Tag Archives: values

Misguided Saints or Friendly Villains? Assessing Loved Ones In The Age Of Trump

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” –George Carlin

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” –Deb Caletti

Hello friend,

If you and I meet up any time in the next year–or maybe forever–and I don’t seem to remember how to act, it’s because I don’t. Truly, I don’t. I’ve forgotten. I may be dying to interrogate you, rip into you, gloss over you, or lavish you with empathy and good will–or all of the above simultaneously. What you get? I don’t know! Never in my life have I felt so torn about how to interact with people in general, but especially the people I have always known and loved. Ninety percent of my interactions are a form of torture. And I blame it all on Donald Trump!

Just kidding. Not about the torture, but about the Trump. (I am not here to litigate the President, really. We all know where we stand on him already, and I don’t expect to change that. My question today, as always, is ultimately about YOU.) I know he is only a symptom of a deeper disease–and I generally don’t even mention his name–but he makes the arguments stand out in bold, cartoon-like form, making it easier to highlight our differences of morality. So let’s go with it for the moment.

I suppose I have been tortured by a version of this syndrome all my life–a liberal, “bleeding heart” kind of soul born into a family, community, and region of the country that oozes conservatism–though most of my years were spent in happy denial of it. At some level, I could always say that I felt “different,” as though I didn’t quite belong, but I didn’t ever really do the work to crystallize what it was. I was blissfully unaware of politics and the ramifications of political beliefs on the lives of the people around us and the people of the world. I casually accepted the idea that all of those politicians in Washington were pretty much the same: White men who agreed on the problems but just had slightly different views on the solutions. I suppose I figured the rest of us were pretty much the same: it wasn’t our politics that separated us or showed some to be “good” and others “bad,” but rather our day-to-day actions and our morals. Politics seemed to be a separate thing and far less important.

And then I opened my eyes and started paying attention. It all changed pretty fast from there. Me, I mean. I changed. Not me, as in, who I was. But me in how I understood the world and its workings. The curtain got pulled back for me, and I couldn’t un-see what I had seen, though it would have saved me a lot of torment in the ensuing years.

Politics is morals put into policy form.

The policies–and, by extension, the politicians that espouse them–that you support tell so much about your character and your moral compass. At bottom, your politics reveal exactly what (and whom) you value. Simultaneously, they tell about what you are willing to swallow in order to make your values win. It is a crystallization of your priorities.

So, why do so many of the people from my past–people I have liked or loved, people I played with or share blood with, people who raised me–support a brand of morals that makes my skin crawl? How could we come from the same home and seemingly be moral opposites? And should that make us, if not enemies, then at least cordially not-friends? Are we deluding ourselves by thinking that the bonds of old friendship or family should endure even though we realize we are thoroughly incompatible morally? Should I be cutting ties, or do I have to just shine it on at reunions for the rest of my life, keeping my conversations agonizingly superficial in the service of tolerating each other? Or is there something more, some level of wisdom or grace that I can reach that allows me to fully embrace them again, the way it was before I could see these things clearly?

I want to know how to interact! Maybe more so, I want to be able to think better of the people I have been feeling hurt by and angry with, people who have been a big disappointment to me since I opened my eyes to the stark differences in our beliefs. I want that, but at the moment, I admit that it’s hard to see a path to the bridge.

This may seem random, but I think we need to talk about Jesus. As I have shared with you before, I am not a Christian but am a huge fan of the man. His example and his teachings are wonderful. In this era, though, I feel as though I have to defend Jesus from his followers. It truly makes my blood boil to listen to certain high-profile religious leaders as they not only cover for the despicable acts and policies of our current President but celebrate him and lean on their congregations to do the same.

But, as I said, I do not want to make this seem like it’s about Donald Trump. As easy of a target as he is in any discussion of morals, I would rather pull it back to a party level, but still stick with my guy Jesus. My pet theory–perhaps incorrect, but still mine and sure to offend even more people, but hey, I’m already in the deep end on this one–is that the “Christian coalition” (or “Evangelicals” or once upon a time the “Moral Majority” or however you would like to name the right-wing Christian movement) was willing to hitch their wagon to whichever political party was going to side with them on the issue of abortion. The Republicans signed on and have happily won a ton of easy elections out of the deal (hence the “Bible Belt” also being called the “Solid South” to signify that it votes solidly Republican).

But what policies did the Christians–and just so we are clear, I am not suggesting this applies to every Christian but rather to the movement and leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) that try to speak for the religion–wed themselves to for the sake of abortion? How do they look after this deal? And, more importantly, how do you imagine Jesus would see it?

I have studied this guy Jesus fairly seriously, both as a kid and as an adult, and these are some of the traits and principles that stand out to me about him: generous, nonviolent, empathetic, welcoming, charitable, open-hearted, peaceful, forgiving, an ally to the outcast, opposition to greed, caring for the poor and the sick. When I look at the issues of the modern world that our political parties disagree on, I always shudder to think how he would feel about the side taken by the leaders and followers of the religion that bares his name.

Tax breaks for the wealthiest, leading to greater income inequality and a greater number of people suffering and impoverished. LGBTQ discrimination. Separating immigrant families who are fleeing war or cruelty at home–hey, like Jesus!–and caging children at the border. Gun laws. Expansion of the prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex. Civil rights and righting past wrongs to African-Americans and other minority communities. Guaranteeing health care for all. Protecting the environment. From what I can tell about Jesus, he would land on the exact opposite end of the political (i.e. moral) spectrum than the people who are supposedly carrying his banner.

Whenever one of these issues comes up and I ask myself that famous question, “What would Jesus do?” the answer inevitably turns out to be so different than the Republican/”Christian” response. That is deeply disturbing to me. I wish it were to them, but judging by the election results at all levels, it plainly is not.

Just look at the President. We will pull him into the discussion for a moment. I have no need to write the laundry list of his moral failings, but suffice it to say that in both his policies and his social (e.g. Twitter) messages to the world, he would seem to me to be a glaring embarrassment to not just his country, religion or political party, but to humanity. Horrifying things are said and done, and yet who in his party–whether a politician or an ordinary citizen–ever says, “Yikes! This time he crossed the line. That is unacceptable.”? As my wife is fond of exclaiming when at her wits’ end about these silent enablers, “How do they look themselves in the mirror? How can they live with themselves?” I would like to know.

Because I have Republican family members who practically spat in disgust when Donald Trump was a candidate for President. Until he became their nominee, that is. Ever since, I don’t hear a single negative thing about him from them, no matter how egregious the latest lie or slander or tantrum. All is well in their world. I would like an explanation for that.

But what I also want from them–and I know this sounds extreme and self-absorbed at first blush, but it is my truth–is an apology. I have been highly sensitive to racism my whole life, even growing up White in a thoroughly White community. And now I have a Black wife and two biracial children, as well as dear friends of color. Any neutral account of this President’s history before and in office show him to be plainly racist. You, as a supporter, can say all day long, “I am not a racist. I am not a racist. I am not a racist.” But if you pledge your support to a racist, what does that make you?

