Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

 

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The Truth About Why I Went Vegan

There is a documentary being made about how regular vegans live regular lives and why they decided to stop eating animals and animal products in the first place. I shared my story with them and I thought the vegans (or veg-curious) people I know might like to hear it, too…

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I became vegan mainly for religious reasons. I am not religious now but about 20 years ago I remember reading the Ten Commandments and noticing there was no asterisk after the statement, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

It got me thinking. Murder is obviously condoned in the Bible (blood of sheep over doors, “an eye for an eye”, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) but I noticed it was always done by men and never with God’s explicit instruction. It was always based on hearsay. Somebody said that God said… The only 10 irrefutable rules God provides in the Bible directly are His Commandments (and not for nothing, but He calls them “Commandments”, not “guidelines”, “recommendations”, or “good ideas”).

I could not help but wonder if God intentionally did not have any asterisks there. The First Commandment does not say, “Thou Shalt Not Kill***” with a footnote elsewhere that reads… ***except on burger night or if a fly is really annoying you, or if there is clear DNA evidence to support it. Other restrictions may apply.

He just says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Period. End of line. There is no way to dispute the commandment, no loophole, no misinterpreting it, no ambiguous double meaning. This is one of the few places the Bible and God’s demands are crystal clear and irrefutable: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

I thought also, how interesting that of all animals on earth, God chose only one–only humans–to give both free will and the choice of whether or not to murder for food. Maybe it was a test, I began thinking. Maybe God really is watching and placing a tick-mark for every one of His flies that we swat, each spider we squish, or cow that we chop to pieces and grind up into bloody patties.

The animals themselves seem to be warning us. A fly avoids a fly swatter. You have to sneak up on the fly because it clearly does not want to die. A spider jumps away from the swipe of a hand. A cow fights and tries to flee just as a human would when it smells the blood and gore of the slaughterhouse and senses imminent doom.

To put it plainly, there is no merciful way to murder something that chooses NOT to die.

Of all creatures on Earth, only humans are burdened with the responsibility of choosing and living with their actions. Interesting.

So that is how my vegan journey began.

I have since traded my Faith for Reason and Logic but the conclusion on being vegan is the same. I remain vegan for one simple reason: I have not come across a good enough reason not to be. No one has yet presented a single valid, logical argument for murder or eating dead things.

There is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that comes from other animals that I can not find from plants, fruits, vegetables, legumes, or other plant-based sources (even B12–the toughest of the vegan vitamins to obtain, I can easily get without killing animals). There are not too many animals on the planet. We do not need to “cull the herd” (but we do need to cull the factory farming of herds). There is no environmental reason to support a carnivorous diet. There is just no reason to avoid being vegan.

Think about this. We humans are burdened with the responsibility of being kings and keepers of the Animal Kingdom, whether we like it or not. To say we are at the top of the food chain is an understatement. We have removed ourselves from the food chain. We have no predators. We do not live in fear of being hunted and eaten. This also means, however, we are the default stewards for the safekeeping of this planet. Because we are the only ones with choice, we are also the only ones with responsibility for our choices. We are the kings of the world.

What kind of kings should we be, then? Benevolent and kind or brutal and merciless? How well has the “brutal and merciless” approach worked for any king so quick to end the lives of his subjects throughout all of history?

Unlike plants, animals have a brain and nervous system; they experience pain and emotions and do not wish to die. It is not the same for plants. They have automated defense systems against pests but their very design is to be food. When you pick an apple from a tree, you do not murder the tree. In fact, the tree is counting on you to help spread its seeds and grow more apple trees. The same is true of nearly all plants and non-animals. Our relationship is symbiotic with them.

Moreover, there are clear health benefits for being vegan, and arguably environmental benefits as well (you can Google those–to keep this post from becoming a book, I will just leave it at that–as always, though, check your sources and only accept actual peer-reviewed literature as worthy to base your opinion on).

The bottom line is, going (or being) vegan is a win-win.

