Steve Woods

Archive for the ‘What Day is it?’ Category

What it Means to be a Man

In What Day is it? on November 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Although there have been calls for such a day since the 1960’s, Trinidad and Tobago were finally able to pull together the creation of this day in 1999.   International Men’s Day has slowly grown from humble beginnings, to a worldwide celebration of the male gender and his role in Society.  Organizers, including founder Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh, want to ensure that participants know that this day is not meant to compete with International Women’s Day (March 8th,) but rather to provide a day to remember and thank men for their many contributions.

The Objectives of IMD

International Men’s Day events are held in nations all over our planet, and typically include public displays, educational seminars and classroom activities, publicly broadcasted television and radio programs, religious observances, and peaceful marches. The organizers of IMD have agreed that the following broad objectives should be covered when holding an event related to IMD:

  1. The celebration of manhood as seen in the historically valuable and positive contributions that men of all ages have made to both local communities and Society in general.
  2. The promotion of equality among the genders, encouraging men to stand up and face head-on, responsibly and positively, the challenges faced by all in society.
  3. The demonstration of character and courage in continuing to meet those challenges that Society faces each and every day, to ensure we can all meet our full potential.
  4. The highlighting of positive male role models.  This means not just movie stars or sports figures, but also working class men leading decent, honest lives.

The Year of the Positive Male Role Model

What type of man do we hold in esteem?

In previous years, International Men’s Day has discussed issues relating to men’s health, gender relations, and gender equality.  Celebrating a different aspect of men’s lives each year, 2009 has been named the Year of the Positive Male Role Model.

Who would you consider to be (or to have been) a positive male role model in your own life?  Was it your father? Step-father? Grandfather? Uncle? Older brother or friend? Pastor or Rabbi? A boss? Someone famous?  Every single one of these men had to define for themselves what it meant to be a man, and in some way their definition has influenced your own…

So What Does it Mean to be a Man?

To be a man is to live in a dichotomy.  We are granted incredible freedom in defining ourselves, while living under the invisible pressure of conformity as provided by our fellow Man.  The layers of pressure come from greater Society’s agreed-upon and often capricious definitions of our gender, our larger family’s definitions, and our faith’s often-stringent refining.  We have layered upon us the invisible garments provided by our home, our community, and even our Nation.

So Many Choices when Defining Ourselves…

Oscar Wilde, Irish Playwright, Poet and Author, 1882

Historically the definition of acceptable manhood has changed, and continues to morph over time.  We have moved from wholesale acceptance of brute force and strength of will as desirable defining characteristics to a more intellectual approach to matters of life.  This is not to say Manhood has softened.  Let’s just say that we Men have learned to take the clay from those that used to mold our roles, and have begun to choose for ourselves who (or what) we lend our malleability to…

In free nations like America, where homogeneity of thought was dispensed with as soon as our ancestors began stepping on our shores, we accept many other possible definitions for what it means to be a Man.  And it is our free responsibility to examine with careful scrutiny the many layers put on us, that we carry in our daily lives.  To what purpose do they serve us, and are we prepared to maintain them, passing them down to our sons?  What changes do we make in defining ourselves, and how quickly do we embrace such changes?

So What do I Think?

We define our roles as men, and as fathers

Here’s my spin: To be a man is to be responsible for ourselves, even in areas where we have little control over our lives or destinies.  We must be strong supporters of our friends and family, even when it means providing needed criticism. We are to seek passionate, loving and respectful relationships with our significant others.  We are to be aware of our surroundings and must strive to improve upon them.  We must endeavor to mold our environment to allow for honesty.  We must be willing to both swing the hammer and open our fists.  We must listen, try to understand, sacrifice and compromise.

Outside of this, Dude, you are on your own. You figure out the rest.

So What do we Hand Down to Our Children?

In many countries, International Men’s Day (or IMD) is celebrated in tandem with Universal Children’s Day on Nov. 20th, to bring together the importance of the special bond between men and his children.  It’s one thing to carry the burdens handed to us by our fathers (and their fathers.)  It’s another thing entirely to sit and examine what we will leave behind and place on the shoulders of our sons.

Our sons are watching us...

One of the reasons the cultural definition of Manhood has changed so drastically over the last 40 years is the renewed, shared, sense of self-determination.  Our fathers grew up with the belief that we competed against each other to get ahead, sometimes learning painful cut-throat lessons.  Some of them, now retired, watch in abject confusion as we discuss collaborative work models, as we come together in common cause, move on to regroup with others, then move on again…

Men have to teach, more than any other skill, the ability to work with and get along with others.  Men must remind their sons that they do not have to define themselves through the personal victory, but through the sharing of a common win.  We must teach them to adapt in a World that changes faster than any other our forefathers have ever known.

So be Responsible for How You (and Men) are Viewed

Hang up the definitions no longer needed

Whether in the news, movies, or in literature, there exists ample fictional and non-fictional examples of men, young and old, exhibiting negative behavior.  This includes criminal activities, violence against others, or simply delinquency.  The supporters of International Men’s Day work diligently to provide a forum to respond to these negative portrayals, reminding the World that there are many more examples of decency and scions of character among us.

Help all of us out by examining those invisible garments you wear each day, and hanging up the ones that are no longer needed to protect you from an increasingly open World.  Rediscover for yourself what it means to be a man, and then contact me to help me out, too…

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Social Media (and Life) Lessons from Mickey Mouse

In Social Media, What Day is it? on November 18, 2009 at 10:39 am

Still lookin' great after all these years...

Happy 81st Birthday, Mickey Mouse!  Mickey Mouse officially celebrated his birth with the screening of the cartoon Steamboat Willie on this day, back in 1928.

As usual, when discussing what day it is, I had to put some thought to how the remembrance and/or celebration of this popular character’s storied life can be tied to our existence in and use of social media.  And I believe that the celebrated Mouse ties in quite nicely.  Read and decide for yourself!

You can’t control how you come into a scene, but take hold of your future!

Mickey Mouse simply wasn’t really supposed to be.  You see, Charles Mintz of Universal Studios hired a young Walt Disney and his staff to draw for what became the lackluster Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon series.  When Walt asked for an increased budget to support his staff, Mintz went behind his back and hired all of Walt’s staff out from under him, then offered him a paycut in reply.  Walt, of course, was angered and began formulating his exit.

Walt finished out his contract, swearing to control his own destiny by creating his own original works and always retain the rights to them.  He began working with Ub Iwerks, and asked him to come up with some interesting character ideas.  Animals were popular in cartoons, so Ub drew frogs, dogs, cats, cattle and horses, but none of these appealed to Walt.  Looking through some old sketches, Ub discovered that Walt loved mice, having had a pet during his childhood on a farm.  Ub went to work on a few and presented them to Walt.

Walt loved the mice, choosing one in particular, and naming it Mortimer.  His wife Lilian didn’t like the sound of the name and encouraged him Walt to reconsider.  Legend has it that after a chance meeting with Mickey Rooney, Walt decided on Mickey Mouse.

Hand in hand...

In social media, you have the opportunity to spend some time thinking about how you want to be viewed by your audience, how you wish to present yourself.  If it is your desire to have a wide swath of influence, make sure that what you say is either what others need to hear or can relate to.  And make sure that it is honest, coming from your heart.

Mickey Mouse has grown from a bit movie part to the dominating face of the Walt Disney Empire.  He is so inseparable from the Walt Disney brand, that statues commemorating Mr. Disney in his theme parks include him standing and holding Mickey’s hand…

Whether in Twitter or Facebook, you started out with no followers and nobody to listen to.  You diligently sought out interesting people to follow, speaking up and opportune times and saying hello to, and engaging them.  Keep it up.  Even those that have a million followers started with none as they furtively typed in their first comment to the virtual Universe.  Get in there and get involved.  People will love you, too!

Learn from your mistakes and grow

In the silent movie Plane Crazy, Mickey plays the captain of an airship, flying through the skies with his passenger Minnie.  As he has always, Mickey has eyes for Minnie; however Minnie is not interested in his advances.  Mickey continues his amorous plays for affection, going so far as to even force himself on his passenger.  A far cry from the happy-go-lucky and friendly Mickey we know today…

You are the captain of your social media plane. Pay attention to what you are doing there, to your many followers, and engage them in a manner that they deem appropriate.  Don’t force people to follow you back, or push yourself over and over into their conversations.

They do make a cute couple...

Minnie ultimately discovers a parachute and escapes the plane, and Mickey ultimately crash-lands.  The movie was a flop, and is one of the chief reasons that the premiere of his second movie, Steamboat Willie, is the one we use to officially celebrate Mickey’s arrival on the big screen.  It would appear that since their introductions, Mickey has learned from his mistakes, and treats Minnie with far more respect…

Mickey smoked in The Gallopin’ Gaucho, but eventually gave it up, and we are all happier for him, as he celebrates his 81st birthday in full health.  Yes, even mice can be exemplars of improving behavior.