And I get it, there are more things about a politician than whether they are racist or not . So maybe you love your politician’s foreign relations philosophy or immigration policy or health care plan so much that you are willing to overlook their racist statements and actions, but does that mean you should not even acknowledge that aspect of it to someone who is hurt by your vote? Especially if you love them? Something along the lines of, “You know how I voted, and I know that must feel like a punch in the gut to your family because his racism is truly ugly and harmful. But the other issues are ones I couldn’t compromise on, so I felt compelled to vote for him despite serious misgivings about his character. I really do apologize for the damage his racism causes; I can only hope I am right about the rest and that our relationship survives it.” From my own experience, I will say that the votes of my family and friends for Trump have deeply hurt my feelings on this issue of racism. The possibility that they are blind to their hurtfulness doesn’t do much to salve the wound. It mostly makes me feel the moral divide between us is that much greater.

That divide tends to feel like a gulf, because, as I said, this is not just about Donald Trump, and I am sure it won’t disappear when he leaves office. This is about political issues that are shows of our moral character and thus our priorities. After all, conservative media spent decades portraying Hillary Clinton as, alternately, morally weak for sticking with a cheating husband, then frigid, calculating, ruthless, and finally, as corrupt and untruthful as Trump himself. But in the end, whether any of those cartoon-villain descriptions were accurate or not, she still stood for policies that revealed a morality far, far different than the policies of her opponent, never mind his well-chronicled character flaws.

So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone in Washington is a saint. They play in an ugly game, and to rise to the top, they have probably done things that they don’t want to tell their mothers about. But you and I aren’t playing an ugly game. We are living this one life, and I, perhaps naïvely, presume that means we are trying to be good people and leave the world better than we found it. In this one life, we get to choose how we come down on every issue, and we get to step privately into that voting booth in every election and vote with our moral compass as guide.

But that’s the problem I am having and why old relationships have become so awkward and challenging. I get to see the election results and know the values and priorities of the people in my community. In the case of family members and some friends, I already know the way they vote, so there becomes no way for me to deny their moral positions. When I do the old, “What would Jesus do?” test and their votes come out on the opposite side of me and Jesus, it creates a crisis of conscience for me. Not because I doubt my political positions, but because I doubt my relationships.

I begin to wonder whether, in staying loyal to the person, I am betraying myself. Am I taking the high road with them but low-balling myself? Their presence in my life–at least on some level–feels like a violation of my principles.

But then they go and muck up my righteous indignation by doing what they have been doing all my life: being kind to me and my family or doing other good works for their neighbors or the world. They tell me funny jokes. They enjoy a walk on the beach or in the woods with me. We play sports together. Our kids are best friends. We take each other’s suggestions on great books and movies. We have an intellectually stimulating conversation or commiserate about our children, all of whom we love and want the best for. They act like friends and family are supposed to act. In effect, they make it complicated.

Humans are so darn messy! The so-called Good and the so-called Bad. It turns out neither is exactly what we call them. None of us are. We are all grey, all wearing one angel’s wing and one devil’s horn, showing them off alternately depending upon which angle someone is looking from. You are this to me, but you are also that. I can therefore not put you in a box. Knowing you requires nuance and perhaps a sacrifice, some boundaries, or even some cleverly placed blinders. That is frustrating because it is a lot more work. It’s so darn much work!

But what is the alternative? Solitude? That is tempting to me on many days, believe me, but I have mostly made peace with my decision to be a (somewhat) social animal. I know that I will have people in my life, and that means I must accept some degree of compromise of my many principles (I do like to have things my way!). It doesn’t mean I will accept just anyone into my life or that my current relationships have not changed from my end. As I said at the top, now that my eyes have been opened to the ramifications of political positions, everything has changed, but most especially my boundaries. But it is a murky task. I thought maybe in the course of this letter, I would come to a hard and fast conclusion on this. Like, “I can no longer commune with these people, even in our superficial way! The moral gulf between us is too wide.” But my heart does not seem ready for that extreme lockdown, even if it has narrowed the pathway in. I guess I have to learn to be okay with a little more messiness, a little more grey than I would like. I have to learn Grace. Grace is hard. But I suppose that is Life, isn’t it? It is not easy, and it isn’t clean. It resists boxes and absolutes.

The entrance of politics into my life has done so much more to muddy the waters. It is no wonder that new studies show that the more people pay attention to politics, the more stressed they are. But I cannot go back to denial. The cat is out of the bag. I have allowed the complexity into my life, and I want to be responsible with its ramifications. So, if you see me on the street and I seem a little wary, forgive me. In all of my balancing between assessment, acceptance, rejection, and practice of Grace, I no longer seem to know how to behave in public. It turns out I am a work in progress.

How about you? How well do you balance your natural feelings for the people in your life with the new information you gather about their character as time goes by? Open up your journal and take a deep dive on this enormous and so-very-pregnant topic. How open and honest are your communications with family and friends on sensitive topics such as politics and religion? Are you able to really say how you feel and challenge them on their beliefs and your differences, or do you remain silent on these topics and pretend your differences don’t exist in order to keep the peace? Whether or not you talk about them, are you aware of the political differences you have with your loved ones? Do you know where they stand on the various issues and how they vote in elections? How much do you think about that? In what ways does it shape your relationship with them? Do your differences, even if unspoken, cause you to keep them at more of a distance than you might otherwise? Do your political similarities bind you together more tightly? Perhaps the dictating factor in all of this discussion regards how much weight these issues–and politics in general–carry in your life? Are you like me and feel very passionately about things like health care, the environment, or gun control, or do you not think much about any of these issues and not care to allow them to shape your relationships one way or another? If you are in the latter camp of not caring, does this idea of politics making or breaking relationships seem silly? Do you believe that politics are really just our moral values put into policy form? If not, then how do you see politics? But if so, why aren’t more people more invested in them? Whatever your level of investment, how do you deal with people you care about who have very different politics/morals than you do? Do you try to change their mind? Does it affect the quality of your time together, or the amount of it? Have you cut anyone out of your life for their political/moral beliefs? If these moral issues are as important as I think they are, shouldn’t they cause more relationships to break up? Do you feel weak or somehow in betrayal of your principles when you allow people with starkly different beliefs into your life and/or the lives of your children, especially if you take their positions to be detestable and their influence a negative one? How do you deal with a racist in your family? What other moral/political characteristics are hot triggers for you and cause you much tension at family reunions or other gatherings? Does a lot of this depend on how long someone has been in your life and how late in the game you learned of their moral shortcomings? For example, if your father is severely racist or your sister nasty to the poor, but you didn’t fully grasp this and gain footing in your own convictions until more recently, do you feel as though it is impossible to change your relationship dynamic with them because they have been with you–and good to you–for so long? Are you able to merge the new information you have with the old and manage the good and the bad, or do you tend to keep focused on only the good or only the bad? How about with new people in your life, like a co-worker whom you have become “work friends” with but then, upon getting closer, learned you were politically opposite? Now put specific political parties or politicians to all of those questions. How do you react to someone when you learn how they voted in the last presidential election? What if you were planning to meet a friend or family member somewhere socially and they showed up wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat (or an Obama T-shirt)? Would your blood curdle? Would you say something? Would it instantly change your relationship? Think of the loved one who is farthest from you politically but that you still allow close to your heart. How do you pull that off? How much of it is denial? How much is it that you have witnessed them doing so many other good things interpersonally–being kind, generous, or compassionate–that you let the bad stuff slide? How much is that you are wise enough to see everyone as complicated and messy and that you have learned to just see through to the good and be more accepting of everyone? How do you think this whole issue varies between liberals and conservatives? I once wrote you a letter about my theory that conservatives tend to see liberals more as foolish and overly idealistic–but not morally lacking–whereas liberals tend to see conservatives as morally corrupt. What do you think? Are liberal-minded people more likely to keep the conservative at arms’ length and/or break off the relationship entirely because of perceived moral failings, or the other way around? Or equally likely? Is your tendency to see your politically opposite loved ones as good people who are just misguided, or do you tend toward seeing them as bad people who have done good things for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do your relationships change when politics are revealed?