 

Today’s Lesson: If I can choose my diet and be perfectly healthy without killing or causing pain to other animals, then… why wouldn’t I? 

 

P.S. If you want to support or share your vegan superhero origin story with the Vegan Movie people, visit this link.

 

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Untried and True?

If it has been around a long time, then it must be good, right? (Of course, if you have ever read my blog, then you can guess my answer is, “probably not”…)

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I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time and I share this post explaining why each year. It is an archaic, damaging tradition that has far outlived any usefulness it once provided to society or humanity, yet, curiously, we revel in it.

Even I will admit, despite my cognitive grasp of its non-utility, a little part of me becomes excited for longer summer days. Still, I would rather have stable hours (and moods) throughout the year–or even better–simply accurate timekeeping.

There are many things we believe or do simply because we have always believed or done them. I uncover my own assumptions or false beliefs all the time. It is astounding the things I have accepted as fact and internalized for large portions of my life without ever questioning the logic or origin of the tradition or belief.

Here are some off the cuff examples of things I believed simply because people told me they were true: Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real, I need eight hours of sleep, drinking milk does a body good, keeping quiet and working hard will help me do well in life, only book publishers can publish books, marriage is sacrosanct, eating meat is natural, college will make me smarter, and having kids and settling down is what I am supposed to do in my twenties or thirties.

Some things are so deeply ingrained that we do not even consider questioning them or holding them up to the smallest test of logic. I think my dad still believes if you take a warm shower (let’s say the water is 90 degrees) and then walk outside on a cool day (say, 40 degrees) with wet hair and bare feet, you are certain to catch a cold. Of course, if that were true, every kid that goes swimming in a 50 degree pool on a 100 degree day would go home with the flu. The difference in temperature is the same 50 degrees, yet this myth persists in my family and others.

In my book, Daylight Savings Time falls under the same category as other myths, half-truths, un-truths, plain deceptions, or outright blatant ignorance of reality. For some of us, change is much scarier than the alternative: growth.

It feels safer to sit still and hide under the covers when we believe there is a monster in the closet. Of course, there is never a monster in the closet and sitting still, scared, waiting to die would only make the monster’s job easier. When we have information about where the monsters are, it is better to take our new knowledge and run with it.

 

Today’s Lesson: Just because we believe for a long time that something is justified, correct, or true does not mean it is any of those.

 

 

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5 Ways To Live Better: Live For You

This week, I have a theme: 5 tips that have helped me live better. I hope one helps you live better, too…

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I have covered the importance of curiosity, eating more plantsbeing active, and having great integrity.  Always keep your word (even to yourself), live an active life (with or without “exercise”), eat more plants than animals, and question everything. I think those habits have transformed my view of the world and made my life wholly my own, which brings us to today’s post.

5. Live for your Self. Life is barely the whisper of a thought forming in a nigh-infinite universe. Life is so fleeting that I refuse to believe it should be lived for any one other than the individual living it. Many people think there is value in living for others or under the rule of others or by the guilt of others. They would have you feel ashamed for any success you achieve and expect you to share your health or wealth or property with others who did not earn it. I think those people mean well but are terribly misguided and perpetuating evil in the universe.

If you made a billion dollars from an idea that changed the world and improved the lives of millions, there are those who would demand you give away your profits as a penance to “pay back” or “pay forward” a debt to society you never incurred. Such people would shame you to give away your riches until you are as poor in money or health as they are in character, despite your having enriched their lives in the first place. This, to me, is the essence of misaligned evil–the idea that we should punish others for achieving.

I do not accept that “guilt” should be the default motivation of humanity.

There are many ways this concept of valuing the Many over the Individual has pervaded society like a parasitical cancer and brought down the living wages and mean success of all people. For example, consider how much of your money is stolen from you in the name of charity. Every cereal box or candy wrapper or clothing line or big box store that cleverly markets thievery under the guise of nobility by claiming to offer 1% of its profits to some charity or other or 5% for the world or a 3 cents to fight hunger… is taking money you earned and using it to subsidize what they should be paying to a charity of their choice. How many dollars have you given to nameless charities you are not even sure if you actually support?