The Biggest Fool is the Guy who Refuses to Learn From His Mistakes.  ~ Gary Arbaugh (@Gary1980Arb)

It’s easy to say something that might offend others in Social Media.  Don’t fret – simply apologize for it, consider a better way to have said what you did, and move on.  Realize that some people will bail on you because they don’t like your style, and you will have to simply accept you cannot please everybody.  If you are respectful and kind to everyone you meet, you will soon find the seats in your social airliner filled with plenty of people returning the affection…

Always be friendly and respectful to others

The original bromance.

Across the board, Mickey Mouse is the most friendly of all of Walt Disney’s creations.  No matter what is going on in his life, he greets his friends and even strangers with kindness and consideration.  He is always quick to welcome in someone at his door, always ready to lend a hand or lend something to those in need, and ready to cheer up his curmudgeonly friend Donald Duck.  Who by the way seriously needs to work on that speech impediment.

If all of us greeted our friends and followers with the same loving acceptance of whoever was on the other side of the connection, I have a feeling we would spend even more time in social media enjoying the company.  Get involved in causes after carefully researching them, and don’t be afraid to cheer up the grumps.  Everybody has a bad day.

Don’t let others get you down

For some, the term Mickey Mouse has been used to mean shoddy or shady, from a character in the movie The Godfather II referring to a “Mickey Mouse Operation,” to Indiana Jones saying “Yeah, and I’m Mickey Mouse.”  While visiting foreign lands and noting unusual (and questionable) currencies, Americans have often referred to the flimsy notes as “Mickey Mouse Money.”  British Soccer fans call the second-tier League  Cup competition’s award “the Mickey Mouse Cup.”

We all have our nemeses both in life and here in social media, who put us down privately (and even publicly,) or question our motives and abilities.  Despite this behind-the-back derision using his name, Mickey has remained cheerful and forward-looking.  He has refused to let anyone get him down, and as young children seeing his fortitude, many of us have grown to love and respect the Mouse.  Keep moving forward with purpose, and those that deride you will eventually fade away in their own negativity.  There is also the block feature…

Be consistent in all that you do

Always humble, always consistent...

We’re talking about a little guy who wears the same outfit 99% of the time.  Consistency is Mickey Mouse’s forte and one of the big reasons he has been so successful over the last 80 years.  We know the many consistent attributes of Mickey Mouse, and no matter the twists and turns of plot in a Disney cartoon, we know exactly how he is going to react.

Change your social media avatar only when needed, because it is part of that essential “brand” you have among others.  Changing your avatar temporarily makes it hard for people to find you in the stream of information, as you are now an unfamiliar sight.  You don’t want to get lost by the very same people who love what you have to say because you shaved that mustache or went blonde.

Take the time to truly know yourself, what you stand for and therefore how you ought to behave around others in all situations.  Be well-grounded and familiar in your own personal philosophy and make the difficult decisions that keep you on course with it, or change when needed.  Consistency in behavior sets the needed deep habits that will carry you through the hazards that come into all of our lives. Those that know and appreciate you will love you all the more for the bedrock you provide in their lives while facing the larger societal issues impacting the news or their lives, and will they reward you on Follow Friday by asking others to follow you too….

Be willing to try new things

From his exciting but lustful beginnings as a plane pilot to his happy-go-lucky, whistling days on a steamboat, Mickey has moved on to serve as a soldier, a musical conductor,  tried his hand at Wizardry, has been a detective, and enjoyed a host of other roles in life.  Mickey has cheerfully gone wherever sent by his animators, and If he were real, would’ve learned quite a bit from each new character.

Don’t be afraid to try new things.  We are always faced with little opportunities disguised as hard work, and should never shy away from them.  Often, these new responsibilities lead to growth whether as a person or employee.  Never be afraid to figure out those things that seem positively magical in their complication; we often discover they are not so difficult once in the middle of the fray.

Find and make a variety of friendships in social media.  Don’t keep your sphere of influence limited to those that look and sound and work like you.  A wealth of varied experiences and backgrounds keep the stream of information flowing on your computer screen interesting. Accept the friend and follow requests from oddballs once in awhile, because you will soon discover that those residing outside of the box say things that make you both laugh and think, to say the least.

Be always at the ready to take the lead when asked

Always ready to serve you...

In politics, of all write-in protest candidates, Mickey Mouse has led the charge when voters have been dissatisfied with their offerings. Because of his consistently cheerful countenance and pleasant ways, Mickey on countless occasions he has had his name written down on ballot after ballot, his name bandied about in practically every single Presidential election since his birth.  He has been offered up as a leader at school board, mayoral, city council, senatorial and gubernatorial elections.

If you follow Mickey’s social examples, you will soon find yourself in demand in the lives of your friends and followers, asking for help and sage advice.  Don’t shirk your new-found popularity; rather, once again jump in with both feet and expand your niche.  Give your opinion humbly, and accept the thanks when given.

Stand up for your ideals and beliefs

If you ever want to see the power of protectiveness, just begin a business enterprise using the Mickey Mouse character, without first asking permission from the Walt Disney Company.  You will soon find yourself swarming in legal battles and facing off against a league of attorneys four-deep.  Walt Disney is extremely protective of its characters, Mickey Mouse in particular.  It’s Mother Hen-like guard over its brand has allowed Disney to grow profitably into new ventures over time.

Don’t let others take credit for what you do, know or say. Stand up for yourself, and make sure others know from whence the good ideas flowed.  Politely remind people to retweet or recomment giving proper credit when due. Be consistent in branding who you are and what you stand for, so that others can easily define you when they too go to bat for you.

Tackle issues head-on

Mickey has always been up-front about problems or issues he sees.  If he sees someone being bullied, he is the first to gather up his gumption and speak out.  Invariably, he gets the snot knocked out of him, but her perseveres and ultimately wins out, and we respect him for it.

His values can make a difference online, too...

I have had the honor of helping Kirstie Alley (@kirstiealley) with Aquathon, a 24-hour social media marathon last July, wherein with the help of thousands, we raised $28,000 to drill 2 fresh water wells in Africa.  I am looking forward to Aquathon II, slated for May 1st of 2010, a dance-a-thon to held World-wide.  I am currently working with Josh Charles (@joshcharles) with his very meaningful project to donate 100% of the profits of his beautiful song Healing Time, to rebuild the homes in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, where people are still smarting from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

There are a variety of issues you can address using social media.  Take one that means a lot to you personally, and run with it.  You can hold contests, tweet and ask for retweets, blog about your cause and send the links out.  Create multimedia presentations by playing music and sending photos related to the cause.  Be judicious in the amount of time you spend discussing your cause, so that your followers do not become jaded or block you due to the noise.

Of course, patterning your life or social media presence after a cartoon character might not seem desirable.  But at least take the time to learn from the values that made Mickey Mouse popular all around the World.  And if the big ol’ yellow shoes and round black ears fit, then wear ’em!

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From Tolerance to Acceptance

In Social Media, What Day is it? on November 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Tolerance n. 1. Recognition of and respect for the opinions, beliefs, or actions of others. 2. The amount of variation from a standard that is allowed. 3. Capacity to withstand pain or hardship. 4. Physical resistance to poison.

I thought I’d start out with a propaganda film from the 1950’s regarding Homosexuality, just to put you in the mood…

The video was created in 1961 by filmmaker Sid Davis, and was funded by both the Inglewood Police Department and his Inglewood Unified School District.  In those days, it was acceptable for government monies to help propagate the myth that Homosexuality was a “sickness of the mind,” or that gay men were pedophiles.  Although as a rule we’ve stopped using government funds to share such idiocy, the myths still exist in the minds of people we come across daily, and the ideals resulting from such falsehoods still slip out of the mouths of many.

Example of sadly familiar hate-tweets

Three days ago, I blocked a person on Twitter, an action that I reserve for spam-bots, britney-bots, someone trying to sell me something, people who are rude or obnoxious, and your garden-variety bigots.   This particular person fell under the last of those categories, and I had no qualms whatsoever as the block happened in a knee-jerk manner.

The last tweet I will ever see from the guy read something like this, “Here’s my daily sound-off on the Muslims.  They have no business being in America. Round em up and ship em off.” (I changed it a bit so nobody would find the guy using Twitter Search and slam him too badly…)

I don’t miss the guy, and he was completely lost to memory until I saw what day it was today – International Day of Tolerance.  So the question arose in me – Was I, too, being intolerant?  Should I have continued to follow the guy, despite his demonstrated hatred of those he obviously knew little about?

The Importance of Tolerance

We walk among our history, good or bad.

The next time you’re walking down a crowded street, take a moment to think about the incredible variety of backgrounds surrounding you.  The man walking by you enjoying his latté  may have come from grandparents who were chased from their homeland by people hating their faith.  The woman juggling the cell phone while folding and tucking the newly purchased newspaper may have heard hushed stories from her father about dear friends or relatives being killed simply because of their race.

We are the culmination of the co-mingled hopes and dreams of our ancestors, the centuries of hard work and strife as each generation before ours was pushed forward, cajoled and upbraided, supported and loved.  We are also the product of the intolerance our ancestors suffered, as well as the intolerance they may have shown to others.  The wounds are still there, if you look closely enough, listen carefully enough.  You can still easily find the stereotyping, the racial jokes, the homophobic commentary, and the fear and anger it incites in those that are ultimately its victims, the pain and hardship that stereotyped individuals have had to endure.

