guest room, and my everything else fills the large basement. I have multiple work spaces, where I am surrounded (suffocated?) by things at all times. So many things….

While tooling around Facebook this week, I came across a post by an old friend that upset my psychological apple cart. It said, “Worst thing I lost in the fire: 3 ½ years of journaling. With every entry I wrote a 6 line poem, that rhymed. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in an essay that journaling can be a daily cathartic moment, or some amount of time. But more important was a six line poem that didn’t need much thought, just do it; keeps the mind sharp. I lost somewhere around 1800 six line poems (not one was worth reading twice). So it goes.  

I suddenly felt so sad and empty. I just wanted to give him a hug.

It rattled me, too, though. Shook me up.

Twenty years ago, when I was just getting in the swing of writing often and long in my journal, I left it at a laundromat in Los Angeles. Later that night (after closing time), when I realized it, I had a little panic attack. In my short time with it, my journal had become priceless to me. I simply could not bring myself to imagine the loss. My heart pounded in my chest until the next morning, when I showed up at the door right before the place opened. The old janitor went back into his closet to look for my book as I sweated and prayed, sweated and prayed. When he walked out with it in his hands, I wanted to kiss him. I have been hyper-vigilant with each volume ever since, afraid to relive that trauma for fear it would not turn out so happily the next time.

And now my old journals are a part of my work as one my book projects, which only increases their worth. Though I am aware they hold absolutely zero value to anyone else, they truly are priceless to me.

In the aftermath of my friend’s tragic post—the fire had been several months ago, and he survived, but the news about the lost journals was new—and my bout of minor post-traumatic stress, I got to thinking about just what I would choose to salvage if I knew a natural disaster was coming and I could only choose a few possessions. In my head, I gave myself more leeway than someone running out of a fire, just enough time to get the few things I really wanted, even if they were in the very back of the closet.

Of course, my journals were the very first thing that came to mind. I have a few plastic totes full of them, but every page would have to come. I was so relieved at the very thought of saving them, at first I wondered if there was anything else that would sadden me much to lose (to be clear: in my imaginary scenario, no people or pets are in danger). Was it just the journals?

No, but I didn’t stray very far from that vein. As further evidence that the material possessions that I value most in this world are just my memories and impressions of my time here, the very next thing that I would take is the small box that holds my camera’s filled memory cards. These little coin-sized gems hold thousands and thousands of priceless moments from my life as a parent. They are also another version of the way I capture my world. When I am old and can no longer do much for myself, I will put on some good music and a continuously looping slide show of all of these beautiful images that remind me of my true treasures.

If I get to be greedy and take more than my journals and photo cards, the last things I will grab are my computers that have all of my other writing in them. Again, the representations of my soul and my journey win out.

I guess my theme is consistent. It reminds me of my Mom’s answers when my siblings and I would ask her what we could get her for Mother’s Day. She always just wanted us to make something for her, something from the heart, like homemade cards or art projects. The “things” I really want to hold onto from my house full of stuff are just things that I have made, stuff from my heart. The other stuff is just, well, stuff. I’m okay without it.

How about you? What are your most valued possessions? Open up your journal and think about everything you own. If a natural disaster were on its way to destroy your home and you could choose but a few items, what would you take with you? Do your answers come quickly to mind and strike you as obvious, or do you have to dig around and make some tough decisions? What is it about the obvious ones that make them so easy? Are they things that you have no way of replacing? Are they memory items, like family photos, souvenirs, or heirlooms? Are they very expensive to buy? Are they super-personal or more general? Which of your items are things that probably wouldn’t make it on other people’s lists? Why do those unique things make it onto yours? Do your choices have a consistent theme, like the way mine are all about how I chronicle my life? What do your choices say about what you value? If you lost absolutely everything you own—but weren’t out anything financially—how do you think you would handle it psychologically? I picture myself going catatonic for a while, a lá Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, unable to face the loss of my writing and photos. To what degree do your possessions, as the opening quote suggested, possess you? On a scale of one to ten, how materialistic do you think you are? Leave me a reply and let me know: If you had only one load to run out the door with, what would you take? 

Be your best today,

William

If today’s letter had you questioning, pass it on. And remember: The best things in life aren’t things at all. Cheers!

What’s the Difference Between You and Everybody Else?

“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” –Simone de Beauvoir, Prime of Life

Hello friend,

I remember when I was in my twenties. I was out in the world doing my thing. I was meeting tons of different people, figuring out how we all fit together. In all of those countless interactions, the thing that always seemed to bother me the most was when someone claimed to understand me, to know what I am all about. I was so sure that they weren’t even close to comprehending my essence and what made me tick. I just knew that I was completely different from everyone else and that no one could imagine my depths.

There are passages in my very first journal that allude to this feeling of being different and how that feeling isolated me.

“I am destined to be a loner, for no one can understand the things that drive me. I feel I am becoming more and more ‘abnormal’ as the days go by.” –July 7, 1994

“And even if I let some pretty close, I’ll always be alone, because no one can see what’s there. Some will claim to, but they won’t know the half of it.” –February 22, 1995

Ironically, at the same time that I was being regularly offended by people claiming to get me, I was arrogantly assuming that I could read everyone else like a book, as this passage reveals:

“I think the main reason for my silence and solitude goes back to the original issue: I feel I have these gifts or abilities in my mind that make me feel unlike the rest of society or members of my species. I truly believe, when I am honest with myself, that I am “different” from the rest, somehow cut from a different cloth than the rest of mankind. Although I am a believer in the thought that we are all truly different, I believe there are things inside of me that are beyond what lies inside the minds and souls of others. I feel I can truly understand every man and his thoughts and feelings, and then go beyond that to a very large place that no one else can know.” –July 25, 1997

Oh, the self-centered thoughts of a young adult! Those entries fascinate me—and embarrass me a little–all these years later. You may not be surprised to learn that my perspective has changed somewhat in the two decades that have passed since then.