How many tip jars have you dropped change into because you would feel socially guilty if you did not? How many homeless people, with shameless signs shaming you to give up the pay you worked hard to earn, have you felt chastised into giving part of your salary to?

Do not misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with charity or contributing to the homeless or other causes. There is everything wrong with giving away your money or time because you have been socially bullied into doing so. Imagine if, instead of having robbed from you 1% of the price of goods for unknown alleged rain forest coalitions, or cajoling your quarters from you for this association or that legion or those children who you have never met or heard of prior to someone schilling for change outside the supermarket… imagine if you could keep ALL your money and either spend it on enjoying the life YOU dreamed of, or at the very least, if YOU could consolidate your own funds and choose which person or charity you wish to give that full amount of your own earned salary to?

What if you could have all those nickels and dimes thieved away from you by social guilt or cleverly disguised bullying and were able put them toward your ailing parent or child if you needed to? Imagine if everyone had that same opportunity… to actually keep all the money they made and designate however much they chose to the thing or things they care most about.

That is the difference between living for yourself and living for everyone else. There is no shame in thinking for yourself, in questioning so-called truisms, and choosing a life on your terms. There is only shame when you accept the guilt of others as your burden for living.

This does not only apply to charity or money, of course. When you are in control of your destiny, you challenge yourself to create ways of turning the fiction of your dreams into living goals brought into reality. Living for yourself means living a life of adventure based on your moral code instead of whatever other people have told you is good or bad. It forces you to distinguish right from wrong based on logic and rational thinking because those are the primary tools of the self-made man or woman. Our bodies are living machines with external senses designed to provide data to our brains so that we may use our minds to navigate through the real world successfully. Our minds are not designed to be subjugated to other minds. This is obvious. We exist as individual beings, not as one collected homogeneous and amorphous jelly of tissue, nerves, and brain cells (by the way… gross!).

Living of my accord, however, means I can not rely on tradition, superstition, or mysticism to make decisions for me. It is at my own peril that I abdicate my ability to judge and define my world to other people or ideas instead of living on my terms.

Living this way forces me to break down concepts like “integrity” and “love” that otherwise have no intelligible definition for most of us (what is Love?). I have to think hard about the essence of these things and define them for myself. I must decide if murder is bad or religion is good, not based on news and hearsay but by really inspecting the essence of their values until I have found their intrinsic nature and motivations, and only then can I make a choice about their merits.

It is not an easy way to live, admittedly. I am ever skeptical and vigilant. I try to be both arrogant enough to know I am right because my decisions are made based on my values, yet also humble enough to accept when I am wrong because I have misunderstood or miscalculated something. That means accepting there are things I am simply not qualified to have an opinion about, either because I have not given appropriate attention to them or because I do not know enough about them regardless of what agenda popular media or friends or family might be pushing me to believe.

For example, I am sometimes asked where I stand on Genetically Modified (GMO) food because I am vegan. People on both sides of the debate are usually disappointed to hear me say, “I do not have an opinion. I am not a food scientist. I do not have degrees or extensive knowledge in chemistry or genetics and I don’t accept pop journalism or good camera work and narration as truth at face value.”

The value of living for yourself, though, is straightforward. Living for yourself means living for your Self. You can not rely on the esteem of others to build your “self”-esteem any more than your car’s engine can rely on fuel from other cars to run itself.

The nice thing is, applying the other 4 tips I mentioned at the top of this blog basically do the steering for me. Living for yourself starts with keeping your word as a matter of integrity–the essence of being true to one’s Self. Staying active ensures the machine of your body is able to continue providing good feedback to your brain. Eating plants instead of animals is the fundamental choice of Life over Death (no matter from which side you look at it) and the first step to morality and building ethical character. Being curious enough to ask questions and avoid assumptions, “Why do I think that? What if everything I have ever heard is not true? How does that work? What if I do this?”, helps provide the foundation for making decisions and living a life that is truly yours, beholden to no one else’s ideas, shame, guilt, willful ignorance, or self-destruction.

