THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE IGNORANCE

Those of you who know me, even a little, know that I find racism and prejudice both comical in their archaic nature and pitifully sad in the loss of experience one suffers from it. In terms of tackling such issues, there are as many approaches as there are issues to tackle. Some take to the streets and protest peacefully such as the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. A great and effective approach. Some take to the streets to riot, which in my opinion not only compounds the problem, but adds validity to the fools speaking the racist and prejudice statements in the first place. There are legal actions, social actions, political actions and many others. Personally, I find actions that do not victimize others and bring about needed social change are all good.

All that being said, I believe there is one way that towers above all the others in not only bringing about long-term social change, but may be the only way that stands a chance in succeeding to bring change to the hearts and minds of those who hold these archaic and asinine views. Before we get to what I think that may be, I want to share a store about a man that I feel embodies this example and share with you not only some of the things he went through, but of course, how he handled them as well. He is both my favorite singer of all time, but also a great man. He is Nat King Cole.

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born March 17th, 1919 in Montgomery Alabama. Born the son of a Baptist minister, the Coles family moved to Chicago when Nat was 4 years old in search of a better life. He began to learn the piano from his mother at the age of 4 and began formal lessons at the age of 12. Nat went on to become one of the most accomplished Jazz pianists of all time. Initially, he did not sing until a drunk patron at a club he was playing insisted he did. Told by the owner that this patron was a well-paying customer and that if Nat valued his job he should learn to sing right then and there. Reluctantly, Nat began to sing Sweet Lorraine. The rest, as they say, is history. Nat King Cole went on to sell millions of albums, have over 100 songs that became hits on the pop charts and starred in film and television.

This is not to say that Nat had an easy go of it, personally or professionally. Most of his success came in the 1940’s and 1950’s before the civil rights movements. I would like to highlight some of the challenges he faced and how he handled them. He was often not allowed to stay in the very hotels that he played at and made money for. What did he do? He quietly sued them after, winning many cases. Those he did not, he chose not to play again and share his talent, and the business it generated, with more accepting locations.

In July of 1948, coming off such hits as The Christmas Song, Nature Boy and Mona Lisa, Nat and his wife Maria wanted to settled down and purchased a house in the affluent, and all white, Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angles. When the neighborhood association learned that a black entertainer was moving into their neighborhood they want to see Cole’s manager and told him they would pay back the down payment as well as some profit if Nat would not buy the house. He refused. They then held a special meaning to try to solve the issue. Nat decided to attend. After many racist and angry things were said, one man attempting to ease tensions told Nat, “Mr. Cole, we just to not want any undesirables in this neighborhood.” What did Nat do? Did he bristle at the statement? Did he counter the insult of being called an ‘undesirable’ with one of his own? Both of those certainly would have been understandable. Did he use his fame to denounce the people and the neighborhood in the press as celebrities are so quick to do these days? Nope. Nat simply stood up and said, “I’m with you. I do not want any undesirables in this neighborhood either. If I see some I will be the first one to complain.” The Coles were allowed to move in. Through the years they were subject to signs and burning crosses in their yard. Someone even poisoned their dog. Through it all, Nat and his family would not take the bait and continued to be the example of perfect neighbors. In turn, making all of those who wished them out of the neighborhood look like the foolish ones.

Even professionally, Nat was not immune to the reality of racism. Despite being an accomplished and award-winning performer, this was made quite evident on a return trip to his home state. On April 10, 1956 Nat was performing to an all white audience in Birmingham Alabama when he was viciously attacked by six men. The men had ties to an organization that was tied to the Klu Klux Klan. After the attack when he returned to the stage the white audience gave him a 10 minute standing ovation. Did Nat swear at the audience or storm out? No he simply told the audience, “I came here to entertain you. That was what I thought you wanted. I was born in Alabama. Those folks hurt my back. I cannot continue because I need to see a doctor.” Later when pressed for his opinions on the attack, Cole seemed confused as to why they chose to attack him as he was just trying to entertain them. By refusing to speak out against his attackers and instead take the high road, Mr. Cole was also attacked, albeit in the press, by the African American community including Thurgood Marshall who called him an “Uncle Tom.” Perhaps Mr. Marshall did not appreciate the resolve and control it takes to suffer such indignity and keep your pride and head held high. Nat did involve himself in Civil Rights, such as joining the legendary 1963 March On Washington, but always insisted he was an entertainer and not a politician.

In 1956, Nat King Cole continued to break more barriers by becoming the first African American to host a weekly national television program. It was the first time that a black man would appear on television in the homes of millions Americans. The show had everything you could want. It had great music, a comic edge and great guests, both black and white. It continued to climb in the ratings and was eventually given a prime time slot. Something unheard of in the mid 1950’s. After a little more than a year of continued success, the one thing the show did not have was a national sponsor. Companies were still not brave enough to link their products with an African American performer, no matter how accomplished, articulate and well-liked he was. What was Nat’s reaction? Did he get on his show and beg for a sponsor? Did he call out and attack the companies for not having the guts to sponsor his show? No. Nat, facing the fact the network would not continue a show, no matter how successful it was, if it didn’t bring in money, canceled his own show. His one comment on the matter? “Madison avenue is afraid of the dark.”

