Showing posts with label Nifty PSAs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nifty PSAs. Show all posts

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nifty TBT - Coming Out As An Atheist

Come on in - the water's fine!

"It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price ... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1963.

On Facebook, people post old photos on Thursdays for "Throwback Thursday". I love looking at them, and I love that they remind people of important times in the past. I thought it would be fun to occasionally do a blog TBT. By reposting old blog posts to remind NiftyReaders of important ideas discussed in the past, maybe I can kickstart more discussion: how long have we been thinking about this or that issue? Has anything changed since the earlier discussion?  I had the idea earlier this month, but it was reading another blog today which helped me decide which old post to begin the series of TBT posts.

As of a few months ago, about 28% of those who supported marriage equality had changed their minds. Where once they opposed it, now they support it. A Pew poll asked them why they changed their minds and the results were very interesting. The largest group by far, 37%, said they changed their minds because they have friends, family members or acquaintances who are gay or lesbian. And that is true of other gay rights issues as well. Knowing a gay person or, more importantly, knowing that they know gay people, changes minds and changes beliefs.
This is exactly why it’s equally important for atheists to come out of the closet too, if it’s safe for them to do so... Ed Brayton, "Why Coming Out Matters", FreethoughtBlogs, October 24, 2013.

Ed Brayton's post this morning on his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, points to the importance of "coming out of the closet" - whether you are LGBTQ or a feminist or an atheist - and he posts some statistical evidence to back it up! This is something that several atheists have spoken about before, including me. For the first NiftyTBT, here is my July 2012 post on coming out as an atheist:

Get out of hot water FREE!
Millions of people the world over are atheist but only a tiny fraction of these people publicly identify as such for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that either they do not realise that they are atheist or they are afraid to acknowledge that they are atheist. Because of the harm that they see being caused by the power that religious dogma is given in society, some atheists become frustrated and discouraged about the number of closeted atheists in our midst, and sometimes their frustration spills out in accusations of hypocrisy - which sometimes pushes the closeted atheists more deeply into the closet.

I am an atheist who sometimes reaches that boiling point of mingled frustration, irritation and discouragement. Like most atheists, I used to be religious and like most atheists, I know only too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood - and which for many of us is intimately entwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. If religion was a benign force in the world, as many closeted atheists clearly must still believe it to be, there would never be any reason to come out as an atheist.

But, religion is not a benign force in the world. Religion wreaks havoc on efforts to promote world peace. Religion mandates that women be treated as less than fully human, enshrining in its "holy books" the misogyny that permeates human culture and providing a "divine" justification for the oppression of half of humankind. Religion fosters - even insists upon - religious and racial bigotry. Religion suppresses and tries to destroy sources of human knowledge which threaten its power. It is accorded a level of obsequious acceptance and awarded a degree of power and influence that would be unthinkable for any other unelected, nontransparent entity in a modern, democratic society.

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. Ferdinand Magellan

The deference that is paid to religion has real consequences for humanity. In addition to the sectarian violence that rages all over the world, religious groups seek to stop scientific research which could yield outstanding new medical treatments that would greatly alleviate human suffering. Religion demands the "right" to decide for all of society what is moral and what ought to be legal, even when there is no consensus even among religionists on what is actually moral and what actually ought to be legal. It is inimical to individual freedom. Religion schemes and strategizes to persuade - through fear, bigotry and misinformation - just enough people to vote in favor of their agenda, thus turning a democratic Republic into a putative theocracy where a simple majority of religiously-influenced voters can take away human rights from women and minorities by anonymously pulling a lever in a ballot box.

Faith is essentially intolerant ... essentially because necessarily bound up with faith is the illusion that one's cause is also God`s cause. Ludwig von Feuerbach

Are you a closeted atheist?  Incredible though it may sound, it is possible not to realize that one is actually atheist. There is no shame or hypocrisy in it. While it is true that religion's greatest source of energy comes via true believers, religious leaders know that the number of zealous true believers is too small to secure real power in a culture, so they rely on the large moderate majority to protect and enable them to achieve their goals.  To that end, the strategic tool of childhood indoctrination and enormous social pressure to conform to "tradition", coupled with the more liberal mainline Christian ethics of the post WW2 western world, ensures that millions of people feel more comfortable continuing to identify as "believers" - even though they know on at least some level that they do not, really, believe everything that their religion tells them is ultimate truth. 