Remember these guys? Did you know them?

With each passing generation, the anger dims a bit, as tolerance spreads further, rippling outward from those that are exemplars of it.  There also remain those that abhor tolerance, angry vacuums of bigotry, using all available means to suck in those that are unprepared to face the variety of existence around them.  It is our role to face these black holes of hatred head-on, to become immune to their poisons, so that others do not lose their entire lives to it.

Raised to See the Difference?

We have grown up in a world that sees the differences, categorizing each other since early childhood. The playgrounds and hallways of our youth held the jocks, the populars, the socials, the nerds, the loners, the rockers, the goths, the emos, the eggheads, the geeks and endless other categories of those that were different.  Some of us wended and weaved among these groups, picking and choosing friends as we found fellowship in the varied ranks of many.  Many of us did not, choosing one group or another to temporarily identify with.

Tolerance must be learned, must be shared and supported as a life-skill.  Without it, our children will not be able to wend and weave their way through life, will find it difficult to reach across those artificial boundaries, and will be stunted in their ability to connect to a wider World filled with different people being rapidly woven together through social media and technology.  Without the ability to tolerate, people get paid by us to make movies to frighten our children with lies. And worse.

The Teaching of Tolerance

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” ~ Helen Keller

It always starts at home...

The teaching of tolerance begins at home, with how we behave and what we say around our family, especially our children.  Even the smallest allowance for stereotyping or discrimination cracks the door ajar for more, like dirty little flies scurrying into our home.

Avoid stereotyping -It is assumed that if you are reading this post, you know that people of all races are equally as intelligent, as funny, as quiet, as athletic, as studious, as hardworking.  Avoid the urge to lump in others who may share a physical trait, sexual orientation, or religious faith, no matter how many similarities you believe you have found in your experience.  Young children reside in what must seem to be a very complicated world, and many will readily grasp at these oversimplifications.  It’s a nasty little short-cut that bypasses true learning about the people around them, and should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid derogatory terms – If you have used derogatory terms in the past, stop.  And not just around your children, either.  Never denigrate others, no matter what they have done to offend or hurt you.  If you must vent, avoid the use of degrading terms related to race, sexual preference or religious background.  If you tell jokes or “funny” stories with those terms, you are simply hurting your children’s ability to tolerate differences they come across in others later in life. Examine the use of terms such as “That’s so gay,” and you will see how it poisons the atmosphere for others.

Be the example – Start at home and begin to learn how to tolerate the differences in opinion your spouse and children have with you. Listening is key in this.  The former head of the United Nations Kofi Annan, one of the most powerful negotiators in modern times, is noted for his ability to listen at the bargaining table.  Ask simple and meaningful questions to learn how other’s think, and they in turn will be more open to your thoughts. Speak respectfully, even in the heat of an argument.  And try to keep your opinions to yourself when it comes to how your teens’ friends dress.

From Tolerance to Acceptance

How big is your circle of friends?

The word tolerance has the connotation of “putting up with” someone, rather than accepting them. When we merely put up with working in the presence of an openly gay person, we are practicing the 2nd definition of tolerance, allowing for a so-called variation or deviation from what we believe to be the personal standard or societal norm. But if you discovered your coworkers merely put up with your presence in the office, how would it affect you? Where we define the area to draw our acceptable standards from is one way to move toward acceptance.

You can choose to restrict the definition of acceptable behavior to that found within your own home,  where everybody comes from shared values, experiences, race and faith. Anyone outside this tight circle would be a variation, a deviation of some sort.  But move your vision to the neighborhood, and what is acceptable expands with the borderline.  Now we have to include in what is “normal” the Gays and Lesbians, Muslims and Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and Whites that reside within this wider circle.  So many new capitalized words! So many interesting people!

When you move the sweep of the circle to encompass our entire nation, the variations are almost impossible to behold, and the border defining what is the standard blurs.  If this is from where you draw your definition of standard or norm, then you must now see the Bisexuals, Transgenders, people of mixed-race, all variety of faiths and intra-faith sects, agnostics and atheists, and so forth.  Gets pretty hard now, doesn’t it, to place someone as a variation or deviation from the standard, huh?

Of course, many of us expand  of our circle of acceptance only to the boundaries of our chosen faith and/or morality, and I understand this concept.  I cannot fault you for doing so, and do appreciate the extent to which some of us live closer to those boundaries, for it is at those moral walls that we hear the voices of the Outsiders.  Perhaps from time to time we can peek around and say hello…

Teaching Ourselves Acceptance

So how do we draw such a big circle, and move ourselves from tolerance to acceptance?

There's room under the rainbows...

Learn about other faiths – From Churches and Synagogues to Mosques and Temples, go out and learn about others’ faiths by participating in events there, and meeting their adherents.  Scan your local newspaper’s faith section for cultural fairs, open houses and open worship nights.  Say hello, try some interesting foods, ask a bunch of questions, mispronounce things, pick up some literature, and enjoy the similarities found in our common desire toward morally desirable behavior.  Look for interfaith alliance groups and lend your voice, too.

Show support for people of all sexual orientations – There’s plenty of space in Gay Pride parades for straight people to help hold up those big, beautiful banners. Ask your local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) if they need any help with fundraising or activities.  Attend candlelight vigils in support of equal marriage rights, and share a cup of coffee with those seeking legal acceptance of life-long love and commitment. Read and learn about the difficulties encountered in the lives of transgenders.  Don’t worry, they’ll like you, too…

Become a community advocate against Racism – Donate time and/or money to help organizations that combat Racism in your community.  Make a few phone calls and ask if you can help flip pancakes for fundraisers, or attend speeches by civil rights leaders who come to town.  Take some time off from work to march with others whenever you can.  Shake hands and meet people in attendance, and begin networking with them.  Write to your local paper and exhort others to join in rallies against Racism and bigotry.

Creating a Global Standard

Our place is with them...

But what of an even grander sweep of vision, encompassing the incredible richness of human life on our whole planet?  Can you draw your circle of friends this wide? In this view, we gaze upon all of humanity, and all ethnic, religious and sexual differences disappear. We are left viewing the breadth of “human” existence.   From this standpoint, our backgrounds, orientations and preferences are no longer limited to what is valued in just our family, our neighborhood, our region or nation.  We become a part of the human PhotoShop colorwheel, blending into the person next to us, interconnected and part of a loving rainbow.

In a global existence, it is much easier to move from tolerance of others to acceptance of all.  From this place, how far is it to move into the warm embrace of those around us?  We are all equals, with so much to learn from each other.  We talk and share openly, visit each other’s places of worship in respect and admiration, breaking a variety of breads in fellowship at each other’s tables.  A much greater compassion is learned from connecting with each other, and soon, those that discriminate and differentiate become the variation from the standard.

The Global Standard and Social Media

Social media is teaching us to look across borders, finding fellowship in the wonderful people of all races, all backgrounds, all preferences.   We sign up, log on, and are soon swimming in what seems to be, at first, a sea of difference.  As we talk and share, view pictures of loved ones and celebrations, listen to music on instruments we cannot pronounce, receive recipes for foods we previously did not know existed, the armor of our stereotypes begin to fail us.  With the veil of distance removed, we go from seeing the differences to the similarities we all hold, and reveling in our new-found together-ness.

So was I being too harsh on the guy who was bashing all Muslims? Should I have left him in my stream as a sign of tolerance? I don’t think so, and here’s why.  Tolerance has its limits.  We should never tolerate words that harm or threaten to harm another.  Race-baiting, religious intolerance, and hatred run counter to the desired goal of greater  tolerance and acceptance.  I choose not to provide a forum for poisonous behavior, to lend even a speck of legitimacy by having him listed in my followers.  I don’t have time for haters, because I am spending all of my time in the company of wonderful people here seeking to know me, as I come to know them…

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Cutting the Strings

In What Day is it? on November 12, 2009 at 11:41 am

Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh.  ~ Marcus Arelius

The story of Husayn Ali

village_of_takur

Takur, near Tehran, Iran, where Husayn Ali was born

Husayn Ali was born on November 12, 1817 in Tehran, Iran, to the home of an aristocrat, a government minister, who could trace his own ancestry deep into ancient Iranian nobility. Raised in wealth, Husayn did not receive a regular public education, instead learning to ride horses, write calligraphy, handle a sword, and the recitation of romantic poetry.

In Husayn’s culture it was believed that precocious children likely would not survive into adulthood, so his family was quite concerned over him. He more than made up for his outspokenness in intelligence and wisdom beyond his years.  Despite his inexperience, even learned Muslims could be found consulting with him regarding intricate religious matters; not because Husayn knew the answer already, but because he had a mind for figuring these complex issues out.

The puppet show

We are only puppets, our strings are being pulled by unknown forces. ~ George Buchner

puppet-show2

What strings pull us around our lives?

Husayn once wrote that as a child, he was brought to watch a puppet show, one of the popular forms of public entertainment at the time.  As often happened, the puppeteer had crafted this performance to make a public statement, the story being about the political motives and greed of a corrupt king’s court.  Husayn was both bothered and intrigued by the performance; however, what happened after the little curtain was drawn and the other children were leaving played an important part in shaping Husayn’s mind and future.  Husayn noted the puppeteer stepping out from behind the curtain and leaving the premises with a big box under his arm.

