Land of Opportunity

yoni1

Though my Spanish wasn’t bad, the snapping of the scissors next to my ear mixed with the four ladies clucking in Spanish left me in a solitary mindset.  The second closest whittled away on a teenager, working closer and closer to his scalp until with the last layer she used an electric shaver to expose whitewalls and a short cropped top that resembled a putting green.  On the opposite side, an elderly gentleman leaned back as a young Hispanic female shaped his tumbleweed eyebrows.  Nearby, a heavy set señora laid out what appeared to be well traveled bracelets, necklaces and jewelry on a shortened ledge with all the optimism of a flea mart Queen.  Her spilling cleavage distracted my eye as she bent forward, and she seemed to sense it as she held the position longer than I would have expected, then flashed a smile.

Lefty’s barber shop had long since been abandoned by Lefty himself and replaced to serve the ever growing immigrant population.  I spoke a few words in Spanish to my stylist who told me she’d been in the United States for twenty years but hadn’t really learned English as she had been at home with her children for the early years, and later the population didn’t require it.

I thought back to Yoni Rodriguez, a student who came to my Physical Therapy clinic as a volunteer.  It was most interesting to see the art he had composed while in high school (attached sketch).  It was derived out of street art and I could sense the pain of poverty as well as the hopes for a better life. Yoni said his interest in art came as a child while watching his older cousins practicing their graffiti with spray cans on plywood in the back yard, though he didn’t have an answer as to why he chose to avoid the local gang scene.  It soon became clear that his ambition and drive would take him far, and I found myself encouraging him to continue with college and work towards a higher level.  He is currently succeeding in his pre-med classes.

I thought back on my own childhood of working in the asparagus field, something I began at eleven years old and continued seasonally through my high school years.  It wasn’t done for fun, but rather, as a means to enjoy a more fruitful life.  Yoni explained that his parents had arrived in the country from Mexico searching for a better life, but he was born here.  He laughed when he told me that he only recently realized that his social security had been collecting funds since shortly after his birth as a result of his uncles using it since he was an infant.  Yoni was highly motivated to improve his life, and for some reason this struck a chord in me as my own son had dropped out of college several times and was living with his mother at twenty-five.  Perhaps it’s my generation, or just me, but when I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and earn my own living.

I didn’t have much time for drugs, and couldn’t have imagined the idea of dropping out of school if someone was paying for it.  Instead, I remember taking out student loans and trying to find my direction as my primary purpose was to obtain a degree where I could secure sustenance above the level of a restaurant dish busser and one free meal a day (one of my college jobs).  Driven by the need, will, and desire to survive it seems, yields the motivation to create a better future.  It’s no surprise that Yoni doesn’t have time for drugs and minimal leisure time as he works towards his medical degree.

While our society spends a lot of time worrying about marijuana legalization, and our right to get high, we are seeing more foreign students enter science, engineering, and the medical field where we have a shortage of workers.  It’s interesting as well that those underprivileged in our own country are drawn to these fields as much or more than the more affluent.

One wonders why these students seem so driven, so smart, and why we are not attracting more of our own youth to excel academically in these fields.  I look back at my own life and question whether or not working since I was eleven just taught me to expect to work, or whether the lack of funds taught me to work.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I value a life of productivity and am thankful to now be able to mentor others and give back to society.  Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are better examples of how reaching a point well past survival mode allows more giving and how the classic American Dream can generate overall good for society, but if each of us sees to it that we are giving more than we are taking from society the world might be a better place.  This seems to hold true for those who will serve best by first securing their own place in society as well as for those from a more privileged class.

Kids—Feel free to lambaste me.

Art reproduced with permission of Yoni Rodriguez

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Life Priorities

No, this is not a political post, it’s about life.

I live on the West Coast in Washington State.  Every Presidential election, it seems the winner is announced before my State’s votes are even counted.  It may just be me, but with age I become more indifferent about the elections.  Today, I look at the lineup and wonder what our world has come to.

After every election, I wait for things to be better, but it seems that in the end, other than seeing my taxes go up for one reason or another, the world goes on, both sides attack the other, and my life is about the same.  The Democrats try to convince the world that the Republicans are idiots, and the Republicans try to convince the world that the Democrats are stealing their liberties.  Each cycle, it seems that what used to be considered a form of civil service creates more wealth for politicians, and the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats get richer, or make someone else richer, somehow using us to do it.

Most of us are putting forth labor so they can reach their goal of going from average Joe to rich politician.  Still, we continue to listen to their ideals and allow them to manipulate how we choose or keep friends.  We debate the issues with emotion, argue with fervor, and promote those ideals we have been manipulated to identify with.  In the end, it’s often wealth and lobbying that influences what comes out of the politicians mouths, regardless of the party, with the end goal of influencing our thoughts.

Today, I’m sitting in my brother’s home as he and his family face the effects of a Terminal Brain Tumor.  He can no longer make it to the restroom alone and his wife needs help because she can only do so much.  His children, one in college, and one out in the work force are home for the weekend to help.  Life, not on hold, but coming to an end.  Priorities now straight, and somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, neither of which has anything to offer the world in my opinion become trivial background noise, a place I hope they remain every day.

A terminal diagnosis does wonders for understanding priorities in life, and it turns out that most of them are not out in the world trying to fix world problems.  In fact, for those who have families that they love, and families that love them, priorities might all be right at home.   Such a diagnosis is fodder for consideration that, while we have our armchair debates about the world’s problems, most of us never resolve our own issues.  On the rare occasion that we are given a terminal diagnosis we might have the chance.