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means. George Bernard Shaw

Cultural believers are trying to have it both ways. Those who believe that there are many pathways to God, and who sincerely believe that their religion is one of love or peace, tend to reject the actual religion found in holy scripture and embodied by the fundamentalists of their faith. They wish both to believe and disbelieve. They wish to align themselves with the best of the modern, liberal religious sensibility - which is secular humanism by a more acceptable name - while denying the reality of the message in the dominant faith traditions.  They tell themselves that people who are intolerant of spiritual differences or who fight to deny others the freedom to develop and live by their own religious and moral values are not "true" Christians. They are uncomfortable with the way the religious right oppresses minority groups, but they stop short of taking effective action to push back against it. In the end, they support their extreme co-religionists because of their shared religious heritage - sometimes actively but more often just passively through doing nothing, keeping their heads down and continuing to enjoy whatever it is that their own church community gives them.  These people unintentionally form the cultural bulwark of reasonable, moderate, kind and compassionate religion which provides cover for fundamentalists with their unreasonable, extreme, cruel and oppressive agendas. 

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw

Did you just say you
 don't believe in God?
Easier to understand are the millions of people who do know they are atheist but who are too afraid to come out of the closet. One does not have to look far or for very long to find evidence of the socialpolitical and personal cost that open atheism can bring to an individual. The fear that many closeted atheists feel is genuine and completely rational. In many parts of the world, open atheism can get you persecuted, arrested and even executed. In the western world, atheists are openly vilified, compared to rapists, pedophiles and psychopaths and are discriminated against socially, politically and economically. Being openly atheist can cost you your friends, family and community. It will mean you will probably never be able to hold public office. It could cost you your job. It could cost you your safety and peace of mind.

And yet, by remaining silent, are we in the western world really safeguarding ourselves and our children? 

Just fifty years ago, before the global resurgence of religious fundamentalism, most of the developed world and much of the developing world was moving slowly but surely toward modernity. Most of the world had explicit goals for educational and social progress, including countries which today are rued by fundamentalist religious regimes. Universities, modern medicine and infrastructure and international trade were on the rise, and societies were proudly producing post-war generations eager to participate in the explosion of scientific and technological discovery that marked the second half of the twentieth century. But scientific achievement and progressive social and educational reform threatens religious elites and the rise of fundamentalism soon followed the brief, shining period of progress.  

The moderates in these countries did not imagine that the hard-won gains that had been so recently made could be rolled back. They did not think that the extremists among them could seize control of their countries and push them all back into a new dark age. But it happened. It happened with the unwitting help of the moderates who did not anticipate that while their more extreme co-religionists might only target vulnerable minorities at first, they would inevitably turn their attention to the insufficiently devout within the majority - the moderates themselves. By the time the moderates woke up to what was happening to their countries, it was too late. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

It is recognition of the ultimate consequences of society's continued acceptance of religious hegemony which prompts atheists to urgently challenge closeted atheists to take a stand for humanity. Insistence on the benignity of belief systems which wreak havoc on world peace, which mandate the oppression of women and which demean and discredit the highest achievements of humankind is irrational and destructive, even if the motive for doing so makes perfect sense to the moderate majority which is scrambling to protect its own cherished privileges and traditions.

The benefits that closeted atheists receive from their church communities are outweighed by the harm that religion is doing to those same communities and to the societies which they influence, to the earth via support for climate change denial through anti-science anti-intellectualism and to the whole of humanity through hatred, bigotry and the implacable religious drive for theological supremacy. Our fear of ostracism today ought to be outweighed by our concern about the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. By coming out of the closet, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists will encourage each other to see that we already have the numbers to support thriving human communities, based upon better ideas than fear and misogyny.

In a world that is as oppressively and even violently dominated by religion as ever in human history, it may take more courage - even in societies which claim to protect religious freedom (for now) - than the average person can muster to come out as an atheist. 

And yet, I am asking you to do it.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Some recommended reading:

The cost of staying in the closet. MarieAlena Castle, Atheists For Human Rights, 

Coming out of the closet,  Eric Jeffries,

Religious Moderation Enables Religious Fundamentalism,

The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris, 2004.

The God Delusion,  Richard Dawkins, 2006.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2007.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The ACA - Health Reform Explained

Today's Nifty PSA is pretty self-explanatory. Most of us haven't a sweet clue what the Affordable Care Act really says. This video helps to shed light on some of the mystery and misconceptions.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's National Voter Registration Day!

Rachel Maddow reminded her readers this morning that today is National Voter Registration Day. Seems like a very good time for a Nifty PSA!  Here is a little background about the currently dismal track record of our American citizenry regarding the exercise of our right to vote, and a little more about the dangers of allowing that dismal record to continue. Below, you'll find some useful links to learn more. 

"In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered." (

Let's do the math: There are more than 300 million citizens of the United States. 30% of 300,000,000 is 90 million people.  Even if only half of those people are over 18 years old and eligible to vote, there would be 45 million eligible voters who have not yet registered to vote.

Among the 70% of eligible citizens who have registered to vote, the number who actually do vote is shockingly low. The per centage of actual voters by age cohort ranges from less than 30% for registered 18-29 year olds, to a high of just over 60% for 60-69 year olds.  There is not a single age cohort from age 18-49 years old which has a voting record of more than 40%.