Do your best,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us try to better understand ourselves and each other so we can beautify the world!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

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 Are You Willing To Struggle & Suffer For?

dsc_0435“You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

I was talking recently with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose new business is failing. She was wrestling with different options for how she might save it, or whether just letting it go was the best choice. It is a horrible spot to be in, to have to consider giving up on something you believed in and very much wanted to succeed.

I am not very good at advice—I tend to think people are the experts on their own lives–so I don’t give it often. Instead, I usually just ask them questions. My hope is that my questions will help them think more clearly about their situation so they can come up with the answer on their own that feels right with both their brain and their gut. I think that when you make your own decision rather than just doing what someone told you to do, you are more likely to take responsibility for the result. There is no one else to blame.

So, when she asked me what I thought she should do, I had no sure-thing strategy or any story about the times when I have had to make a similar decision. The only thing I had was a question.

Is it something you are willing to struggle and suffer for?

In other words, is it so important that this dream succeeds that you are willing to make big sacrifices—your time, money, emotions, etc.—to see it succeed?

Let’s face it, we all want our stuff to succeed. You want your new business to flourish. You want your relationship to be healthy, happy, and lasting. You want to make more money. You want to go on vacation next year. You want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You want to be fit and healthy. You want to be self-aware. Right?

But which of those things are you ready to truly sacrifice for? The proof is almost always in the pudding.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to begin the transition out of my career coaching tennis. I knew that if I had a gun to my head, my answer for what I really wanted to do was be a writer. However, my confidence for achieving tangible success (i.e. a regular paycheck) doing that was low, so I was open to other avenues. But those avenues had to work around my kids, because giving my time and energy to them was my true top priority. I started taking classes to become a Life Coach, which sounded like a career right up my alley: fulfilling and flexible. I took a job out of tennis that wasn’t fulfilling but kept money coming in while meshing perfectly with my kids’ schedule. And I kept writing.

While in pursuit of the coaching avenue, a business opportunity doing something I wasn’t interested in was basically handed to me. I made a deal with myself to give it the minimal amount of time and effort to see if it would “magically” produce clients and dollars, crossing my fingers and hoping to strike it rich, at least until it no longer made financial sense to keep the experiment going. And I kept writing.

So, basically I had a job and three things I wanted to work out (under the condition that they let me be with my kids most of the time). That’s not asking for much, right?

What happened? Well, it was pretty straightforward. With the business that I didn’t care about, as soon as it looked like I had to work and get uncomfortable to turn a profit, I pulled the plug. Because I knew my conditions for that one going in, I was at peace. The next one to fall was the Life Coaching training. That one was much more painful to let go of, because it really would be both fulfilling and convenient as a career for me. And I loved it. But it would be a lot of work. More classes, trying to scrounge up clients from scratch, marketing, etc. Struggling, scraping, sacrificing, and suffering. If it was the only horse in the race, I would have kept at it.

But there was the writing thing. That was the longest shot of all of them, the one with the most uncertainty, most likely to fail, most difficult to gain steady employment, and generally most tormenting of all (as creative ventures are prone to be). I would have jettisoned all thoughts of a writing career, except for one small detail: my heart was set on it.

I knew with what little time I have when I am not at my regular job or busy with the kids, I simply could not attempt to press on with the Life Coach training and the writing simultaneously. Push had finally come to shove, and, as I said, the proof is in the pudding. The writing is all that remains. It is the only career-related enterprise I seem willing to struggle and suffer for.

There are bigger tests to pass with it, though, as it won’t be long before I will have to challenge myself to replace my safe day job with some form of actually being paid to write. It remains to be seen how much I will be willing to sacrifice, how much I will compromise, and how stubbornly I will take a stand for “writing or starvation,” as it is much tougher to be principled when there are other mouths to feed.

Will I truly be willing to suffer for my writing, or will time bear out that I only really like the idea of being a writer but not the actual writer’s life and work? Inevitably, the proof will be in the pudding.

The only other area of my life that I have shown the willingness to make sacrifices to make it work is mentioned above: that demand to spend my children’s childhood with them rather than consumed by work. Before my daughter was born, I was in a position of some authority and made a comfortable amount of money. But I worked a ton. If I had kept that schedule, I would have hardly seen her or her future brother. So, I stepped down, taking a lower position and a much lower paycheck. But I staked a claim to my schedule. I have hardly compromised it in the eight years since.

And yes, I have wanted to make more money in those eight years. And I have wanted to go on vacation. But I haven’t been willing to do the necessary struggle and sacrifice for the money or the vacation, because that would mean compromising the time with the kids. The proof in the pudding, see?

So, I guess I have two stories for myself. I would say I am passing the test on the kids priority, not just saying I want the time but actually struggling to protect it. But I am willing to say that the jury is still out on the writing priority. I want to think that it is a done deal, that I will make all necessary sufferings and sacrifices for it and will go down swinging rather than compromise again, but that test has not been completed. I feel it coming to a head very soon and am gathering my strength and resolve for it.

But I also have the sneaking suspicion that these tests are never completely passed, that we have to step up to them and stake our claim over and over again as we continually define who we are in this life. I think sometimes we ignore them, though, and go sleepwalking through our little worlds for a while. But other times, the battle lines are crystal clear: you know the very value of your life is on the line, how hard it will be live it the way your heart knows you should, and that this is the moment of truth. I feel one of those crystalline moments approaching in my life. It is scary yet exhilarating, this opportunity to define myself by laying claim to what I value. I go willingly into the struggles. En garde! 

How about you? What in your life is so important that you are willing to suffer and struggle and sacrifice for? Open up your journal take a look at the pudding. What does the way you live your life say about the things you value most? First, it might be more helpful to begin with a rundown of the things you think you value or say you value. What are they? Now take a look at your history. What are the things, at different points in your life, that you have genuinely struggled for? As you look back now, how did those struggles shape you? Do you still value those things that you once struggled so hard for? What about now? Is there anything in your life right now that you are making the big sacrifices for, grinding so hard in the service of something you value so highly? What are the sacrifices and struggles and sufferings? How sure are you that it is worth it? Is it worth so much to you because of the struggle or in spite of the struggle? Okay, so now compare what you said you value with the things you are actually sacrificing for, if there are any? Do your mouth and your actions tell us different stories? Are you prepared to do something to correct that? Is there something in your life—a long-held dream, perhaps—that you want badly but have simply not had the courage to pursue because of all of the struggle and sacrifice involved? What small step can you take today in the direction of that desire? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you willing to struggle and suffer for?

