Social justice

My Story: Living With Bipolar Disorder & Giving Voice to the Voiceless…by Jon Ferreira

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Good evening, my name is Jon Ferreira, and I live with mental illness. For over thirty years, I have worked as a professional actor, director, writer, and educator. I have taught high school, university, and adult education. As a writer, I write reviews, political essays, social commentary, and have been published on several websites. Despite my many accomplishments, five years ago – at the age of 35 – I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and it changed my life forever. Tonight, I am here to describe my journey into the abyss, but also to share my resilient story of hope and recovery, and how I am living proof that it is possible to live a purposeful and rewarding life while living with mental illness.

Five years ago, I was living in Chicago, and finishing up a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing. During my three years of grad school, I had been arrested for DUI, faced jail time and thousands of dollars in fines, lost my driver’s license and totaled a new car, gone through a painful breakup, abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered the deaths of two close friends – one of whom had Schizophrenia, and took his own life. On top of all this, I was put on probation in my theatre department, and nearly kicked out of the program. Not because of my grades – I had a 4.0 and was at the top of my class. It was because I was having interpersonal conflicts, and couldn’t effectively collaborate with my peers. I didn’t know how to deal with stress, and was driven by an unrealistic need for perfection in myself and in those around me. I couldn’t handle rejection and criticism, and often lashed out in defensive ways.

In my final semester of grad school, I was working as an assistant director at a theatre in Chicago, with three very famous actors. I was living the dream. What I didn’t know then, was that I was also living with mental illness. Quickly, the pain and stress of those three long years began to catch up with me, and I suddenly had a complete psychotic break. And yet, I felt greater than I had in years. I was sleeping only about an hour a night, but I was accomplishing so much! I was more creative than I had ever been, and began writing books, plays, and keeping a daily journal –which I would scribble in all throughout the day. I thought I was the next Hemingway. I had delusions of grandeur, and pictured myself writing the next great American novel or a hit Broadway show! I was juggling dozens of creative projects, including painting, drawing, and sculpting, and had transformed an entire room in my apartment into an artist’s studio, where I furiously created art around the clock.

I also started spending all my money on frivolous things. In addition to creating art, I was also buying antiques and collectibles at a local thrift store, and selling them online at a business I had created for charity. Soon, I began working as a head chef at a local bar and grill, and somehow I imagined that I was on the verge of launching the next hit restaurant in Chicago.

But there was also a dark side. I was becoming increasingly erratic. I began to hallucinate and hear voices, and came to believe that I was the Son of God—sent here to save humanity. I let my hair and beard grow, and began walking through the streets of Chicago barefoot, giving sermons on street corners and preaching to prostitutes. I walked alone through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and nearly got shot more than once.

When I wasn’t in the streets, I was preaching crazy ideas on Facebook, and no one had any idea what I was talking about. I was completely unstable, and began fighting with people on social media. I lost a lot of friends during that time. Many people thought that I was just being a terrible person, without realizing I was having a complete psychotic breakdown. The few friends and family I had left were worried about me, but for many, this was the first time they had ever seen someone in crisis, and didn’t know what to do. After several failed attempts to get me help in Chicago, my family finally flew me back to Maine to receive the treatment I needed. There’s no telling how much longer I would have survived in Chicago. By the time I left, I was convinced the CIA were watching me, and planning my assassination. I was a danger to myself.

Within three days of arriving in Bangor, I was at PCHC (Penobscot Community Health Center), and had seen a primary care doctor, therapist, and med manager. Before long, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and put on several medications. I was also referred to the NAMI Bangor (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group, and a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class, to receive lessons in mindfulness and dealing with interpersonal conflict. All of this saved my life.

But make no mistake. I thought my life had ended. As scary as my time in Chicago might sound to you, for me, it was thrilling and exciting. Those three months of mania had been the most stimulating in my life, and I had never been so inspired or productive. I thought I was God, and now, here I was back in Maine, on disability, and living in my parents’ basement. All I wanted to do was die.

When I first got back, I attempted to teach and work in local theatre, but once again, I had serious conflicts with my colleagues, and gave up altogether. I became increasingly depressed, withdrew from friends and family, and rarely left the basement. I was overly medicated and could hardly function. I used to be a passionate and articulate person, but now here I was, drooling and could hardly feel a thing. I became suicidal, and made several attempts on my life.

For ADHD, I was put on Ritalin, and before long, I was snorting it for the high. It was the only time I felt creative and alive—like I had felt in Chicago. I was snorting an entire month’s supply in a week, which would make me manic, and not allow me to sleep for six or seven days at a time. My life was spiraling out of control, and I prayed every day that it would just end.

And it nearly did.

But about a year and a half ago, everything changed.

I was addicted to Ritalin, had gained nearly 80 pounds, and had been rushed to the emergency room several times. I finally said to myself: “You gotta get busy living, or get busy dying.” I realized I was trying to kill myself slowly, and things had to change. I decided to get busy living. But I needed to find purpose again. I had been on disability for over three years, and knew I couldn’t work. Yet, all my life, my work in theatre and education had given me all the purpose I needed. After all, I had sacrificed nearly everything—including a wife and kids—for my career. For the first time in over thirty years, I could no longer work, and had to find a new purpose for living. Before I could even get healthy, I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I needed to find something I loved again. One semester during college, I had lived in a castle in the Netherlands, and had traveled all throughout Europe. However, I had never made it to Portugal—the country where my family came from. I decided that whatever it took, I was going to take a trip there.