Why is it that in a nation that fought a historic battle for independence - not to mention the right to representative self-government - so few of the people today actually exercise that right by voting?  In a world where self-government and constitutionally-guaranteed individual freedoms are a rare and precious commodity, it beggars belief that people who have it do not appear to cherish it and fail to guard it vigilantly. The assumption seems to be that gains once made can never be lost. But millions of Americans are confronted with another, grimmer, reality.

"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address)

The underpinning ideal of our democratic republic is that the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, and our method of ensuring this as a people is through our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. The people are empowered to fire legislators who do not represent their best interest. This power of the people is meant to balance the power of the corporate and religious elites who usually succeed in buying control over society - thus using it to further their own ends at the expense of the people - unless they are prevented from doing so by robust legal protections. The great American experiment was the first time in human history that a serious attempt was made to prevent political power from becoming concentrated into a few hands, where it can be abused. Wealthy aristocracies and priestly classes had controlled every society on earth until the American republic came into being. Tearing down the scaffolding which supports gross economic and political inequality is the very foundation of what makes America exceptional and it is the heart and soul of the American Dream. The United States became a beacon of hope and opportunity for ordinary people all over the globe - and it still is today - but the pressure has never ceased from conservative groups determined to return us to the medieval kind of social, political and economic inequality that has historically been the norm for human societies.

The balance of power between regular working people and powerful elites can only be maintained when the people vote. Various laws have been enacted over the centuries to try to protect this balance by protecting the rights of individual citizens against powerful elites, but the tension is always there, with the powerful constantly chipping away at citizen protections. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act  thus opening the door once more to the kind of voter suppression that the powerful can and will force onto the less-powerful whenever it is given the opportunity to do so. Within weeks, several states rushed to pass restrictive voting laws which will disenfranchise thousands of eligible American voters.

These voter suppression laws are written and passed by legislatures filled with representatives hand-picked by enormously powerful and wealthy corporate and religious groups in order to ensure an outcome which will suit their own interests and not those of the people of the United States. In a democratic Republic, the idea that corporate or religious elites could rise to such power and influence that they could establish a de facto feudal economic system and authoritarian theocracy - almost exactly the conditions over which this country fought the War of Independence - is startling.  It should only be possible if a majority of the people allow it to happen, through ignorance, through apathy or through intimidation.

Ignorance and apathy have been manifestly evident everywhere. Even people who vehemently describe themselves as "not racist/classist" nevertheless point to racist/classist justifications for these profoundly unAmerican laws and believe them to be simply "common-sense". The most frequently cited justification for these laws (and denial of their role in voter suppression) is some version of "I can't drive/buy liquor/open a bank account without a driver's license and neither can anyone else so I don't buy the argument that these people can't get a license!"

The claim that one cannot function in society without a license (and therefore it is already necessary for everyone to have one) is false, but there is also a subtler and more deeply disturbing denial of the truth by Voter ID supporters. Most people who support Voter ID refuse to accept the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent (therefore eliminating the only justification for these dangerous democracy-crushing laws) and they also deny that there is any hardship involved in procuring a driver's license.

The reality is that thousands of Americans neither have a license nor can afford to get one. Many thousands of others choose not to drive and also do not wish to purchase a driver's license.  Many thousands of others are denied a driver's license - due to age or infirmity, for instance. These people can and do function in our society every day. Yet, millions of their fellow citizens are comfortably prepared to strip these citizens of their right to vote.

Gee, you don't suppose there could
be a politically-motivated strategy
behind voter ID laws?
There are fees which must be paid to obtain a driver's license. There are fees to keep the license valid year after year. The licensing process requires documents that many thousands of Americans simply do not have in their possession - original birth certificates, for example. Obtaining these documents costs more money. And time. Usually, obtaining those documents requires providing even more documents or proof which many thousands of Americans either cannot get (because they no longer exist or never existed due to clerical failures), or cannot afford to get because - once again - obtaining official documents always involves paying fees. For many thousands of American citizens, the fees involved are prohibitive. For many thousands more who do not intend to drive a vehicle, the fees are both prohibitive and senseless - why should any American citizen be forced to purchase a driver's license when he or she does not drive?

The "common-sense" apologist for these vote suppression laws argues that it is just one of the expenses that citizens must pay to get the drivers license without which no one can function in American society. The fact is that many thousands of people can and do function in American society without a driver's license, but the ones who do not have one or choose not to have one are being penalized with what is essentially a poll tax - they will be forced to pay for an unwanted or unaffordable piece of ID strictly so that they will not be denied their right to vote.