Today, I would appeal to each one of you to cast aside your political discussions, turn towards your family, childhood friends, and for a minute realize that civilizations, the world, capitalism, socialism, and great societies have been running their cycles for thousands of years, and individuals have minimal to no effect on the course a society takes from start until collapse once the wheels are set in motion.  If your political debates and discussions make you feel you’re having an influence, continue on, but a deeper perspective may help you focus on the areas where you can have an influence.  An interesting book, “The Lessons of History”, Will & Ariel Durant, summarizes these cycles of civilization in a short concise manner.

Don’t wait for your terminal diagnosis, or for that of one close to you to find your priorities and where you can make life meaningful.  First, take a close look at the presidential candidates and ask yourself if they’re worthy of much of your time or thoughts.  Second, realize that today’s the day to take care of those close to you without the influence of any institution.  Do it from your own heart in your own way.

Empathy Beyond the Ego

­­Looking within to find empathy offers a different perspective so I’m going to throw it out.  While many over-achievers want to be empathetic, and some feel they are, it may be a false empathy in many cases.  They are focused on themselves, and the need for personal satisfaction is wh­­­at drives their achievements.  Achievements tend to be self-indulgent in nature.  Achievers often have difficulty finding empathy until they reach a point of satisfaction with their own accomplishments.  Unfortunately, this may be an ego driven empathy, self-satisfying empathy―one more accomplishment to add to the list.  Granted, doing good works help the receivers regardless of the motivation.

Is it possible that empathy can be another method of self-satisfaction for some?  i.e., I am helping others therefore I feel good about myself to the point that empathy becomes a narcissistic endeavor?­­  

Our consciousness is what gives us a sense of self―really the ONLY thing that gives us a sense of self.   For each one of us, the universe, the empathetic subjects, and everything else we perceive live only in one place.  That place is our consciousness…. Without consciousness, they do not exist for us.  What does this mean?  It means, that everything we sense as the outer world is really within us―within our perception.  Once we realize that our achievements are not something that we personally accomplished, but, also required consciousness, other lives, and the universe, we can no longer separate ourselves.  Thus, they are an accomplishment of the universe.  Our consciousness manifests this reality for us.  We are not separate from the universe; our perceptions are the universe as we know it. 

Once one understands this, it becomes clear that the true feeling of empathy is an integral part of self-love and it comes without effort to those who have this characteristic.  Empathy becomes intuitive rather than learned, and is no longer an object we seek; it’s a part of us.  True empathy is not born out of guilt, or feeling sorry for someone in need, nor is it found in feeling guilty about having more than others.  True love is not attainable without empathy, both for oneself and those one perceives as others.  Likewise, true empathy is not attainable to those lacking self-love, and I submit that lack of self-love is a motivator for many over-achievers.  Many are seeking self-love through their achievements and carrying out good works for them is based on false empathy as they seek self-love.

This took me many years to understand.  Early in my life I thought I would find it (self-love) through education so I­ collected degrees.  Not surprisingly, the degrees brought me no closer to understanding any of this.  I loved nature and climbed mountains and worked as a Physical Therapist.  I thought I was empathetic because I was helping people, but just like climbing mountains, it was motivated by my own need to achieve and had little to do with empathy.  Sadly for me, a substantial amount of over-achieving was necessary before I realized it would not bring wisdom, empathy, self-love, or anything of importance. 

Perhaps accepting that the only true asset we have is our consciousness and that our ego is an obstacle is all we need to understand to offer more to the world we perceive as outside of us. 

Belief Systems and Literature

I recently wrote a story that required presenting an unbiased view from several different perspectives.  My primary goal was to write a story that would not appear to favor either viewpoint.  This is what I learned.  It is very difficult to present a point of view that you disagree with without somehow belittling it.  The reason is because you see it as inferior and the only arguments you have are inferior arguments.  It will be biased.  Often, we believe we are representing a viewpoint that we don’t necessarily agree with in our writing but it is highly unlikely that we are.

As I read back on my writing I realized that for the most part, I was presenting weak arguments for the perspective that I disagreed with, probably because that was my mindset.  That wasn’t my goal and it required re-educating myself in order to write the story the way I wanted.  That is no small challenge.  In fact, in order to do it, I not only had to come to an understanding of the opposite view, I had to come to an appreciation of it.  It had to make sense to me.  I had to no longer view it as an inferior viewpoint.

The beauty of this was that it turned out to be a very mind expanding opportunity.  Often, we think we understand another’s viewpoint but we remain sure that ours is right.  I suggest that until you are no longer sure your own is view is superior to another, you cannot write a truly engaging story.

The reason is that if you are presenting a story to an audience with multiple viewpoints, it is a very fine art to make people question their own beliefs.  Unless you see the true merits of differing views and have questioned your own beliefs, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to present an argument that will cause others to question their own beliefs.

That being said, I believe that beyond having a command of the written word, the greatest authors tend to be neutral, non-judgmental observers of the world.  If you’ve ever read a book that caused you to question your own belief systems you know what I mean.  In my humble opinion, some of the greatest literature makes readers of several opposing belief systems scratch their heads and question their own beliefs.

I’m not talking about politics, or religion, or any such major issues in particular, though that would be a major coup.  Something as simple as making me wonder why I like the antagonist serial criminal and don’t want to see him go to prison is sufficient for me. If you can offer such a mind expanding opportunity, I want to read your story.