Friday, September 22, 2017

They're just words


"They're just words," my father told me.  I don't remember how old I was but it stuck.  My father didn't care if I cussed - he dropped f-bombs on the regular.  He didn't do it carelessly, but it was most certainly effortless.

My dad was adamant about it too - they are words like any others, with purpose, function, and beauty.  Fuck, for instance, can be a noun, "I gives no fucks," a verb, "fuck off," turned easily into an adjective, "That's a fucking apple," and used to enhance adjectives too, "That's fucking crazy," just to name a few of its many uses.

As a teenager I took it to the extreme, fuck being one of the most common words I used on the daily.  My best friend had had enough one night and interjected in the middle of one of my fuck-infused rants. "It looses its meaning when you over use it like that.  It looses its power."  I had not heard this kind of criticism before, not admonishing me for using the word itself, but for misusing it.

Fast forward to about a year ago, when my boys, at age six and nine, starting cussing in the back seat while I was driving.  I thought, why not break it to them, these are just words.  "Papa didn't say anything," one of them whispered to the other, as I was contemplating my response. "Papa did you hear what he said?" I responded that I did.  "Why didn't you tell him anything?" And so I broke it to them.

They are just words.  "What do you mean Papi?"  They are words like any other, with specific meanings, and nuance, with so many creative functions and uses.  You simply have to know how and when to use them - the proper contexts and situations.

My boys thought this was the best news ever! They started cussing and cussing in the back seat. I explained again to them, there are proper places and situations to cuss, and improper ones.  School is not a proper place. With your brother in the back seat, that's fine. I explained all of this, still thinking as we got home, that this was somehow going to work out for my six and nine year old.

I have talked to my kids like they are adults since they were born, spoken to them without dumbing anything down, no baby-talk, no nonsense (actually lots of nonsense, nonsense is fun).  Expecting my children to behave like adults based on what I told them - that was expecting too much.

It took them almost two days to figure out that in front of their mom was not the right context.  The first time they dropped a bomb and their mom laid into them they said I had told them that it was okay to cuss.  I had to explain to them again, and to my wife, what I had said - they're just words.  This did not go so well with my wife, not that she didn't agree, but she knew better than I did at the time, that our boys were not ready for this knowledge, this freedom.

My boys are still in the process of realizing the power of their words.  They see that they have power, they witness the results of their words in action.  Through experience hopefully they will come to understand how and why choosing their words carefully and intentionally is vital to the impact and outcomes of their interactions.

Knowledge is power. And words can be powerful too, if we use them effectively, nuanced, in the right context, with the right timing and inflection.  The classic school yard saying that sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me is bullshit - baloney - poppycock (and not the sweet crunchy poppycock).  Words can and do hurt - we hurt each other all of the time with what we say and how we say it.

Once you learn something, it cannot be taken away.  And once you say something, most of the time you cannot take it back.  You have given life to your voice and your energy, putting your ideas, thoughts, and emotions out into the world. Be careful what you say, how you say it, to whom, and in what context.  Be thoughtful and intentional. Words are beautifully powerful and as with any power we can uplift and heal or we can tear down and destroy.  The choice is yours.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notifications — huh—yeah — what are they good for?

Notifications, not as serious as war, which is absolutely good for nothing, are good for something; to notify you of note-worthy things, hopefully.

I remember when my phone would incessantly take control of my attention at random moments in the middle of conversations, while I was focused on other things — interrupting my focus to notify me of responses to tweets, Facebook posts, virtual buildings being constructed, and signing monsters who needed to be tended. Was any of this by choice? Sure, I had downloaded apps and allowed their automatic notifications to remain active. Was it intentional and deliberate. Most certainly not.

We should not be subservient to our phones — it should be the other way around. Our phones should do exactly what we want them to do. I have turned off all notifications on my phone except for: texts, chats, phone calls, and my calendar app. Simple. I also put my phone away at various times of the day, when I am not willing to be interrupted by any of these functions.

I have turned off all notifications on my except for: texts, chats, phone calls, and my calendar app. Simple. I also put my phone away at various times of the day, when I am not willing to be interrupted by any of these functions.

If we are going to be interrupted by our phones it should be for a good reason. It should be planned out and intentional on our part. I am using the new Google calendar “Reminder” function as a means to turn my phone into a reminding device — to remind me to meditate, journal, and complete my workouts and Tai Chi. 