The argument for the so-called "free" state ID's is similarly flawed. These alternative state voter IDs are not free because in order to fulfill the documentation requirements to get that "free" ID, the citizen must pay numerous fees to obtain that documentation. You can't get the ID without the documentation and you can't get the documentation without paying fees. Once again, if the only reason to purchase these documents is to obtain the "free" state ID in order to exercise your right to vote, then that ID is a poll tax by another more politically correct name. These laws unfairly target the poor, the young and the elderly. It is the young and the poor that voter suppression advocates would really like to shut down, and with the help of the Supreme Court, they may very well succeed.

Will the American people allow this to happen?

Don't just stand there... do it!
When all eligible voters in the country perform their civic duty at every election, and when all eligible voters make it their business to stay informed about the issues that face the nation, then it becomes far more difficult for any one group, no matter how well-organized and determined, to seize control of the government. That is what Americans must do.

Make sure you are registered to vote. Don't assume that you are registered. During the 2012 primaries, thousands of people were shocked to discover that their names had been stricken from the voter lists without their knowledge. Florida has purged nearly 200,000 names from its voter list, including seniors and veterans and it continues to purge. Pennsylvania tried to deny voting rights to nearly 10% of its eligible citizens. The 2013 ruling by SCOTUS has opened the door to further restrictions which could prevent tens of thousands of eligible voters in dozens of states from exercising their right to vote. That is the intended outcome behind these laws: there really are groups of your fellow citizens who feel that large numbers of Americans should be deprived of their right to vote.

Voter suppression threatens our Republic, but there are still enough voters to put a stop to it if only every citizen who can vote, does so. There are as many eligible voters who do not vote as there are who do vote - more, in fact. Voter turnout could potentially be double what it has historically been. The current voter suppression tactics - ambitious though they undeniably are - would not disenfranchise enough people to overcome the will of the people if only the majority would take a stand against these undemocratic actions, register now and vote in every election.

Your vote counts. Your vote can help save the USA - seriously. It really is that important.

Remind your friends and family to be sure to register and be sure to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

Register to Vote  General information about voter eligibility (and how to find out if you are eligible) as well as state regulations on when and where to vote, with appropriate direct links.

Fair Elections Legal Network: Gives an overview of recent states' legislation designed to further restrict voting rights and provides resources and strategies to help citizens to protect their rights.

Voter ID Toolkits:  Practical help in navigating the "free" state ID process. State-specific toolkits for Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas.

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters:  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the estimated 30 percent of eligible Americans not registered to vote. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tonight's The Night! (Perseids!)

Around 11:00 PM tonight, the show of the summer begins! Skygazers will be treated to the annual show of shooting stars from the Perseids meteor shower.

The name "Perseids" is derived from the fact that the annual celestial show appears to originate from the part of the night sky occupied by the constellation Perseus. This constellation appears in the northern sky - look to the northeast if you are in North America.

The Perseids meteor shower is caused by a collision of the earth's atmosphere with debris leftover from a comet. As the earth crosses the orbital path of the Swift-Tuttle comet each August, it blasts through the comet's debris field, and little pieces of that debris burn up in our planet's atmosphere, causing the "shooting stars" which delight stargazers every summer.
The constellation Perseus

If you are lucky enough to be at a distance from city lights, and can sit out under the stars between 11:00 PM tonight and dawn tomorrow morning, just do it! You won't be disappointed. The show gets better as the pre-dawn hours approach, due to the tilt of the earth. If you can't stay up late, set your alarm clock and get out there before sunrise tomorrow morning.

At it's peak (tonight and tomorrow) the Perseids can produce more than one shooting star a minute - 90-100 per hour. It is going to be quite a show!


If you cannot get away from city lights, please take a moment to enjoy this wonderful video produced by stargazer Henry Jun Wah Lee at Joshua Tree National Park, August 10-15, 2010.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Lottery Assumption

"Your Plan B is someone else's Plan A."

There's something interesting about the way we think about our dreams and aspirations. While we believe our "dream goals" are impossibly difficult to achieve, it seems as though other people doing other things are always an "overnight success". We have a tendency to think that there are other - easier - pathways to success than the daunting uphill trek we imagine our own dreams would require. I think of it as a kind of "lottery" assumption. We figure that people who have achieved success in a creative field were mostly lucky and we conclude that even if we work hard and have talent, our odds of making it in our "dream" field are about as good as our odds of winning the lottery. We also (wrongly) conclude that success will be much easier in some other - usually more conventional - field.

Provided we have reasonable opportunities,
Gary Player's words are simply true.
This lottery assumption is frequently applied to artistic aspirations in particular. The truth is that the people who are "overnight successes" in creative fields - like people who achieve success in any field - rarely arrive at their success overnight. Of course, this is not news to anyone who has ever read the biography of a famous writer, actor or painter. Successful creative people nearly always work hard at their craft for years before their work is widely recognized and/or they achieve great financial success in their artistic endeavors. Yet the conviction persists that there is more than an element of chance to artistic success - not to mention overwhelming odds against you or me winning that particular lottery - undermining the will to work hard and the faith in ourselves that successful realization of our dreams demands.