Curious and unafraid, Husayn asked the man what was in the box.  “All this lavish display and these elaborate devices,” the man replied, “the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box.”  The concept that all of the tapestries of life, those material items struggled toward, that we all-too-often witness the lives of others being destroyed over, could be rendered lifeless and carried away.  All could be lost at the very gates of death, at the end of our live’s performance, as we too are boxed and buried.  As these thoughts coalesced in little Husayn’s mind, he suddenly viewed all of our lifelong material struggles as nothing more important than children’s playthings, mere past-times, we playing the role of puppets to unknown masters.

What drives our lives?

We are no longer puppets being manipulated by outside powerful forces: we become the powerful force ourselves. ~ Leo Buscaglia

mustang_convertible

It's not a bad goal to have...

A desire to have a strong, loving and committed relationship with our significant other. A need to see success in our children’s lives, to know they will be secure in their futures.  The ability to retire in relative comfort, with a roof over our heads and not a worry about money.  A desire to attain notoriety in our field of endeavor, to be seen as contributing.  A wish to be loved by others, whether in a small office or on the big screen.  A brand new Mustang convertible is always good. There are millions of hopes and dreams we all have, sharing more than a handful of them with most.  Sometimes these dreams are directly in competition with someone else’s. Where did these hopes, desires, and dreams come from? Who pulls our strings?

When Husayn’s father passed away, the very desirable and financially secure ministerial position he held was offered to Husayn, who turned it down to pursue a life of charitable work, wishing to put to good use his belief that the pursuit of wealth and title were nothing compared to the care of others.  He worked diligently to improve the lives of the many poor in the surrounding community, earning him reverence and the title of “Father of the Poor.”

Who pulls our strings?

Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are. ~ James Cash Penney

air_hand

Wait! Don't run off just yet!

Before you hit the Close Window button on your browser, I’m not on a soapbox today.  There’s nothing wrong with buying a lot of cool things and keeping them.  I’m staring at twin 27″ screens, when I could’ve done this sort of work on a simple 15″ one. There’s a whisper quiet brandy new PC under my desk, running Windows 7.  My shiny (but not so new) iPhone is always within arm’s length. I own way too many weird ties and an assortment of coffee cups. But bear with me for a bit…

We have to work to survive, so we work.  For most of us, it means the job you did not dream of as a child, because the income was nice, the benefits pretty decent, we had a family that prefers food on the table, and there’s a decent retirement plan on the horizon.  We’re busy after work driving our children to appointments, baking something for fundraisers, getting our garages ready for the next yard sale, and trying to keep ahead of the impending Christmas shopping rush.  Basically treading water, right?

It’s a difficult economy right now, and I’m starting to look at the Christmas list with a bit of tredipation.  I likely won’t be spending quite as much as last year, and am feeling a twinge of guilt about it.  But you know what? I’m starting to ask myself why I feel bad about it.  Do I have to spend every cent I have in the malls purchasing more of those trinkets to eventually store in the boxes in my garage, or for my kids to toss in the closet with the ghosts of Christmas past?  Are the unknown forces that drove my father and his father going to drive me too, or will I take a new path in life?

The dangers of stepping through unknown Gates

The World is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

tehran_prison

Downtown Tehran, early 1900s

In 1844, a young man by the name of Siyyid Alí-Muhammad changed Husayn’s life forever.  Siyyid referred to himself as the Báb, which meant “the Gate” in Arabic, and proclaimed that all faiths served a single God, and therefore must come together in unison.  Siyyid made sure everyone understood that he wasn’t that person, but that he would soon come.   What the Báb taught rocked Iran’s nobility and faithful, and his renown spread quickly, with Husayn becoming one his most ardent supporters.  To the clerics, supported by and controlling the government, it would appear a movement was afoot, and fears slowly grew that they might someday lose power…

Four years after Siyyid introduced his new philosophy, Husayn found himself a captive of the government, being tortured for his support of the Báb, as his captors repeatedly beat the soles of his feet with long wooden rods.  It was only the start of many such episodes in his life, as he was either chased to or sent to a variety of prison locations, ending up over 2,800 km from his place of birth.

holding_hands

What will be the legacy to my children?

It’s a bit daunting, the concept of figuring out what drives my life.  But I don’t want to be known affectionately in the future by my children as the guy that once got them the Wii Mario Cart game.  I want to be known as the guy who taught them how to freely say “I’m sorry,” upon discovering they wronged someone.  I’d much rather be remembered as the man that taught them loving acceptance of the wonderful variations of humanity around them, than the guy who brought home a piping hot cheese pizza every Friday night.  That said, I also want to enjoy a nice pizza and beat their cheerful little butts on the Wii once in awhile.

It’s a balancing act, isn’t it?  To be a good parent, to remember to teach the lasting life skills in a patient manner, while still providing the many material objects that my kids (and I have to admit that I) drool over in the store. I have to build the Gate through which they’ll cross from idealistic, angst-filled teens to loving and decent adults.  And I have to help them walk that sometimes tortuous path.

Cutting the Strings

My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it. I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision. ~ Barry Sanders

akka_prison

Prison in Akka, Israel. Husayn's cell in upper right corner.

In 1850 the Báb was killed, along with a number of his most ardent supporters by government forces and the powerful clerics.  Although Husayn was spared execution, he was sent off to a prisons in Tehran, Adrianople, Istanbul and Akka, each place progressively worse.  And in each of these fetid, smelly, dark places he received revelations, divine images telling him things he had difficulty understanding or accepting.

According to the visions, Husayn was the chosen one spoken of by the Báb.  A year after arriving in Baghdad, Husayn took leave from his family and followers, and went up into the nearby mountains of Sulaymaniyyih for 2 years, to consider in solitude how to accept this mantle, and what he must do.  When he returned, he began writing a number of religious books, and with renewed vigor the Bábi community rapidly embraced him as a leader.

Ten years later, in 1853, Husayn officially proclaimed himself to be the Bahá’u’lláh, the chosen one that the Bab referred to, the promised one he believed was to be found in all scriptures, who had now come to unite the faiths in brotherhood.  And he was once again sent off to prisons in faraway lands.

cutting_puppet_strings

I have some cutting to do...

I’m not going to be around forever. Duh.  To be a better parent to my children, I have to intensify my focus on them, to listen to the voices in my head that tell me to take the time and teach, to slow myself and them down, to offer both toys and wisdom.  I have to cut some of the strings in my life, too.  I have to cut the string that says I have to spend all of my hard-earned money each month.  Or the big ol’ credit card stringie. I have to cut the string that says I have to always get that new, shiny thing even though the old thing still works.  The watch every football game string (that’s a painful one…) Oh, there are a variety of other invisible strings pulling me around, and I will have to take some time examining (and cutting) some of them too…  But I know my kids and fiancée are worth it…

Staying out of the box

In 1867 Bahá’u’lláh penned letters to all of the leaders of the great nations including Emperor Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Tsar Alexander II, Emperor Franz Joseph, Pope Pius IX, Sultan Abdul-Aziz, and the Iranian ruler, Nasiri’d-Din Shah, telling them that he was a messenger of God, and exhorting them all to join God’s plan in putting down their arms and working together in peace and unity.

Even more than being a good parent to my children, I want to be a good citizen of the World.  I want to understand, to embrace the varieties of existence around me. I believe as long as I keep my eyes (and mind) wide open, I just might be able to stay outside of that little box for awhile…

Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith

And suddenly, like light in darkness, the real truth broke in upon me; the simple fact of Man, which I had forgotten, which had lain deep buried and out of sight; the idea of community, of unity.  ~ Ernst Toller

As a result of angry response to his letters to World leaders, Bahá’u’lláh was finally exiled to the prison city of Akka, Israel, to join the murderers, theives and political prisoners sent there by the Ottomans.  It was believed that Bahá’u’lláh and his followers would die there, and that the new faith would soon crumble without his continued presence.

Within months of arriving under harsh treatment, Bahá’u’lláh and his follower’s treated the sick and suffering in silence, an act which led authorities in Akka to lower restrictions against them, including finally allowing visitors, who travelled hundreds of miles to see their religious leader.  During this time, Bahá’u’lláh began laying out the essentials of the Bahá’í faith as it is known today, creating a roadmap of how the World could come together.  After having accomplished so much in sharing the message he had received, after having lived as an exemplar of spiritual philanthropy, Bahá’u’lláh died peacefully in 1892.

Unity

We can all live together, regardless of faith...

In case you were wondering, I’m not a member of the Bahá’í faith.  I am a very liberal Jew in the Reformist tradition, reaching out to and learning from the words embodied in a variety of faiths.  I can see many merits in the Bahá’í philosophy of unity and caring for each other, and have noted these same exhortations in a variety of religions. I can see the value of Bahá’u’lláh’s desire to see all of us control our own destinies, ignoring those that tell us to live meaningless lives in pursuit of things that tarnish with time, and erasing the many boundaries that have been constructed to separate us from one another.