If you are going to be interrupted by your phone, it should be because there is an urgent matter in your family or at work, because an old friend is looking to get a hold of you, or because you have decided that this interruption is important and is part of the intention you have for yourself for today, for your life. If your phone is interrupting you simply because you’ve installed a new app and it’s notifications are on, and this isn’t a deliberate choice on your part — I think you’ve lost control of the device. Make it intentional. Make your phone enhance your life not distract from it. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Digital Hygiene

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash
I am struck by how much time and energy, how much focus and productivity I have gained by following a few simple steps in digital hygiene; (steps inspired by Seth Godin’s Five steps to digital hygiene and by my interactions with my altMBA alumni in the 30 Day Challenge alumni channel). 

There are three main ideas I have put in place that I have found to be instrumental in freeing up time and mental energy:
  1. Turn off all notifications except for calls, texts, chats, and calendar notifications.
  2. Quit social media and gaming on your phone — no more Facebook or Twitter, no more Signing Monsters or Bomb Beach.
  3. Ignore all of the negative energy — quit reading negative comments and exchanges on the internet.
It took me a while to follow Seth’s first step — turning off email and social media notifications on my phone. At first when I turned it off, I found myself jonesing for a fix of attention, looking at my phone wanting to “check-in,” to “interact,” longing for the constant stimulus I had grown so accustomed to.

Even after turning these notifications off, I still found myself checking in on Twitter and Facebook, often; I found myself spending hours enthralled in emotional battles with people I have never met and never will — battling back and forth with no real result other then more and more virtually inspired vitriol. 

Fast forward a few months, I am interacting with the altMBA alumni community, expressing my desire to make time for writing, time to interact in positive manners online, and in person with my family. So I decided in November of 2017, a few weeks after the presidential election, to quit social media. I uninstalled Twitter and Facebook from my cell phone. I stopped checking in online all together.

At first, as with the notifications being turned off, I still was looking to fill the space left by the absence of these interactions. I found myself spending more time on slack and LinkedIn. After a while though I felt satisfied without these interactions. I found more time in my hands. I started writing more and spending more time present with my family.

The difference now in how I interpret notifications on my phone is striking. I don’t feel a need to constantly be interacting, to be connected to any virtual stimulus. Emotionally I feel lighter and clearer. I am no longer embroiled in online battles of “wit” or anger infused tweets and comments. My digital hygiene is much improved.

I encourage you to examine your digital hygiene. Are your online interactions as fruitful and emotionally balanced as you would like them to be? What need or part of you are the conversations and interactions you are involved with satisfying? Is your cell phone enhancing your life or interrupting it? Or both? It’s up to you. It’s your turn to decide and act.

Friday, September 8, 2017

If you don't see color, then you don't see me


During a discussion about race and racism at a professional development meeting at my workplace one of my colleagues said, “I don’t see color.” Another of our coworkers responded, “If you don’t see color, then you don’t see me.” She went on to explain that she is black, and that if you claim to not see her skin color then you don’t see her, nor her culture, struggle, and history.

If you take a stance of ‘not seeing color’ so as to not allow the color of people’s skin to affect how you treat them, to instead see them as human beings, not defined by their race or ethnicity, I commend you for taking this noble stance. Unfortunately this perspective ignores the influence of our culture, of the hundreds of years of policies, practices, and ideas that have a direct affect on our biases, our worldviews. ‘Not seeing color’ ultimately originates from an experience of not having to see color — it arises out of the idea that we have a choice to act and experience the world without consideration of skin color or race. Sadly, our culture is steeped in racism and to ignore color is to discount the current racial discrimination found in our country’s institutions; systems that affect people directly everyday of their lives.

The fact is that we do see color. Not seeing color is pretending. It’s there right in front of us every time we look at someone. It would be easier if we didn’t see it, if we didn’t have to deal with it, no? If we didn’t have to be troubled with the messy work of confronting our country’s racist past, present, and future; it’d be easier. I would much rather spend my time on something else — but that’s not a choice I am willing to make. It would be easier if we didn’t have to confront our own biases and prejudices, learned from our families, from society, from the media, from our shared history of racism and violence. But I’m not interested in easy work and I hope you aren’t either. We must educate others about racism and strategies to combat and dismantle it — we must face it head on.

The work of anti-racism requires that we see each other clearly, in all of our beauty, in order to celebrate our differences in skin tone, in hair color and texture, all of our differences, so that we can acknowledge and address the inequalities, injustices, and violence that have been institutionalized and perpetuated based on these differences in appearance. The work of anti-racism requires that we celebrate each other — that we celebrate our unique cultures and honor each other for the struggle and work that our communities have put in making strides toward changing our world — toward ridding our world of racism.