It's true that opportunity is not equitably distributed throughout the population - and that is a topic for another post - but the lottery assumption goes beyond opportunity. Many people who actually have numerous opportunities to pursue their dreams still fail to recognize opportunity when it knocks. We continue to believe that other people - people who do recognize and answer that knock - are somehow just "luckier" than we are. Most of us turn a blind eye to our chances to do the things we say we would love to do, while telling ourselves that the opportunities we actually ignored just never came along at all. More determined people (who really intend to build a life doing the things that they love) keep an eye out for opportunities and then grab them when they present themselves.

There are lots of reasons why we fail to acknowledge opportunities to pursue our dreams: perhaps we have conflicting dreams and the opportunity means an impossible tradeoff of one cherished dream for another. It's rare that a conflict is so utterly irreconcilable, but it happens. More often, though, our reluctance to commit to a dream may tell us something about ourselves. Although if we pretend the opportunity never existed, we may never figure out what that is while we mourn a dream that we may never have really pursued anyway.

But, I think the biggest reason why we miss opportunities to do work we actually love is because we are socialized to regard enjoyable activities as strictly for leisure, while work is serious business. There is a sense that if we decide to make something we love to do our life's work, that we are somehow...well...goofing off. There is plenty of subtle and not-so subtle societal disapproval to underscore the point, too, so we dream of being able to perform or cook or paint for a living, but we feel a little bit ashamed of ourselves for wanting what essentially sounds like a lifetime of play, when we really ought to be doing more "grown-up" things. We postpone those dreams for some day, never quite formulating a Plan A to make them happen. We give up on our passions at the dreaming stage - decide they are unrealistic and probably we don't have the talent to make it anyway - and move directly on to Plan B. Our culture is more than ready to reinforce that, too.

Meryl Streep's Plan A - Acting
For example, people often say things like "What - do you imagine you'll be the next Meryl Streep?" to young people who express the dream of pursuing a career in acting (or, picking up on the general attitude that performance arts are not serious career options, young people say it to themselves). The unspoken message is loud and clear: performance art is fine for childhood and adolescence, but when it comes to a life plan, get serious! A career in acting is nothing but a pipe dream - a fantasy!

Consequently, the dream never even makes it out of the realm of fantasy to become a Plan A. Feeling naive and foolish for believing that such a childish dream could be made a reality, artistic people all too often default straight to a more acceptable Plan B.

Yet, we rarely hear anyone say things like that to kids who pursue paths that lead to what are perceived as safer, more conventionally solid, high-status careers like law, engineering, medicine or business. Let's take business, for example. No one ever says "What - do you think you're going to be the next Warren Buffet?" to the teenager who announces he is going to pursue a business degree or who hopes to open a small business someday. Unlike the liberal or performing arts, business is regarded as a very sensible course to take. Nobody insists that the only alternative to Buffet-like success is failure or that it is foolish to even consider trying. Why is that?

Out of the millions of people who work in the thousands of business-related occupations, there are very few who achieve the kind of stratospheric success of a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, and perhaps a few hundred who "live the dream" of merely "great" corporate career success. There are many successful actors, writers and musicians among the thousands of people who work in creative occupations: actually, a person's relative odds of extraordinary success are probably greater in the arts than in business!

Warren Buffet's Plan A - Business
But even more to the point: where does the assumption come from that making it in business (or law, medicine or what have you) is easy - even a given? Have business diploma, will succeed!  Consider the huge numbers of students who flock to business schools. They can't all be passionate about business! And guess what? They're not. Many of these students love other things much more than business, but they've bought into the idea that to be successful (or, rather, to make money which we sometimes mistakenly equate with "success"), they should go into business school. They've shelved Plan A with hardly a whimper and gone to Plan B in the mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier.

They forget that their Plan B is someone else's Plan A.

The biggest pitfall of going with a Plan B is assuming that everyone else who has traveled the same path defaulted to that plan, too. This mistaken assumption is the root of the equally mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier. We see people in solid business careers and we assume: that's the ticket to success! No need to agonize over talent or possible humiliation - it's business!

But virtually every really successful person is working not on a Plan B but on their Plan A. People with no interest or passion for business do not simply walk out of college, diploma in hand and immediately start climbing the corporate ladder.  The people who seem to have effortlessly navigated a dream career have done so only after decades of working their way up through hard work, determination and a little luck. About the only thing that can sustain a person through years of striving at a demanding career is to love what you do. When you love what to do, the work energizes and invigorates you. When you don't, it can drain and depress you.

When you choose something because it seems expedient, rather than because you really want to do it, you actually choose to devote the majority of your one and only life to something you don't care about and don't particularly enjoy. Why would you choose to do that?

