CELEBRATE EQUALITY

Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. A man who pushed for all people to unite. A great man who wanted no man to be above another, who wanted all men to be equal. These are standards most of us can certainly get behind. On a personal level, the only thing that matters to me is how someone treats me and others. It matters little what race, religion or other group of society you belong to.

In an era where division is around every corner, the lessons this man gave his life to establish are more important than ever. There are those who seek to divide us and convince us that it is impossible for the world to unite. I refuse to believe that. Do not listen to the words of division on hate no matter whose mouth they come out of.

There are those who will try to convince you that one group is better than another. Do not believe that. There are others who will try to convince you they should get special based on who they are. Do not believe that. All people should be treated equal. When we treat each other differently based on any quality we decide, it causes resentment and breeds hate.

Let us use the day we honor this great man to reaffirm our commitment to treat everyone the same. Respect, freedom, and the ability to be who we are is not only something we all desire, but something we all deserve. Turn a blind eye to our differences and a deaf ear to words of hate. Instead, let us focus on what brings us together. Our desire to be loved, our yearning to be understood and to be accepted in our communities.

Although our law makers and leaders can put into place rules and laws to assist us in this endeavor, the burden falls on the hearts, minds and actions of each one of us. Not only does that include major events such as standing together when one of us is attacked, but our daily interactions with each other. It is heart-warming to see people come together to protest unfair treatment of groups they are not even affiliated with or join a prayer vigil for the loss of life halfway around the globe. It is just as heart-warming to see people of different faiths enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee together. It is also great to see those in love not allowing the fact they come from different races stop them. Seeing both of their families support that love can make all of the difference.

Today, let us look for ways in which we can unite as one. Let us take a break from promoting our own race, our own religion and our own group and let us find common ground with others. That could be discovering other cultures through cusine. It could involve picking up a book to learn about different spiritual beliefs. Maybe a conversation with someone who has a different outlook than you. Maybe just working on ourselves to overcome any judgemental believes we hold.

I encourage you to share any ideas you may have to bring all of us together working toward a better future for everyone.

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56 YEAR-OLD ADVICE THAT IS PERFECT FOR TODAY


I am about to share words with you from a speech that was written exactly 56 years before this post. The crazy thing about these words is they are just what I believe the world needs to hear today. According to a recent survey, 91% of Americans feel we are polarized. 74% say we are extremely so. I believe this holds true not just in the country of the United States, but across the globe. Combine this with studies that say the level of anger people feel is also on the rise. I am not sure if the two are connected, but divided people often lead to angry and sometimes violent confrontation.

Back to the words of this speech. Exactly 56 years ago this speech was written with the intent of it being read at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin Texas. It was to be given to the Democratic State Committee. Let me share an excerpt from that speech with you now.

“Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

Pretty powerful words and a call for unity with a powerful view for a positive future. The reason you have never heard about this speech? It was never given. The man who was to read it, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on his way to deliver it. It is with a sad bit of irony that I wish to include another line from his undelivered speech.

“In today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets.”

Sadly, the killer chose the latter in his quest to bring chaos to freedom. In the coming months we are set to celebrate many holidays both religious and secular. We will gather with friends and family. I want to encourage all of us to take this time to use a power greater than bullets or even ballots, that of love. This may sound a bit silly to some, but there is no greater power than love.

If we want our tomorrows, the next year and the next decade to be filled with more unity and less anger we need to use this power. It all starts with our interactions with each other. If you encounter someone who has an opinion different than yours, no matter how passionate both of you are, do your best to be compassionate and understanding. Agree to disagree as the old clich√© goes. Share smiles and good news with those you work with. Join a group…any group. Maybe it is one that shares your hobby? Maybe a book club?

While we are focused on spreading love on a personal level, I would also advocate using the power of the ballot. Vote for those who encourage peace, unity and acceptance. The ability to choose those who hold power is not only a great privilege, it is also a great responsibility. Do not let your emotions and treatment of others be swayed by the media or political climate. Show that your love is stronger than any force doing their best to divide us.

