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.

THE HATERS CALLED IT AN INSULT, I LIVE IT AS A COMPLIMENT

No matter who you are, or what you are doing in life, you will have negative detractors. These days these people are known as ‘haters’. Especially with the advent of the internet it would seem people are more than happy to offer their negative feedback on you and your life. How do you combat such people? I have found the simplest way is to live the best version of yourself. When you do so you make them look as if they are the foolish ones. When someone says something about you and you are doing the best you can, that says something more negative about them than it does about you.

Let me share a personal story that better explains what I am talking about. A year or so ago, there was a party Margie and I were invited to. When we arrived we were told there would be snacks and people playing games. Margie and I love board games so we figured this would be right up our alley. We could not have been further from the truth. In this particular game, you could write your own answers. As the created answers rolled off the pens of those in attendance, I found myself a mixture of shocked and appalled. From this group of seemingly well-mannered individuals, came answers filled with racism and extreme prejudice. Not at all what I had expected. In a very short time, the answered went from mindless, bigoted stupidity, to advocating violence and other horrific acts against people for their race, religion or orientation. I had had enough. I informed Margie I was leaving.

When I got home, I felt so coated in negative energy I had to jump in the shower. Why did this bother me so much? Simple, racism and bigotry are stupid. They are an arcane belief that shows both a lack of culture and a great deal of ignorance in the individual speaking it. In a world where most of us are a mix of nearly everything, it makes absolutely no sense. With the internet and other advanced forms of communication, it takes only the smallest amount of effort to see how similar we are and how small the world truly is. As we are pone to thinking a great deal in the shower I thought of the dangerous implications this gathering could cause. Even in a group of such close-minded individuals there are always a few that are even more morally bankrupt and impressionable than the rest. Where most of them may have found this a sick sort of humor, there are people who think these acts may actually be permissible and proceed to act on them. This is how we end up with the violent acts we recently seen against the Asian-Americans in Atlanta and the attacks on the LGBTQ community in Orlando several years ago. These individuals were undoubtedly exposed to the same sort of racist and violent discussions.

Knowing I had to do something, I used the one platform I had to express my concern and feelings by writing on the issue. There is no doubt that several people in attendance that evening wrote what I had written. Fast forward 12 months and that group was having another party. I was not invited this time. (I was certainly happy with that) At the party one young lady expressed her joy at my absence telling a mutual acquaintance, “It is sure good Neil is not here. He is really offended by this.” While it was her attempt at painting me as a person who was overly sensitive to racist remarks as if that were a bad thing, I received it as a compliment. By speaking up for what I had felt was right, I now, apparently, had a reputation for someone who did not stand for discrimination of any kind. This woman was saying, in essence, “Neil is offended by our humor demeaning and advocating hatred and violence towards others who are different than us.” I stand guilty as charged. I believe everyone deserves respect and compassion. When I see that is not the case I speak up about it. If people think of that as a negative character trait of mine, they are welcome to it.

In this case, by living by the principles I have in my life, I have not only shown the haters for who they truly are, but turned their attacks into compliments in my opinion. They may mock my sensitivity to their racist and bigoted humor, but I will thank them for it. Live the best version of yourself my friends. It is better to be hated for who you truly are than to live a life that does not live up the standards you have set for yourself.

BE A PART OF THE NEW HOLIDAY!!

Starting now

With all of the craziness going on in the world, I am proposing a brand new holiday – UNIFICATION DAY. This holiday will be all about bringing the people of the world together.

We are all tired of this

UNIFICATION DAY should involve commitments by groups to do a better job working together for common goals. That could be different faiths setting aside the ritualistic differences and work towards common goals such as love and compassion. Reduction of violence between religions and many other common goals.

It should also include those of different political leanings. Work together for the good of the people. Help each other become more understanding. Work together to help small businesses and to educate those who may not usually have the opportunity. When we are all educated, the world benefits.

Love one another

Lastly, let there be commitment to work together as members of the human race. Let us refuse to be divided by race,economic standing, or any other issue that could divide us.

UNIFICATION DAY can be a day where we stand up to those that seek to divide us and do it with a spirit of love for one another. Host a UNIFICATION DAY party where you invite others that differ from you to celebrate, love and respect one another. Learn about a different faith. Perhaps give your time and effort to help those struggling with issues that you are grateful enough to not have in your life. If you have any ideas for ways we could celebrate UNIFICATION DAY feel free to share them in the comments below.