 

Today’s Lesson: Live your life. Live YOUR life. Or, think about it this way: if you are not living for your Self, then who are you allowing to live your life for you?

 

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4 Ways To Live Better: Aren’t You Curious?

This week, there is a theme: my 5 favorite tips that help me live better. I hope one of these tips help you live better, too…

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I have covered the importance of eating more plantsbeing active, and having great integrity.  There is no disputing the myriad benefits of a plant-based lifestyle for your health, the environment, and kindness to other animals. Eating vegan helps your body run more efficiently, being active helps the machine of your body continue running, and having great integrity (keeping your word, even to yourself) ensures the other habits will stick and helps you be someone others look up to. Figuring out 5 ways to live better was not something that happened by accident for me, which brings us to today’s post.

4. Be Curious. Living an experimental life is important to me. Having profound curiosity about why things work and how is, I think, at the core of all great discoveries. It is embracing an ever-evolving love of wonder. I have learned more about myself and the world by wondering about and experimenting with ideas, thoughts, and physical actions than I could ever hope to learn from four years of academia followed by forty years of sedentary thinking and living.

If anything, I have learned to be cautious of my assumptions (like, “the only way to learn to be good at something is to pursue a degree”). There are some things that are socially trained into us that are not always good or even factual. Any neuroscientist, for example, will tell you that you clearly and obviously use close to 100% of your brain, though many people believe we only use 10% of our brain. We have read it in popular culture, there are movies about it, the myth is so pervasive I just assumed it was true for most of my life. However, giving it even the slightest test of logic makes the myth crumble… No active part of our body only uses 10% of itself. It’s ludicrous. It would be like using our ten fingers the way we do now… but having 100 fingers. How could the body possibly operate with that much inefficiency?

Being weary of assumptions is at the core of curiosity. I assumed, for example, I needed a lot of sleep, so I experimented with my sleep patterns for a year. Growing up in a split-religion home, I became curious about theism, so I attended a different church every week for more than a year and read both the Bible and the Qur’an. I was curious about my diet so I learned about being vegan and food production, and then I tried going vegan… three times. It finally stuck but of course, it required three different experiments to figure out what worked for me.

I can not help but wonder about everything, including people, which is why I share about what I have learned regarding leadership on my blog. Some things, like leadership, are a life-long curiosity experiment. I am always learning, adapting, and trying new things to be a better, more effective leader. I do not know if anyone will ever figure out all there is to know about leadership (you can tell by seeing how many books are written about leadership each year). I will likely experiment and be curious about leading throughout the rest of my life.

I have described three elements of curiosity: embracing wonder, being cautious of assumptions, and creating experiments. Experiment with these three elements of curiosity rather than just assume I know what I am talking about and see what wonders you can find.

 

Today’s Lesson: Being curious leads to discovery, keeps life interesting, and fights off stagnation. Ask questions about everything. Try new things, including new thoughts and ideas (you don’t have to stick with them–try them on and see if they stick with you), and most of all, live an experimental life. It’s just more fun.

 

 

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Time to Die, Part 2 (of 5)

If you knew you could never die, how would you live?

 

I believe death will be cured within a hundred years. That may sound optimistic but consider that we have already mapped the human genome and are closer to mapping and understanding the genetic structure of our brain. As computer technology progresses and storage becomes increasingly cheap and widely available, I think the day will arrive when we can essentially upload our consciousness and genetic make-up to the cloud.

Imagine just a little, further, though, that technology will be so powerful in just a hundred years that your mind and the details of your body are constantly and automatically being backed up on a server somewhere, wirelessly, without you having to do anything.

You step in front of a bus or drown in a swimming accident and your last data copy is instantly downloaded into a 3-D genomic printer at your home. You die, only to open your eyes and find you are completely safe, in a new, but identical freshly made body.

