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.

A SIMPLE BELIEF

This set of beliefs would be great for all of us to adopt. In today’s world with the internet, and modern transportation we are all brothers and sisters. What actions we take can affect others halfway across the globe.

In the same thought, what we do to the earth will affect not only us, but generations to come. The reason we should act as if we are all related is because, at the very core, we are all related. Our actions either heal or destroy. There is no action that does not have a consequence.

Today, more than ever we all touch each others lives. Let us all remember, we are all brothers and sisters.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM SAD EVENTS

Many of you may know that the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, committed suicide on July 20th. There is a very important lesson we can take from this. By all accounts Chester can be considered a man who had it all, at least how it is defined in modern society. He was a famous front man of a popular band who had sold millions of records. He had a large bank account which allowed him access to almost any material thing he could desire. He had millions of adoring fans. He had a family.

If a man who seemingly has it all can find himself in a place where he feels ending his life is his best option, what about the rest of us? What about the man who just lost his job? The woman who has been the victim of sexual assault? A category that really stands out is Veterans. After seeing the horrible things that man can do to each other in the name of war, and maybe even having to do some of them as well, how can they deal with the reality of that?

In case you have not been personally touched by suicide or think it is something that just happens to somebody else, please allow me to share a few statistics from the American foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp) According to their website

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US
  • each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide
  • for every suicide there are 25 attempts.

If you multiply the last 2 stats that means over one million people were at a place emotionally that they tried to take their own lives. Although I am certainly filled with love and compassion for those individuals, I am also often frustrated that we lose so many amazing souls each and every day. This blog is all about living an amazing life, so to see so many losing theirs breaks my heart.

Being a solution oriented person, the question that screams in my mind loud as can be is this, “What can we do to help?” This is both a complicated and simple question. The reasons for suicide are as diverse as the people affected by it. Even a quick glance at the statistics page on the AFSP website can shine a light on some ways to help. Native Americans have the highest rate of suicide, the rate of suicide is highest in middle age, and many more insights. I highly recommend visiting their website, a link will be listed at the end of this blog. There you can find ways to help including, but not limited to, joining your local chapter of AFSP, knowing the warning signs, walks to bring awareness and a host of other valuable information.

On a personal level I encourage you to do 2 more simple things that can make a big difference. First, occasionally inquire with all of your friends, whether they are seemingly doing well or not. If the death of Mr. Bennington taught us anything is that someone who seems to be doing quite well can be silently suffering. When you do ask, take time to really listen. That is what can truly make a difference. Second, and I find this to be fun, genuinely compliment everyone you know. I am not talking about some silly flattery, but letting them know how much they mean to both you and the world. Do they make you laugh? Have they given you a good memory that helps you through the tough times? Imagine what a difference you could make in their life no matter where they are emotionally. Being genuinely appreciated is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another.

LINK FOR THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION

SING YOUR SONG 

My lovely lady and I DJ 3 days a week. There is something I always find fascinating, after singing a few songs people are always on a much better mood. Even those who come in with a terrible outlook. I have also heard my lady’s lovely voice break out in song when she is in a great mood. This leads me to one not so shocking conclusion, people are happy when they are singing.

Above is a picture of Winnie the Pooh and a song he sings. I have always been a fan of this bear from a young man on. Very simple, laid back in short my kind of man…er…um… bear. You would be surprised what you can learn from reading these childhood stories as an adult. In fact, I would recommend checking out the book The Tao of Pooh when you get a chance. Back to the point of today’s post. I suggest we take a lesson from this lovable bear and develop our own song to sing when we need a little uplifting. Don’t worry you can even sing it to yourself if you are self-conscious. It need not be complicated and it only has to make sense to you. What if you are not that creative? Fear not, find a simple song you enjoy and use that. Soon enough you may find your own inner song.