Let your life be your message,

William

P.S. I hope you really climbed inside yourself on this topic, as I know that for me, that good, hard look in the mirror is so helpful, even if difficult. If it helped you, I hope you will share today’s letter with your world. Go and grow!

Health Care, Values, & Obligations: What Are Taxes Meant For?

dsc_0588“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Hello friend,

Have you ever been in the middle of one of your most mundane daily activities—exercising, depositing money at the bank, adding two numbers, driving to the grocery store, tying your shoes, stuff like that—doing your thing the way you have always done it, when someone comes along and points out a totally different way to do it? Or maybe they even ask you why you are doing it in the first place? Suddenly you are forced to defend something you have never even thought about before. You have always just done it. It’s how you learned, and you never considered another way. Never even realized there was an option. But then there it is, right in front of you. It seems so obvious that you cannot believe that you didn’t notice it all this time. And here you are, your mind freshly blown, with a workout that suddenly has you losing weight, doing “new math,” banking online, having your groceries delivered, or using the “Circle Technique” on your laces. It seems crazy! Has that ever happened to you?

I think that is happening to me with health care. I suppose it has been happening for many years, but it feels sudden. My mind is spinning with a new possibility that was there all along.

Let me just say up front what I want and why. I want “free” health care for all people, and I want it because ensuring people’s health and well-being is at the core of the kind of common human decency that I believe we owe to the people we share space with.  

I could go on and on for pages about the Why part, but let’s get right to the meat of things. I look at health care like any other thing that our parents and grandparents believed was the job of the government–using our tax dollars–to provide for our care and convenience. Without any of us even thinking about it, of course our tax dollars pay for a police force, the fire department, streets and highways, a sewer system, drinking water, a strong military, elementary and high school education, and environmental protection.

Seriously, have you questioned lately why we all pay taxes on those things? Have you ever questioned it? I haven’t. And when I do question them now, my answer is, “Of course I am willing to pay taxes to fund those services. They exist to provide my most basic needs and things that I value: protection from hostile forces, safe travel, order in my neighborhood, health, safe food and drink, education.” I can’t imagine ever opposing chipping in for those basics for all people. They are what I would deem essential, and no more for me than anyone else. I won’t say it is technically everyone’s “right” to have these basics, but it reflects our basic human decency that we see them as essential for all. Therefore, it is our obligation to provide them.

If you are with me so far, I think now is a good time to sneak in my basic question: How is health care NOT on that list of essentials? Honestly, I am trying to see how it differs and am struggling for answers. The only thing I can come up with is that, “It’s just how it’s always been in America.” (And, I must add, only in America.)

I suppose we all have the same blind spot I had until recently! I don’t think I am the only one who, if pressed for an answer, sees caring for the health of all as at least as important as providing fire protection for all or education for all. I don’t want to get into splitting hairs here since I have already deemed them all essential, but if forced, I don’t think it would be farfetched to suggest that, of those three just mentioned—health, fire protection, and education—health care just might be most important. In any case, I have yet to hear an argument that kicks it off the list.

But perhaps you want to quibble. Maybe you think the health and well-being of your neighbors should not be your concern, and anyway, you aren’t interested in paying more in taxes to help them out. They aren’t that valuable. So let’s look at some of the other stuff you regularly pay taxes for. As we do, try to build a sort of ranking system for how important—indeed, how essential–you believe these are relative to your own health and that of others you know. Here are just a few:

  • City parks
  • Space exploration
  • Street sweeping
  • Recreational programming
  • Subsidies for agriculture and big oil companies
  • The Arts
  • Lifetime salaries for Senators and Congressmen
  • National Parks
  • Science research
  • Zoos
  • Corporate Bailouts (e.g. the auto industry or Wall Street)
  • Libraries
  • Snow removal

We could go on and on, of course, as our taxes go to so many different and important things. How is your ranking system going so far? I won’t bore you with how I rank them. I will only say that I don’t value any of them—value them for me or for others (and believe me, I really love libraries!)—more than I do health care.

I really want to make clear here that, before all of the defenses go up and we have to start battling each other about how we could pay for it, I am just trying to establish an agreement on what we VALUE. It is a separate issue. My point is that if we all agreed with me (this happens in my dreams, and it’s fabulous!) in thinking health care was at least as important (even essential) as things like education, clean water, and the police, then, logically speaking, we would be forced to agree that we ought to be willing to ensure equal access to health care for everyone by taking care of it with our tax dollars. By extension—and this is the painful realization part—if we have agreed on what we value and yet still fail to act to make it right, we are failing a moral obligation.   The blood of the uncared for is—literally and figuratively—on our hands. I am not okay with that.

I know, I know, you probably wanted to skim through that last paragraph really fast and get to the part where you defend your side by saying it is too expensive and our system is broken and it’s not your fault and such. I feel you. I really do. That’s why I think it is important to first separate the argument so that we are not conflating what we value (morally speaking) and what we are eager to pay for (financially speaking).

And believe me, I make no claim that I am any kind of an expert on how much everything costs and how much more or less we would pay if we blew up our system entirely and went to a single-payer system (a.k.a. socialized medicine, universal health care, or government-run health care). As a total amateur on these topics, my sense is that we already pay a ton for insurance premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, and it also seems like pharmaceutical companies charge through the roof and own so many of our representatives in Washington, DC. My guess is that if the insurance industry was dismantled and the pharmaceutical prices were government-controlled, so much of that money that we now spend could go to getting everyone equal access to quality care. I am sure there is a down side of it, too, because at this point, who really trusts the government to run anything, right?

But we are Americans. We take pride in the idea that we are exceptional. It is supposed to be our thing to figure out the best way to do stuff, and then to keep leading the way with our exceptionalism. If we look at the examples of all the hundreds of other countries in the world who provide health care to their people, and if we see problems in their systems, I feel confident that we could figure out the solutions and move forward with a system that affirms in action what we claim to value (Because Love does, right? It doesn’t just say.). I feel like the “changing our system will be too hard” excuse is weak and lazy, especially if the result is immoral. I think we are better than that. I hope we are. I feel like it is time to put our money where our values are.

How about you? Is health care something you value enough to put your tax money down to guarantee it for everyone? Open up your journal and try to keep an open mind as you parse through this sticky issue. I think this is an especially tough one to tackle with an open heart and mind because, for many of us, it is just something we haven’t ever considered. Our system has been this way our whole lives, and a suggestion to change something long-held usually meets with defense as a first reaction (because of course we are right). So, take a breath, and start with logic. First, is your health valuable to you? How valuable? As important as your safety? Your education? Your water? Your public parks? The arts? Which of the things that you pay taxes for do you think are moral obligations of a society to provide for its people? Which are things that are great and you value, but they aren’t obligations or essential? Which things that you are taxed on do you feel are a rip-off? For the sake of argument, let’s say we had always been taxed for universal health coverage: where would it fit with your last three answers: Moral Obligation, Important-But-Not-Essential, or a Waste/Rip-off? Based on your answer, should single-payer/universal health coverage be a part of the American system going forward? Okay, if you were able to answer most of those logically, relax! Now, feel those natural defenses that probably came up when this issue arose. What makes you most squeamish about agreeing to include universal health care to your list of givens? Is it the money itself (that you think it is going to be much more expensive for you)? Is it that you don’t want to put anything else into the government’s hands? Is it that you don’t think some people deserve it or that too many people who aren’t taxed much because they are poor will take advantage of your hard-earned dollars by using the health care system as much as you do? Do you agree with my assertion that if we agree that health is of such importance to us that we deem medical care to be essential—like we agree on education and safety and the like—then we are morally obligated to provide it? If not, where is the flaw in my thinking? If my thinking is sound, then we are either failing morally on this topic or you disagree that health is of such importance. Which is it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which things are worthy of your tax dollars, and how does health care fit into your priorities?  

