Why We Can’t All Just Get Along…

Do not judge lest ye be judged… hey, wait a second. Did you just judge me for judging other people?!?

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James Altucher, one of my recent favorite authors, makes a great point that I have heard him repeat a few times on his podcast: “If everyone wanted world peace, there would be world peace.”

Such a simple and compelling and depressing and poignant sentence. We are, as a society, addicted to judging others. The simple fact is, as James eloquently points out, not everyone wants world peace. If everyone thought men and women should be equal, then men and women would be equal. If everyone wanted to end racism, then racism would end.

The reason we can not all just get along is because we are all different, with different values, beliefs, ethical quandaries, and moral boundaries. This is as much a good thing as a bad thing. If we were all the same, then there would be nothing and no one to value. Life would be homogeneous and infinitely boring. The reason we can identify what is good (something like equal rights) is because there is enough diversity to distinguish what is not good (cases of social injustice).

 

Today’s lesson: Diversity is good and judging is also good, but as with most anything, the Aristotelian view holds true: “everything in moderation.” (Incidentally, distinguishing the importance of Aristotle’s lesson over that of all others is also a judgment…) 

 

 

 

 

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Should Mexicans Be Allowed To Work Here?

Who should be in our country, why should they be here, and what should we do about those trying to sneak in?

 

There is a lot of talk around immigration now. I won’t pretend to understand all the complications of immigration reform, but I am convinced one of the easiest ways to spot people with wrong ideas and shallow minds is through their willingness to spew racism or slander against fellow men.

Immigration is a challenging problem when it comes to tax law but it is not so tough a problem to resolve when it comes to living humanely. Pitting who we perceive as “our group” against “those other” groups is essentially modern tribal thinking. Of course, “modern tribal” is practically a contradiction in terms. However, in a society that is globally connected through a 24/7 economy thanks to things like the internet and international travel, there is no logic to living as if we belong to separate, ancient, territorial tribes.

The fundamental flaw with tribalism is some people today act as if the world actually works the way a child’s grade school map in an old textbook looks like it works.

states(bright)

It is easy for us to pretend there is a giant thick bold line that divides each country, state, or space between land and water but there is obviously no actual giant bold-faced wall between land masses. If there was no sign telling you, there would be no way to tell exactly where Michigan ends and Indiana begins as you drive out of one and into the other.

Part of my childhood was spent living on the border of Texas and Mexico and from what I remember there is no way to tell where the sand suddenly stops being American and becomes Mexican. I would struggle to identify which grain of dirt or which blade of grass from the border comes from one country and not the other.

What I am saying is, the only borders that exist between countries and the only distinctions between types of people are the ones we choose to pretend are there. Actual, physical borders exist the same way the Tooth Fairy does… in the minds of small people.

Anywhere we look in the universe, we find the absence of delineation. There is no magic line between the light of the sun and the point where it lands on Earth. There is no border sign where Earth’s atmosphere ends and space itself begins. We are unable to even decide when a rock stops being a rock and starts being a planet as evidenced by the debate over Pluto.

Closer to home, an ocean and beach move seamlessly into one another. There is no wall dividing them. One is merely an extension of the other and they do not pretend to be separate. Only humans have a label called “ocean” and a label called “beach”. The water, land, fish, coral, plants, and salt do not care what they are called and do not see themselves as different things–they live in unity.

Sadly, I think racism will be something to debate as long we are willing to acknowledge a thing called “race” (whatever that means to you) that makes one human different from another. The same is true of sexism, theism, and nationalism.

The truth is, there is no one trying to steal your job. You have never met a person from another country out to take your seat at your company. There are people everywhere willing to work and looking for honest opportunity, including you, but they will take what they can get (including you). Holding onto your job and doing it better than others who would be happy to have it is your burden and not something to throw a tantrum about because someone in the media hyped up an imaginary problem for you.

There is no one trying to take over your country (except maybe your government). You probably do not know, and have never met, anyone with a nefarious plan to steal your family, your livelihood, or your flag. Don’t buy into the pretense that there is an immigrant conspiracy coming for you because there is no “other” team here.

Except for Native Americans, we are all here, ultimately, from the families of illegal immigrants. Columbus and other conquerors were not invited to take the land from the indigenous people already here. We all know that; we can stop pretending to hold onto the place we are standing on Earth the way toddlers covet their toys.

In my mind, it is hypocritical to pretend to own something that was never ours. Perhaps more to the point, for those who have forgotten third grade Social Studies class, it was there that I first learned the words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty, both as a salute to the American Dream and as reminder of our country’s roots and founding principles. The inscription says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

These famous lines are from a poem by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus” and I can not think of a better example to solve the question of pro or anti-immigration debates, than the very words at the most famous border sign of our country. Remember, as with most things, standing with or against your fellow human beings is a choice and your choice reflects upon who you choose to be for yourself, your family, and everyone else.