Crazy, right? But nearly every piece of technology required to make that happen exists in rudimentary form today. Cloning, Bluetooth and WiFi, data storage, 3-D printing, and DNA mapping are all here now. What will those technologies look like after being refined another hundred years?

I probably won’t live to see death disappear from humanity, but my little brother or his children or his grandchildren might.

What will happen when essentially no one dies anymore? Will we all live as cynics, losing the optimism brought on by appreciating the fleetingness of life? Will we move ever forward with unlimited time to learn and develop, or will we slide backward, knowing we can always get to important stuff later? How long will fearful religious zealots, corrupt politicians, and greedy corporate entities force us to keep death around when the technology arrives to eradicate it? How much will it cost at first and how long until it becomes affordable for most everyone? Will it be the end of money as a means of trade? Think about it; of what use will money be when time becomes unlimited? What will it mean for managing Earth’s resources?

I assert the future is not that far away. We should be thinking about it now.

Today’s lesson, then, is obscure but still buried in here: if you never had to die, how would you live? (And also, why aren’t you living like that now, anyway?)

 

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Last Echo of Night

(I am the Word of God, if a god you need.

I am the last religion you’ll seek, the author and interpreter of your original sin.

I only gave you free will so you would learn to return it to me.

To bend you like the willow, to teach you like a child, to honor thy word

like a hero.

To heed me, as rain to thunder, as smoke to purifying sage, leaving the history of us

smudged on your skin, as fleeting as my whisper to)

 

Time. Space

separates us

from the dark lilt of your voice,

the light tilt of your head,

the curve of your neck,

that slightly familiar breath,

the sharp bite on your belly

when you sling aside

the curtain.

The moist warmth of kisses past,

between lovers,

passed beneath covers (which belong to me).

 

You ate the holy words

and I watch kingdoms fall

that should not have been summoned at all

to be trampled beneath your feet.

 

My words pause, patient but tense.

Whispers at your neck

nudged between the last echo of night

and first blink of sight.

There I wait,

waiting for you to dream,

so I can slip into your mouth

when you sleep.

 

 

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Top 3 Priorities for the Human Race

 

Here is an intriguing question: What do you think Humanity’s top 3 priorities should be?

If world leaders paused for a moment to debate that question and its implications, it might help streamline decision-making and better determine the course of our future. I should note that by “world leaders” I am not referring to politicians. I am referring to scientists and thought leaders who, at minimum, must pass an IQ test to earn their position.

How great would it be to hear this question debated by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Leonard Piekoff, Ron Paul (there’s one obligatory politician), Seth Godin, and Richard Branson (a random list off the top of my head, but I would love to see that panel take on nearly any important question…)?

Thought leaders and Mensa members aside, here is my humble list of priorities for the Human Race:

 

1. Colonize another planet. To me, there is nothing that should supersede this priority, even given so many other problems to address in the world (hunger, disease, and equality to name a few). Though other problems are important and pressing, our unified action to get off this rock and learn to live on another planet is our best, most promising hope for survival as a species. Given some of the more imminent catastrophic dangers (nuclear war, global warming, an asteroid strike, super-viruses, etc…), colonizing a second Earth, at minimum, doubles our chances of survival. In the U.S., the space program has been cut to less than 2 percent of the national budget–a travesty–it should be the top priority for Humanity and the primary consideration when it comes to the allocation of funds.

2. End religion. Getting to another planet should be our first, foremost priority and has actual potential to be realized in the relatively near future. Being done with religion is  loftier, but only slightly less important. Religion, I think, is the core of most wrong-thinking and evil-doing in the world (in point of fact, every major war in human history was started by religious zealots; how many wars have been started by atheists?). Religion is filled with ludicrous claims (like there is an old invisible man who lives in the sky and watches everything you do so he can punish you accordingly without ever telling you why or when he might strike). Religion has ambiguous morality (“Thou shalt not kill” but thou should “Take an eye for an eye”) and  false hope (if there was life after death, what would be the point of dying? If there was life after death, there would be no distinction; it would just be called “life”). Religion also encourages subservience and removes Man’s power, influence, and responsibility over his own life and the destiny of the world. I think if people were instead taught to think clearly and critically, science would be a thousand years or more further along and humanity’s first priority (get to another planet and double our chances for survival) would probably be solved.