In celebration of the birth of the founder of their faith, Bahá’í houses of worship and national centers near you are holding special programs, artistic performances tonight, as well as offering to the public food and refreshments, kindness and fellowship.  If you are up to it, feel free to step through a new Gate and join them.  You just might find out a way to stay out of that box too…

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How to be Unforgettable

In What Day is it? on November 10, 2009 at 6:32 am

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of Heaven, blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the Angels.   ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Early Stories Surrounding the Forget-Me-Not

knight-bride

The tragic knight and his love

Today is National Forget-Me-Not Day. One of the many stories surrounding the origin of the Forget-Me-Not name is that during the Medieval Ages, a knight picked a handful of the tiny flower bordering a river, and while doing so slipped into the deep waters.  While sinking due to the weight of his armor, he held out a handful of the flowers to his love and asked her to please not forget him.

In ancient Germanic legends, when God was creating everything and providing names for it all, a tiny blue flower, afraid it would be missed during such a lengthy endeavor, called out “Forget Me Not!”  In Christian lore, Jesus wished that his mother Mary would always be remembered, so he passed his hand over the ground, and the tiny blue flower appeared everywhere.

The tradition of using the Forget-Me-Not as a symbol of remembrance continued well into the 20th Century, where in Newfoundland officials performed ceremonies in remembrance of those that died in battle using the flower.  To this day, millions rejoice at receiving the Forget-Me-Not due to their special significance and romanticized symbolism.

What is the Forget-Me-Not?

forget-me-nots

The Forget-Me-Not

The Forget-Me-Not plant (also known as Scorpion Grass,) belongs to the genus Myosotis, which has over 50 different varieties of the flowering plant.  Blue is the most popular (and traditional) color; however, there are a rainbow of colors to choose from.  The Woods Forget-Me-Not actually changes colors as it matures, going from pink to blue.

There are such an incredible variety in the world of flowers, replete with heavenly scents and eye-catching colors, exotic shapes and textures.  None of these are the Forget-Me-Not.  Among all of the flora that could’ve been chosen for such a meaningful and timeless name, why is this simple, flat, 1 inch small 5-petal flower given such an honor?  As legend had it, was it simply because it spoke up during the naming process and made itself known?

How Can We Be Unforgettable?

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What makes us unforgettable?

Before we get into my theory on how the lowly Forget-Me-Not maintains its special position in our hearts, I’d like to talk a little about how you yourself can be “unforgettable” to others, whether making friends, working with others, in a relationship, or even here in Social Media.  Many of the principles for each are similar and useful, with a few exceptions.

  1. Learn the value of good (but not overt) eye contact when meeting and talking to others.  Match the amount of time you gaze into another’s eyes by how long they are comfortable returning it, so as to not appear you are prying or critical. A friendly and warm gaze shows that you are comfortable in another’s presence, and will do wonders toward making them comfortable back.
  2. Smile, smile, smile.  Smiling belies happiness, and people like to be around those that appear content with life.  I’m talking genuine smiles, not the Stepford Wives brand. When we see those around us exuding happiness, we tend to feel more comfortable in the environment.  After all, if you aren’t stressing things, why should I?  Be positive in your interactions and outlook, and others will want to be near you!
  3. When in conversation, make sure to spend a greater amount of time listening carefully to the other person than talking.  Oh I know your voice is soothing, lilting, positively delightful. But pay rapt attention to the other person, and do not allow inner (or outer) distractions to control you, so that the person you are conversing with feels important in your eyes. With more important concepts, make sure to repeat back in your own words what has been said, asking meaningful questions as needed.  A careful listener is valued in the life of those around you, and will be sought out for conversation.
  4. Try to avoid verbal criticism as a method of pointing out the shortcomings of others. Try to explain things in such a way that others figure out what they need to change on their own. Rather than feeling criticism from you, others will feel that you are helping them grow through simply knowing you.  Your friends know they are not perfect, and want to know they are accepted in your eyes.
  5. Keeping office codes in mind, dress in a way that will make you stand out in the crowd, whether it be through a strong color or beautiful tie or jewelry. Use a desirable perfume or cologne, one that will make others want to smell you one more time… There’s a reason that really good scents cost a pretty penny, but don’t go overboard unless you can afford it!
  6. conversation

    Are you interacting in an unforgettable way?

    When introducing ideas in a meeting, make sure you are not throwing out too much information at once, or you risk people forgetting who said what. You won’t like it if someone else is given credit for your good idea, so properly pace the information, while listening to (and responding to) the feedback of others.  By interacting during the meeting, you increase the number of people who remember who they spoke with about the idea.  Good presentations will make them (and you) memorable.

  7. Keep what you say simple and clear. The use of slogans or the coining of phrases always helps people remember your words. Political signs are short and sweet for a reason… And like the same political sign being repeated in every other yard, be sure to find novel ways to remind people of your ideas, lest they forget who came up with them in the first place.
  8. Be thoughtful and generous.  Keep a calendar of dates that are important to those around you, and remember to mention them as they occur, including birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. Small gifts that show you know some basic preferences of your coworkers and friends will go a long way toward them remembering how much you cared, long after the gift is given.
  9. Compliment others, in a judicious manner. Don’t over-do it, but be sure to keep a careful eye for what accomplishments are meaningful in your friends, family or coworkers’ lives, and be ready with that congratulations or pat on the back.

Why weigh the beauty of one flower to another?  ~ Chad Lilly @icpchad

How to be Unforgettable in Social Media

I realize that the 9 rules above not only fail to be all-inclusive, but also may not be easily interpreted for use in the conversational arena of Social Media.  So here’s my take…

  1. If you are including a photo of yourself as your avatar, make sure it makes eye contact with the audience.  Sideways looks just make you look distracted by something.  Make your photo interesting but unique to your own personality.  Make sure that you are smiling in your photo, in order to bring others into you and and your story.
  2. Spend more time reading and responding to other’s comments on FaceBook and Twitter than talking about yourself.  You’ll get a much bigger response from saying something nice about another’s comment than telling your own story.  If you are successful with this form of interaction, your followers and friends will be much more open to what you have to say, too.
  3. Don’t correct another’s spelling or grammar. Spend some time trying to decipher it, and give them time to figure it out themselves.  Someone else more anal retentive will likely swoop in for the phonetical kill, while you get to be viewed as patient…
  4. Don’t repeat the same thing over and over again in order to gain attention on something of value to you.  Again, spend a greater portion of your time responding to others, and they will forward on your information in appreciation of you, ten times more than your work.  Be engaged in the lives of others, and they will engage in yours.
  5. Try to keep your comments down to 120 characters, especially in Twitter, leaving plenty of space for others to “retweet” it.  Many will simply pass up the retweet when they see it won’t fit.
  6. Keep track of the special days and events in the lives of those you interact with.  You know, you can put your Social Media friend’s birthdays in your Outlook calendar too…
  7. Be yourself, and stay consistent with your message. If your interest is food, then by all means share recipes and cooking techniques.  If you are into acting, then seek out those also interested, and provide up-t0-date information to budding stars.  Create a beautiful blog and let everyone know what you know, in your own unique style.  Stick to it, take the time to be knowledgeable, and always find a way to add your own unique flavor to your information.  Never lose yourself in the message.

What We Share In Common With the Forget-Me-Not

My theory about why Forget-Me-Nots have persisted in holding such a meaningful place in our hearts, as ambassador to loving memory? Word-of-mouth marketing.

forgetmenotlaura

We can become unforgettable too...

If you are successful in becoming unforgettable to just one person, he will extol your virtues far and wide to others. Stories will be told about you, people will wonder how they can connect with you, to spend time in your presence. The legend of the Forget-Me-Not began with one story, told by one person to another. The story was meaningful, served a purpose, made us feel good….

If you have the confidence to accept that others appreciate you and that you can deserve such accolades, you will not fear spreading your influence further, coloring the lives of others with your good traits.  The Forget-Me-Not  spreads itself easily when allowed, taking over fields with its colorful glory. It does this quietly and without regret, because it can…. And its fans help plant it further, to ensure its presence in their lives.

The Forget-Me-Not has gained acclaim not because it is the most glorious of all flowers. No, its hues are muted, its size small, its beauty paled, harboring no intoxicating fragrance.  The physical traits of the Forget-Me-Not did not bring it fame; its countenance deserves no great note. Rather, this simple flower is handed to lovers far and wide because of how we feel about it, because of the history we have created for it, its stories we repeat, and its beautiful (yet tragic) myths. Take note of this, as it is not important from whence you came, or how you appear. By following a few simple positive rules when interacting with those around us, we too can become unforgettable…

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Men Make Dinner Day

In What Day is it? on November 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm
retro_man_cooking

What is that incredible smell?!?

For the women reading this, November 5th is National Men Make Dinner Day.  It is also known affectionately as National What The Heck is That on My Plate Day, National Why Are There So Many Dishes in the Sink! Day, and so forth.

Take some time after reading this, find your significantly manly other’s cell phone number, and happily dial it so that you can tell him the GOOD NEWS!  Just make sure you have finished reading first, as there are a number of rules involved with this uniquely dangerous holiday.  You will want to become knowledgeable on them prior to the negotiations with him, lest you wind up being provided a less-than-desirable offering from the kitchen.

