Conversational

America: Divided We Fall

I told myself that I was going to try my hardest not to say or write anything further about the things that have been going on in this country as of late. But in light of recent events, and due to this prolonged period of elevated hostility, hatred, and chaos we, as a people, have become consumed by, I felt compelled to at least offer up some of my thoughts and opinions on what we, as a society, should be doing, collectively, in an effort to overcome these superficial barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation. Racism and ethnic segregation are nocuous to our American Nationalism and will only serve to further divide us against each other. And, as Americans, we should be a united front, held together EQUALLY, regardless of what we look like, where we come from, who we love, and what we believe, by our common nationality and citizenry. If we truly want to make this nation “great,” then we need to start by mending the tears in the fabric of our society.

I’ve always believed that one of the most fundamentally important things we need to consider when trying to solve many of our personal problems and social challenges is our level of active engagement, not just reflection and rhetorical and philosophical musings. We need to reevaluate everything in and around us, and start taking steps towards developing our own positive inner qualities and transforming ourselves into genuinely ethical and compassionate human beings. But compassion shouldn’t be something we just feel on the inside. It needs to be something we also demonstrate and exercise constantly through actions.

Too many people have become content living isolated, self-absorbed lives rather than being at all concerned with the world around them and the difference they could make in it if they only tried. That “world” includes the proximal intra-personal and inter-personal relationships of home, family, and community, as well as the larger context of society, commerce, natural resources, governance, and the environment. So basically, we need to seriously examine how we are not only treating ourselves, but also how we treat others and the environment.

What kind of a selfish person chooses to live only for themselves today when they could be helping to build a better tomorrow for everyone? And as these inner workings begin to transform us as individuals, the ethical and altruistic qualities we develop begin to spill out into our communities, our world, with each and every consideration, action, and interaction. It is only with a respectful, intelligent, and informed heart and mind that we can finally begin experiencing life with a sense of interconnectedness, rather than the dividedness and segregation that has become so prevalent in today’s modern societies.

But how do we do any of this?  How do we cultivate and nurture a caring and compassionate culture? How do we begin transforming and healing our world?

In order to transform our world, our families, our workplaces, and our communities, we must begin by transforming ourselves through self-contemplation, self-inquiry, and self-reflection, as well as through the cultivation of benevolent humanitarian values and ethics. We have to develop the ability and the capacity to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of others. In the beginning, we may feel as if our actions are inauthentic, contrived, or fabricated, but if we “practice” new behaviors and try to consider, adopt, and see things from new and differing points of view, and we experience firsthand the results of actions rooted in generosity, kindness, and the wish to benefit others — if we restrain our selfishness, hostility, and anger, and make an effort to also develop and promote tenderness, kindness, and generosity — our experience becomes our teacher; our experience educates us.

So the answer to our problem, how it is we create a kinder, more caring and compassionate, UNITED society, arises from the intentions and actions of the individuals within that society. One small act of kindness and generosity, or just one act of tenderness, of selflessness, each and every one of these moments makes a difference. No act is too small or insignificant. Each little gesture serves to eventually connect every single being on this planet through kindness, much like how the strands of a rope all come together to create a larger, stronger form. With this rope, we strengthen and fortify our relationship with ourselves and those around us, like a movement that starts with just one person and multiplies over time until it is all-encompassing. First encircling ourselves and others, close family, friends, coworkers, our communities, total strangers, and eventually….the world.

Rudolph’s Redemption

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” might be the deepest of all the Christmas Classics. It definitely is among the most animated ones. There can be no doubt. Maybe you think it’s sappy, or outdated, or just part of the stupid song. Not so. There is more, here, than meets the eye. There is substance beneath the veneer of stop-animation and the lyricism of Burl Ives. There is a truly valuable and timeless lesson therein. 

Rudolph is a treatise on acceptance. It is a very basic story about the fact that what makes us different, what often makes us hated, mistreated, ignored, or berated … those are the things worth having. Those are the things that define us. It’s not the 99.9% of genetic makeup that we share with monkeys that makes us special, is it? It’s that 0.1% … that last little bit. Rudolph couldn’t help his nose being red any more than Hermey could help loving teeth. Those toys … those misfit toys … they were MADE that way. All of the characters in this story find redemption, ironically, because of the very parts of their being that made them hated. This special teaches a fundamental character trait. It shows that one should value others, not judge them. It tells us to love one another, and not to mistreat our fellow beings.

Rudolph was driven away in shame, Hermey was belittled into quitting his job, and the toys were abandoned and ostracized for not conforming to what some idiot kids thought a “toy” was supposed to be. Well screw those kids, I’ll take a misfit toy over a regular one any day of the week. I want the nesting doll that ends in a mouse. I want a bird that swims. I want a water gun than shoots jelly. I want a polka dot elephant. I want a cowboy riding an ostrich. I want a sinking boat and a plane that can’t fly. I want a train with square wheels on its caboose. I want a damn Charlie in the Box! I want an elvish dentist and a radiant reindeer. I want uniqueness. I want different. Conformity is boring. No one remembers any of the other elves’ names or any of the other reindeer kids, either. If I didn’t watch the special every year, I wouldn’t even remember that they gave some of them names at all. They are uninteresting, unimportant, and banal. But the weirdos stick with you. The oddballs came through in the end, when no one else could.