3. Protect the Environment. For real. Until we solve the top priority, this is the only Earth we have. Real scientific education, without political or religious agendas and sensationalized media (maybe that’s our fourth priority–end media sensationalism and bias?), should be the norm instead of the exception. Having (almost) every citizen informed about the unequivocal benefits of a sustainable economy, understand what food is and how it works, and comprehend the basic structure and execution of the agriculture business can have a tremendous impact on how we live in the world and determine its fate. I firmly believe nobody (outside of religious zealots and store-bought politicians) wants to destroy the world, it is just that most people do not understand how to save the world. Not that everybody should turn vegan, wear hemp clothing, and drive a Prius, but everybody should understand the impact that doing things like that can have.

 

There are many huge issues facing mankind and some of them are immediately important (hunger, poverty, inequality, disaster relief are examples that come to mind). They should be addressed, and immediately. Still, there are priorities that will determine the fate of the entire race, perhaps even the fate of the universe (we almost certainly are not the only form of intelligent life in the universe, but if we are… how much more precious and important does that make our continued survival? There would be no chance for other life if we perished). These priorities need to be rallied around and vocalized louder than the others. It is at our peril that we ignore them or delay addressing them any longer.

I am grateful for people much smarter than I who are tackling these big issues and if you are in agreement with any one of those top three priorities, I encourage you to start a conversation about it, learn more, and take action–any action, even if it is as small as donating $50 to NASA, or having 3 meatless meals each week, or compacting your trash and using reusable shopping bags.

For further reading, or just to hear from some really eloquent leaders in these areas, check out:

Stephen Hawking – perhaps the greatest mind on the planet

Richard Dawkins – one of the world’s leading skeptics and non-theists

Michael Pollan – popular author and speaker when it comes to food and culture (don’t worry; he’s not vegan)

 

Did I miss anything? What do you think the greatest problem facing humanity is?

 

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Is There an Afterlife?

 

Spoiler alert: No, there is no afterlife. Don’t listen to the religionists. It is a comforting fantasy to believe there is life after death (which is a contradiction in terms), but to me, it is a philosophical question (with a logical answer).

I think secretly most of us know the obvious truth when it comes to the extraordinary claims of religionists, mystics, and spiritualists, but it is very difficult to stand against so many years of tradition and social training. Most people I have met would, frankly, just rather not think about or question long-standing traditions that have provided a sense of comfort or solace throughout their lives. Yet, these are some of the most important questions and beliefs that should be challenged (indeed, the question of whether there is an afterlife is literally a question of life or death).

What would the purpose of dying be if we just kept living, but in some magically and eternally better place? Nobody, then, would wish to live. If we really (and I mean really, to the core of ourselves) believed in heaven or the afterlife, then wouldn’t we ask our friends to kill us so we could take the shortcut to eternal happiness? Who would rather wait 60 to 80 years, watching friends and loved ones disappear, living through difficult times, experiencing wars, ill health, injuries, trauma, drama, racism, political turmoil, natural disasters, etc…?

In fact, if we really believed such claims as Heaven and Hell from the people who espouse them (and again, I mean if we really, truly, all the way down to the core believed), then wouldn’t it be the smart choice to kill babies as soon as they are born so that our children would never be tempted or coerced to condemn themselves to eternal damnation? In essence, it would be better to send them straight to heaven rather than risk their going to hell. Yet, of course, the very thought is abhorrent and nobody would do that. I think the reason why no one kills their babies at birth to send them straight to heaven is because somewhere deep down we are people of reason. We understand that Reason and Logic are our tools for survival and somewhere in the core of ourselves, I think we know bunk when we hear it (but we like the fantasy and comfort of religion and mysticism–and of course we do; it is very appealing to believe in magic).

