Friday, January 18, 2013

Hugging Hitler: Feeding Pro-Gun Insurrectionist Rhetoric

Using Hitler as a Pro-Gun Prop is Offensive

Until now, I've been rather quiet on the raging debate over gun control in the United States.  I am unashamedly in favor of stricter gun regulations, but other than a few comments on Facebook in response to egregiously violent or offensive pro-gun posts, I didn't feel it necessary to say anything.  After a "debate" last night with a pro-gun advocate, and I cannot remain silent.  He threw every talking point of the NRA and the conservative right at me, most of which I found extremely offensive.  So much so, that I have to say something.

So much of the reasoning used by gun enthusiasts disturbs on a profound level that I have had difficulty in narrowing this post to a particular topic.  I am saddened to see such vitriolic anger on the part of pro-gun supporters towards anyone who suggests a revision to gun laws.  They use violent rhetoric in bolstering their views while intimating threats towards gun control advocates.  They also dehumanize people by marginalizing all offenders to "trash" regardless of circumstances and blame victims of gun violence for either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or associating with lower elements of society. I am perplexed by their paranoid world view in which they sacrifice the good of the present to prepare for a highly unlikely future of tyranny and oppression.  I am frightened by their talk of armed insurrection against the government, their desire to flaunt the concept of federal supremacy by ignoring laws, and their utter lack of understanding of how democracy operates.  They do not know much history and what facts they do come across they take out of context to use as props for their talking points.  They openly embrace using more violence to counteract what they perceive as a violent society.  Most of their arguments make little or no logical sense to me.  Lately, however, the most offensive paranoid, conservative fantasies I have come across is the comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler and the modern U.S. to Germany's fascist regime during Hitler's reign in the 1930s and 1940s.

Circulating on social media, online conservative news outlets, and  right wing blogs have been equations of President Obama to one of the most heinous figures in history.  I find it incredibly offensive and completely illogical, but not surprising.  Four years ago as Barrack Obama prepared to be inaugurated as president, conservatives touted secessionist rhetoric and implied that possible armed insurrection could occur as Americans would feel it necessary to fight against a radicalized, abusive federal government.  Contributors to Fox News talked of America being in a "pre-revolutionary" state and being "one step closer to a civil war." All because the US voters elected a black Democrat for president.  Now with President Obama's second inauguration coming quickly, especially on the heels of the intense national debate on gun control issues, conservative apologists have dusted off this old nugget of propaganda and added Adolf Hitler to fire up their base to oppose gun regulation.

By equating President Obama to Hitler, right wing radicals play to the delusional fear of gun lovers that they will eventually need to protect themselves from tyranny and dictatorship.  It is a blatant emotional appeal to American gun owners, tapping into the historical ethos of individual citizens as patriots and revolutionaries.  The last, best defense against a tyrannical government.  Using the Hitler comparison inspires already fearful, paranoid gun owners to marshal righteous indignation and prepare to fight against fascism by stockpiling assault weapons and creating huge caches of ammunition. In essence, this argument makes it okay for radical, conspiracy-loving people to contemplate armed insurrection and civil war.

By "Hitlerizing" President Obama, these people aren't discussing sedition and insurrection, but saving the world from one of the most nefarious, evil, and heinous creatures humanity has ever seen.  They turn President Obama and all the other duly elected representatives who support gun control into the enemy, and imply that a violent response to legislation they dislike is justified, even welcomed.  This type of fallacious argument not only muddies the waters surrounding gun control issues, but inflames gun lovers to the point where they cease to be reasonable.  It is at least an irresponsible and offensive argument to make and at most, a dangerous one. It is a tactic that vilifies and dehumanizes the opposition, shuts down any pragmatic conversation about the topic, and ultimately harms the American populace by giving violence an even greater foothold in this country.  Violence and violent rhetoric do not cure violence.  It never has and it never will.