Hermey de-toothed the bumble and made it tame. The toys were found by Santa and given to (presumably) less judgmental, more grateful children. And Rudolph …well, without him, there wouldn’t have been any presents at all that year. Despite all of their so-called flaws, these hated and undervalued people came right back to help those who persecuted them in the first place. If that isn’t a Christian ideal consistent with the very essence of this purportedly holy day, then I don’t know what is. I can’t think of a single other animated classic that has anything nearly as moving at its core, save perhaps “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could be played at any time of year for people of any age and it would still ring true, however. That is somewhat unique among the holiday classics.

So, this year and all years hence, I ask you all to lift a glass of eggnog to the greatest, simplest, and purest of all Christmas messages! It is a toast to Rudolph, Hermey, and to all the Misfit Toys out there. It is a toast to our selves. It is a toast to redemption and a toast to acceptance. If you can’t do at least that much this holiday season, then you’re no friend of mine.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a Joyous Whatever Else You Celebrate!

Conservapedia: Something Wiki This Way Comes

While doing some Internet research this morning, I came across a website by the name of Conservapedia.

As I began to read through some of the hostile, perhaps even hateful, article headlines, the site’s overall message became very clear to me:

  • “There Is No Such Thing as Marriage Equality. Why be foolish and accept a fake substitute?”
  • “Evidence for (think he meant “of”) bias in school textbooks includes promotion of (he probably just forgot to put the word “the” here) Homosexual (and I’m sure he also meant to make that a lowercase “h”) agenda, support of liberal viewpoint (perhaps the “s” that belongs at the end of this sentence made off with the “of” and “the” from earlier), as well as support of the unproven theory of evolution. Most Biology textbooks do not provide the Creationist viewpoint a chance, or even a second thought.”(oh now he’s done it! **Rolling up sleeves for this one**):
    • To say that anything in science is “unproven” or “proven” is to completely overlook one vital detail regarding it: Science does not deal in absolute proof, only in the balance of evidence.
    • No scientific theory, evolution included, is ever considered to be proven. Instead, the more evidence that accumulates to support a theory, the more our confidence in it grows. Eventually, a point may be reached where the quantity of evidence supporting the theory is so vast, so overwhelming, that future attempts to deny or question it are considered futile and unfounded. THIS is the case with the theory of evolution, as it is the case with other theories that form the pillars of modern science today.
    • Perhaps this lovely gentleman is confused by the use of the word “theory” here. I can understand that, since this is an issue that oftentimes confuses the general public. “Theory” and “law” may have different common meanings, but in science, their meanings are very similar. A theory is an explanation of which is back by “a considerable body of evidence,” while a law is a set of regularities expressed in a “mathematical statement.” Evolution, like with most of Biology, cannot be expressed in a concise mathematical equation, and therefore it is referred to as a theory. A scientific law is not “better” or “more accurate” than a scientific theory.
  • “Anti-feminists understand that feminism is a danger to society. it (capitalization) is because of feminism we have we have (we have, we have….Tourette’s?) unrestricted sex, the Pill, abortion on demand, an astronomically increased number of single mothers (let’s be honest here, would you want your daughter marrying a man like this? Would YOU marry a man like this? Didn’t think so), teenage mothers and women in their 40’s struggling with infertility (the American Society of Reproductive Medicine states that a woman’s best reproductive years are in her 20’s. Fertility gradually declines in the 30’s, particularly after age 35. By age 40, a woman’s chance is less than 5% per cycle, so fewer than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to become pregnant each month…just saying), we have a fatherless generation who hasn’t seen a better example (what the heck does that even mean?); chastity is mocked, women are sexualized and coerced into selling themselves cheap (would he prefer they overcharge, instead? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.); we have no-fault divorce, and deterioration of family”
    • Yes, because growing up in a home where there is a total lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, especially while expressing extreme and obvious empathy towards others, and making children grow up feeling marginalized couldn’t have anything to do with this whatsoever. Having a parent, or parents, that engage(s) in unfair or unequal treatment of one or more family members based on gender, age, birth order, family role, abilities, race, sexual and religious preferences, and have either or both disrespect them by violating their boundaries, couldn’t possibly be the reason we see deteriorating family involvement these days. It must be those crazy queers and dangerous feminists, right?

Eventually I became less interested in the website itself, and more curious about the person responsible for it. So now let us take a brief look at its creator.

AndyS

Meet Andrew Layton Schlafly, an American lawyer (I’ve seen grade school students with more impressive writing skills, and yet he has a law degree?) and conservative activist best known as the founder and owner of the wiki Conservapedia.

Andy, who initially intended for the site to be his mediocre attempt to collaboratively develop an online encyclopedia, founded the self-proclaimed conservative Christian alternative to Wikipedia on November 21st, 2006. Having, instead, been used as a soapbox for one misguided fanatic’s own vanity project, Conservapedia has become nothing more than a dumpsite for Shlafly’s toxic political and religious informational waste. And you know what they say about birds of a feather, don’t you? The site also boasts a number of articles and projects published by its own bigoted editors and administrators, who use their right-wing rhetoric in an attempt to provide their crusade with a driving theological imperative.

Thankfully, while such rhetorical rubbish may attract some wavering co-religionists to its cause, it also acts as a natural social constraint by limiting how successful the fundamentalist mindset can be outside of like minded circles. With such a relentlessly negative message and a tendency to demonize their opposition (e.g. the demonization of the explanatory width and depth of modern day science), it’s not difficult to comprehend why most people today tend to respond negatively to fundamentalist views, and why their overall widespread acceptance has been so severely crippled.