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FREE YOURSELF

I love this quote, but more to the point I like the thought behind it. Too many of us focus on and dwell on the hurt that has been done to us in the past. Here is a shocking bit of news for you – the only person you are continuing to hurt is yourself. By reliving the pain and hurt you experienced, you are simply choosing to experience that pain and hurt all over again. The ironic thing is that the only person to blame this time is you. I know you might be saying, “But Neil if they wouldn’t have hurt me in the first place I would have nothing to relive.” That may be true, but they have moved on and it would serve you to do the same.

Will Smith said it best when he remarked “fault and responsibility are not linked.” It may be their fault that they hurt you but it is your responsibility to not only move on from that hurt, but better yet, put that pain to work for you and stop letting it hold you back. Still stewing over what your ex did to you years ago? How do you think that will affect your current relationships? If we were to put what you are doing into words it would sound something like this, “I am not only going to feel this pain and heartache every day, but I am going to let that pain screw up my current and future relationships.” Doesn’t sound very sensible does it?

In the above quote Nelson Mandela was speaking about a government who had kept him in jail for 25 years based on the color of his skin. Was that his fault? Of course not. Was that fair or right? Absolutely not. If he focused on that anger and bitterness when he was freed who would suffer? Not those who jailed him. It would be himself that would feel anger and bitterness in his heart. It would be him that would eventually fall victim to physical ailments due to those emotions. As he said if he did not let those emotions go he would not be free.

I am not advocating letting people walk all over you. Far from it. Be cautious against those who have hurt you, but do not relive the pain. It does not affect them and it can only hurt you. Remember fault and responsibility are not linked. It sucks, but it is true. Free yourself from your hate, sadness, bitterness and anger. Enjoy the freedom you deserve.

LESSONS FROM THE CIVIL WAR WE HAVE FORGOTTEN

The American Civil War (never really did understand that term) was about far more than just slavery. It represented rural verses city life. It pitted national governing against local governing. In broad terms, the southern way of living against the northern way of living. Of all of these issues the basis was the same, different people with strong ideological beliefs on both sides.

It can still be argued as to whether rural or city planning is better and healthier. I am sure there are benefits to both national and local governing. What I felt was really a no-brainer was dismissing the human rights of someone based on either the color of their skin or their ethnic upbringing. In today’s world of division, this can, and often does, include political and religious differences as well. While it is certainly ok and quite natural to disagree with each other on these issues, what is not acceptable is to vilify or dehumanize others who are or believe different than we.

As I tend to surround myself with people who are as accepting and open-minded as myself, these issues are not always front and center in my mind. In my own way I think of things like prejudice and racism as not only arcane, but ludicrous.¬†Would you really deny yourself a blood transfusion because Dr. Charles Richard Drew, who invented a way to process and preserve blood plasma was African-American? Would you do without such inventions as paper, printing and umbrellas because they come from Chinese inventors? Would you do without all of Albert Einstein’s contribution to science because you are anti-Semitic? The fountain pen, windmill and one of the most important inventions to my writing – coffee are all of a Muslim origin.

To do without any of these inventions because you believe this or that group of people are less than you would not only be foolish, it would be ignorant and stupid. Every culture has its heroes and its villains. To condemn an entire race or group of people based on the actions of one, or some of its people is not only irresponsible, but asinine. Do I hate all of my German friends because back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a neurotic freak named Hitler who killed millions of people? Of course not. Do I hold a grudge against all of my Christian friends because many of them lead to the death of over 100 million Native Americans? That would be senseless.

If we are to hate someone based solely on the racial/religious or political differences we have with them, then we should be prepared to do without all of the amazing contributions brought on by that group. As I look around my group of friends and notice the vast difference in color, culture and creed, I look forward to learning from and working with all of them to make our world a better place. As the Dalai Lama said, we are all brothers and sisters.

WORRY ABOUT THE ROOT AND NOT THE FRUIT

On a site dedicated to living a positive rewarding life, it is sad we must address issues like the shooting that happened at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Living a rewarding life does not mean blinding ourselves to the harsh realities of the world around us. It means finding constructive ways to address and positively affect that world. It is easy to grow weary with each new report of these crimes of hate. It is easy to believe that things will keep getting worse.