While my conversation with the gun lover last night both irritated and frightened me, it had one good effect.  I realized that I need to speak up about this particular issue and advocate more vocally and logically for responsible and reasonable gun regulation in the United States.  I refuse to be silent in the face of vicious, callous, and false attacks on progressive legislators who want to address the rampant gun violence in the US in a meaningful, proactive manner.  I may  not persuade anyone to my way of thinking, but I am going to ensure that they at least hear me.  Being quiet, when subversive elements like this shout to the rooftops, is no longer an option for me.  I'll be as loud as the opposition, but much less fearful, delusional, and paranoid.  Of that I am certain.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Silver Linings and Shakers: Motivation

The other day I asked several people what motivated them to do the things they do not enjoy doing.  Most responded that they think about the negative consequences of not completing a task and that "fear of bad outcomes" pushes them to start and finish an unpleasant chore.  For example, "If I do not clean the kitchen, it will become infested with pests."  "If I do not finish this term paper, I will fail the class."  Other people mentioned that they think of worse things they could be doing.  In visualizing other distasteful activities, they ameliorate the unpleasantness of the current project.  They tell themselves, "I don't want to wash the dishes, but I could be cleaning horse stalls."  Still others stated that rewards motivate them to complete the jobs they don't want to work on.  They think about the reward of having more time for pleasurable activities or the positive benefits of getting a job completed.  Lastly, people are motivated to do things they don't want to because they know it is the right thing to do.  Some internal conscience tells them it is the only ethical and moral option and moves them to get the job done.

It's easy to do the things we enjoy.  We take pleasure from the act in an of itself and it is that pleasure principle that motivates us to start and finish something.  So whatever it takes to get the less-than-fun activities done actually constitutes a good thing, even if the motivators happen to be negative.  It would be a great thing if everything could stem from a positive point of origin, but we humans aren't necessarily built that way.  If we didn't have the idea that something worse would happen if we didn't do A, B, or C, then a lot of things wouldn't be accomplished.  It would be a lovely world in which all motivators were happy ones, but we don't live in that world, so all we can do is try to do our work with light hearts, regardless of how we motivate ourselves.  Doing something with a light heart really makes the job much easier to do.  Finding the silver-linings, upside, or benefit from every task we are assigned aids in doing it without resentment and doing it well.

It's the same as when I am cooking.  If I have to cook, even when I don't want to, I find that if I do it with resentment or high levels of negativity, the food doesn't taste as good.  The dish always goes wrong.  The recipe doesn't gel properly, something gets burnt, or it lacks flavor.  If I do it with a happy heart, then people taste the love and joy that go into what I prepare.  It's the same with any kind of job.  Happiness becomes a key ingredient in whatever you do or make.  The Shakers, a Utopian religious group founded during the early 1800s, believed this to be true.  They believed that everything they did constituted an act of devotion to God, and therefore they used that as a motivator to complete whatever task at hand to the best of their abilities.  They worked with a sense of joy in all they did and their joy can be seen in their architecture, furniture, and handicrafts.  Everything they made contained a beautiful, precise simplicity.

We should take a lesson from the Shakers.  We should act as if everything we do matters. The mindset that if everything we do is an act of devotion to either God, our families, or ourselves allows us to put more love, happiness, and joy into our work and unpleasant tasks become more pleasant while the chores we enjoy become even more fulfilling and vibrant.  The end product of whatever we do benefits from a light heart and a sense of positive dedication. Try to remember that when you have to wash dishes, mow the lawn, finish an assignment for school, or complete a project for work.  Guaranteed you will feel better in the middle of the task, and you will definitely appreciate the end results much more....both the project itself and your own feeling of satisfaction.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Listening More and Doing Less

Sometimes the best thing to do for a friend's problem is to do nothing at all.

Sometimes you just have to sit back and let things play out.  As much as you want to jump into the middle of a situation and yell "Stop!!!!" at the top of your lungs, you just can't do it.  This is especially true when you you see a friend struggling with some circumstance, event, or emotion and you know that no matter what you say or do, the friend has to handle it him or herself.  No amount of advice or intervention on your part will change anything.  Some things a person just has to do for him or herself and all we can be are spectators, wishing, hoping and rooting for the home team's success.