Advancing in a field that doesn't excite you is not easy. Aiming higher in a career you really don't love is not easy. Showing up each day at a job you neither care about nor enjoy is not easy at all. It is very hard. Without the passion and excitement we feel when we are working at something we love, it is very hard to find the energy and drive necessary to succeed. Even with a business, medical or law degree success is never easy and certainly not guaranteed.

What should this guy's Plan A have been?
For plenty of young people, these careers are a genuine dream come true, and they are fortunate to be able to convert the sincere desire to do that work into a solid Plan A. They work hard at careers they love, and whether or not they achieve the highest honors in their field, they command respect in society and live satisfying lives, too. Yet, there are doctors and lawyers and business majors who fail because their ambivalence about their work has translated into lackluster job performance. There are Plan B people languishing in dead-end jobs or who are always looking for another job - constantly searching for the right one and rarely succeeding.

It is worthwhile to give some thought to the things we really enjoy doing and try to figure out a way to incorporate those things into a career plan. A career Plan A.  Many of us avoid doing this because we fear the possibility of failure at something we really care about. Yet, by defaulting to a Plan B which ignores our dreams and passions is to guarantee that we will fail to do anything with them.  There are meaningful careers to match any interest known to humankind - if we make the effort to find them.

It is a fact of life that we won't all become CEOs, movie stars or celebrities in our respective fields. Whether or not we end up rivaling Meryl Streep or Warren Buffet, most of us will feel pretty successful if we can enjoy friendships, family, a little fun and the security of a decent job. If that job should also happen to be in a field we really enjoy - if we made a Plan A, stuck to it, worked hard and grabbed our opportunities when they presented themselves - then we will have the satisfaction of spending the best part of our lives doing stuff we love.

And that must feel a little like winning a lottery.

Steve Jobs  1955-2011

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thoughts On The Fork In The Road

Follow your dreams! (but have a back-up plan) 
Shoot for the stars! (but in a practical way) 
You can do anything! (but be sensible) 
Blah blah blah...

Do these phrases sound familiar, NiftyReaders? No? Call up one of your friends or a trusted family member and tell them you are at a crossroads in life. You should start hearing some version of them in 3..2..1...

We have all heard these earnestly well-intended words of encouragement wrapped up in thin - yet unintentionally soul-crushing - wet blankets of "buts". Admit it. Most of us have thrown them over loved ones, too. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I have struggled to offer encouragement and useful advice to the nifty offspring.

Crossroads? Forget crossroads. It can be a nightmare 
of equally unappealing "paths" out there!
If this is what your "choices" look like, 
maybe the path you want and need is not there. 
Blaze your own trail!
It seems there are two main schools of thought on giving advice about making life choices. The conservative way - the way parents, in particular, have guided their offspring for thousands of years - is to lay out the life map for other people and basically tell them there are no choices; this is your path. The liberal way - the way more parents have embraced as greater respect and understanding of the psychological component of individual rights grew in society - is to encourage people to follow their bliss and pursue their dreams with little or no outside direction at all: only you can figure out your path.

There is a middle ground, but unfortunately it may be worse than both extremes. It is the mixed message contained in the phrases posted above. At least with the conservative approach, kids have a plan. At least with the liberal approach, kids are utterly free to make (or fail to make) their own plans. The middle approach gives a not-quite-convincing thumbs up to "follow your bliss" with an undercurrent of "but this is what your path should be".

I don't know how young adults stand it. They hear these conflicting messages ad nauseum as they make their way through school and the confusion chorus only intensifies when they arrive at the intersection of high school graduation and the rest of my life™. It rises to a crescendo as they enter their twenties still not quite sure what they are doing - or what they want to do - with their lives. We urge kids to dream big. We tell them they can be anything, do anything with their lives. Then, when they approach adulthood, we begin to temper the soaring reach for the top rhetoric with an endless refrain of cautions which grows louder every year. 

"Sure," we tell Jordan who dreams of becoming a cordon bleu chef, "you can do that. But make sure you have a fallback plan because restaurants fail all the time! Why don't you earn a diploma in business, first? That way you'll be able to run that restaurant successfully"

"That's an awesome dream!" we enthuse to Mary, the aspiring J K Rowling, "you can definitely make it as a writer - some day - but publishing is a tough business. How about getting a teaching degree as a back-up?"

"But you are smart enough to be a lawyer!" we exclaim to Peter, who loves history and wants to be a teacher, "why don't you go to law school and if that doesn't work out, then you can always teach!"

There is somehow a needling sliver of doubt in these encouragements. The suggestion of a back-up plan implies that the advisor lacks faith in the advisee's ability and talent for the dream plan. Sometimes the kid lacks faith in herself, thus never articulating a dream plan, so eager parents swoop in to suggest possible life paths that seem like a great idea to them.