While fundamentalists tend to do more damage to their own cause than anything else (especially given their propensity for being incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for evidence), the narrow-minded viewpoints expressed on Conservapedia should not be regarded as the collective voice of a larger community. Instead of looking at it as a reflection of the insights of an entire group of people, see it for what it really is: the distorted views of discriminative, fascist pigs and fanatical ideologues with raging persecution complexes, each being the product of insanity that I believe is wrought by ignorance and persistent delusions.

In a West Point study on the growing danger of violence from right-wing extremist groups, they laid out three major ideological movements; a racist white supremacy movement, an anti-government movement, and a fundamentalist Christian movement that have always existed in this country. This is not to say that Republicans promote right-wing extremism with a view towards violence against the government or other Americans, but their support for policies the extremists hold near and dear to their black hearts lends validity to hate movements that are becoming common among conservatives and having detrimental effects on the population. What do you think would be the outcome of a politician, television news station, and church telling people change endangers their entire way of life? Simple. The same things we’ve seen play out in similar scenarios in the past. Fear, doubt and loss give way to hate and anger. The result today, I believe would be an America with a large division of anti-government religious racists, all equipped with guns and four years of hate, searching for a place or means of release they will find in Republican policies and on America’s streets.

For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the fundamentalist’s extreme and literal interpretation of the bible, here are a few verses and their interpretations, brought to you by Ivana Wynn over at ranker.com (for a more indepth look at these bible verses and their literal, extremist interpretations, please read Ivana’s article: The Top 20 Bible Passages to Use Against Fundamentalists):