One of the places you can start is with yourself. Do the work to mine your subconscious (and conscious) thoughts and patterns for your biases and prejudices based on race. If you truly believe that you do not see color, do work to truly assess this ability. Root your bias out, find the places where your own ignorance or misconception leads you to make assumptions, misleads your actions down paths you would rather not be on. Where in your family and your experiences have you created road-blocks to making positive connections with people who look and are different than you, people of other cultures and ethnicities? Find these road blocks and do the hard work to remove them.
We have to connect with each other, now more than ever. And it will take every single one of us, no matter what color we are, to step forward and make a stand against racism. One of the first and most important steps is to educate yourself about the history of racism. I like to start with the study of racist policies.

Laws making interracial marriage illegal were some of the first overtly racist laws and were passed in many of the British colonies in the Americas (Virginia and Maryland being the first). These laws were put into place to help quell the unity between white indentured servants and black slaves in the colonies who had intermarried, created cohesive communities, and rose up as part of various rebellions (Bacon’s Rebellion being one of these). There were also many laws giving white indentured servants more rights, benefits toward and after freedom, and preferential treatment compared to black slaves (A People’s History of the United States, Zinn, pages 49, 67). From here we can move through slavery and emancipation, Jim Crow era disenfranchisement, segregation, red lining realty practices, right into the achievement gap, lack of higher education representation, school to prison pipeline, disproportionate police violence and imprisonment of people of color.

(All of this being the trajectory of the policies of racism in regards to primarily African-Americans — not to even mention the history of racist ideologies, practices, policies and events in regards to Native American, Chican@, Latino American@, Asian American, Pacific Island American and Middle Eastern American populations).

All of this can feel very overwhelming. I know. I have a full-time job (work as a high school administrator), have a wife and three children, a part-time job (teach martial arts once a week), and can barely find time for the dishes and laundry. But no matter how much I feel or don’t feel the direct effects of racism today — it is my responsibility to take steps to fight against it everyday. This is real, and it’s not going to go away on its own.

No one can legitimately deny racism’s overt presence in our country and in our institutions after white supremacists marched in Charlottesville Virginia on August 12th, one of them violently driving his car through a crowd of anti-protesters killing one and injury many (especially after president Trump’s statement, “This egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” essentially equating these violent white supremacists to the anti-racist protesters). Trump, with support from Attorney General Sessions, is now calling to militarize our police forces. The militarization of our police forces along with Sessions’ ongoing roll-out of tough-on-crime and war-on-drugs policies sadly means more police violence and more incarceration of American citizens and disproportionately more Americans of color.

You can get directly involved with groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice. You can seek out workshops like the mentioned in the article, “It’s Time for White Parents of White Kids to Bring the Resistance Home.” We all need to talk openly about race and racism, about our culture, our upbringing, and the realities of our shared history and present — about the struggles that have been hard fought and the fight that is still ragging.

Be that person who speaks up any time you hear someone say something that contradicts the reality of racism. Stand up any time you witness an assumption or statement that flies in the face of the reality of present day racism and its historical trajectory.

We each need to take stock of our own privilege and leverage it. It is every single person’s responsibility, your responsibility, to empower diverse groups of people in our lives. At all of the tables where you have a seat — you need to do everything in your power to create a seat for someone who is different than you, who looks different than you, and thinks different than you. Without the inclusion of members of diverse communities in our institutions of all kinds we will not build the base that we need to combat racism.

It is up to every single one of us to make sure our world is a more inclusive world — a world that recognizes and acknowledges color but that does not make those differences the basis for exclusion, violence, and punitive action.

It is up to you to not ignore the beautiful color and diversity that you see — but to acknowledge every person’s fight for their right to humanity. It is up to you to end racism — every day, at every meeting, in every board room, at every table, in every institution.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Breath

Picture by Scott Webb via https://www.pexels.com/u/scottwebb/
One of my major goals in practicing mindfulness, both through meditation and Tai Chi, is to help restore my body’s natural flow of breath, to maintain healthy relaxed deep breathing throughout my day.
Breathing is the most important action of our lives, everyday, every minute, every moment. I have regularly practice deep belly breathing as my main breathing method, imagining my belly filling from the bottom up (and out) as I inhale and emptying from the top down as I exhale. Recently one of my favorite acupuncturists gave me a new visualization for my breathing practice.
When you inhale imagine an empty balloon in your stomach expanding out in all three dimensions, all six directions — out and back, up and down, left and right. Especially focus on the expansion backwards as you inhale, gently messaging your kidneys, adrenal glands, and lower spine. As you exhale slowly, imagine the expanded balloon shrinking again in all thee dimensions until it is shriveled and empty. The acupuncturist stated that this focus on gently messaging your adrenal glands, lower back, and kidneys, can help to reduce anxiety and stress — both of which I have been struggling with lately.
Since I have consistently focused on mindfulness and breathing practice I have been more able to maintain deeply breathing during stressful and intense interactions at work, and this allows me to stay more present in my cortex, to better avoid getting caught up in impulsive, emotional, and unconscious reactions to events.
My next step is making this happen for my life at home. For some reason I am still allowing myself to get carried away and caught in quick unconscious reactions in my home — getting angry and yelling at my family members sometimes. I find myself cursing gravity when things are clearly out of my control. My next intentional practice is mindful parenting. Breath, relax, and note that it is all going to be okay.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mindful Driving