The bottom line is this: accepting religious, mystic and spiritual notions without using Logic or Reason to challenge beliefs robs Man of  responsibility over his own life and removes any need or desire to appreciate the sanctity and preciousness of only having one life to live.

To me, that is evil.

 

Besides, if we keep on living and never really die, wouldn’t the afterlife just be called… “life”?

 

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The 10 Commandments of Leadership

 

 

What is it about religion that produces such a profound and lasting effect on followers, and commands a level of loyalty and dedication any leader would  dream of aspiring to? I say there are 10 things, and if leaders internalize them, we will have a strong foundation for moving ourselves, our peers, our team, and our organization forward. Check them out.

The 10 (Leadership) Commandments


1. Religion has a unifying message with broad appeal that people rally around (indeed, the message is so appealing wars are fought over it). What is your personal message (or your organizational message)? What is inspiring about it? What are the priorities you (or your company) stand behind? What is the vision you and your followers should be striving for?

2. Religion advocates a clear reward for effort and conformity. If you live a good life, you go to Heaven. The reward is commensurate to the effort required to achieve it (if you live your whole life in conformance to the rules of the religion, then you get keys to the Pearly Gates and experience infinite joy). If your company believes the reward for work done well is you get to keep your job, you lose. If your organization believes the reward for work done well is more work (that probably belongs to someone else who was not pulling their weight), guess what? You lose. If your organization believes the reward for work done well over two decades is dinner and a nice watch… you lose. If this sounds like your company, I hope your leaders wake up because you are having your ass handed to you by companies who understand the reward for work done well is not more work. It is, instead, more freedom and greater autonomy (after all, what is Heaven all about? The gold streets are nice but not so important; the freedom to live forever in peace is what really counts…).

3. Religion provides simple, clearly stated, immutable rules to govern behavior and actions. These rules, or commandments, are minimal (there are only 10), not convoluted, and not filled with sub-clauses or exceptions. How do your company’s Human Resources policies compare? Do you need to fit them on more than 1 page? Is your dress code more than one sentence (“Dress sensibly.”)? HR representatives may be losing their minds as they read this, but here is the quick and dirty version to treating people like Humans and leveraging them as Resources: if you treat employees like adults, by and large they will act like adults. If you manage to the exceptions instead of the rule, you lose. If you do not believe this, it is simply because you have not tried it. How do I know? Somehow you and every other employee muddle through the rest of your lives outside of the office without needing a 40-page manual of policies, codes, guidelines, and other infantilizing documents. Consider that. 10 commandments are plenty. More than 10 is silly.

4. Religion has simple, clearly stated, repercussions for choosing not to follow the rules. I hear Hell is pretty warm this time of year… Notice the Bible, Qu’Ran, and Tora do not have progressive disciplinary policies. Company rules should be equally simple. If you produce results, you are part of the team. If you spend your time instead trying to derail the company’s mission or kissing up to the boss, you can be part of another company’s team. Face time and presence at a desk or in an office do not equal results. The new rule is this: move the team forward or get out.

5. Religion is filled with charismatic leaders who believe in their mission more than anyone else, and model the rules of behavior perfectly (for example, Jesus, Moses, Jim Bakker…). Does your company preach jargon like empowerment, trust, and innovation… but then reject new ideas, punish employees who buck the status quo, and force management into a role of permission-granting and law enforcement? That is the equivalent of being a Jim Bakker, of holding up a facade that looks like leadership. Looking like you are leading is not the same as leading. Jesus talked a good game, sure, but what set him apart from others is he did not stop at the words.