I am Native American and we have songs for many different purposes. Some that give you strength when you feel down, some to honor veterans etc. I suggest trying to write one for yourself. It is easier than you may think. Just try writing down things that make you happy and then just try to work them into a simple little song. Again, this will not be heard on American Idol or by anyone in the music industry it is just for you and your happiness. When life has you down, having a little song to sing either out loud or even hum to yourself about all the things in life that make you happy can do wonders. It may seem silly at first, but even that should bring a smile to your face.

As an extra bonus try throwing in a few things you are truly grateful for. Feel free to share how this works for you in the comments below.

WHY I DO NOT HATE 

I warn you this post will touch on subjects that are not that pleasant to discuss. It is not the point of this website to delve into the realm of politics or any controversial topics, but sometimes they provide us with the opportunity to shine the light on ways we can improve both ourselves and the world. This is one of those opportunities. I caution that at first this post may sound negative and depressing, but I challenge the reader to stick with me until the end to find the message of hope.

The other night my lady and I saw the movie The Promise. A very fine movie with a very important message. The movie is a love story told with the backdrop of the Armenian genocide. During the first World War Turkey, who sided with Germany, took the lives of almost 2 million Armenians. Perhaps you may have not heard of this until now. There are very good reasons why. First, Turkey has never admitted to this atrocity and claims all of those lives were lost during a “Voluntary relocation”. I am not sure about you, but I have never heard of 2 million volunteering to move at the same time. Another reason you may not have heard of the lose of all of these innocent men, women and children is because another country that has refused to officially recognize this event in history is the United States of America. Why? Quite simply, they need the use of air bases in Turkey for their interests in the middle east. Hearing these facts and knowing I am Armenian one may assume I hate, or have a prejudice against Turkish people. I do not. I have a friend named George. He owns an ice cream stand with the best ice cream I have tasted. We often laugh and I enjoy supporting his endeavors. He is Turkish.

In the Second World War we are all too familiar with the tragic loss of the lives of 6 million of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Innocent victims who gave their lives for nothing more than their spiritual beliefs. I am not Jewish, but I feel the anguish of what their people went through, and in many ways, are still going through.

That was still not the largest genocide in history. In the course of the founding of the country I live in 100 million, yes you read that number correct, Native Americans were killed in the name of civilization and expansion. Most of the ‘killers’ in this case were Christians who thought they were claiming lands from a less deserving people. They included not just the military who fired shots, but politicians who starved out innocent families after forcibly relocating them. If this all sounds a bit contrived I invite you to read the book Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee or study the trail of tears.

Why is this not part of the history we are taught in schools? One, patriotism. It would be hard for some to love a country knowing some of the terrible things that occurred in it’s founding. Also, the ones who win the wars write the books to teach the people. Often decedents of the very people who committed these acts are the ones teaching our children. Being that I am also Native American one could assume I harbor ill will against my own country or people who belong to the faith that murdered many of my ancestors. I do not. My friend Cari is a devout Christian who I feel honored to call my friend. Cari and I not only have healthy discussions on the differences in our beliefs, but how we can use both to help make the world a better place.

So, the question you may be asking yourself is why, or more to the point, how can I not harbor any ill will against any of these groups? There are several reasons I would like to share with you and tell you what you can do if you find yourself the victim of hate or racial discrimination. Believe or not, on occasion I still am.

The first reason I have nothing but love for these people is forgiveness. People often view forgiveness as a weakness. It is quite the opposite. To suffer at the hands of others or to be openly and unfairly judged based on your faith, race, religion or any such trait and to be able to forgive takes far more courage and strength than to continue the cycle of hate. More importantly, forgiveness is the gift you give yourself. This holds true for may reasons as well. When you hold hate and anger in your heart it not only steals your joy and slowly kills your spirit, but actually has many negative physical effects as well.