See yourself in your neighbor,

William

P.S. If this made you really look at health care and taxes for the first time, or if it made you think of them in a new light that helped you clarify your position, I hope that you will share it with others. We owe it to ourselves to examine our values. May you be Peace.

This Is NOT an Election Article!

dsc_0566“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen

Hello friend,

Imagine a group of college-age friends who grew up together. They are all figuring out what their path in life is. Nearly all of them, of course, are going the conventional routes: business, teaching, medicine, technology, trades, and the like. They want to be respectable, earning members of the workforce until they retire. Generally speaking, you would say they are a group of very stable people.

There are two outliers in their group, though. One friend has decided that she wants to follow her passion for the arts and become a painter. She’s not exactly sure how she will make it work financially, but she is a dreamer and has faith it will work out. The other friend has decided he is going to become an estate lawyer and make a fortune scamming old people out of their money. His goal is to make money, and he doesn’t care about the human cost.

How, then, does their stable group of friends react to these two who are straying from the conventional path?

As for the artist/dreamer, they are concerned for her but don’t dislike or distrust her for her decision. They dismiss her, in a way, as being too whimsical, not sensible enough, foolish for choosing the unstable path. They warn her about the starving artist lifestyle she is choosing, reminding her that she will be without health insurance or a 401K plan. The stable crew feels a little bad for their artist friend, even, as she “just doesn’t get it” and “lives in a fantasyland.” Her heart is in the right place, though, so they don’t dislike her. But they also don’t take her seriously and are relieved there aren’t lots more like her. She is a bit dangerous to their stability. Lovable, but dangerous.

The scamming lawyer, on the other hand, is now viewed by the friends as dangerous but unlovable. It is clear that his heart is not in the right place. A moral failing has entered the picture, and their sensibilities are offended by that. They are disappointed. They realize they can no longer trust him the way they thought they could. A wall has gone up in their relationship, one that is probably too steep to climb in order to build that relationship back to whole again.

The artist’s flaw, according to the group, is that she feels too much, she lets her heart guide her. The lawyer’s flaw is that he is heartless, callous. The artist can be forgiven for veering off the path of the rest of the group, but the lawyer cannot.

You are probably wondering why in the world I am having you think about these people. Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the individual people in my life, how I interact with each, and whether they seem more like someone who I want closer to me or someone who I need to distance myself from. I am oversensitive to just about everything, but especially to the prospect of spending time with people I think poorly of. I am repulsed by that and have left jobs and relationships because of it.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we have this magical way of reconnecting and staying in touch with so many more people than ever before. People from your past—high school and college friends, former colleagues—and even people whom you have never met in person. You can actually learn a lot about some of them. Sometimes more than you want to.

As you well know, it is political season. And while many of the people I know–whether intimately, in person, or online–tend to reveal little to nothing about their political views, there are certainly others who really put themselves out there for their candidate or cause. They reveal their positions on some topics that truly matter to me. That’s where it can get uncomfortable.

As I have watched other people’s interactions and tried to understand my own reactions to people on the other end of the political spectrum from me—I am quite liberal on just about all of the big topics—I see patterns emerging. So, I am developing my own pet theory on how a relationship between a liberal person and a conservative person plays out when their views are made known to the other. (Keep in mind that I am well aware that the people of the world hold a zillion varieties of viewpoints, and that the liberal and conservative in my theory are, by necessity, caricatured people that are to the far left and far right, respectively.) Check this out and be ready to help me tinker with my theory by sharing your personal pattern of reactions.

Remember the artist/dreamer of the friend group? Well, in my developing theory, the way the group viewed the artist is the way my conservative character views my liberal character. He (the conservative) sees her (the liberal’s) flaw as her “bleeding heart,” always thinking the government should help everyone and right wrongs. In his eyes, she is leading with her heart, which is foolish and impractical, because of course we can’t foot the bill for other people’s problems. Her insistence that we can is more annoying than anything. But at least her heart is in the right place, so he can’t despise her for that. He tolerates her.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the conservative is looked upon the way our friend group reacted to the scamming lawyer. She sees him as having abandoned his heart in favor of his pocketbook. His is a callous perspective, ignoring the plight of others and even basic human rights (I have been using universal health coverage in my ponderings, but we could use things like capital punishment, women’s health issues, LGBT rights, or the Syrian refugee crisis, too). He has taken moral issues and turned them instead into economic ones, ignoring hearts and souls in favor of financial calculations. This is incredibly disappointing—even hurtful—to the liberal. Her feelings are hurt by the seeming callousness of the conservative’s positions. Her sensibilities are offended. A trust has been broken. There is a “How could you?” in her reaction, as in, “How could you devalue human life this way?” The liberal does not want to believe someone’s heart could be so cold. It is a devastating realization. She is effectively done with him.

So, at the end of it, it looks as though the conservative would be more tolerant of the liberal than the liberal is of the conservative. The conservative sees the liberal as a failure of reason and practicality, whereas the liberal sees the conservative as a failure of character and conscience. Her failure is acceptable; his is not. He can continue with her in his life, just as the stable group of friends could keep the artist. The liberal, however, no longer feels any interest in fraternizing with the conservative, seeing him as the friend group sees the scamming lawyer: morally bankrupt. With the trust broken, for her, the relationship is as good as over.

So, that’s the theory at this point. Like I said, the positions are probably a bit extreme for most people. But I have to admit, the liberal side is mostly a projection of stuff coming up from my own heart in these situations. I recognized the feelings I was having in response to all of these political posts as well as my conversations with different people, and the theory emerged from me trying, mostly through my daily journal entries, to make sense of the feelings. I wanted some clarity, which is what journaling has always brought me.

This process has helped me to better understand my internal workings, as well as my evolving relationships with family members, friends, and online connections. I have to admit it is a bit disturbing to see the final product being a desire to end, or at least pull back from, a number of relationships that I had once enjoyed and valued, even if on a more superficial level. But I can’t fake it, either. As I mentioned early on, it is a weakness of mine that I am oversensitive. Another one is that I am stubborn. That combination makes me tough to hang with. If you break my trust, I don’t easily let it go. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that despite seeing my political positions as more enlightened and compassionate than the other side, I am the one who ends up being more intolerant in the actual relationship. I guess personal boundaries come with a cost.)