  1. “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)
    1. This is the most often quoted version of this passage, but in The King James Bible, it goes a little bit more like this: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”
  2. “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
    1. According to this passage, all members of the congregation that have been divorced and/or remarried would be sinners and should be kicked out of the church. With a 50% divorce rate in America, it’s safe to say that people are selectively ignoring this rule, yet somehow still seeing themselves as “pious.”
  3. “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”(Deuteronomy 23:1)
    1. First of all, yes, the King James Bible actually calls them “stones.” You are now aware of the fact that the “stones” euphemism is a biblical reference.
    2. Also, God hates people with testicular cancer, apparently.
  4. “A bitched shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:2)
    1. A bitched is someone who was born outside of wedlock, which means you were born before your parents were married. Being born out of wedlock makes you filthy, apparently; so filthy in fact that it takes ten genetic steps down the line to wash how filthy it makes you. So your family’s 100% awesome to come to church in like a century or two if you’re a bitched, which I guess is fair.
  5. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
    1. Bring around some pictures from Men’s Health for the women and some Maxim, perhaps some Playboy, for the men. Get them to look at it and give you an opinion. Most of the time, they will have lustful descriptions and will think nothing of it when they’re really violated a cut and dry part of what is supposed to be their belief system. Feel free to shout things like “ADULTERER!” after Gerard Butler and Jessica Alba have made everyone into adequate sinners.
  6. “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head…” (1 Corinthians 11:5)
    1. Fundamentalist Christian women seem to have forgotten this basic rule of church attire reminiscent of Islam. The bible should have clarified what it means to dishonoureth one’s head. Most women walk around with their hair uncovered in all styles in modern society and men aren’t having too much trouble keeping it in their pants.
    2. Mary always wore a veil…why shouldn’t they?
  7. If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”(Leviticus 26:27-30)
    1. So basically, If you disobey God, you will eat your babies.
    2. You might as well put on the Food Network, get some good recipes ready and hand them to someone next time a Christian fundamentalist tries to pull their piety card out. If they’re not following this rule, then why follow rules that allow hate towards people different than they are?
  8. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:35-27)
    1. So believing in God, according to the bible, is like a life-or-death game of Family Double Dare, only instead of having color-coded teams it’s every man (woman and child) for themselves.
    2. So next time someone says “family first” it’s probably them tricking you into loving God less than you should, just so you’ll go to hell and they won’t. So, according to the bible, every time a mother tells her child that family is the most important thing in the world, they’re really condemning their child to an eternity of fire, brimstone and suffering.
  9. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke [reason with] thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19: 17-18)
    1. This pretty much means that every single Westboro Baptist Church protest is inherently Un-Christian (as if we needed the fundamentalists to tell us that). The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kansas has clearly forgotten this guideline, which is much more explicit than anti-homosexual biblical references. The church is famous for being a hate group that protests at homosexuals’ funerals and has nothing but contempt for any other religion besides its own. The church is using technology to hate on homosexuals through their website, godhatesf*gs.com (I refuse to actually even link that URL, sorry and has a travel budget of over $200,000 to picket and disrupt funerals all over the country. They protest military funerals (protest in their context actually means “harass”) and make one of the worst days of these people’s lives even worse. This is what they do as a primary form of “activism. The scariest part is that these people actually procreate. They have kids holding up hateful signs and they teach their children the opposite of Christian values.
    2. But if The Lord says love they neighbor, then what book are they reading? imKMM
  10. “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
    1. Okay this one is insanely specific, which makes it that much more awesome. This probably NEVER happens… but if a faithful wife decided to defend her husband by grabbing a guy by his junk, anyone, would have God’s blessing to cut her hand off.
    2. And once again, here’s another rule that illustrates the point that if people were better Christians, we’d have a lot more handless people walking around. If people were much better Christians, then pirate hook sales would go through the roof (and we’d probably have designer hooks as a driving force of our economy).
  11. “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9)
    1. If every kid in America who cursed at his parents was killed, we’d have to worry about repopulating the country. Every day.
    2. Try bringing this up in front of a man’s wife or children, see how that goes.
  12. “Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” (Mark 12:19)
    1. So if your brother dies, you need to bang his wife apparently.
    2. Moses, the prophet who delivered his fellow Jews from a wicked Egyptian tyrant and led them across the parted Red Sea, had apparently told this speaker that if a woman is widowed, her late husband’s brother should sleep with her and produce heirs for his brother. From a traveling crowd of people that were homeless for 40 years, this actually makes sense… but not so much for this day and age. Picture that — a grieving widow is visited by her husband’s brother to have sex the night of the funeral.
    3. Repopulating simply to have heirs doesn’t exist as a valid concept anymore. Plenty of couples are choosing not to reproduce at all and with a recession and climate crisis on our hands, they’re doing the world a favor. If this rule has been allowed to become obsolete, why not others that ruin people’s lives?
  13. “But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22: 20-21)
    1. Non-virgins are to be stoned (as in, with rocks).
    2. The “father’s house” in Paris Hilton’s case would be any Hilton hotel, so we know that if fundamentalists were really taking everything the way “God” intended, then it should be a well-known and widespread Christian agenda to call for the public stoning of Paris Hilton. Sorry Paris.
    3. Also, there are edge-cases where if a little girl has an accident or is injured during sports, the bible says they should be stoned to death. It’s pretty well known that it’s entirely possible (and not at all irregular) for a young woman’s hymen to be accidentally broken due to accidents or even playing certain sports like gymnastics.
    4. This also means that in order to enforce a rule like this, we’d need to have regular “Hymen Checks” at churches, but we don’t, because we’re human beings and we’re trying to live in a little thing called “society.”
  14. “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.” (Mark 9:43)
    1. So next time someone tells you that you’re going to hell, ask them if they’re free of sin, and if they believe that they aren’t, then kindly request their hand. It’s their duty to give it to you. Kind of like in that one SNL skit where Chris Farley gets on a Japanese game show, where everyone has to cut their hands off when they get wrong answers.
  15. “For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken. No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.” (Leviticus 21:18-21)
    1. This one is actually saying that deformed people cannot approach God.
    2. According to the bible, people who are born with or acquire defects throughout their lives should not approach the altar of a church to make an offering to God because they “hath a blemish.”
    3. Christians are always saying God loves everyone but this list of “or”s excludes a whole group of people who actually have no control over what they look like most of the time. From something as superficial as a flat nose to once again with the “broken stones” (Women may be inferior in God’s eyes, but he sure knows how to make a man feel worthless). Congrats God, you’ve found a way to hold every disabled and unprotected person responsible for things out of their control and make them feel like crap about it.
  16. “But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.” (Leviticus 12:5)
    1. According to the bible, giving birth to a daughter makes you unclean for 66 days.
    2. People should hold signs that say “God Hates Women” because it really will be the most accurate Christian sign you could ever make. God made the one thing women were actually appreciated for, the ability to give birth to life, a dirty act. When women give birth to their children at the hospital now, they are immediately handed their child because that’s what you want to do when you pop out a kid after carrying it for nine months in your belly — not go through 66 days of church-mandated shame.
    3. Next time one of your devout relatives or someone who always thinks they’re right during religious debates has a daughter, politely bring up the fact that in the eyes of God, the mother is a dirty whore who needs to wait 66 days before being allowed anywhere near anything clean ever again. She should probably also shower regularly.
  17. “…thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.” (Leviticus 18:19)
    1. No, this doesn’t mean that guys aren’t allowed around chicks that don’t shower. That’s fine (according to the bible). It means that when a woman is going through her “woman times” a man is not allowed to “approach” her, which in biblespeak means sex — much like “knowing” does.
    2. This passage forbids men from sleeping with a woman on her period, which in the bible is known as “uncleanness.” That uncleanness is of course the means to human reproduction and has been known as the bane of female existence for causing monthly cramps, breakouts, mood swings and mass destruction.
    3. Now we’ve uncovered the secret mission of the bible: pit men against women. Forever. (they may want to rethink their take on the homosexual agenda)
  18. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)
    1. Invite your attacker to beat you more. Really? “Please sir, may I have another?” is a biblical rule? I thought it was just an S&M command.
    2. Passivity may be better than war and violence, but inviting someone to continue beating you seems a bit much. The best way to test this, of course, would be to openly attack someone and see if they pull a “please sir, may I have another?”… This can’t end well.
  19. “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Matthew 5:40)
    1. This passage feels like the one above, but it kind of has a twist. If someone steals something from you, you should hand over something else too. It’s like a “steal one-get one handed right to you” offer.
    2. Passages like these make it seem like God didn’t honestly grant his followers free will and in reality wants to turn them into obedient and mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. Either way, a good way to test this would be to steal something from a Christian and see if you get even more out of it…. This also can’t end well.
  20. “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalm 137:9)
    1. The bible encourages disciplining your child… by throwing him against a stone wall, baby! Doing so will apparently make you “happy” (if you’re a sadistic psychopath, or if you hate your children).
    2. This is a dangerous encouragement of violence against helpless children and if followed, could easily be used to justify parents who shake their kids to death to make them stop crying or for simply just child abuse.
    3. So next time someone’s trying to prove that every passage of The Bible is beautiful and should be closely followed, ask them if they beat their kids.