And so, the young people study hard and earn qualifications in these sensible fields. And then, after having invested so much time and effort into those studies, naturally the kids find work in those fields (waste that expensive education? I think not! There may be loans to pay off, too) and before they know it, twenty years have flown by. Instead of becoming a chef, Jordan spends his working years bean-counting for someone else's restaurant business. Instead of writing her latest novel, Mary burns the midnight oil reading painfully bad 8th grade essays and wondering where all of her creative ideas went. Instead of settling happily into academic life, Peter miserably works filing briefs in the legal department for an insurance company. They all have great jobs. They have all succeeded. They are all miserable.

There are more than two possible
When did we develop the insane idea that we are encouraging our kids by advising them to shelve their most precious talents and do something else? I am not saying we don't encourage the dreams and aspirations of our loved ones - we do! - but too often that encouragement is the spoonful of honey with which we deliver the bitter little pill of our perceived reality: that life is unfair and it rarely turns out exactly as we had hoped so it is wiser to go for what conventional wisdom tells us is a safer bet. Already worrying (as everyone does) that they may be ridiculously overestimating their natural talents and fearing the humiliating possibility that they might fail if they pursue the thing that makes everyone around them suggest a back-up plan "just in case", most kids convince themselves that the back-up plan makes more sense anyway. Meanwhile, everyone ridiculously underestimates the talent and effort required to succeed at the back-up plan, too. Because our own self-worth is not hitched to the back-up plan, we think that plan will be easier and success guaranteed. 

I've got news for everybody: your plan b is someone else's plan a. 

And, here's the thing: We can go down what seems like the safer path (the so-called "back-up" plan, later known as "my one and only life") or we can go all-in on the riskier one (the one that requires us to take a chance on our talents and dreams). No matter which way we go, both good and bad stuff will still happen! Yes, life is unfair and yes, unexpected things always happen. Plans nearly always have to be modified to accommodate life events. Detours have to be taken. Sometimes we just come to a total dead end. This is true of life whether we take the "safe" route or the "risky" one. What we fail to see is that our lives will most definitely never turn out even close to what we had hoped they would when we were enthusiastic youngsters if we spend most of our productive years working on the back-up plan instead of working toward an actual dream!

"There's no reason to have a plan b
 because it distracts from plan a."

The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who are trying to do things. Talent you have naturally; skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft. 

I've never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy is sleeping - I'm working. While the other guy is eating - I'm working. There's no easy way around it; no matter how talented you are, your talent is going to fail you if you're not skilled.

What is the classic "mid-life crisis" if not the belated realisation that we have spent more than half of our lives honing our skill at something we thought was the practical, sensible, sure thing while we waited for the perfect time to present itself for us to pursue the activities that actually make us feel alive? The truth is that there is no perfect time, and if we keep waiting for that, we will die still waiting.

That perfect day never comes. We have to work with what we have to work with.

Ironically, the time is never perfect for the "safety" career either, but we don't let that stop us. We are ambivalent and unenthusiastic and yet somehow we believe it is the wiser choice so we work hard to make ourselves do it and do it well. Because we are not emotionally invested in the back-up plan as we are with the things that we actually care about, we simply forge ahead with grim determination to succeed, dammit, so we can earn a living and vacation time in which to squeeze our true passions.

Why can't we skip the safety career and just put all that persistent effort into the things we really want to do?

When we attempt to cover our bases with a "backup plan", what we wind up doing is choosing that back up plan by default, instead of choosing our real dreams. Except for the fear of finding out we stink at the thing we so dearly want to be great at, the risks of pursuing a dream are no greater than the risks of pursuing a "safer" course. The real risk is that if you choose something you don't care about, you will get exactly that - a lifetime of work at something you don't care about. 

American pastor Robert Schuller famously posed this question: What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? I think the question should be even more urgently phrased: What would you attempt if you knew you only had one chance to try? Do that thing now. Give it all of your energy and all of your effort. Because in a very real sense, you may only get one chance to really try. One thing leads to another and life gets complicated.

Yes! Put all of your eggs in that basket. Your life probably will not turn out as you imagine it today - life just doesn't follow a script like that - but it may turn out better than you dreamed! No matter how things turn out, you will come nearer to realizing your dreams than you ever could by pouring your energy into a back-up life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Netherlands or Holland? Now You Know!

via CGPGrey

For your Saturday inspiration and edification: 
the difference between Holland and the Netherlands.
Four fun-filled minutes packed with information and history. 
Learn something new today and amaze all your friends!

"Welcome to the great nation of Holland, where the tulips grow, the windmills turn, the breakfasts are chocolatey, the people industrious and the sea tries to drown it all...except this country isn't Holland." (watch the video and learn more! It's cool!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Yes, It Is Rape.

Today's post is a Nifty PSA that I hope my readers will pass on far and wide. Let's make it go viral on Facebook. There is no banner photo on this post because the subject is too serious and I do not want the TRIGGER WARNING* that this post discusses rape culture to be missed.