I suppose I hope for other people’s sake that they can make peace with people who hold vastly different views more easily than I can, that they can either forgive or compartmentalize their politics. Maybe it is like my theory—the conservatives can do it better than the liberals can—or maybe it is only me. In any case, the theory-making helped me to know myself better. Even if the results have shaken me a bit, I am glad I took the dive.

How about you? How would you categorize your reactions to people whose views are starkly opposed to yours? It is probably helpful to start by locating yourself along the political spectrum. Are you fairly far in one direction overall, or pretty moderate? Is there one particular issue that you hold an extra-strong opinion about? Can disagreement on that issue trigger an emotional response from you? If you are on the conservative side of the spectrum, does my proposed theory resonate with you at all, i.e. do you find yourself being dismissive of liberals because their “bleeding hearts” make their proposals too impractical and expensive for your tastes, even if you tolerate them because they mean well? If that is not how you experience it, what is your reaction to someone you know who proposes a liberal idea? Do you find that the liberal ideas fail your test morally, or is it more logically or practically? If you are more left-leaning, does my theory resonate with you? Have you had the experience, in talking with conservatives about these issues, of being so dismayed—even hurt—by the callousness and lack of compassion in their positions to the point that you no longer wish to socialize with them? Have I gone too far in that side of the theory? Is your experience more like I described for the other side: it is frustrating that the conservative disagrees with you, but that has no bearing on how you rate their character and how much time you want to spend with them? If you are someone who is kind of in the middle on the issues—conservative on some, liberal on others—do you find yourself still leaning toward one side in terms of which friends you like or respect more, or is it also a pretty even mix? Is there something more morally upstanding about one side or the other? If you had to choose between spending your time with someone who is hopelessly impractical or someone who is immoral, who would you choose? Do you mostly try to avoid political discussions with people in your social groups so you aren’t forced to make these kinds of character evaluations and relationship changes? I think most of us do that at least some of the time, because let’s face it, it’s risky to wade into these waters. Is that an unhealthy denial, or is that simply a wise way to make life bearable in your little corner of the world? I am dying to know how you navigate this stuff! So please, leave me a reply and let me know: How do you handle your relationships with people who differ from you on important political issues? 

Claim your amazing self,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you examining your relationships and how your political opinions shape your friend group and your tolerance for others, I hope you will share it. If you want these letters in your Inbox as soon as they are published, I invite you to sign up for the email.  Peace and Love, my friend.

Sleeping With The Enemy?

DSC_0541“Because the difference between a friend and a real friend is that you and the real friend come from the same territory, of the same place deep inside you, and that means you see the world in the same kind of way. You know each other even before you do.” –Laura Pritchett, Sky Bridge

Hello friend,

Do you know who Mary Matalin and James Carville are? Even if the names don’t ring a bell, if you have watched a political show in the last 30 years or so, you have probably seen one of the two as a guest commentator defending their political party and/or bashing the other party. Mary has been a top Republican operative and advisor to President Reagan and both Presidents Bush. James, meanwhile, has been a leading Democratic strategist and frequent ridiculer of all things Republican. They have been against each other in elections going back to the first Bush vs. Clinton in 1992. Their views, seemingly, could not be more opposite. They are like oil and water. So, what binds them? They are married! Yes, married. What? How does that even happen? More importantly, can it survive?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about relationships and how people with very different outlooks can co-exist. Well, it is more than co-exist; we all should be able to do that. I’m thinking more about people who are married, people who are the best of friends, who talk about everything. How could they be true to their beliefs—and openly speak about them with their spouses—without stirring up an absolute firestorm in their own home?

We all figure out a way to get through our days more or less peacefully with our neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances. That way is called denial, a.k.a. compartmentalization. Simply put, we choose to not address the topics that might make us dislike each other. Everybody knows the old adage that the two topics that are off-limits at dinner parties (or most anywhere else) are religion and politics. It’s really just an energy-saving strategy. After all, life would be a constant challenge—even more than it already is—if we had a beef with just about everybody we crossed paths with in our day.

You don’t want to know that Sally from across the street would condemn you to rot with Satan for eternity because you are pro-choice, and you don’t want to know that Jim in the next cubicle thinks that all Muslims are terrorists. They, meanwhile, would rather not know that you voted for marriage equality and stricter gun laws. They don’t want to know because they actually like you in your current, bland package. They think you are a swell neighbor and co-worker because you regularly return Sally’s dog when it runs away, and you cover for Jim when he is late. If they knew what you believed and you knew what they believed—and worse, if you continued to talk about it the way we talk about sports or the weather—the everyday, friendly banter would soon disappear. Tension and arguments would become the norm. The neighborhood and the workplace would lose their welcoming feel. So, we avoid those topics. We deny in order to keep the peace. It is simple self-preservation.

But what about at home? What about when we are hanging with our very best friends? How about just with our spouse, the one who has sworn to love us for better or for worse? Can we finally be honest about our beliefs then, or are we still forced into silence to keep the peace? Surely we are free to speak our Truth at home to a welcoming, supportive audience. Right?

What do couples do who hold polar opposite viewpoints on key political or religious matters? How do Mary Matalin and James Carville thrive and fully support each other in their marriage when their politics are so different? Aren’t politics basically an outward expression of one’s values and beliefs? And if so, how can people with such different politics be each other’s best friend and biggest fan? I am having a hard time seeing how it works. I honestly don’t think I could do it.

This issue exposes one of my biggest flaws as a human being. I am oversensitive to the point of being unable to stomach being around people whose views differ too widely from mine. I don’t tolerate disagreement well at all. I just don’t get over it. I don’t move on. When someone’s character traits or values reveal themselves to me in a negative way—whether through treating me poorly or a conversation that goes political—I shut down in a hurry. It is as though my hypersensitive system does not allow that kind of energy in its space; it’s like an allergic reaction. It happens both with people and situations. As soon as something doesn’t sit well with me, I must remove myself immediately.

It’s a strange dichotomy, too: as open-minded and accepting as I am philosophically, my heart and my sensibilities have very strict boundaries. They do not like to be violated. Not at all, I mean. It is as though my feelings are hurt by the shallowness, foolishness, and coldness of others, even when those things are not directed at me. Because of this, political and religious discussions are dangerous for me. I have very liberal positions politically. I am passionate about them, too, and have, with the help of my journal, thought through them very deeply. So, I feel like my positions are well-grounded (I have written to you before about how bad I am at compromise and how I always believe I am right, which does not exactly help my cause here). But, as everyone knows, most of the people in this country—not to mention in my family, my neighborhood, and my place of business—are not very liberal. If I chose to engage all of the people in my little world in religious and political conversations, I would soon be a raw nerve of isolation, disappointment, and hurt feelings. I would be a mess!

So, what do I do? I keep my opinions to myself in most public situations: with co-workers, most friends, and even family. I politely insert my views where I can without stirring up the hornet’s nest too much. I write to you. And I talk to my wife. Yes, my outlet for thoughts of the political and religious nature, the ones that reveal what moves me and what I am all about.