I can appreciate the desire of and the need for more in-your-face solutions to behavior that is as stupid as racism and prejudice. There certainly needs to be a spotlight on those folks who engage in this behavior and make them accountable. For my money, one of the best ways to approach those who attack us for reasons such as these is the one taken by Nat King Cole. Remain dignified. Conduct yourself in everything you do with class and excellence. When those sink to behavior that speaks to their diminished character, you shine by showing them your high character. It is not about letting people walk all over you, but becoming the best version of yourself so their attacks not only fall flat but look foolish as well. When someone considers you ‘undesirable’ for any reason, do what Nat did. Stand right next to them and say, “I am with you I don’t want any undesirables around and if I see one, you will be the first to know.” Not only will you have them feeling foolish, you stand a better chance of changing their minds than if you attacked them for their ignorance.

DO YOUR BEST NOT TO

This month is generally a month of love. It includes the holiday of Valentines Day. You can see hearts almost everywhere you look. I am going to ask we do our best to love all of our fellow human beings. (and dogs, bears, monkeys…etc) Do your best this weekend to be free of judgement.

This may sound easy at first. Two days without judging anyone? It is harder than it may seem. Some of our judgements are so ingrained in us we may be unaware we are even doing them. We see and senior and assume they are frail. We may see a person with blue hair, or a mohawk, and assume they are a rebellious rule breaker.

Some judgements may come from social conditioning. We see a person who is overweight and assume they are lazy or do not have any physical stamina. Maybe we have been taught certain beliefs about those of a certain race or religion? How about those of a certain political affiliation? Those who live in a particular area? All of these beliefs are actually judgements.

Some judgments we may feel we have a right to hold. A fellow driver cuts you off, passes you illegally and speed off into the horizon. This person is a rude, dangerous and unsafe individual right? Maybe they are someone who is rushing to the bedside of someone they love who is passing away? Maybe they just have to poop?  Someone snaps at you at the grocery store? They are just rude and impatient? Maybe they just lost their job or had a disagreement with their spouse?

The truth is we really never know what everyone’s story may be. Even the people we know to be mean or insensitive can be so for reasons we may never know. They could have been abused growing up. They could be plagued by feelings of inadequacy and doubt. Most actions we consider mean or rude are veiled cries for help. That certainly does not excuse or justify their behavior, but it may give us pause before we judge.

This weekend, let us do our best to remember everyone has a story including us. Everyone has something they are judged by, including us. Let us do our small part to remove a little bit of judgement from the world starting today.

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.

CLICK HERE TO GET NEIL’S BOOK FILLED WITH IDEAS TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AMAZING

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKIN’ AT?

This ties in with our last post. What we are focused on is what we will see. See if this sounds familiar. You ask a friend where something is, they tell you it is in a cabinet that you are sure it is not in. So, to pacify your friend and because you have no idea where it is you begin to look through this cabinet that you are certain it is not in. You look and look and do not see it. Finally, you yell to the room where your friend is, “I told you it was not in here!” Your helpful friend comes into the room, reaches right in front of you and takes the item out of the cabinet. “I swear I looked everywhere!” You exclaim.

Why did your eyes not see something that was right in front of your face? It was your brain that told your eyes it was not there. Before we delve further into that explanation, let us do one more fun quick experiment. I found this to really make this point clear for me. Get comfortable wherever you are reading this. Now, for the next ten seconds look around and find everything you can that is red….look for red… keep looking… ok now close your eyes (unless you are in your car of course) now with your eyes closed think of everything you saw that was….brown. It may be hard to recall much of anything because you were focused on the red. Same with life. There might be lots of positive things around you that you simply do not see. One more interesting thing, when looking for red things, did your mind make adjustments? Maybe see something burgundy and call it red just so you could have another thing? Our minds do this as well.

How is this physically possible? Our brains create what is called a psychological scotoma. We create a mental inability to conceive even the possibility of seeing that aspect, due to a mentality that lacks any provision for it. In simple terms, if our brain says it can’t be so, our eyes simply say “You are the boss.” and do not see it.

While this is fascinating and a neat parlor trick when it comes to containers of salt in a cabinet or colors of objects in a room, it amounts to something greater. We have proven to ourselves through our little color experiment how we can not only see what we are focused on, but just as important, not see what we do not focus on. If this works with the situations we mentioned above, how do you think this translates to other areas of our life? Like our perceptions of certain races of people? Maybe people affiliated with political parties? How everything in our life is terrible and the world is against us. There may be plenty of evidence to the contrary right in front of our face, but because our brain does not want to be wrong it will literally block it out.

Think of some of your most steadfast beliefs. Maybe it is that some races are all criminals, or terrorists or just plain lazy. Maybe it is that everybody that belongs to a certain political party has a pact with the devil. Try asking yourself could this maybe not be entirely true? Is there maybe one great person in the race you have a negative opinion of? If so, couldn’t there be more? Maybe some of the ideas coming from the opposite political party have some merit to them? Maybe a blending of those ideas with your party could yield an even greater solution?