To me, it creates a sense of urgency. Time to take actions to bring the people of the world together is more important than it ever has been. With people in places of power that propagate hate and division, it is up to all of us to not only make sure we put people in power who have an agenda of peace and understanding, but live by such a creed ourselves. It may seem like an individual person has very little power in changing the world, but that could not be further from the truth. It is only through individual change that we will bring about global change.

There is a lot of debate when it comes to gun control, placing armed guards in our schools and places of worship. There are also studies on the effect video games and the media that may desensitize us to violence. What are the answers from a legal and political standpoint I do not confess to know. What I do know is that is treating the fruit. What we as spiritual warriors need to do is treat the root. What causes this behavior in the first place. That can range from the disintegration of families, the forums we give those who preach hate, continuing hateful beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation, and the way we carry ourselves. No matter who you are, no matter what gender, what belief, what nationality or any other category you belong to, there is someone who harbors feelings of hate towards you. They only way to prove those individuals wrong, and to bring a better sense of understanding is to be a positive example of the groups we belong to. It is very hard to maintain of feeling of hate for any group, when every person belonging to that group is a positive example.

Another great thing that we as individuals can do to create global change is to change focus. Begin to talk about and promote positives, especially in those that are different from us. In the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, I have seen pictures of many interfaith vigils. This is great and should be spoken of with equal measure to that of the violence. It does bring to mind why there are not more interfaith activities before tragedy strikes. It is up to those as religious leaders to make that happen, but also to us as individuals. What is to stop a group of people from different faiths from coming together to pray, meditate or just to socialize and better understand each other? There is nothing. It can be extremely difficult for some to cultivate a sense of understanding for those who believe different from us. That in the end is what will change the world.

I encourage all of us to reach out to others and begin to speak peace and togetherness starting today. Focus on all the joy and greatness we share on this planet. If you disagree with someone, do so with tact and compassion. We are the peacemakers and the agents of change. It is time to put into practice the power we have.

THE FIRST PLACE TO CREATE PEACE

How often have you heard that we live in a crazy, chaotic world? If you don’t hear it daily from someone you know, you can read it splashed across the television screen, on the front page of the daily newspaper and on every social media site you go on. Reading and absorbing all of this negative news can leave us feeling scared, overwhelmed or exhausted. Sometimes we can feel all three with a host of other unpleasant emotions thrown on top! What are we left to do when we have a day feeling this way?

What many of fail to lose sight of is the fact that if we have inner peace, the outside world has little, if any, impact on our life. Sounds great, but if having inner peace was so easy, how come everyone is not sitting in the park in a state of bliss. To some extent it is not our fault…exactly. We have been lied to by the media, politicians and others. We have been told that we should worry if hypothetically we have a world leader that seems determined to make enemies of friends, create a world filled with division and hate. We have been told to worry if others different than us seem to be receiving some sort of advantage. Countries are about to go to war. The price of oil is going to go through the roof. The stock market is going to fall through the floor.

The truth of all of this is that while some of it may have an impact in our life to a greater or lesser degree, it is mostly beyond our control. We can do what is in our power such as voting against that politician or writing our congressman. We can plan trips and do our best to make the most of the fuel we purchase. If we spend countless hours being upset and discussing or even worse disagreeing with our friends and coworkers about it, that will do us no good.

I have spoken at length about worrying about what you cannot control. The benefits to such actions simply are not there and the negatives abound. First of all it will create stress. Stress has been noted to be a factor in over 80% of medical conditions. In addition, stress causes you to age prematurely. In other words, you will look older and possibly experience health problems sooner. Sounding good so far? I didn’t think so.

As if compromising your health and physical appearance were not enough, lacking inner peace and worrying about and complaining about things outside of our control can affect our social life in a negative way. Almost nobody likes to be around someone who is stressed out and complaining all of the time. I said almost because the only people who seem not to mind are those who complain themselves. Not exactly the people you would want to surround yourself with.

Lastly, and in my mind most important, dwelling on what is wrong does little if anything to create solutions. It is important to note what is wrong in order to define what we would like to be happening, but dwelling on how wrong or terrible it is does us no good. Instead, it would be better to focus on how wonderful the solution would be and what steps we could take to make it happen.