The Millennial Mind

In 2010, the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that college students then were 40% less empathetic than those of 1980, with the steepest decline occurring during the last 10 years leading into 2010. Spearheading the study’s research was the University of Michigan’s own Sara H. Konrath, who published her findings in an online Personality and Social Psychology Review. In this review, Ms. Konrath discusses how self-reported empathy levels of college students back in 2010 had dramatically declined since 1980, the greatest period of decline taking place during the last ten years leading up to 2010. Using a technique known as cross-temporal meta-analysis to measure whether the data collected at that time had changed over the years, Konrath was able to determine that 75% of students in 2010 described themselves as being less empathetic than the average student from 30 years ago.

A psychologist at San Diego State University by the name of Jean Twenge has also stated that during this same period, students also self-reported that narcissism was becoming more prevalent amongst young adults. Perhaps these statistics help explain why it is that Generation Y (anyone born between 1982-2002), also known as the millennials, stands accused of being far less empathetic than those before it. Cynical, lazy, egocentric. Add a false sense of entitlement, and you’ve got yourself the basis of why many Baby Boomers claim they are so frustrated with today’s youth and their demanding need for things around them to change in order to satisfy their preferences.

While Sarah Konrath and her associates examined 13,737 college students in the U.S., researchers were also analyzing 72 studies of students with a mean age of 20 from 1979 to 2000, all of whom were assessed using the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index Test, which focuses on empathetic concern and the emotional response to the distress of others. The test also evaluates perspective taking, or the ability to imagine another person’s perspective. The phrase “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” comes to mind here.

Those that scored higher on the empathy assessment were more likely to exhibit indicative behaviors relative to their ranking. These behaviors could be anything ranging from offering to help a complete stranger carry their groceries or belongings, assisting a blind person safely across the street, allowing someone to go ahead of you in line at the grocery store because they have less to purchase, showing compassion to a homeless person, or by simply helping anyone in general. The researchers reported that there had been a 48% decrease in empathetic concern, as well as a 34% decrease in perspective taking, between 1979 and 2009. The researchers also reported that today’s college students were less likely to have empathetic feelings for people less fortunate than themselves. Konrath, who is also an affiliate of the University of Rochester’s Department of Psychiatry, concluded that young adults nowadays make up one of the most self-concerned, competitive, confident, and individualistic cohorts in recent history. Researchers also cited a previous 2005 study that found a decreased level of empathetic concern amongst medical interns.

So why are people today this way? Movies, social media, and violent video games have oftentimes been identified as potential explanations for this rapid decrease in empathy amongst the millennials. Edward O’Brien has cited research being done at the University of Michigan, which states that exposure to violent media outlets numbs people to the pain of others. It is theorized that social media networking, which many have said is to blame for the increase in physically distant young adults, allows people today to create a buffer between themselves and the outside world. In the past 30 years, Americans have become more likely to live alone and less likely to join groups of any kind. Several studies have found that this type of isolation from the world can take a significant toll on people’s attitudes towards others. It is suggested that by isolating themselves, it has become subsequently easier for today’s young adults to ignore the pain of others, or more alarmingly, inflict pain upon others. I can’t help but speculate that the growing emphasis on self by young people has come with a decreased emphasis on others.

Konrath went on to argue that part of the explanation for decreased levels of empathy may be found by examining how today’s young adults were raised as children. Changes in parenting styles between 1980 and the present day may help reveal why it is we are seeing such a rapid decline in empathy and a sudden increase in narcissism. Where we once focused on nurturing, but not spoiling our children, and on success and competition, young people today may be too busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they do not have time to spend empathizing with others. I suppose when we consider Generation Y’s high aspirations and dismal economic prospects, and we factor in most young American’s risk-aversive, sedentary approach to life and work, we can see how someone like Joan Chiarmonte, head of the Roper Youth Report, would say that the gap between what young people have and what they want has never been greater. If you were around in the 60’s, then you might be reading this and thinking it all sounds vaguely familiar. In 1967, Time Magazine ran an article about the hippies, claiming that they were nothing more than dangerous, deluded, and lazy riff raff in desperate need of a crash course in civics. Go further back to the 1920’s and you will find that even back then, the youth of that time were described as being uncaring, shameless, lacking honor, and having no sense of duty. Knowing this, perhaps we need to ask if social scientists should be using scientific research to fuel unfounded stereotypes of today’s youth.

Psychology professor Jean Twenge of the San Diego State University stated that younger people are more self-assured than their parents, but observed that they were also more depressed. Since the creation of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in 1979, thousands of students have completed this assessment while actively taking part in studies focused on things ranging from neural responses to others’ pain to levels of social conservatism. Using 14 years of research and 12 studies of generational differences based on data from 1.3 million young Americans, and by comparing the results of personality assessments distributed to baby boomers when they were under the age of 30 to those administered to millennials today, Twenge believes she knows why today’s youth is more confident, and more unhappy. Her findings became the basis of her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Before. She believes that this is a result of misplaced emphasis on the self-esteem movement of the last few decades. In her book, Twenge goes on to explain that those belonging to Generation Y “speak the language of self as their native tongue. The individual has always come first, and feeling good about yourself has always been a primary virtue. Generation Me’s expectations are highly optimistic: They expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps even to be famous. Yet this generation enters a world in which college admissions are increasingly competitive, good jobs are hard to find and harder to keep, and basic necessities like housing and health care have skyrocketed in price. This is a time of soaring expectation and crushing realities.”