These days, I am simply less sure. I don’t assume I know as much as I used to assume. I think I read people well, empathize with their experiences, and take them into my heart so I can feel their joy and pain. But I am quite sure there are hidden depths and dark corners inside them that I haven’t the tools to navigate. That certainty about my uncertainty has humbled me over the years.

I am not sure I have changed as much on the other side of the coin, though. I still tend to think that people don’t understand me very well. Maybe it is because exercises like last week’s 50 Words Challenge reveal that I have a number of complexities to my personality, a lot of conflicting traits that take time to expose.

Understanding the labyrinthine nature of my heart and mind has helped me in my humility, as I figure that most other people are more complex than I ever imagined. At least they might be, and that grain of doubt should keep me as free from certainty and judgment as possible. That uncertainty should keep me always in the moment, receiving them anew as our interactions evolve. It is a good lesson for me.

But how about it: AM I different??? Am I something extraordinary? Is there something totally unique about me? Obviously, the broad range of things that make up our personality and history makes each of us unique. But you know what I mean: Is there something that makes me so unlike most people?

I think that claiming characteristics outright seems a bit presumptuous—arrogant, even—so maybe it is wiser just to list a few potential candidates, ways that I usually feel isolated or unique (again, fully aware that each trait has an infinite number of variations and ways it intersects with our other traits).

One that comes to my mind is my hypersensitivity to oppression and unfairness. I have always been extremely averse to examples of historical, systematic oppression and mistreatment, such as that which our country and its citizens acted out on the American Indians and the African people ripped from their homelands and brought here as slaves (and, of course, everything that followed both of those things). I get the dual reaction of my blood boiling in outrage and my heart being torn to shreds when I think about such injustice. Even with modern examples, when I see a politician or pundit spew hatred or see a friend or family member support that hate-spewer, I become deeply offended by that. My sensitive heart gets broken often by such things.

I have always been that way about perceived unfairness. I think back on all the times I played with cheaters on the tennis court. I would get so appalled by the unfairness that I could hardly function. It is also why I get so worked up about the issue of privilege, such as when I see a highly privileged friend—born into wealth and whiteness and more—look down upon people who were born with fewer advantages and cannot fathom why the privileged should share either money or opportunities with the unprivileged. That ignorance enrages me. The people around me seem to be much less affected by such things. Or maybe they just hide it better.

Besides my sensitivity, the other characteristic that might separate me is my intense attachment to the concept of identifying and following one’s Bliss, dream-chasingk. I was bitten by this obsession before I ever wrote my first journal entry, when I decided to leave school and become an actor. I have sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten to keep chasing my biggest dreams, but it is so obvious to me how that concept is such an enormous and identifying part of Who I Really Am. It is why you are reading these words in front of you: they are part of my dream.

I seem to be obsessed both with chasing my own dreams and helping others do the same. I see it as so important, even essential, to true happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime. I want it as much for you as I do for me.

The other day I was tooling around on Facebook and happened upon a meme that a friend had shared. It said, “It’s messing people up, this social pressure to ‘find your passion’ and ‘know what it is you want to do’. It’s perfectly fine to just live your moments fully, and marvel as many small and large passions, many small and large purposes enter and leave your life. For many people there is no realization, no bliss to follow, no discovery of your life’s purpose. This isn’t sad, it’s just the way things are. Stop trying to find the forest and just enjoy the trees.”

My first reaction was, “No! That meme was written and shared by people who just haven’t found their passion yet. They will change their tune when they find it.”

But the argument has stuck with me, even haunted me a bit. It made me think about the people in my life and how I am the only one who seems so obsessed by this concept of following my Bliss and living my purpose. I am the only one who thinks it is a great idea to set practical realities aside and just chase my dreams single-mindedly. I am the only one who keeps cheering others to do the same. I guess I think it should be common, should be normal to do that. It just isn’t.

There are probably a handful of other ways I feel myself sticking out from—or retreating from—the crowd. And like I said, I know we are all complex. We are the products of ever-changing intersections of different shades of countless distinct and indistinct qualities that blend with circumstances. But we are all humans. We share the same Earth and the same company. How different can we be?

Still, even though there are 7 billion of us inhabiting this third rock from the sun, I can’t help feeling that I am one of a kind.

How about you? What makes you different from all the rest? Open up your journal and think about the times you have felt unique, special, or misunderstood. Which of your characteristics seem to bring about these moments of feeling extraordinary? Are they qualities that you deem positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do they seem to reveal themselves more now than in previous eras of your life, or were they more prominent before? What makes your version of that quality so unique? Have you had different characteristics that took turns setting you apart along your journey, or has it been just one or two core traits that have sustained? Do you appreciate your unique traits, or do you wish for others? Would you rather blend in more? Generally speaking, do you feel pretty well understood by the people in your life? Do you wish to be more understood? How much work would that take on your end? More than you want to do? Is it nice to have a little something just for yourself? How clearly and deeply do you think you understand the people in your life? Better than they understand you? What makes you think so? Would you guess that most people feel ordinary or extraordinary? If it is the latter, how many are willing to claim it out loud and celebrate their uniqueness? Should we do better at encouraging that? Do you celebrate your unique traits? Leave me a reply and let me know: What’s the difference between you and everybody else?  

Shine on,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you look differently at yourself, please pass it on. Tell your loved ones that you appreciate their unique magic. Blessed be.