When our minds open up to see the good and beauty in more of the world, our eyes will follow as well. That will only lead to a more positive and rewarding life for us.

TOGETHER IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD

Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. American minister and civil rights leader. This gentleman is someone I greatly admire. He had the bravery to stand up and bring to light the deplorable treatment of his race. Knowing standing up to speak his mind and do what is right may very well cost him his very life is something I cannot grasp. Not only to do so on a personal level, but in the national spotlight so that every person full of hate would know exactly who you were and where you lived. Risking not only your safety, but that of your family and friends. How many of us would be willing to do that just because it is the right and just thing to do?

That bravery, as amazing and mind-blowing as it is to me, is not what I admire and respect most about this man. It is something entirely different and something we can learn from his legacy. His bravery to me is easily trumped by a skill that I think has gotten lost in those who crusade for causes of both racial and social justice – compassion. In everything he stood for, Dr. King never advocated revenge, he never proposed the use of violence or crime. He never asked to be given anything other than equality, which all people, everywhere, so richly deserve.

Reading this may sound like compassion is nothing to difficult, but think of this, in the time Dr. King was alive, he was spit on, called vile unspeakable names, physically assaulted, had his life and the life of his family threatened, and as we all know, ended up having his life taken.

Throughout all of this one would not blame him if he screamed things in return such as, “You owe me!” or wanted to burn down their houses and threaten their families in return. I certainly do not want to imagine what my reaction would be if I were treated in the same fashion.

What impresses me most about Martin Luther King Jr. is his not only willingness, but insistence on working together. Dr. King understood that to make equality work we need not only the qualities of bravery, strength, and persistence, but also those of compassion, faith and understanding. Much like Nelson Mandela when he was released after having 25 years of his life taken away solely because of his race, he did not seek revenge, but said “Let us work together to lead our country.” When I read that my first thought was, “he said what?!” How many of us would be able to put our egos and feelings of vengeance aside for the greater good? How many of us would be able to understand that violence and crime are not protests and will not lead to a solution.

Which brings me to another thing I deeply admire about Martin Luther King Jr. He always encouraged every member of his race to be the most upstanding individuals they could be. There is nothing that takes away the validity of prejudice, than proving their venomous opinions wrong through right action. Just as there is nothing that feeds the fire of hatred propagated by those filled with racism and prejudice than behaving just as they describe. There is nothing that shows these traits as being archaic and asinine as forcing someone to say, “See that person helping the homeless over there with a smile and compassion? We should hate them because they are gay/black/Muslim/left-handed or whatever idiotic hatred I feel like spewing today.” Then they are the ones who look foolish.

Any intelligent person knows there are good and bad people in each and every group you examine. In today’s world where hate can often steal the front page, we must work harder than ever to love and understand one another. We must do so by not only passing laws to punish discrimination, but more importantly by addressing beliefs and behavior behind the actions of hatred. Real change happens first in the heart, then in the court of law.

It will take all the strength we have not to respond to judgment and hatred thrust upon us with hatred of our own, but we must be vigilant in our fight to make the world a more peaceful and loving place. We must do that by not only being the best person we can be, but having patience, understanding and compassion for those who need it the most, those who hate.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. that I feel captures what we have been discussing here today.

“Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

i—

DON’T CONFUSE THE TWO

This is a tough one. When we are emotionally hurt it can leave a scar worse than a physical scar. Sometimes we even have a habit of dating the same kind of people who treat us poorly. If you couple that with the intense emotional pain that we feel it is so wonder our brains can link things together and come up with some pretty strange conclusions! We can believe all relationships cause pain. Of course we can look around and see proof that is not true. You can get hurt in most relationships, but if two people truly care about each other it becomes an opportunity for growth and becoming closer. The abusive, painful relationships are not relationships at all. There is no relating or respect, but instead more of a using. When we get hurt it may be difficult to realize that, but realize it we must or we prevent ourselves from experiencing all the wonderful things a healthy relationship can offer.

Not only relationships can be affected by this way of thinking. For example, I was bitten by the same type of dog on several occasions. Most dogs rather enjoy my company and I must confess I enjoy their company far more than some humans I have come across. Still the link to the physical pain and the fact is was the same breed and I am not the biggest fan of those particular dogs. That is a link I formed in my head. I could have developed the belief that all dogs were bad, or even lost my love for animals. Luckily I had many fun and not painful experiences before that so those never came to be.

So let us look at our beliefs and see how we came to develop them and if they have any validity. Perhaps we have drawn the wrong conclusions. Maybe in my case I happened across some bad dog owners? Perhaps I need to learn to modify my behavior around those types of dogs or learn more about them?

If ever we have beliefs that are absolute such as “All men are bad” “All people of this belief are bad” we need to really take a look at them more closely. Very rarely do things in this world fit in absolutes. Even gravity is known to work a little sketchy in certain parts of the world. Please share this blog post and website with those you car for.