Rules for Men make Dinner Day

1. The meal is dinner, and served sometime between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. prompt.

2. Ambience is required, including (but not limited to) decent and clean dish, glass and flatware, napkins, and a form of desirable table decor (candles, placemats, centerpiece, etc.)

man-cooking

Setting a fine example, men...

3. Table must be cleaned and dry prior to serving the dishes.

4. There must be a minimum of 2 items on the plate. It is desired that at least one fully cooked vegetable and starchy item be provided.  Meat is optional, in that there are a growing number of vegetarians…

5. The foods provided must be cooked, in a stove, on a pan or grill, or using a pot. Microwaving is allowed for the vegetables only.

6. The main dish must have a minimum of 4 ingredients, and found in a published cookbook or Internet site of decent repute.

7. Nudity is optional, and only allowed when welcome.  If bacon is involved, nudity is not recommended during the cooking of the meal…  A decent shirt, socks and trousers is strongly suggested. Aprons are optional, but certainly welcome both during the cooking and serving portion of the meal.

8. Foods cooked must be of a nature deemed desirable by those being served, as drawn from personal experience.  If you are unsure, you MUST ask your woman what she wants!

9. It is desired that the food be served on serving plates or trays, with proper implements for serving.  Service for two only allows for the food to be placed on the plates, but offset by appropriate ambience, including candles and preferably softer music.

10. My strongest recommendation is to clean up after dinner is over, including the table, plates, counters and cooking surfaces.  In most instances, this produces more of a positive reaction than the dinner itself.

Meal Suggestions

emeril

Oh, my hero....

Male Kitchen Colleagues: Search your home or the Internet high and low for a good cookbook, and find something that you have identified ingredients for, and you know your mate will love.  Shop for what is needed, now.   There are so many incredible and easy dinner recipes on the Web!

Here are a few sites to get you started, from some of the most influential chefs in the World and right here on Twitter.  Some are simple to follow, while others will require a more experienced man in the kitchen…

Mario Batali – Incredible Italian recipes! Fuggedaboudit!

Bobby Flay – BBQ, Dude!

Gordon Ramsay – Shut up and cook!

Paul Bocuse – Fine French dining… Bon Appetit!

Chef Andre’s Recipes courtesy of KathyIreland.com

Emeril’s Recipes – BAM!!!

Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) – Not what you think…

Gary Arbaugh – wonderful variety of easy recipes, sure to please your significant other!

Visit back here tomorrow, and let me know how it went…

Steve Woods

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The Emerging Global Sense

In Social Media, What Day is it? on November 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”  ~ Siddharta

angry_dad

Dad was madder than this...

Today is Use Your Common Sense Day. How many times, growing up, did an adult say to you angrily “Use some common sense?”  Oh, it was the worse, because it left you feeling like you were mentally deficient, that some part of your logical faculty had been left off when you were formed in the womb.  It was a popular one for my Father when he was angry at some stupid stunt I had pulled and got into trouble over.  Of all the things he said to me, in addition to the belt-smacks on my bottom, that statement stung the most.  I was left wondering for long disquieting hours whether or not I was ever going to grow up and be as smart as my Dad, whether or not I would ever be good enough…

Origin of the concept of Common Sense

Common sense as a phrase was first coined by Aristotle, although he had something very different in mind from

aristotle3

Aristotle

what we think of today.  Aristotle viewed common sense as a physical reaction, a visceral response to the signals provided by a special, inner body organ, akin to our eyes or ears, tongue, nose or skin.  This mysterious, hidden organ pulled together  and filtered the information from the other organs and helped us to make sound, practical judgments.  Sound a bit like a brain, huh?  I believe Aristotle held this theory because of the bodily impulse we feel when driven to do what is right, or what our conscious tells us is best.  Like puppets, we are physically manipulated by the forces of common good. And like a puppet, if the impulse is strong enough, it is impossible to deny our master’s wishes.

Common Sense today

Today we know common sense as sound, practical judgment, derived from experience rather than study.  We didn’t learn to use it from long periods of time in classrooms, or as a result of pondering great works of literature; rather it is native good judgement, learned in the locality in which we live, allowing us to make what appear to be sound decisions in our environment.

Business group

We tend to shun those that oppose our beliefs.

As a concept, common sense refers to attitudes and widely held beliefs that ultimately may be difficult to justify.  Despite this fact, they are generally assumed by those holding them to be time-tested and reliable, generations after first developed. Break from these long-held beliefs and you will likely find yourself isolated from the larger group and labelled as mentally disturbed, mentally handicapped or socially inept.  Why don’t you just get it?  It’s common sense!  It’s not the fault of the one questioning; often, we deny them their fair hearing as a protective measure, keeping ourselves from having to share in the new challenge to our commonly-held beliefs.

The Genius of the Opposer

On the flip side of the coin, it is also the mark of true genius to shirk what is conventionally held as common knowledge, in the pursuit of a once-hidden truth which ultimately we come to embrace.  We once held as common sense that our big, beautiful Earth was flat, actually imprisoned those that said otherwise, and treated opposers publicly as insane or in league with the Devil.  The very word Satan comes from the Hebrew

einstein

He smilingly opposed those of his time...

word Ha’Satan, meaning “the Opposer.”  How much easier it must’ve been to simply point fingers at those that questioned our common-sense authority and call them such, than to take the long hours of time determining if what they were saying was valid, and/or admitting a personal mistake.

Through the centuries, we’ve also held as common sense that only men and women could (and should) be attracted sexually to each other, that men and women of different races could not marry, that the darker the skin the lighter the intelligence, that our circumstances are born to us and cannot be changed, and a host of others that still linger.  Just this week a judge stepped down after publicly refusing to marry an interracial couple, because he held the opinion that those relationships were fraught with disaster.  Remember, his opinion would’ve been applauded as common-sensical by a majority of our population 60 years ago, and is now derided by an even-great percentage.  Oh, how social tables turn…

The Value of Common Sense

So if common sense is so capricious in nature, why is it held in such esteem?  John Berger viewed common sense as a home-grown ideology developed by the great masses in response to having to figure things out without the benefit of a proper education in critical thought.  After all, most of us can’t afford an experienced, personalized teacher to walk us through life, spending day after day with us examining the values that guide us, exposing every closely-held truth to the light and helping us move past the misconceptions.  We have to get on with the practice of living today and now, working with others, trying to get along…

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”  ~ Einstein

raft

Our cobbled-together, sea-worthy lives

Common sense works because it allows us to travel the rough waters of our lives on a lashed-together raft of semi-false wisdom.  But at least we are moving, right?  Berger viewed common sense as a mish-mash of religious hold-overs, information we individually discovered through experience, skepticism of “new” ideas as a form of protection of what we already hold as truth, and items held merely for comfort’s sake.   The very thought of trying to approach this mountain of tangled briars and slowly, methodically removing each branch, pricking ourselves emotionally along the way and crying through the pain is frightening, to say the least.  But as a society we go through this pain together and cyclically, in nation after nation, as one gifted, charismatic philosopher after another pushes us forward together.  Ghandi was one such figure, Confucius, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr. and a host of others.  There are men and women in our future, still-unborn, who will someday pull us closer to the shore and one day help us find more honest paths to stroll through in life.

Emerging from Common Sense

So why is it important to face up to our commonly held values, to cast them aside if they work so well?  Berger re-emerges in this conversation, and tells us that despite its efficacy in holding us all together “happily” in belief (unless you are on the short end of the commonly-held belief,) common sense never grows from its own nourishment, never moves itself (and hence us) beyond its current state, without the insertion of philosophy.

dark_forest

It's scary to go into unknown places...

Descartes viewed common sense as the faculty man uses to survive on life’s journey, until he finds himself in the mysterious realms dominated by the lords of philosophy, a domain in which all of the tools amassed in his life are roughly taken from him and cast into the rough seas of fact.  Some of us have a more difficult time with the loss.  You’ve seen them, sitting in the back row of your college Critical Thinking class, angry as the professor verbally pickaxes the sturdy foundation the student resided on up to that moment.  And just like that student, I have walked upon a firm foundation built on religious values, good intentions, stereotypes, personal experience and plain bigotry.  I have had the floor destroyed from under me on more than one occasion.  It’s a painful time, as I find myself once again in that place, the role of my Father played by life itself, and I once again that little child being painfully schooled.  And once again, I smart for a time, until I accept that I was wrong, that I have much, much more to learn, and forgive the harshness of the lesson in favor of the content.

Social Media and the new Global Sense

“Common sense is not so common.”  ~ Voltaire

With the advent of Social Media and Internet-connectivity, we find ourselves going through changes that do not reverberate in one isolated community, in one nation or religious group.  Our lashed-together rafts are no longer travelling down local streams, but are instead fighting against ocean currents.  Those locally-held belief systems are collapsing under the critical eyes of the larger community, whose lives were not shaped by the same values.  Login, and find yourself challenged in all directions.