6. Religious leaders are visionary and approachable. They are also revolutionary. Perhaps in contrast to the number two leadership commandment (clear rewards for effort and conformity), great leaders provide clear rewards for conforming to their vision, but themselves are not seen as conformist. This is an important distinction. If the executives at your company are perceived as mouthpieces for the CEO or ownership, then they are not leading; they are following. Religious leaders believe fully in the message from their leader and they enroll others in their mission, but they are also seen as individual, autonomous thinkers by their own right. They are seen as people who strive to set the status quo where it is misaligned, not as (sometimes frustrated but ultimately powerless) enforcers of the status quo.

7. Religious leaders often heal, but never harm or directly punish their followers and supporters. Jesus was unbelievably forgiving; He even forgave the people committed to killing him, modeling to the end, the proper behavior he wished to see perpetuated. HR departments are sorely dysfunctional at many companies because (among other reasons) HR is intended to be the place employees go to find support and address their concerns, yet it is often also the entity that designs the methods and severity of punishment for wrongdoings. Human Resources, in effect, has become the abusive husband who beats his family, but lets them know it is for their own good and that he would not hit them if he did not love them. Choose NOT to be the leader who walks around carrying a big stick. Choose, instead, to be the proverbial old master—the Mr. Miyagi—who allows students to learn lessons on their own, but instructs them wisely and guides them to their goals.

8. In Religion, empowerment occurs through “free-will”, rather than “command-and-conquer”. Leaders that employ “I lead; you follow” or caste-system ideologies always lose in the Holy script (consider the Pharaohs…). By contrast, leaders that offer great vision and encourage participation, without punishing those who choose to walk away, always win (consider Moses, Jesus, and Saint Thomas Aquinas). The more freedom to be adults you offer employees, the more likely they are to follow you. Some executives have a hard time accepting this, but it is really no more complicated than stated here. Try it. It works.

9. Religious leaders achieve success through positive reinforcement, praise, and by rewarding perseverance. The “Land of Milk and Honey” came only after the hardship of crossing the desert—again, a reward commensurate to the effort. Leaders achieve success by also asking their firmest supporters to spread the vision and message, thus enrolling others (as Jesus enrolled the Disciples and they, in turn, spread His message by enrolling others). Jesus gave regular sermons speaking of Peace and Heaven (positive reinforcement for hardships faced in the present). Jesus gave praise to both his “Leader” (God) and his followers (the Apostles). Jesus healed the sick, thus rewarding perseverance and dedication to His cause. How does your company reward perseverance, success, and longevity? Are the rewards commensurate to the effort?

10. Religious leaders share, and regularly reaffirm the mission, vision, and goals-to-focus-on now. Religious leaders do this regularly—at least every Sunday. In some companies, the leader gives a quarterly status update. I do not know if there is a magic number for the right amount of vocally re-committing to your (or your company’s) goals. Hourly is clearly over the top and I suspect quarterly is not enough. My advice here is this needs to be an ongoing conversation, and it needs to start every time a new employee, team member, or follower, joins the team or movement.

Praying for Your Success

Being placed in a leadership position without proper leadership training is unfair to both the leader and the team he or she is charged with. A leader in that predicament is short-changed because he does not have the requisite skills or understanding of how his decisions affect the lives, attitudes, and livelihoods of the people being led. The team suffers by feeling lost (personally or professionally) and having little or no desire to drive the leader’s goals.

The result is a company in constant struggle, caught in a malaise of indifference toward work. There is ambivalence when results are achieved because goals in a dysfunctional company are won through abuse of power rather than through individual passion and collaboration.To succeed as an organization, you must create your personal “leadership religion” (or your “organizational religion”, or both) and figure out how best to preach it to your “masses”. BUT, all 10 things must be in place to be effective (the “9” commandments would not have worked if, say, “Thou shalt not kill” was left out).

One last thing to note, which should be obvious now, is that no less than 5 of the 10 Commandments to Success center around Leadership. If you are not on board already, it is time to see the Light and repent your former ways.

What do you need to do, to bring a “religion of success” to your organization? For extra credit, review the Leadership Commandments for your personal life, as well.

 

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