Hate people or embrace them. Regardless of political rhetoric or media bias, the fundamental choice is the same and will drive your life and the example you set for others.

Choose wisely.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Name Your Poison [140916]

Names are powerful. I know because my mother would never let someone call me “Mike” instead of “Michael”. She would correct them before I could say it was okay and now I have the same habit ingrained in me. Almost everyone knows me as Michael (my brothers will sometimes call me “Mikey”) and most people can not fathom relating to me as a “Mike”.

 

We name everything, of course. As a society, we love labels and breaking things into categories, perhaps to a fault. When we name something or someone, we are in essence, assigning it to a specific class or category. We are saying this thing, which we all agree to call “car” is somehow intrinsically different from those things, which we call “trees”, “roads”, and “signs”.

 

In other words, This is not like those.

 

My two younger brothers (notice the labels “my”, “younger”, and “brothers”) and I share the same father but they have a different birth-mother from me, which means we are technically half-brothers (more labels: “father, mother, brother, half-brother”).

 

The funny thing is, we never learned the distinction of being half-brothers until I was well into my thirties and someone explained it to me by chance. We always just called ourselves “brothers” and did not know there was such a thing as only having half a brother or that it mattered if you only share one parent. A brother is a brother to us. I believe this is why we are so close and why we love each other like… well, like brothers.

 

By acknowledging a distinction called “half-sibling”, I wonder if we alter the family relationship between two people, instructing them that they are somehow different from a “real” sibling.

 

Think about how these labels play out in other areas. Before you have a name for something, how is your world different? Think about babies who bump into things, get up, and move on until they learn how to name their pain, “Owie!” All of a sudden, life becomes much more dramatic.

 

Or consider the labels, “USA”, “China” and “Atlantic Ocean”. They are just arbitrarily created names but we give them tremendous significance. We believe this is different from that as if the world’s geography actually worked like it does on a map with great big, bold lines magically dividing our country from the ocean and other parts of the world. Of course, when you walk to the ocean, there is no giant bold-faced wall where the land ends and the water begins. They flow into each other seamlessly because the Earth itself does not recognize the distinction of the labels. They are the same.

 

So today’s lesson is something for us all to think about: What if we did not have so many labels? What if we simply never acknowledged the difference of a “dark-skinned” man versus a “light-skinned” one? Does Racism exist only because we give it a name? Will it only exist as long as we acknowledge it does? What if we simply did not have labels for Black, White, Straight, Gay, Male, Female, etc.? What if we only grew up knowing we are all human? What if “human” was not a label we created? What would the world look like then? Would we treat other animals and the environment differently if we never decided there was a difference between (us and) them?

 

What names are you willing to give up today?

 

 

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Are You a Vegan Racist?!?

I had a interesting experience at a Biggby coffee shop. Most of the baristas know me there and know my usual orders. On this day, however, there was a new guy filling in.

I ordered a Earl Grey Latte with Soy Milk (the vegan equivalent of tea with milk). The young man behind the counter chatted with me while he made my drink. One of the regular workers behind the counter who knew me was also watching, making sure he had the order right. She mentioned I am vegan and asked the stand-in to be sure he used a separate container for the soy milk (which I appreciated).

Once he realized why I ordered the drink with soy, he made (I think) an attempt to show how vegan-friendly he is.  He said, “Yeah, I tried this soy stuff before. Had one of them Soy Chai lattes. It was good. I think I would do it again…”

It abruptly struck me this is the equivalent, to a vegan, of saying, “Yeah, I’m not racist. I invited a black over to dinner once. We had fried chicken. I think I would do it again…”

I know the vegan lifestyle seems strange to some non-vegans, but if you have vegan friends, just treat them like your normal friends. You do not need to impress them with how “vegan-friendly” you are (and most vegans don’t really care anyway; it is a personal choice not a social one). I joked on Facebook, “Just be normal around your vegan friends; it’s fine. We already think we are better than you. You don’t need to confirm it.”

The cure for Racism (of any kind) as I see it, is to refuse to acknowledge it. As long as you see vegans (or anyone) as a separate class of people, you are forcing them to be a separate class of people. And, by the way, if you had to pick a side, would you want to be part of the “murdering, carnivorous, can’t-control-what-you-stuff-in-your-mouth” or the “You-are-not-doing-a-very-good-job-of-hiding-you-are-a-bigot” group?

Of course, the barista did not mean to offend me (and, really, he didn’t–it was just an observation), but the point is he did not have to try to befriend me by showing he is half-supportive of something he does not seem willing to commit to or learn more about.

The coffee house guy was just letting me know he tried soy milk once, but I am guessing he did not let the next person know he tried coffee once. Maybe we could have just chatted about the weather?

 

 

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