Self-assured Generation Y takes many things for granted. Where Baby Boomers may have been self-absorbed, young Americans today are self-important. They know they are special, they know they are independent, and they do not feel the need to contemplate these things. English teachers in the U.S. have reported an increasing number of students who are completely detached from the rest of the world, largely, they say, because they do not read or watch the news and are not exposed to it at home. They think that this detachment spread into their personal relationships, which are fast and frequent, and sometimes carried out primarily through electronic means. It is thought that this is why their interpersonal skills are best described as being cold. While these are certainly generalizations, as there are many empathetic young people out there, a large number of educators have discussed witnessing such trends in their classrooms, which is something that has been the subject of many lunchroom discussions in recent years.

We have seen what years of research, studies, and observation reveal about Generation Y’s shortcomings. But there are, as they say, two sides to every coin. So what exactly is it that this generation has going for it? A significant amount of data collected from recent studies shows millennials are actually surprisingly collaborative people. Experts say their research concludes that they are also talented, open-minded, versatile, and that many of their qualities, including their fondness for social media, make them well suited to the new economy. We can compare findings and statistics gathered today to those from the 80’s, but must do so with the understanding that the world we live in today is a very different world indeed. Consider all of the advances we have made in science, technology, and medicine alone. Look at how education has evolved, and all of the history, both good and bad, that has been made over the last 50+ years. Seeing these changes, and knowing how they’ve redefined the way we live our lives, is it really that surprising that people have changed over the years as well?

Professionally, Generation Y expects only that the workplace reflect their values, and they place great emphasis on the potential for personal growth. They seek out work that is meaningful to them, but their families always come first. Rebecca Ryan, author of Live First, Work Second, says that millennials love their parents. She goes on to describe them as individuals who abhor conflict, love to work in groups, and argues that they are not complainers or victims. She states that they are hard workers who simply want employment that is challenging to them. The Cone Millennial Case Study conducted back in 2006 found that today’s youth genuinely care about the companies they work for. More than half in their 20’s stated that they would rather be employed by companies that provide volunteer opportunities. They feel very strongly about working for a company that cares about and contributes to society, and are likely to refuse employment with a company seen as being irresponsible. Generation Y is also said to be highly motivated by their friendships, so much so that workers will choose jobs that allow them to be with or close to their friends.

Sun Life Financial in Canada recently took a poll that determined 90% of people aged 18-24 felt a great deal of stress due to economic instability and underemployment. Elliott Blair Smith, a reporter with Bloomberg News, wrote an article about professionals entering the U.S. workforce. In it he writes that they are finding careers that were once gateways to high paying and upwardly mobile lives. However, what they are finding now is that these once lucrative career paths are turning out to be nothing more than detours and dead ends. Evidence of this can be seen in how the average income for individuals aged 25-34 has fallen by 8% since 2007. Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University professor and senior research fellow, believes that this generation will earn significantly less income during its lifetime. Sadly, this shift to a downwardly mobile lifestyle may be a lasting one. Bloomberg News reports that middle-income jobs are disappearing, as is evident when we consider the number of financial counselors and loan offices between the ages of 25-34, and how it has dropped by 40% since 2007. What’s more, the number of hours worked by young legal associates in law firms has also been steadily dropping. But perhaps the millennials have a game plan. Joanne Sujanski, of the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Key Group, has been analyzing employment trends for nearly three decades. Her findings revealed that many millennials are actually turning their backs on what we would consider being traditional corporate careers, and are instead choosing to start their own businesses. Author of When Generations Collide, David Stillman, explains that Generation Y is of the “think mentality,” and oftentimes we see them go into business with friends. Additionally, the Pew Research Center Poll has also shown that Americans that are 18 years of age or older, and who are also entrepreneurs, are significantly more satisfied with their yearly income and their work life than those employed by corporations (who the heck wouldn’t be?).

Generation Y also brings its own special blend of characteristics to the political arena. A report by the New America Foundation entitled “Yes We Can: The Emergence of Millennials As A Political Foundation” states that “Millennials have brought with them a very different set of attitudes and behaviors than those of the youth who preceded them: a confidence and conventionality, a preference for the group consensus, an aversion to personal risk, and a self-image which tells them they are special and worthy of protection.” Additionally, the report went on to state that the individuals that make up Generation Y will, over their lifetimes, greatly strengthen the connection between citizens and the communities in which they live, between ordinary people and public institutions at all levels of government, and when they assume national leadership, they will then forge a new social contract.

Suffice it to say that a few things are pretty clear regarding Generation Y. Their views regarding a number of matters is drastically different than those of the Baby Boom generation. Furthermore, our troubled economic times are clearing having an adverse affect on their lives, impacting them on both a social and economic level. Much of the evidence on one side seems to conflict with what studies supporting the opposing view have found. But even with all that we’ve just covered, I think that it’s probably best that we not use scientific research as a means to fuel unfounded stereotypes about young Americans. There’s a lot of information out there on the matter. Some conclusions are good and some bad. I guess only time will tell who was right in the end.

Heartless

They say our heart is where we harbor love. Many would argue that it’s the very place where love exists in all its glory. Perhaps there was a time when this wasn’t such a silly notion to me. But over the years, if I’ve learned nothing else about my heart, it’s that it has its limits. There comes a point where the depth and extent to which we are able to love others diminishes almost entirely. For some of us, there comes a point when, amidst all our pain and suffering, our hearts simply don’t have anymore love left within them.

Once upon a time there was a boy that loved. He loved deeply, and he loved completely. But somewhere along the way his heart grew cold and then it died. To fill the void, he began to steal the hearts of others to offset the emptiness left where his once was.