It is both sad and scary that I have but one true outlet—one human outlet, anyway—for the real me (probably a topic to unravel in a later post). But at least I have my wife. I can’t imagine not having her to share that with, to have someone. Well, no, check that. As I write that, I realize that that is not the point. It is not about having someone—I went many years with only my journal knowing my true values, and I was perfectly happy—but rather about the fact that when I did agree to make a life with someone, that I could let the guard down and know that we could have peace without all of the denial and compartmentalization. A peace without the cowardice and pretense that cheapens the rest of my peaceful relationships. A peace whose foundation is Truth from both parties.

James Carville and Mary Matalin swear that they don’t talk politics at home. I still don’t know how they pull off a marriage without that. As I said, I know it shows weakness on my part that I don’t co-exist well with people who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on things that matter most. I am not proud of my intolerance or my hypersensitivity. But I know myself. I know that–especially since I never wanted to marry and wouldn’t wish me and my issues upon anyone—if I am going to be a husband, it has to be to a partner who shares my values and understands where I am coming from politically, and gives space and respect to where I am coming from spiritually. Thank Goodness I picked a good one!

How about you? How honest can you be with the person closest to you? Open up your journal and take a look at that relationship. Who is that person? Spouse? Best friend? Sibling? Parent? When it comes to the tough topics of politics and religion, how much of who you are can you share with them? Are there topics—e.g. abortion, marriage equality, President Obama, the afterlife—that you know you must steer clear of in order to keep the peace between you? What makes these topics so toxic? Are you, unlike me, good at having disagreements about these types of issues but still keeping a very positive opinion about the other person? How much of a filter do you need in order to keep your romantic relationship peaceful and happy? How does that compare to previous relationships? How does it compare to the relationship with your non-romantic best friend? Which relationship is more honest? If you were very liberal and somehow fell madly in love with someone, only to later learn that they were extremely conservative (or the other way around, whichever is easiest on your imagination), do you think your relationship could survive, or is that just a time bomb waiting to explode? Think about all of the denial and compartmentalization you do with the people in your life—neighbors, co-workers, and family—and all of the things you completely avoid talking about. It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it? What do you think would happen if we all spent a week without our filters on—still polite, but open and honest about all sorts of topics that now go unmentioned? Would it be refreshing or too damaging for the long-term peace in your little world? What would you like to talk more about with your loved ones? What would it take to get you to bring it up? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: Could you live happily ever after with someone whose values and beliefs were quite different than yours?

 Trust in your value,

William

Re-Writing Your Story

IMG_1212Hello friend,

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”  —Henry David Thoreau

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the name “Nobel”? If you are like me, it is the Nobel Peace Prize, won by such notables as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Flashback to the 1880s: if I had asked the people of the world the same question, the answer would have been entirely different. TRUE STORY: Alfred Nobel had the unique experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, and it changed the rest of his life and his legacy. It sounds like a great premise for a movie, right? Farfetched, but intriguing. And in this case, true. Nobel, who was a scientist from Sweden, had earned a vast fortune for inventing, among other explosives, dynamite, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” for his efforts. He was traveling in France in 1888 when his brother, Ludvig, died. When the French newspapers heard that Nobel died, they assumed it was Alfred and headlined his obituary with “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”   When he read his own obituary, Nobel experienced a wake-up call regarding the path he had chosen and the legacy he would rather leave to the world upon his actual death. Apparently, the message was received. In short order, he devoted the bulk of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature. The rest is history. I bet when I asked you what comes to your mind when I say “Nobel”, you did not say “dynamite”.

I have lately been pondering the idea of my own obituary, or at least of my eulogy and the things people who know me would say if I died tomorrow. These eulogy thoughts have stemmed from my recent obsession with identifying my core values and life purpose. After naming my core values—personal growth, self-knowledge, spirituality, family, service, purpose, teaching, and authenticity—I tried to nail down my Life Purpose Statement: “I am a catalyst of Growth, Self-Awareness, and Authenticity.” With those in place, it seemed the natural next step to put them to the test by asking if I was really living in line with my core values and life purpose. Part of that asking involved a sort of inventory of my life. I went through the main areas on the “Wheel of Life”–Career, Family & Friends, Finances, Romance/Intimacy, Health & Self-Care, Social & Fun, Personal & Spiritual Development, and Physical Environment—and wondered how well I was incorporating my core values and life purpose in each.

The answers were revealing and helpful, of course, but nowhere near as helpful as when I began to question the potential content of my eulogy. I wanted to compare what I think people would say if I died tomorrow with what I would want them to say. I also considered what people who knew me best would say versus those who only knew me a little. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was going to be found to be well-liked or not, but rather about whether or not I made a positive impact. These are some of the things I thought and hoped people would say:

  • “He was an awesome Dad.”
  • “He was always trying to be better, to keep growing.”
  • “He reminded me of my magnificence.”
  • “He was the happiest person I ever met.”
  • “He was intensely curious, always wanting to learn more about everything.”
  • “He wanted people to be their best, and to be happy.”
  • “He challenged you when he thought you were sliding or settling.”
  • “He was honest, but he delivered his honesty with love.”
  • “He was always positive, always optimistic.”
  • “He dared me to disregard opinions and be exactly my Truth.”
  • “He wasn’t afraid to try new things or make mistakes.”
  • “He inspired me to play a bigger game in life and kept me on it.”
  • “He shared his love relentlessly.”
  • “He knew exactly who he was and owned that completely.”
  • “He desperately wanted to make the world a better place to live.”
  • “His family meant everything to him.”
  • “Even as he tried to improve everything, he was so grateful for his life.”

As I write these things, it strikes me that maybe this isn’t what other people would say about me. Maybe it is only what I would say about me. I realize that I probably don’t do a good enough job of communicating who I really am to most people. Even though I want to get out and change the world and change lives one by one, I am an introvert, and sometimes I shy away from sharing my passion for life and for helping people. I tend to lock myself down, to hide my light. Because of this, I know a lot of people who know me would probably say that they had no idea that I had all of these thoughts in me and no idea of who I wanted to be to the world.

For all of my talk of authenticity in my purpose, I surely do my share of hiding myself. I am not faking anything or saying that I am things that I am not. I am just not showing up all the way for most people. It is like the old “Lies of Commission vs. Lies of Omission” issue. I have definitely been clear in my head and heart about who I am and what I am passionate about. In private, I have acted it out. I have made the big decisions and life moves in complete personal integrity, fully aware of my motives, strengths, and weaknesses. I go through my day full of passion for my dreams and projects, such as writing these letters to you every week. But in public, I have generally clammed up. I have not, in my everyday interactions, named and claimed the messages that I am driven to share with the world. In that way, I have fallen out of integrity and authenticity. I have been acting in some situations unlike the person that I know I am inside.

I can see from this that if I am to leave the legacy that speaks truthfully to who I am at my core, I must put myself out there more. I must learn to manage my introversion and recognize that if I truly do think my message is important for the people of the world to receive, it is worth me being a little uncomfortable in order to deliver it. I need to make myself less of the “Oh, I didn’t know that about him” and more of the “Yes, I knew that from the first time I met him” kind of guy. Basically, I need to stop hiding my light. I need to not just know who I am, but also to show who I am. Putting myself and my purpose out into the Universe will draw the right people and circumstances to me, and our lives will change because of it. In that way, I can leave a different legacy and be the author my own obituary and eulogy. I can re-write my story. A better story.