AN IMPORTANT ELECTION DAY REMINDER!!!

Let us all remember this

In the United States, today is election day. It seems every four years when we choose the leader of our country things get more tense and divided than the election before. Civility and respect tend to disappear and are all too often replaced by things such as insults and in the worst case violence.

Win or lose, this last year has been tough on all of us. There has been,of course, a terrible pandemic that has affected everyone in the world in some fashion. There have been losses, both financial and of life. Dreams have been shattered and lives turned upside down.

With all of these trying circumstances, you would think it would help feed feelings of compassion and a desire to help each other. I believe that is yet to come. Although we may differ greatly on the paths to take, I believe we all want the same things. We would like an end to the pandemic. We would like an opportunity to pursue our dreams and see our friends and family again. We would like to see the smiles behind the masks once more.

Our plan forward

While we cannot force things to change, there are certainly things we can do until that happens. We can fill our hearts with hope for s better future and for it to arrive sooner than later. We can pray, whatever our faith may be. We can pray for the health of the world. We can pray for the healing of our, and other’s hearts. In the meantime we can fill our lives and our world with as much joy as possible.

It is our love and compassion for each other than has not only helped us get through the most difficult times, but has lead to the greatest breakthroughs and advances in history. In a world that often seeks to divide us, let our love be stronger than their division.

DO NOT LET YOUR EMOTIONS OVERWHELM YOUR DECENCY

In this crazy world we have many issues dividing us. Wear a mask verses don’t wear a mask. Open the economy verses quarantine. In the United States we can also add an election.

It is more important now than ever to remember we can disagree and still respect each other. Even issues that have our passions and emotions running high, we must understand that is often the case on the opposite side as well.

Many crazy things have happened in 2020. Let us add one that we choose. May it become one of the first times in recorded history that we managed to stay united as humans despite our differences.

There is no need for name calling. That is something we should have learned in elementary school. When someone differs in their views there is no need to insult their character or them as a person. There is certainly no need for violence and destruction of property, especially that of innocent people and children.

Let us rise above our basic and primal instincts to show how good humanity can be in the face of grave challenges. We cannot control the news,we cannot, and should not try, to control our neighbors. We can, however, control ourselves. Let us hold ourselves to a higher standard and carry ourselves and treat each other with dignity and respect. It is not easy, but it is our only way forward.

My wish for all of us this week – may we hear more compliments than political ads.

WHERE TO SPEND YOUR ENERGY

Last post we spoke about resisting posting or responding to negative content online. We also mentioned using these platforms, whether they be Facebook, Twitter or any other social media, to spread love and appreciation we may be hesitant to voice in person. Today we are going to expand that principle. We are going to ‘take it outside the classroom’ as they say.

As responsible human beings we always want to fix what is wrong. That is a good urge and one I could certainly get behind. The method in which this is often done can be focused incorrectly. We worry about fighting a world in which all people are not treated equal. That in itself is a rather noble pursuit. In my opinion our focus should be on creating a world where everyone is treated equal. This may sound like the same thing, but it is not. Instead of focusing solely on eliminating hate, we should spend the bulk of our time on spreading love.

This may seem difficult to do when we look at issues of things such as racism, spiritual persecution, bullying and other societal behaviors. It would indeed be rather overwhelming to change all of that, but what we do have complete control over is ourselves. Let us focus on creating the new that we desire with our own behavior. Do we desire a world that is more loving and accepting? Let us be more loving and accepting ourselves. Let us join groups and organizations that promote unity and love.

Beginning today, let us focus our energy on growing the new world in which we wish to live. Let us do it by both changing our own actions as well as promoting and joining forces with individuals and groups that do the same. Instead of focusing on fixing what is wrong, let us instead focus on growing what is right.

IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER

Just a quick reminder of what really matters as we head into the weekend. Surround yourself with those people who have good souls. You will find your happiness and inner peace will increase dramatically.

In my own life, I look to include people from as many different cultures, religions, races and beliefs. It not only provides a great deal of variety, it brings a lot of new opportunities for joy. I encourage all of you to do the same. Have a great weekend!

TIME FOR REAL CHANGE

In the wake of recent events the pace of change is accelerating today faster than it has in a long time. In many respects that is good. Giving those who have not had a voice a platform to speak. Addressing issues like racism and inequality that have plagued our nation for far too long. Unfortunately, there are many cases when people searching more for revenge and less for equality dominate the headlines. Violence and vandalism distract from what is a very important message.