But to say he is “heartless” is a malapropism. Anyone who feels as much as he does couldn’t ever possibly be classified as heartless. What people might fail to consider, is that his heart is actually too full of feelings for him to find clemency, mercy, or grace within it. He is capable of feeling these things, but is unable to find it within himself to do so because they’re lost within a sea of darkness, which keeps him cold and unloving. Once he allowed himself to be overwhelmed with love, but it was taken away and so that sea rushed in to take its place.

Consider the alternative reality that those we consider to be the most evil are in all actuality the ones who are most adept at love. It’s like the saying goes: “Those who are heartless, once cared too much.”

 

Dunces and Dragons

Jersey Shore, Party Down South, Washington Heights, Honey Boo Boo. Welcome to America, land of the free, home of the education crisis. The most prominent difference between Homo Sapiens and lower animals used to be our highly developed brains. However, in a country who’s students often score dead last when it comes to essential subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Americans today have only themselves to blame for the issues they will most assuredly have to face tomorrow.

The human brain, much like a muscle, begins to atrophy when subjected to long periods of disuse. I can offer no greater example to support this than the people of the United States. We can see the effects of capitalism carelessly achieving its dominance here, as well as the impact that our retreat from healthy thought processes has had on human progress. In a world where diseases have evolved over the millennia to exploit the weaknesses in our defenses, none have been more virulent than the epidemic this society is facing today: stupidity.

Let’s take a look back at proficiency test scores in 1991. In evaluating the results for thirteen-year-old students in the United States, we learn that they ranked 15th in math and 14th in science, just above Jordanian students, who ranked 18th in both categories. Tests taken annually since then have continued to confirm these sad numbers. So where do we begin to point the finger of blame when considering the destruction of millions of Americans’ intellects?

I’m no expert on the matter, but, if asked, I would say the blame needed to be shouldered equally amongst schools and educators, standardized testing, federal and state agencies, billion-dollar foundations, and even parents for not doing more to ensure that their children were being given the benefit of a well-rounded curriculum. If I handled myself professionally the way many people operate their schools today, let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a roof over my head for very long!

The United States is a knowledge-based society that is struggling to compete and succeed in the changing economic and political dynamics of the modern world. But to even utter this country’s name in the same breath as “knowledge” almost feels wrong, unless it were to be in order to describe a lack thereof. How could I say such a terrible thing about my own country? Well, let’s consider the facts:

By definition, a knowledge-based society refers to a society that is well educated and which therefore relies on the knowledge of their citizens to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship, and dynamism of that society’s economy. If anyone is reading this and silently arguing that the United States has done, and continues to do, well internationally in science and technology, then perhaps one critical detail has been overlooked. The U.S. does continue to do well, until it is pointed out that the majority of our scientists come from overseas. Many have referred to this as the “brain drain,” a term which is used to describe this country’s use of the H1B visa, nicknamed the “genius visa,” to gain access to foreigners that have shown they have extraordinarily special talents, resources, or valuable scientific knowledge. Year after year, we have been using these foreign-born individuals to replenish our scientific ranks.

If we compare the ratio of foreign-born Ph.D. students to that of the American-born, the numbers are both staggering and not in our favor. 50% of Silicon Valley goes to the foreigners (most of whom came to this country from India and Taiwan). On a national scale, 50% of all Ph.D. students in Physics alone are foreign-born, the figure for that being realistically closer to 100% foreign-born at the City University of New York! Whenever I read about a congressman attempting to eradicate the H1B visa in an effort to secure more jobs for this country’s citizens, I can’t help but wonder if that person is truly that unaware of America’s inability to fill high-level jobs due to the lack of qualified professionals filtering into the workforce upon completion of their schooling, or if it’s just another politician pandering to the people’s uneducated cries that these H1B visas take away jobs from those native to this country. These people fail to realize that rather than taking jobs away, this visa actually creates entirely new industries for the U.S. But today, as many foreign-born scientists return to their countries as their economies improve, our nation is faced with the harsh realization that it will soon see the “brain drain” come to an end.

This will shift the focus back to our own public schools, which will have to update and improve their archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms, which were designed and catered to the needs of the Industrial Age. Hopefully, then, we will also begin to address the significant problems stemming from our educators. Today, we can still see many of them that have continuously resisted change over the years, protected by their tenure and excessive bureaucracy. Perhaps it would be prudent for educators to take a few pointers from today’s business professionals, who know the value of quality, how to produce it, and who place special emphasis on the need for continuous improvement (both personally and on a business level). But does a low-performing school have only itself to blame when it fails to turn out students that are adequately prepared for the next steps in their lives? The answer is a resounding “no.”

While viewing a school from a business perspective can be very helpful in some areas, it is important to point out that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material. They are dependent on the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are relentlessly beaten down by multitudes of disparate, competing customer groups that would have even the most accomplished CEO in tears. But if we cannot change what, when, and how we teach to give all children the best opportunity to succeed and prosper in a post-industrial society, then we need to rally our forces and determine the best course of action in an effort to make that happen. Schools and educators cannot do this on their own. These changes can occur only with the trust, understanding, and active support of the communities that they serve.

To say that American education is being systematically destroyed at all levels may seem like an exaggeration, at first glance. However, stop to consider the quality and content currently being taught in schools and universities and you’ll realize just how terribly eroded things truly are. Sadly, the teachers are the ones that, I feel, take most of the blame for this. They are frequently accused of being the primary cause of low educational achievement and are continuously attacked through their unions, in addition to various other ways. However, the issues we are facing with today’s education system extend far beyond the teachers or the schools in which they work. State and city universities, which once used to be free to attend, have become extraordinarily expensive, many pricing out of the market altogether. The price tag on the school system was designed with one purpose in mind: to dismantle it.  That is apparently what happens when corporate interests have decided that the public education system is no longer providing societal control and, more importantly, corporate profits. To the elite, education has always been viewed as something that exists merely to serve their ends.