How about you? What is the legacy you want to leave? Get out your journal and think about the impression you have left on your little corner of the world. Whose lives have you impacted most? How much of that impact is positive? What would those people say about you? How different is that than what you would like them to say? Is there something you could do in your remaining time on the planet that could bridge that gap, that could cause them to put new words to your eulogy? How would you change your ways to change your obituary? Would it help you to read your obituary or hear your eulogy now, in the way it helped Alfred Nobel? Consider the things you regret most from your life, or the people you may have impacted negatively. How many of these are wrongs that cannot be made right? If there is still an opportunity to make something right–or even just better–are you willing to do what it takes? In the end, does it really matter to you what other people are going to say or feel about you, or does it only matter how you feel you did? Or perhaps how your God judges you? Which matters most? If you could write a eulogy or obituary about your own life and legacy as it stands now, what would it say? What if I guaranteed you twenty more years here to make a new one with the way you live those years—how would that change it? Leave me a reply and let me know, How would you re-write your story? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

Why Are You Here?

DSC_0963“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I watched the movie “Selma” yesterday. It was about the Civil Rights Movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for the fair and equal treatment of Black Americans, in this case as it pertained to voting rights. It has really stayed with me, this film, creeping into my consciousness as I move through my day. I was captivated by so many different aspects of the film and the history behind it. One angle that really grabbed me in a unique and powerful way, though, was Dr. King’s resolve and willingness to go back into the fray—being beaten and jailed and leading others into situations that ended in their deaths—over and over despite serious doubts and guilt over so much spilled blood. And then there was his family. He carried the dual burdens of being taken from his wife and kids for long periods of time and also, by virtue of his leading role in the movement and the explosive mix of ignorance and violence that defined the opposition to it, the knowledge that he and/or his wife and children could be murdered at any time. I could not help but keep asking myself, “With so many reasons to NOT keep working for the cause—really big, life-or-death reasons—what kept him going back in?” 

The answer I keep coming back to is that, deep down inside, he knew what his life purpose was. He knew that he was alive for a reason, and that to turn his back on that purpose would be to disrespect his Maker. He had a calling. A reason for being. A purpose.

I latched onto this aspect of “Selma” so strongly because I have been lately in the process of defining my own life purpose. I am going through the process as part of my Life Coach Training Program. It is no small task, either, let me tell you. Along the way, I have had to address what my needs are and what I value most in this world. I have tried a number of different exercises designed to help rank my values. I am not talking about chosen values—standards that I have adopted and held myself to—but rather about core values, which are things that I feel I was born with, things that have been with me all my life. The exercises—indeed, the entire process—have been very revealing.

Boiled down into one-word answers, these are some of my core values: spirituality, self-knowledge, teaching, purpose, growth, family, service, connectedness, health, and authenticity. These things get right to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick. They provide wonderful clues to my life purpose, but they are just the beginning when it comes to trying to define it succinctly.

The next phase of my homework was to make a long list of examples of times in my life when I knew was living “on purpose”. That is, times when I felt completely in the flow, energized, and as though things were effortless. I quickly jotted down more than twenty times in my life when I felt that way, ranging from when I was a teenager all the way up to the last year. My list included many times when I was writing, including writing my very first blog to you. I was on fire with passion for what I was doing, and the work and the cause filled my sails. It was effortless. I also noted many times when I was teaching, from private tennis lessons to Philosophy 101 classes. It included times when I have spoken publicly, including when I performed my sister’s wedding. That felt right to me. I also felt right and true in the simplest moments with my family, as well as hiking alone in the mountains or swimming in the ocean, feeling totally connected to the Divine.

I then took time to write a bit about each of these examples: what I was feeling and what about them struck such a deep chord in me. Next, I combed through all of my descriptions for recurring themes and words that resonated with me. It turned out to be not so different from the list of core values I had already made. Words that kept surfacing were: Connected (with the Divine, with others), Inspire, Dreams, Growing (personally and spiritually), Motivate, Teaching, Sharing (my love, traditions, my message), Challenging (myself and others, moving beyond the comfort zone), Family, Creativity, Self-Improvement, and Improve the World.

With clarity regarding both my core values and the recurring themes of the most “on purpose” moments of my life, I was feeling ready to write my purpose statement. After some tinkering with language, this was my first draft:

The purpose of my life is to help people—myself included—to live their best, most authentic lives by teaching and inspiring them to know themselves better; to be grateful for all that they are and have; to challenge themselves to grow spiritually and experientially; and to honor and pursue their dreams.

I was kind of liking it, actually. It named the things I want to do with my life, and that hit me in a good spot. It rang true.

However, I felt the pressure to make it short and sweet, so I started chopping. To a writer, cutting out words is like killing your babies, so it was no picnic for me, I promise you. My condensed draft looked like this:

The purpose of my life is to teach and inspire people—including myself—to know themselves better, to connect to the Divine, and to follow their Bliss.

While I wasn’t so sure I liked it better than the long version, at least it was concise. I figured I would put them to the test with my teacher when I got to class tonight. I was feeling pretty confident.

As it turned out, the joke was on me. I got to class tonight, and he started explaining life purpose statements and the differences between purpose, mission, and vision. You see, mission statements talk about the ways we are going to fulfill our purpose. They are action statements. Purpose statements, on the other hand, identify our calling or reason for being. Curses!!! While I had thought I had two pretty solid versions of my purpose statement, what I really had were a long and a short mission statement. Back to the drawing board!

To get to my purpose rather than my mission, I need to focus on Who I Am more than what I am going to do to express who I am. At my core, who am I? Why was I born? Why am I here? What is in my soul’s code? With only a few minutes of reflection—and what will probably be the first of many drafts—I suppose I would answer this way:

I am a catalyst for self-knowledge and authenticity. 

Yeah, I suppose that about sums me up. I want people to know themselves deeply and to own themselves completely, including the honoring of their dreams and their own unique path in life. In a way, I think my purpose is to help everyone live their purpose. Or, is that my mission? Whatever! In any case, I think I am starting to understand why I am here. And that’s the whole point, right?

How about you? Why are you here? Open up your journal, and get ready for some deep diving. What are your core values? Can you name your top ten? If you had to get it down to three—and really, you don’t—what would they be? Are you living from those values now, or are you off-course? Think about the times in your life when you have felt most “on purpose”. Write them all down, and then elaborate. What were you doing? What are the common themes running through those experiences? Do those themes mesh with some or all of the core values you listed? Now, write out your Life Purpose Statement. Be as concise as possible; really try to boil it down to your essence. And don’t play small! Your purpose is magnificent, so name it and claim it. How difficult is it to crystallize your calling? Have you always known what it was, or is it only now becoming clear to you? I think writing a mission statement is really helpful, too. I accidentally wrote mine first, which gave me some good clues as to how to write my purpose statement, but I think it probably works best to know who you are first before stating the way you are going to fulfill that purpose. In any case, do the work. Dig. Ask yourself some tough questions. And take the “shoulds” out of it. What do you really value? Who are you really? Not who do you wish you were, or who do you think you should be to make others happy or proud. WHO ARE YOU? There is no greater question and no more important answer. Leave me a reply and let me know: Why are you here?

Your truth shall set you free,

William