A few months ago I started to practice mindful driving.  I turn off the radio, no music, no podcasts, just the sound of the air rushing over the car, the engine, the tires gliding over the road, and the other cars around me.  I focus in on my breathing, slowly and naturally breathing in, starting deep in my belly, and slowly exhaling.

Please note that the goal of mindful driving is not to go inward, it is not a replacement for daily meditation practice, but is instead a practice of applied mindfulness.  As said in one of my sons' favorite books, Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda, "Mindful, like your mind is full of the present."  While practicing mindful driving I am more acutely aware; I focus on scanning the road and surroundings.  I can maintain a mindful observation of my experience, rather than getting caught up personally in other drivers' actions or other uncontrollable conditions (like traffic).

I practice mindful driving most often while on the way to work, and I find my thoughts roaming around my work day, around my goals and tasks for the day.  As with my other mindfulness practices, once I realize I am dwelling on any one thought I allow it to flow away so that I can refocus fully on the present.  I find that I gain a greater sense of clarity for the day, without the distraction of the radio.  I have also found myself feeling calmer and my breathing practice fortified.

At first inspired by trying to squeeze mindfulness practice into any small corner of time I could find, driving mindfully has become a daily practice of mine.  Again, this is not a replacement of daily mediation practice; focused meditation practices are like exercises for your mind - attuning to the present moment and being open and flexible, maintaining a sense of observation rather than attachment.  Mindful driving is an application of mindfulness outside of a closed/controlled environment, with the goal of being present in each moment, fully attuned and immersed in the flow of action while maintaining a sense of calm observation.

I encourage you to experiment with applying mindfulness to different realms in your life, remembering that the goal is to improve you ability to focus on the present moment, to be aware and observant, to maintain calm.  Apply your mindfulness muscle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Writing Everyday


I write everyday. Emails (way too many), texts, letters, and angry tweets (well I used to, haven’t been on Twitter since November of last year). After my month long journey through altMBA7, after interacting with amazingly generous and inspiring people, and after watching this 30 minute interview with Seth Godin — I am reinvigorated to write more publicly, to express myself with the intent to inspire impactful change in others — in you!

As a part of my writing habit I have recently started daily journaling again, a habit I maintained as a teenager. As I teen I stuck to mainly diary entries and stream of consciousness ramblings. Now I write in my journal with four main foci: gratitude, brain-dump, observations of interesting things, and bullet journaling.

  • Gratitude: I write a list every night and every morning to amplify the positivity in my life. So many positive healthy benefits to activating gratitude. I find the humility that I embolden with acknowledging the privileges I have and the gratitude I feel for my life to be priceless.
  • Brain-dump, stream of consciousness, free write; whatever you want to call it. Everyday I write for at least ten minutes with no clear aim or goal other than to clear my mind, to work my writing muscle. Sometimes there are creative pieces that come streaming out. Other times it’s meandering rambles clearing out the noise. Prune diligently.
  • Observations of interesting things, thoughts, questions, inspirations. Review these notes often and you will be rewarded.
  • Bullet journaling is a form of organization of lists than can be kept very simple and straight forward or be leveled up in countlessly creative manners. The flexibility of the format has allowed me to be creatively organized.

Writing everyday. Shipping, everyday as long as I count emails.

PS A wise man told me (as he was told by a wise woman with whom he worked) that you should consider every email you send public, as being shipped out to the world. Imagine every email you send on the front page (at least for a few minutes) of the New York Times or Washington Post (or Yahoo! News). Don’t send anything out that you wouldn’t be comfortable standing behind in the public sphere. Clicking the send button relinquishes any control you have over who else it reaches.

PSS If you are interested in more on journaling, check out the following two more in depth pieces on journaling, writing, and habits of the mind:
The Life Changing Habit of Journaling
Why Successful People Spend 10 Hours a Week on “Compound Time”