To foster inner peace starting today let us focus and discuss what is beautiful and right with the world and how we can grow that. When we come across something that is not right, let us do what we can in our control to change it and focus on what would like to see. When we see someone who could use some inner peace, share with them what we learned in this article.

SITTING ON A BENCH WITH JESUS

Years ago I used to ponder why the world was as it is. Why, if there is a supreme being, is the world filled with hate, jealousy, racism and the like? Why did I find a lot of those things in my life as well? It was on one of my darkest days in which I finally received the answer. I wasn’t sitting on a park bench like the man in the picture above. I was in a library trying to find a book that would give me some advice on turning my life around. Some books were way to metaphysical for me at the time. Some were very complex and involved psychological phrases you would need a degree to decipher. While getting frustrated at the lack of a book for the average Joe to turn their life around, a voice in my head spoke to me. “If you can’t find one, write one.” From that day forward I have continued to find tools to help the average individual live a more positive and rewarding life.

What led me to this dark and dreary day in the life of Neil was a lot of circumstances. Professional, personal and my surroundings. By surroundings I mean things such as some of the music I was hearing, shows on television I saw, what I read in the newspaper and what I witnessed people doing to each other around me. Again, I began to wonder how the spiritual powers that be would allow such things.

The answer to that question was very similar to the first question I asked, except this one was a riddle of sorts. (yes, even my own head doesn’t always give me a straight answer) “How do you change a dark room?” This may sound foolish until you look at it in the terms of the world as a whole. If you want to lighten up a dark room you do not work on ‘removing the darkness’ you simply add light. If your glass is half-full you do not try to remove the air you just add more water, or rum, or iced coffee, but I digress. If we all remained focused on removing the negativity from the world we would create a vacuum that could very well be filled with…well…more negative things. The only way to decrease the negativity in the world is to add more positivity and love.

Another shocking revelation is that either one of these situations, love or hate, mankind does to itself. We make the choices. If we sit back and do nothing to counter the troubles we see in the world we are allowing it to happen. If you see someone hungry give them food. If you still watch the news and hear about some group being discriminated against, do something to make someone feel more loved and accepted. As the saying goes, “God helps them who helps themselves.” This is not just true for one person, but for all of us everywhere and the world as a whole.

IT IS REALLY THAT SIMPLE

For most of us, despite our differences, would fit into these categories. Ironically, often we search until we can find something that makes a person different from us. It is almost as if saying, “That person is a lot like me.” Somehow diminishes either one of you. When we understand that we all share the same basic needs and wants, judgment and hatred become all but impossible.

If you are a person who loves others and does not want to harm them, and reading a blog like this it would be a safe assumption you are, then it would serve you well to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals. Does it really matter where on this planet they are from? By writing these posts I have met and befriended many other like-minded souls from over 100 different countries. They have brought not only a unique perspective, but a great deal of joy to my life. Does it really matter what color they are? I am blessed enough to have friends of every race. Not only does it include many great and loving people, but our pictures together are a lot more colorful. Politics? Ooh…that is a good one. Quite often we can almost be at each others throats because of different ways to address the same problem. Instead we should focus on the fact that we are both trying to solve the same problem. Maybe their solution takes into account something we overlooked? Maybe a combination of both solutions would work the best? We will never get to that point if we busy ourselves with such low level minutia such as what political party is the correct one.

Even my wonderful friend Nick who sent me this picture, and by doing so inspired this post, has different opinions than me on a wide array of different subjects. Do you know what? That is great to me. Often when we talk he will bring to my attention a way of looking at things I had not considered. Even on subjects where we just ‘agree to disagree’ we still have the same respect and admiration for each other. Not only is it ok with us that we are different in some regards, but it is quite cool that we are also the same in many ways. It is that similarity that prompted him to share the above picture with me and allowed me to share it with you.

Today, celebrate the fact we are all a little different, and when it comes down to the core of who we are, most of us are really the same. Both of those should be reasons to celebrate with your fellow humans.

A LESSON I HAVE LEARNED

There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.

If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.

How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?

Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.

This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.

Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.

We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.

In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.