I think most thinking, feeling people have a bit of crusader in them.  They want to help their friends and families with difficulties and try to ameliorate whatever ails them.  I used to try and offer advice or actually put plans into effect to help friends work through whatever difficulties they were undergoing.  However,I learned my lesson many years ago.  I can only do what I can do, no more and no less, and oftentimes people really don't want help. Help comes with too many strings attached. And, in certain circumstances, no amount of help will change another person's trajectory.  It has to come from oneself--the desire and willingness to fix his or her own problems.  Generally outside solutions only work for a small period of time or not at all.

I've also learned that sometimes it is better to just sit back and listen, to provide an ear for someone's troubles, but not necessarily a mouth.  Generally people are smart enough to figure out a solution on their own. People really just need an opportunity to vent their frustrations and have a sounding board on which to bounce their own ideas about things.  Talking too much, offering unwanted advice, or espousing platitudes just doesn't work well for the troubled person.  Oftentimes it just feeds their drama and the issues become more acute.  Rather than focusing on improving a situation, the problem or the feelings surrounding a problem are intensified. Intervention in another person's difficulties should only happen if it is obvious that no other fix exists or if that person is incapable at all of helping him or herself at all.  Otherwise, just be supportive and positive.

Nonetheless, we all have that urge to take on another's problems and fix them as we see fit.  It's human nature.  Sometimes I wish it weren't but we can't help it.  The best we can do is to probably take a step back and just watch and be as supportive as possible without being intrusive.  This new approach seems to be working for me.  I'm happier because my levels of frustration have decreased.  I still care, but I don't invest myself in the solutions as fully as I did.  I listen more, support more, and talk a heck of a lot less.  Sometimes the best solution is just being there and letting the other person know you love and support him or her.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No Apologies Necessary: Choose Not to Excuse

No apologies for being goofy!!!!!

I had a friend tell me yesterday to never apologize for oneself.  I think I had said, "I'm sorry I am so goofy."  He replied, "Don't apologize for the things that make you, you." It's something I say a lot, and normally its just one of those things that pops out of my mouth and I never really hear it, let alone contemplate the ramifications of a statement like that.  This time, however, his admonishment caught my attention, and I realized he's right.  Unless a person has truly offended someone by objectionable behavior or words, one should never apologize for the innate qualities of oneself.  It's an unnecessary act of self-negation, an invalidation of all the characteristics that make a person unique.

Either people will like you, or they won't.  It's as simple as that.  No more and no less.  Apologizing or changing in an effort to garner someone's attention, respect, affection, or love isn't going to create an true connection anyway.  It automatically lays a shaky foundation for an imbalanced and inauthentic relationship.  Someone will always feel less than worthy because they are having to alter what makes him or her who he or she is.  And someone who doesn't feel worthy and validated cannot sustain a healthy, honest relationship.  Too many negative emotions abound and true contentment won't ever occur.  Much like a plant, if a person spends time hiding parts of him or herself in the dark, he or she never blooms and any relationship or friendship he or she is in withers and eventually dies.Being true to oneself and one's personality traits from the onset allows for the development of a real relationship between two people.

In addition to helping a person be connected in healthy ways to other people, not apologizing for one's quirks and eccentricities helps a person to embrace them, thus becoming much more comfortable in one's own skin. When I think about it, I love my goofiness.  It is the source of a great deal of laughter and joy for me.  It allows me to engage in silliness for the sake of silliness, and it makes me feel light and happy.  I don't ever need to say sorry for that.  If it annoys someone else, that's his or her problem and not mine.  I am comfortable and secure in my goofy nature and I am never making apologies for it again.  It is a key aspect of who I am.  I think from now on if someone reacts badly to my silliness, I'll just tell them its all part of my devastating charm and leave it at that.

Besides, we humans spend so much time hearing negative things that we don't need to reinforce the messages media, acquaintances, and advertising throw at us on a daily basis. Over a lifetime we imbibe the message that we aren't good enough, that we need to improve and be ever so much better than we are now. We shouldn't add to those negative messages with apologies for our personalities.  Even if we don't consciously acknowledge it, the mere expression of apologizing for oneself has a detrimental effect on how we perceive ourselves, as well as our levels of self-esteem and self-worth.  If something is valid, and all of our unique traits are valid, then it is unnecessary to excuse them.  We should spend more time accepting and celebrating them instead.