I would like to see the world begin to create some real change. Peaceful protests are needed to bring the attention to issues that some may have ignored and others may be ignorant to the fact they have even existed. Now that many of the issues are on the table, we need to move forward in a constructive manner to institute real change. Toppling statues of leaders that were cruel and unjust is one thing. A more powerful route is to topple senators that still are. For the world to see real change, for people of every color, creed and sex be treated fairly we must educate ourselves and take action. What can you do? Learn where your elected officials stand on issues that are important to you. Make sure you are registered to vote and encourage, and assist if needed, others to do the same. Vote out of office those that seek to divide us and vote into office those that are pushing for the world to come together as one. Vote for peace, vote for love, vote for what you believe in, but whatever you do, vote.

Enough of this political banter. There is an even more powerful change that I have witnessed a lot more lately. What is that change? LOVE. Throughout all of the violence and negativity we have seen on the news, I have seen a different sort of change. I have seen many more people displaying a love and respect for others who may be different than them. A great example – The other night I had ventured to my local coffee shop to create some of these blogs. There were two young African-American ladies there studying for what appeared to be some exam. They were hard at work but still sharing some laughter. Shortly after I arrived, an elderly white couple came in and began to play bridge. With the social distancing in the coffee shop, there was not many tables to choose from. This created a rather ‘cozy’ atmosphere among the three tables I mentioned. I was lost in the world of my typing, which happens quite often. The next time I looked up the elderly lady had walked over to ask the young ladies what they were studying and to compliment one of them on their outfit.

This story may not seem like anything to mind-blowing, but it was heart-warming. Why? It is the way the world should be. From what I have seen in the past, people from different worlds do not often communicate with each other. Whether this was out of fear, a perceived lack of things in common (trust me we all have a lot more in common than we think) or some other reason, it prevents us from really getting to know each other. In a world where there needs to be some tough conversations, it is vital that we respectfully communicate with each other. If you think of tough conversations you have had in your personal life, you know how difficult that can be.

One of the most powerful ways that we can foster change is to simply love one another. Not only does this make sense from a social perspective but it has been the theme of almost every spiritual belief system as well. The golden rule. Below you will see how that very axiom is promulgated in nearly every spiritual text. Yet again, something we all have in common. No matter what belief we follow, we should all do our best to love one another.

Let us change the world. Let us change it with love. Let us change it now.

HERE’S YOUR NEW JOB!

As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mr. Fred Rogers. For the younger generation that follow me who may not have ever heard of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, it was a children’s show on public television. On this show Mr. Rogers taught kids very valuable life lessons. Things like how to express your feelings. The importance of maintaining a positive attitude. He also spoke of complicated things like death and divorce. He discussed these topics in a simple way that children could understand them.

In my mind, this had to be a very difficult thing to do. As adults we tend to over complicate nearly everything we do. Taking a complicated subject, such as divorce, and breaking it down to help children understand what is going on takes a lot of work. Mr. Rogers also broke down many barriers before their time. When people of different races were not allowed in the same swimming pool and tensions were high, Mr. Rogers invited his neighborhood friend Officer Clemmons, who is African-American, to soak his feet in the swimming pool with him. They sat and talked. Not about Racism or even the current pool segregation. Instead they talked about how hot it was. When Officer Clemmons remarked he did not have a towel, Mr. Rogers quickly volunteered to share his.

This may not seem like anything so remarkable on the surface, but in 1969 when the episode aired, it was. People of different colors were not supposed to swim together and certainly not share a towel. Now take time to think that this was on a children’s television show. People in their formative years were watching this. They were not hearing an argument as to what was or should be. They were not being preached at. They were being shown an example of how people should treat each other.

Leading by example was something often seen on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I recall an episode where he visited a restaurant to show children what that was like. He was courteous, and well-mannered. He didn’t say, “Now this is how you behave here.” He just did. Another thing I recall from both that episode and others, was how he seemed in awe of everything and everyone. Some may take a person making a sandwich for granted. Not Fred Rogers. He genuinely complimented the people throughout his entire visit. He also seemed entirely grateful. He seemed to find joy in the smallest things. From everything I have seen and read, Fred Rogers was this type of person off the screen as well.