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The emerging social Global Sense

The Internet is rapidly becoming that personalized teacher, ever-present and ready to walk with us.  Hold racist ideals because your parents do?  Be ready to have to explain yourself to a variety of individuals of every race, to those who never held such beliefs and are disgusted by those that do.  Misogynist?  Be prepared for an onslaught of women who have more than the mental capacity to decimate your “common sense” values with 140 keystrokes.  Common misconceptions, stereotypes, and small-mindedness have never known a time where there were fewer places to hide from the light.  What is true where you live is no longer true when dealing with the globalized community of Twitter or Facebook.

It’s time to step into the light, to share with others, to listen intently to the words of others, and learn from each other.  It’s time to do more than tolerate; rather, let us learn to embrace, and one more – let us learn to Change. Social Media is redefining common sense, pulling it from the tight grasps of the small village, the isolated desert town, the gated community lives we lead, and unfolding before us a new Global Sense of what we believe.  This shared stream of thought is being nourished daily by each and every one of us who are connected into the larger community, spreading runners underground and popping up in places impossible to ignore, knocking old, valued crockery off of shelves and upsetting those asleep.

It is unfortunate that my Father passed away before the emergence of Twitter.  If I could’ve persuaded him to discover it, I think he might’ve gotten a taste of his own medicine.  And I would’ve been there beside him, helping steer the raft…

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Sandwiches – The Original Mashup

In What Day is it? on November 3, 2009 at 6:32 am

“Life is like a sandwich. The more you add to it, the better it becomes.”  ~ Unknown

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Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu

As the story goes, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was playing cards one night in 1782 with other muckety-mucks, something he did quite often.  Getting hungry but not wanting to stop and eat a proper meal (hence interrupting what was a very good game,) Montagu asked his valet that some sliced meat be brought to him, stuck between two slices of bread so he wouldn’t get his fingers greasy.  The other players, noting the request, stated aloud “I’ll have the same as Sandwich!”   This story was first noted in 1770, and has had a lot of runtime since, although never proven to be true.  But I love unproven stories… National Sandwich Day is celebrated today, in honor of Montagu’s birth on Nov. 3rd, 1718.

History of the Sandwich

The sandwich is the original mashup.  The concept of putting meat and bread together in one form or another has been around for a very long time.  In the 1st Century Rabbi Hillel enjoyed a thick mixture of nuts, apples, spice and wine between layers of unleavened matzot bread.   This was eaten alongside the traditional bitter herbs to commemorate Passover, and to this day is called the “Hillel Sandwich.”

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Dining in the Middle Ages

In the 6th Century, tavern-goers in the Middle Ages would eat meat with sauces on large, thick slices of stale bread, open-faced sandwiches known as Trenchers.  The hard bread sopped up the sauces and softened to an edible state, at which point it was either eaten, tossed to dogs, or given to beggars.  In Northern European countries, softer versions of bread were layered with butters and carefully sliced meats, likely an early predecessor to the English version of the modern sandwich.

What was a sandwich called before it got its current name?  Up to the 16th Century, the combination of bread and meat was called, well, bread and meat.  I suppose it wasn’t imaginative, but it did the job…

The Sandwich Arrives in America

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Elizabeth Leslie

How did the sandwich make its way to America?  In 1840 Englishwoman Elizabeth Leslie wrote a cookbook called Directions for Cookery wherein she introduced a recipe for a ham sandwich.  Really? A recipe? For a ham sandwich?  Elizabeth suggested the sandwich as a main dish.  That must’ve been one heck of a sandwich.  Ham was typically used in American sandwiches, as it was much easier to come across than beef, which was more prevalent in England.

During the Industrial Revolution, as bread-making and meat preserving became more prevalent, sandwiches became the oft-chosen lunch option for workers, as it was quick, easy and relatively inexpensive.  The early versions typically included some form of sliced vegetable, meat, and even cheese.  On July 7, 1928 the Chillicothe Baking Company began marketing pre-sliced wrapped bread loaves, and the sandwich positively took off…. (Note: The Wonder Bread Company is oft-credited as inventing sliced bread first, in 1930. Not true – they are the first to market it nationally.)

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Army C Rations

During the Temperance movement, barkeeps worked hard to keep customers coming despite the growing ban on alcohol, offering free sandwiches with drinks, thus furthering its popularity.  As workers commuted greater distances to work, train stations began selling sandwiches to weary travelers, who scooped them up rather than consider making dinner so late in the early evening.

In World War II, soldiers would put together the canned or otherwise packaged peanut butter, jellies and bread they found in their C Rations and invented the PB&J.  Returning home from war, the soldiers shared their favorite sandwich with their growing children, and a perennial American favorite was born.

What is Legally a Sandwich?

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Not legally a sandwich...

Believe it or not, in 2006 the Superior Court of Boston, Massachusetts had to rule what a sandwich is.  A shopping mall had lured a sandwich shop as a vendor, with the provision that the mall management would not allow another “sandwich shop” to set up a storefront in the mall.  Along came a burrito stand, and the sandwich shop challenged their right to set up shop.  A judge had to determine what the legal definition of a “sandwich” was, and after much thought, ruled that a sandwich is composed of at least two slices of bread,   Because no burritos (or tacos, chimichangas, wraps or pitas) may claim this title, the sandwich shop owner lost his challenge.

Sandwiches Around the World

Regional variations on the sandwich (legal definition aside) include the Vietnamese Bahn Mi, Chilean Barros, Pakistan’s Bun Kebab, Germany’s Butterbrot, English Chip Butty, Uruguayan Chivito, New York Hero, Philadelphia Cheesesteak, Greek Gyro, Chinese Shaobing Youtiao and more.  Seems there is no shortage of the idea to combine bread with something good.  Breads are either sliced, wrapped, or covered in a dough and boiled, fried or baked along with their fillings.  In many cultures, much as it is in American, the sandwich and its many variations are the staple luncheon fare.

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The incredible but inedible Dagwood

 

The Impossible and Improbable Dagwood

Hey, you can’t write something about the history of the sandwich without including the Dagwood, a concoction created by Chic Young and featured in Blondie, his comic strip. The original mention of the Dagwood included beef tongue, onion, mustard, sardine, beans and horseradish.  Yum.  You know, beans as a sandwich additive are certainly under-represented.

Over the years, more and more was added to the Dagwood, reaching epic proportions.  If life truly is like a sandwich, and the more we add the better it gets, then the Dagwood reminds us of the joys received in biting off more than we can chew…

Coming Down From the Mountain

In What Day is it? on October 29, 2009 at 5:51 am

After days and nights of it, the laughter of the children echoing up from the foothills below began to grit on him, and he had to find out why there were so many children in the wilderness.   This was supposed to be a quiet place, away from it all.  Slowly and deliberately, he made his way down the familiar paths, pulling up and swinging his wooden leg as he walked, sniffing the air for the musky sign of bears…

The Clemmie Gill School of Science and Conservation

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SCICON, nestled in the Sierra Nevadas

SCICON, the Science and Conservation camp nestled in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range since 1950, provides to local students an immersion course in nature conservancy, far from city life and amenities.  Prior to leaving for SCICON, all technology is eschewed by the 6th grade students, a fact that with each passing year brings ever-louder groans, as they sadly set aside the cell phone, PSP, Nintendo DS and iPod at home.

For 5 days under beautiful, open skies, students are led by interns on long hikes, where they learn about predator/prey relationships, nature’s fire cycle, area flora and fauna, recycling, composting, and man’s relationship to nature.  Fireside chats and performances draw laughter almost nightly, as children drew nearer to each other, drawing comfort in each other, away from the hungry mosquitoes.  And there are songs, always songs to be sung…

A Life of Connections, a Life of Distancing

My life is spent connected.  I am online all day as a function of my job, and after homework is complete, my children have spent many an hour chasing after avatars in Disney’s ToonTown while I look up a recipe for dinner.  Into the late evenings, my fiancée and I like to find out what our connections are up to on FaceBook, and I connect as much as I can on Twitter, play more than I would like to admit, and blog away.  Am I too nestled, too comfortable?  Just how near do I draw to others, when I in the online world?

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The Hermit Cabin of Irvy Elster

Born in 1889, 61-year-old Irvy Elster lived in the hills above SCICON in a cabin of his own construction, by a flagpole upon which he was known to fly a pair of ragged, red long underwear, likely to help him locate his home after long days in his many hand-dug quartz mines.  Irvy was a hermit, speaking to nobody for months on end, except when he came into town to sell his quartz and purchase supplies.  I am sure his rare visits caused quite a stir, as townsfolk gawked and mothers pushed their gaping children along.  And I am also sure that Irvy wanted nothing more than to get back home again when done shopping, to his familiar places…

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What IS this guy buying?

Becoming Social Hermits?

I have always been fearful that the Internet would stifle my social life, that my online relationships would be shallow and short-lived.  I was basically concerned that with all of this connectivity from home and my propensity to shyness, I might wind up an Internet hermit.  Would I peel myself from the keyboard only to scramble for short jaunts to the grocery store, throwing together a hodgepodge of bare necessities and snack foods, thrumming my fingers on the shopping cart as I waited in the too-long line?  Would I forget to actually go places and meet people in person?  Would I develop social ineptitude to such a depth that I too would be gawked at when about town?  Would it bother me if anyone got too close?