The contribution of public education to the U.S. economy cannot be overestimated. It, more than any other institution, has been responsible for an affluent and growing middle class. So why destroy it? Probably for the same reason we are destroying Social Security. Compare the two and what you will find is that they both have something in common. They both represent mutual support and the spirit of caring. But these are the very things that American capitalism now views as problematic to the objectives of those at the highest levels of power and privilege. By adopting the mentality of “every man for himself,” the elite are able to eliminate the one thing they really fear: oppositional unity. If they can destroy public education at all levels, they will have manifestly increased both their power and their ability to retain it.

Corporate-backed political figures, strategic underfunding of schools, humiliation of teachers, blackmail, propaganda, unelected school boards, irrelevant parent commentary, and unchecked student skimming by charter schools. What more could be done to destroy education in America? Well, since you asked, let’s review some of the issues surrounding high-stakes testing. A quality education exploits a student’s natural intellectual curiosity. Reducing their education to nothing more than test topics is the perfect way of creating a permanent underclass in this country. With prosperity no longer dependent on the investments in an educated people, the wealthiest among us now seek out fortune elsewhere. Rather than long-term prosperity, we now measure success by how much short-term profit is generated. It sounds like what we really have in this country is a problem with greed and our need for instant gratification. Nonetheless, the decision has been made that education for the masses was only useful when commodified and privatized for the enrichment of corporate executives and stockholders. To that end, publicly-funded education is being engineered to fail in order to facilitate a takeover by business interests.

So, if you live in America, the quality of the education system affects you. Without a decent education, students can’t go on to find jobs, buy houses, nor will they have the best quality of life possible. By continuing to allow children to move through the school systems like cattle, and by releasing them into the world without having first armed them with the skills and knowledge necessary for their success, we are impeding their ability to fulfill the American Dream. The only hope we have of ever rebuilding a strong economy is to strengthen our schools. We are clearly aware of America’s education crisis. The question is: What are we going to do to fix it?

Hello

Isn’t it interesting to note how something as seemingly small and unimportant as saying “hello” is the first step to any good friendship? If only that was all it took! But as the saying goes: “Nothing worth having comes easy in life.”

All good relationships require a variety of essential ingredients in order to have a fighting chance at survival. Love, trust, loyalty, time, effort, appreciation, and compassion, just to name a few. We must nurture and develop all of these qualities together in order to lay the solid foundations upon which we will build strong relationships and forge new beginnings.

This wouldn’t actually be so difficult if it weren’t for the added disadvantage of living in a world full of people who shamelessly criticize others for sheer enjoyment, compromise themselves for the sake of fitting in, and those for which complaining has become a way of life because they have not learned to give themselves the attention and compassion they need, and so feel they must seek to have these needs met by others. Add a touch of gossip from those with nothing better to do, just a hint of jealousy wrought by the insecurities of others, and a dash of self-doubt that can occasionally be attributed to our frustrations with some of our very own shortcomings. My goodness, this is beginning to sound like a recipe for disaster! There may be times where it seems as though you are searching for a needle in a haystack, but as is the case with most all of life’s hardships, there is always hope.

Though it may be true that genuinely good friends are no easy thing to come by these days, once you’ve found even one you will see that the payoff makes the struggle well worth your while. American author and historian Edward Hale put it best by saying: “The making of friends who are real friends, is the best token we have of a man’s success in life.” I have but one final sentiment to offer you regarding the subject matter at hand: Always remember that the only way to have a friend, is to be a friend. Remember that and everything will be just fine.

And before I forget, since the purpose of this particular entry was to welcome you to my blog and give you a taste of the finely detailed prattle you’ll come to expect from me, I feel it would be prudent to elucidate the kind of relationship I feel is shared between myself and anyone kind enough to take an interest in my work. The reason I chose “friendship” as the main focus of my first post is because I believe a special relationship begins to develop between writers and their audiences, which starts well before there is even anything written. For myself, I feel it start to matriculate when I am in the preliminary stages of my writing process trying to surmise what my material is going to consist of and determining how beneficial it is going to be for anyone that sees it. I wait until a topic really reaches out to me and lures me in. Once it takes hold of my mind and I am compelled to start writing, everything starts to take shape. But when I am writing, I am not doing so one-sidedly. Though they are my words, and I am drawing on my own experiences to create them, I am doing so in hopes that they will reach into the lives of others like outstretched arms and act as a source of comfort and understanding for anyone that should have need of it. So in the end, if my writing has had a positive impact on even one person, I am both grateful and thrilled because of it. In very much the same way a school is nothing more than buildings and equipment without students and knowledgeable teachers, so to this blog is much the same as another untouched dusty book merely sitting on a shelf without people to breathe life into it. Now that we have established that this is just as much your blog as it is my own, let it also be mentioned that as far as I am concerned, this will herald the start of what I hope will always be a healthy friendship of which we will all be the benefactors. I believe I started this all off making light of the potential hidden away inside of one minute little word, and so feel it is only appropriate I leave you in the same fashion. To any and all of you out there that have done me the great honor of lending me your eyes and your minds today, I give you my undying gratitude. Instead of saying “goodbye”, or “until next time”, today I bid you all a fond “hello.”