Here is where you and your job comes in. Mr. Fred Rogers died in 2003. He was a dynamic man with a heart bigger than most people I can think of. His ‘Neighborhood’ was a fictitious place, but it doesn’t have to be. Each one of us can be the Mr. Rogers of our own neighborhoods. We can teach by example. We can treat everyone we meet with reverence and respect. As one of my other mentors, Earl Nightingale, said, “We do this because that is how people ought to be treated.” Treat each day and thing as a miracle – because they are. Foster an attitude of gratitude. There is always so much to be thankful for. When others try to divide us, love one another. A loving example can be just as powerful as a speech, sometimes even more so.

This piece of advice was given by Mr. Rogers during many crisis. It couldn’t hold more weight today. In this social media driven world we can tend to see and focus on only the bad and negative. That is very easy to do, it is plastered all over the place. One way we can be like Mr. Rogers and help us all to have more ‘beautiful days in the neighborhood’ is to look for the helpers, the people who are helping. Find the people helping to clean up the environment. Find those trying to help the old and sick. Find those who are trying to bring people together instead of driving them apart. Join these people. Support these people. Most of all – become one of these people. In short – become the Mr. Rogers of your neighborhood.

WORK ON YOUR DIET AND CHANGE THE WORLD

Here is one of those fabulous things I happen across on my social media viewing. I was blessed to have many friends who shared this exact picture. More importantly, I believe they also genuinely feel that way. Once again, I must mention how grateful I am to have people in my life that feel and act this way.

In a world where many people may feel confused or concerned how to speak to and treat one another, there is one guiding principle that can make things a little easier and a lot less stressful. That principle is to have a genuine love and appreciation for all of us sharing this planet. It can be a hard thing to do at times, but if you can show love to everyone, including those who may seem not to deserve it, you will have a truly amazing life.

I know you might be thinking, “That sounds great Neil, but how can I learn to do that?” A first great step would be to watch your diet. You might be wondering how watching what you eat can help you to become a more loving and compassionate individual. Your diet is not only the food you consume. Your diet also consists of the music you listen to, the books you read, the people you hang out with and everything you consume not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. At the end of this post I will give you a little healthy treat for your diet. Make sure you read on for that.

If you spend your time in fear of what words or phrases may be acceptable these days, or you just are concerned with saying the wrong thing, there is a simple solution to that as well – become an encouraging. This world that can seem crazy and chaotic is woefully short on reasons to be encouraged. Help someone heal. Help them believe in themselves. If this is your intentions, your heart will guide you to the right words.

By having and more importantly showing love for each other, we do something wonderfully important – we help people believe in themselves. There are many great agents of change, spiritual and cultural leaders that have doubted themselves at some point. Without their contribution, the world would have been a darker place. The great thing about this is that there is always opportunities to help someone believe in themselves and in turn help them change the world.

Don’t believe it? Think of some of these examples. You encourage a young lady who is learning the art of cake decorating. Instead of giving up when her wedding cake looks more like abstract art than a culinary masterpiece, she tries again. She remains confident and goes on to create edible works of art. How does this change the world? Imagine the joy that adds to every special occasion her cakes are a part of. They will add something special to every event. A heart-melting sigh when the bride and groom see their cake on their wedding day. The ear to ear grin on the young child when they see their favorite character sitting right on top of their birthday cake.

Perhaps it is a young writer? Maybe pondering if the words he shares truly impact the lives of others. How would an encouraging word help this young fellow and how would it then change the world? Perhaps it would encourage him to continue to develop his craft and keep sharing his words knowing someone is listening. Then those words could reach a lost and lonely soul halfway across the world and bring them joy. Those words could then be shared from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Changing the day for many.

These are totally random and hypothetical examples, but they hold true just the same. We never know what someone is facing in life or where their heart and mind may be at. Maybe it is encouraging someone singing on a microphone for the first time, or the lonely kid sitting by themselves at lunch. Just letting these people know that you have love for them will make their world brighter, the world as a whole brighter and just might save their life.

As promised I am going to give you a little something good to add to your diet and will help you to remember to encourage and have love for people of all kinds. If you click the link below you will be treated to a great performance by the artist Michael Franti. Not only is Michael a great ambassador for love and peace, he represents a lot of us. He was adopted as a young child. His mother was European and his father a mix of African and Native American. He has a sister who is a lesbian and a brother who is a police officer. Well-rounded you might say. I strongly encourage you to click on the link below to listen to this song for yourself. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for encouraging and having love for each other below.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW AND LISTEN TO THE GREAT MICHAEL FRANTI SONG