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Dangers around every corner...

SCICON was built far enough away from the rest of us to mentally remove the students attending from civilization, so they could focus on the beauty of nature all around.  It was this desire for remoteness that brought it so close to Irvy Elster’s cabin, and into his life.  For so many decades Irvy had been used to being alone, just as he had wanted it.  He knew how to handle the foxes, the bears, the mountain lions, even cold and snowy winters.  Life had been rough; nobody knew how Irvy had lost his leg, but everyone was aware that the wooden replacement was hand-carved and self-installed.  It was considered best to leave him alone, and Irvy had no problem helping to propagate that belief.

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Learning to expand horizons

Walking Away From Familiarity

After arriving upon SCICON, Irvy wandered its outskirts, around the new cabins, staring suspiciously at the wooden bridges placed over streams and rough-hewn dining hall.  But what pulled Irvy in from the invisible boundary separating his world from theirs was the children.  Hundreds of bright, smiling faces, listening carefully as interns and teachers spoke reverently of the forest, animals, flowers, skies and stars.  Children were told to be careful among the fragile, newly-emerging saplings, to pick up and examine the scat and attempt to name the animal that had deposited it, to identify tracks on the ground, to classify the flowering plants all around.  This was not a world encroaching on his own; no, this was his world slowly, surely, finding its way into the hearts of these young ones.

Irvy carefully let his presence be known, and the children grew to love his presence.  He visited SCICON often, eating with the children in the dining hall, loudly regaling them with stories of his time in the hills above.  He shared his knowledge of the plant life, the habits of both the smaller, skittish animals and larger, dangerous predators.  He led the children on hikes to his cabin and mines, letting them pick quartz from them.  In short, Irvy Elster became a fixture of SCICON.

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Taking a walk on the Sky Trail

Irvy passed away in 1965, and was buried in the neighboring Springville cemetery.  To this day, the favorite trail in SCICON is the Sky Trail, a 2 1/2 mile hike into the wilderness above SCICON, to what is now known as the Hermit’s Cabin, and to the nearby quartz mines, where children search for wayward pieces of loose quartz and ponder on the once-lonely life of the man who moved away from what he knew, joining in with the happy voices of the world around him…

Social Media as the Less-Walked Path

Today has two holidays that weave together so well… It is both the Anniversary of the Internet, and Hermit Day.  What I have discovered about Social Media is quite the opposite of what I feared, but only because I wanted it so, and steadily worked toward it.  Social Media and the Internet in general has become, to me, a method to share who I am, and to learn from so many others.  Each and every day I mine the steady stream of news, blog posts, e-zine articles, and daily lives of hundreds of others.  I revel in the very personal photos shared with all, the thrown-together poetry of child-rearing and broken hearts, the one-liners and pleas from all sides to join in another cause.

In Social Media there is a mountain of love to climb and build one’s home upon, and the laughing voices carry from all directions.  After taking the time to scout out and understand what was going on, I am so happy that I left my worries behind, and joined in the fun.  Oh, I have so many stories to tell, too…

The Song of Liberty’s Muse

In What Day is it? on October 28, 2009 at 5:50 am
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The U.S.S. Madonna

It was a cool morning on board the U. S. S. Madonna, the quiet of the day broken by the revving tug engines straining the mooring ropes, pulling the gray ship into the dirty, crowded piers of Ellis Island.  On this day, March 14,1911, my great-grandfather, 40-year-old Manuel Bettencourt, stared up at the Statue of Liberty, like so many before him.  Manual was ready to step off the sea-worthy home he had spent the previous two long months aboard, on his great journey that had begun on the Island of Pico, Portugal.

The Statue of Liberty

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Rare photo of construction of Lady Liberty

Today is Statue of Liberty Day, the 113th anniversary of our Nation’s ultimate icon of freedom and acceptance, of transition from a nation of relatively homogeneous settlers to a home for immigrants far and wide, whose journey under Lady Liberty’s great shadow welcomed over twelve million of them into our melting pot.

Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned by the French and American governments to create a statue to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  America was to create the sturdy foundation, and France would make and deliver the statue.  Lotteries, concerts, and art exhibits were among the methods used to fund the work.  Prize-founder Joseph Pulitzer used his newspaper The World to extol the virtues of donating to the cause.

The statue was completed in July of 1884 and delivered to American soil in June of the next year on board the French Frigate Isere.  The pedestal, however, wasn’t finished until April of 1886.   To transport the enormous copper statue, it was cut apart in 350 pieces and shipped in 214 crates, carefully lifted piece by piece and reassembled on its new foundation over a span of four months.  In 1956, the island where Lady Liberty resides was renamed Liberty Island.  In May of 1982, a daunting 6-year, $87 Million restoration of the statue and foundation began.  Following the horrific events of 9/11, concerns regarding terrorism closed the extended arm and crown of the statue until earlier this year.

Ellis Island and America’s Journey to the Face of Liberty

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Next door, only half a mile from Lady Liberty’s visage, sits the small 27-acre Ellis Island of New Jersey.  Three Million visitors stop through Ellis Island each year to take pictures, stare across the water at Liberty, and think about their roots. It is believed that 40% of all Americans can trace their lineage through Ellis Island’s immigration station.  On this day let us ponder a bit on the difficult journey so many of our ancestors took to this great land.

Why Did People Make the Journey?

Immigrants made the decision to come to America for a variety of reasons, including famines, disease, civil unrest or wars, natural disasters, or to simply join family members already there.  From the Potato Famine to the Jewish Pogroms of Eastern Europe, as many came to American fleeing nightmares as those that pursued dreams.  Stories of family members becoming wealthy through hard work or obtaining religious freedoms sang to them like the muses calling to Odysseus.

How Often Was Separation From Family Involved?

Immigrant family on board their ship

Immigrant family on board their ship

Most families immigrating to America lacked sufficient funds for the entire family to make the journey.  In these cases, quite often the father and oldest sons came over and worked at whatever jobs they could, scrimping and saving enough for the mother and rest of the family to join them.  Often it took long years to bring families back together again, and no small number of marriages did not survive the ordeal, as men fell under the spell of America’s often more liberal ways…

What Was Considered a Carry-On in Those Days?

Due to space considerations on the ship (and often for profitability’s sake,) the amount you could carry onboard a ship largely depended on how much you paid.  Those with First- or Second-Class fares typically had a storage location for crates of possessions, as well as in their rooms.  Steerage passengers (the majority of all who made the journey) typically stored what they could rolled up in bundles under their tiny bunks, or shoved in corners, carefully watched by family members or new-found friends.

Were There Physical Requirements to Make the Journey?

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Immigrants sitting topside during their journey

Because it was a requirement that shipping companies pay the return voyage for all passengers who were turned down at Ellis Island, many had their own doctors inspect closely for diseases or other conditions that would disqualify them in America.  Most shipping companies required the hair of boys to be close-cropped and girls to undergo fine-tooth combing to prevent the spread of lice.

Despite precautions, over 2% of all passengers were returned to their country of origin for either health reasons or due to lack of finances to adequately begin their lives in America.

Where Did People Sleep and Eat During the Journey?

First- and Second-Class fare holders had their own rooms and beds to enjoy during the long journey, and a dining area for their meals, with a comfort and culinary level commensurate with the amount paid.  Steerage passengers slept in three-high suspended cots, seasick for weeks as they bobbed about in rough waters.  They ate on the floors in the same cramped compartments in which they slept.  Food served tended to be slightly warm soup, near-rotten boiled potatoes and mottled beef.

How Did People Keep Themselves Occupied?

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Families awaiting processing at Ellis Island

If the ship stewards allowed it, the children of steerage customers would play topside in the open air, simple games like dominoes, cards, marbles, and other diversions taken from back home and altered for a shipboard environment.  Some people, unwilling to simply lie down for the entire journey, helped the sailors care for the ship, scrubbing and mopping surfaces and repairing damage.

How Dangerous Was the Voyage?

Although death from other than natural causes was relatively rare during the journey, it happened.  Untreated illness, food poisoning, falling into open spaces (or overboard) were examples of hazards if one was not careful or unlucky.

What Happened When You Arrived at Ellis Island?

After arriving at the Hudson or East River piers of New York City, steerage passengers gathering up all personal items, and were shuttled by barge to Ellis Island to be documented, inspected by doctors, and finally sent on their way.  For many, it was the ultimate in “sink or swim.”  First- and Second-Class citizens were cursorily inspected on the ship and sent off into New York without further question, as it was assumed that they were unlikely to become a financial ward of the state.

Back to My Beginnings

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My Great-Grandfather's Ellis Island Registry

As the tugs cast off lines and chugged away from the Madonna, Manuel Bettencourt didn’t know what future lay ahead of him, how successful he might be.  Perhaps he turned and stared at Lady Liberty and said a prayer.  Perhaps he kept looking straight ahead with purpose, and began his journey.

Manuel was lucky in that he travelled with others from his community, including neighbors, brothers and cousins.  They worked together to protect each other in the bustling culture of New York.  A farmer by trade, and desiring to join family far west, Manuel and his group began looking for ways to cross our land of opportunity, to the rich, fertile farmland of California.  That’s another story…