We live in a culture - the culture of virtually all of humankind, not any particular national culture - which refuses to hold men accountable for acts of sexual aggression against women. The sociological term for this is Rape Culture.

Glamorizing rape.
  Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
  Rape Culture affects every woman.  The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape.  This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture. (Rape Culture, Marshall University Women's Center.)

 From very early ages, men and women are conditioned to accept different roles. Women
are raised to be passive and men are raised to be aggressive. We are conditioned to accept certain
attitudes, values and behaviors. Our conditioning is continuously and relentlessly encouraged and
reinforced by the popular media, cultural attitudes and the educational system. The media is a
major contributor  to  gender-based  attitudes  and  values.  The  media  provides  women  with  acomplete list of behaviors that precipitate rape. Social training about what is proper and ladylike,
as well as what is powerful and macho, teaches women to be victims and men to be aggressors.
 The high incidence of rape in this country is a result of the power imbalance between men
and women. Women are expected to assume a subordinate relationship to men. Consequently,
rape can be seen as a logical extension of the typical interactions between women and men. One
way to analyze the power relationship between men and women is by examining some of the
common social rules women are taught. (Defining a Rape Culture, UC Davis web publication.)

Glamorizing violence
Whittling down the definition of rape to such a thin sliver of possible scenarios that it might eventually simply disappear as a "crime" entirely, has become the vogue these days. The impetus behind that social and legislative push is that many men (and many women, too, since we all are immersed in Rape Culture) believe that, in most cases, forced sex is justifiable. Most people agree that it may not exactly be polite, or the smoothest, nicest way to behave, but coerced sex is usually not really rape: it's just a guy doing what comes naturally when he finds a woman attractive. If men don't pursue, the human race will go extinct! She probably asked for it. If she didn't say "No', then she probably meant "Yes", and if she wasn't clear, how is a guy supposed to know anyway? If something happened that she didn't really want, then she ought to have thought of that before going on that date/accepting that drink/asking him in for coffee/smiling and flirting/pick any scenario because they all lead to forced sex somewhere every day.

With very rare exceptions,  not quite consensual sex is seen as the inevitable result of mistakes made by women (leading men on, dressing like sluts, asking for it, etc) and therefore most people are uncomfortable labeling such incidents "rapes". After all, it somehow strikes people as unfair to call a man who uses a woman's body against her will a rapist, when he is otherwise a nice guy and anyway it was a natural reaction by any red-blooded male to female provocation. For many people there is really only one definition of rape: the violent 'bushy-haired stranger' (this imaginary monster is always a 'bushy-haired stranger', ever notice?) who sexually assaults a virgin, leaving visible injuries. 

Violent stranger rape is comparatively rare. If Republican hopes to narrow the definition of rape to so-called "forcible rape" are realized in every state, rare violent stranger rape could become the only kind that will be recognized as criminal, while women actually live in fear of the myriad forms of "not-really" rape that can happen to them at any time, while society looks the other way. Since in Republican dreams the coercive power of the threat of force is not equivalent to the use of physical force, cannot be measured and is probably all in the woman's hysterical, over-reacting imagination anyway, nearly all of the most prevalent rape scenarios would no longer be considered crimes. Women will be victimized by the sexual aggression of men without even the inadequate protection of seldom-prosecuted laws to give them the courage to step out into the world knowing that they have the legal right to not be sexually harrassed - even though that right is assaulted every single day in a thousand little ways. This systemic intimidation which limits women's ability to pursue their lives and happiness as freely as men is sanctioned and encouraged by Rape Culture. 

22 Ways to Stop Violence Against Women
Below is an ad airing in the UK which addresses Rape Culture in a gut-wrenching, all-too-common scenario: a party, probably with drinking, the initial trust of the young woman, the expectations of the young man, and the eventual rape. Rape culture ensures that many young men really do not believe that forcing sex on a person who is saying 'No' is rape, especially if she was initially flirting or drinking at a party or has had sex with him before. This ad underlines the truth that rape occurs whenever one person coerces another into sexual activity against the second person's wishes

*TRIGGER WARNING!  Please be aware that this ad portrays a commonly-experienced scenario where a rape occurs, and though very well-done, it may be painfully triggering to many viewers.

via Love, Joy, Feminism

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stay Tuned...

Stay tuned, NiftyReaders!  I'm working on this week's Barmy Bible Study (delayed by Superstorm Sandy coverage) and it will be an important one. We will sweep away the lies and confusion once and for all and finally answer the burning question:

Does God intend for rape to happen?

Meanwhile, to tide you over until Barmy Bible Study class is called into session, I am reprising one of my favorite videos for your listening/viewing pleasure.  Here is your Thorsday Tonic:

via Symphony of Science