When you close your heart to people because they are different from you, or because they hurt you it can cost you the ability to get to know a great many wonderful people. When this is done on a large scale as mentioned in the examples above we lose even more. In the movie I mentioned one of the main characters is a promising medical student. He is very talented and has a natural passion for healing. That ability goes unused for many years simply because of the nationality he happens to be. His imprisonment was not only his loss, but a loss to all of those he could have been helping. Can you imagine if we had lost Albert Einstein to the Jewish holocaust? What would the world have all missed out on?

Another reason not to continue the cycle of hate is understanding. In the case of the three examples mentioned above there had been generations of teaching to masses of people to learn to hate, or at the very least think less of certain people. In most cases it stems from governments against other governments. Can you think of even some beliefs in your own family that you may not agree with? One of the greatest weapons now is knowledge. My grandfather taught me a great number of important things. I am going to quote him here the best I can remember. He told me “Never hate somebody you don’t fully understand. If you still dislike them, you still don’t fully understand them.” Getting to know all the different cultures on this beautiful planet can bring us a great deal of compassion. You do not have to agree with them, but understanding traditions and faith make it very difficult to keep any hate in your heart.

What if you find yourself victim of such ill will? Here is my sound advice I not only tell everyone in this situation, but follow myself – be the best version of yourself. You do this for several reasons. First, it shows the person’s ignorance for what it truly is. Second, you make the best representation of the very group they are persecuting. Frank Sinatra said it best when he said, “The best revenge is massive success.” Consider some of the famous Armenians (Cher and the Kardashians) or Native Americans (Johnny Depp and Chuck Norris). Now whether or not you enjoy these people’s talents they all have achieved a great deal of success.

Striving to learn why people learn to hate others with the passion they sometimes do has given me reasons to continue to be the best version of myself and to have compassion and seek understanding of those different than me. I ask you to pause and think of what we may have lost in the over 100 million lives that were unfairly taken in the examples above. Great doctors and people of healing? Great composers and musicians? The world will never know. What we do know is if we do not stop the cycle of hate we stand to lose a lot more. Do your part by fostering understanding and cooperation between all groups. Even if you disagree with someone, do your best not to talk ill of them personally and certainly whatever group they may belong to. It may seem like innocent gossip, but it is planting the seed of hatred that may grow into the examples above.

This may all seem very dark and negative, but the point is each one of us has the power to stop the cycle of hate and to turn the world around. The responsibility lies with all of us. In short, Love one another.

FEAR OF DEATH

“The fest of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

-Mark Twain

We have a Native American saying I like to use often.  “Hoka Hey” loosely translated it means “Today is a good day to die” Now you may be asking yourself “Why would any day be a good day to die?” Fair enough question. Facts being what they are, we are going to all die sometime. A survey was taken of people who were in their final days here on this planet and do you know what their top five regrets were? They are as follows, in no order in particular:

1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

2. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

These are the same regrets that often surface when someone we care for passes away as well. I recall this happening when my grandfather passed away. The following day we were supposed to go to a market he enjoyed. Being a young man I must admit I was dreading ‘wondering around looking at junk all day and never buying anything’ funny thing is as soon as he passed away not only did I feel bad about feeling that way, as the years have gone by I rather miss those trips. So much so I have even begun making trips myself to that very market. There are always questions left unasked, thoughts left not shared, moments left undone. One of the reasons this happens is quite often life gets in the way. I’ll take that vacation with my sister when work is less crazy, or I will buy that special gift for my spouse as soon as I save up a little extra money. Yet moments and lives can be stolen in the blink of an eye. Usually we never know when that may be. That is one of the reasons most people fear death, but this fear can also be turned into motivation. Why would a day be a good day to die? Answering the question we began with, a day where you have told everybody you love how you feel. Where you have used every skill and talent you have to bring the most to this world. When you have given of yourself freely and accepted all in complete gratitude, then it is a good day to die. So live every day as if it may be your last and if you every catch yourself feeling at peace with your life, you may want to emulate Chief Crazy Horse and yell “Hoka Hey!”