Perhaps that is why I have a large group of acquaintances and a small group of friends.  Not every "gets" me.  But that's okay.  I "get" me, I like me, and I am not apologizing for me anymore. I am who I am.  Love me or leave me. The seriously funny thing about all of this is that I thought I was okay with me in the first place. I espoused all those things but I never realized that I kept saying sorry for this or that personality trait until my friend blatantly pointed it out to me.  I'm really glad that he did.  I like to think of myself as a work in progress and this little conversation pointed out that what I think is so true.  I am still progressing. Every little bit of forward movement helps me to get where I want to be--happy and thoroughly unapologetic.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Packing My Bags

When packing your bags, be careful what you bring with you and what you choose to leave behind.

The primary quality of a genuinely happy person is the ability to let things go. Carrying resentment, pain, or distress over something someone said or did years ago keeps him or her trapped in a negative place. Carrying baggage from previous experiences causes a person relive drama daily and it leaves no room for growth or flexibility. Resilient people move on, own their own actions, realize the futility of trying to control other people's behaviors, and focus on the good aspects in one's life. No one else can make a person hostage to his or her past. Individuals are the jailers and have the power to keep themselves imprisoned or set themselves free.

I've noticed lately that the people in my life that seem the happiest in general are the ones who make a concerted effort to live in the present and move towards the future. They have a tendency to gloss over bad circumstances or instances that happened to them in the past and focus on the good things that have happened instead. It is not that they behave like ostriches with their heads in the sand as they don't avoid reality. They just choose the parts of their reality that they want to be meaningful and productive for them. It's unproductive to focus on all the slights, abuses, and injuries one has suffered throughout a life time. It drains a person's energy from being proactive. When a person harbors anger and resentment in their heart and mind, he or she leaves no room for anything else. In addition, that kind of negativity is caustic. It gradually destroys the healthy aspects of a person's emotions, thoughts, and physical health.

People hold onto pain for a variety of reasons. It becomes a familiar comfort. It allows for righteous indignation at having been wronged. It provides justification for behaving badly or irrationally because of previous victimization. No one, however, holds onto it because it feels good. Much like an addiction, most people realize it isn't a healthy thing to do, but they fall back on counting their wrongs to pacify all the uncomfortable feelings they hold about present circumstances, or their actions and thoughts.

A similarity I see in people who let go of things is that they have a tendency to attribute the wrongs to external reasons. It is not because they view themselves as bad people, unworthy, stupid, ugly or evil. They don't believe they deserve the terrible things that happen to them. They epitomize the adage, "Bad things happen to good people all the time." By externalizing the causation, it becomes easier to move beyond the injury. A person thinking everything is his or her fault is just as much of a type of narcissism as thinking all success is due to oneself. It's an unreal view of the world and the way in which a person impacts or moves within it. There is no distance between oneself and anything else. And as much as it is impossible that all good things can be attributed to one person, all bad things cannot be attributed to one person either.

In addition to attributing past pain to external factors, forgiveness is key to moving on. One never has to forget what happened, but one should forgive what happened. Forgive the circumstances, forgive the people involved and forgive oneself for being hurt or shamed. And then pick yourself up, embrace the future and move towards something productive and healthy. The past is what it is. It cannot be changed. The only factors a person can control in life is one's reactions to things, one's intentions, and one's actions. Everything else is superfluous and being so, not worthy of too much attention. By focusing on practical matters, on what can be done to improve one's life, and all the good things the world has to offer, one can learn to live happily and fruitfully.

At the beginning of the new year, carry only the memories and experiences that enhance your life, bring you joy, and make you a better person. When I packed my bags to travel into 2013, I left a lot of things behind. They didn't fit into the suitcase I chose to bring and I am completely satisfied with them gathering dust in last year's room. Eventually they will be completely obscured and much like a forgotten item left behind on vacation, we won't even remember what we once missed.