You have to understand that I hadn’t been on a plane in four years, and was absolutely terrified. I have claustrophobia and severe social anxiety, and I was worried about trying to navigate language, culture, and transportation in a foreign country. I was concerned about breaking from my routine, and becoming disoriented in a strange and unfamiliar place. Every day, I went back and forth between thrilling excitement and absolute crippling terror.

In order to ensure that I was safe and had a good time, I knew that I had to plan this trip very carefully. I spent hours each day pouring over maps, watching travel videos, reading books, researching the culture, and carefully constructing a detailed travel itinerary. By the time I arrived in Lisbon, I knew that city like the back of my hand, and didn’t even need a map to find my way around. My trip was a resounding success! I had no problem with the flights, communicating, or staying on schedule. You see, despite the limitations of my disease, I had managed to turn an unfamiliar place INTO a familiar place, and Portugal became like a second home. Living with mental illness doesn’t mean you have to stop living, it just means you have to plan better!

When I came back from Portugal, I was a new man. I had a renewed sense of purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment. For years, I had been crippled by insecurity and low self-esteem, but after my trip, I had nothing but confidence.

The first thing I did was quit Ritalin. Next, I renewed my gym membership, and started swimming and working out 3-4 times a week. I changed my diet, and lost over 40 pounds. I worked with my doctors to get me off the more sedating medications, and found just the right combination of meds. I started walking several miles each day. And after years of being told I should volunteer, I finally did. Within weeks of my return, I began volunteering for NAMI Bangor, where I currently serve as a Media and PR Assistant, and help the President—Betsy—with outreach and advertising for all our NAMI events—including this one. I enrolled in a training program at Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, and now tutor and mentor adult literacy students, as well as work with children reading and distributing books. As a tutor, I spend hours each week creating lesson plans and instructing adult literacy students.

I also researched and learned as much as I could about Bipolar, and soon realized that having a daily schedule and routine was vital for my survival. I started planning my days, and keeping a strict calendar. Every morning, I wake up at 6 am, do yoga, make coffee, drink a smoothie, and listen to NPR. I work out, relax in the sauna, swim, eat healthy, and attend weekly NAMI meetings and weekly therapy sessions. I devote a few hours to reading and writing, and a couple hours to watching tv. I craft lesson plans, teach students, coordinate NAMI business, and volunteer on political campaigns. The point is…I stay busy. I finally got out of that basement.

I can’t tell you how much NAMI has meant to me as an organization. It literally saved my life. In group, I talk with other people suffering from mental illness, learn coping skills, get advice, and have access to helpful resources. I’ve made deep and lasting friendships, and found fellowship with others who have been where I’ve been. After years of trying to convince my parents to attend a family meeting, they finally did last month, and they loved it. It allowed them to talk with other parents, and get a little bit of perspective about me and my disease. They were finally able to vent, and to grieve, and to seek the advice of others who knew the pain of having to care for a loved one. They are now committed to attending every month, and I’m happy to say that they are here with us tonight.

Recently, I switched to a new therapist, and I’ve made more progress in two short months than I had in over four years! I cannot express how important it is to find a good therapist, and I would recommend it for everyone, whether you suffer from mental illness or not. There is something deeply profound and therapeutic about taking to someone who knows what they are doing. If you’re interested, NAMI can help you find the services you’re looking for.

I’ve also decided to move back to Boston, and return to work again. Over the next year, I plan on applying for college teaching jobs and to start directing again. However, I will never stop volunteering. It gives my life purpose.

I want to say that despite the fact that I have made significant steps in my recovery, I still have bad days. Even bad weeks. In fact, these last few weeks have been tough for me. Every so often, I go through a brief, but deep depression. There are times when I still have fleeting thoughts of suicide. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am always at risk of becoming manic. It’s important to understand that there is no cure for mental illness. Only management. Those of us in recovery are each on our own path to wellness, and realistically, that means times of dizzying success, and times of great struggle. There are relapses and stumbles along the road, and there are times when I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna make it. There is no silver bullet for mental illness, and it’s something I will live with for the rest of my life. I will always be susceptible to the darkness. However, it is treatable, and with planning and vigilance, it is possible to lead a healthy and productive life. It takes work. A LOT of work. But as they say in AA, it works, if you work it.

Since being diagnosed, it has taken a lot of courage for me to admit that I live with mental illness. At first, I was scared and ashamed, and didn’t tell anyone. Over the years, I’ve slowly “come out” to friends and family, and three months ago, I revealed my illness on Facebook, where I’ve received nothing but love and support. Tonight is the first time I have ever publicly spoken about my disease. But it won’t be my last. It’s time we end the stigma of mental illness, and I am personally committed to a life of advocacy. Most people had no idea that I was suffering in silence. And that’s the point. That’s why I’m here tonight. And that’s why I will continue to speak all over the state and the nation, to small groups and large, to community organizations and in front of legislators who have the power to fund mental health care and reform our broken system.

But I’m also here to ask for YOUR help. If you’re afflicted with mental illness, I encourage you to seek therapy, and perhaps attend a NAMI support group. If you suffer in silence, as I once did, I would ask you to consider being open and honest about your condition, and living out loud and proud. It’s not easy. There is still much work to be done. But the more of us who come forward with our stories, the more people will realize how common mental illness truly is, and the easier it will become to accept. The more we normalize mental illness, the closer we get to treating it as you would any other disease of the body. Like every great social justice issue, SILENCE IS DEADLY, and we have lost too many people to mental illness. Every day, in this country, we lose 22 veterans to suicide and undiagnosed PTSD. Over 40,00 people take their own lives every year in this country. For those of you who have friends and family who suffer—and I guarantee you do—I would ask that you educate yourself about their disease, and look for ways that you can advocate for all of us. This is an epidemic, and we need your voice and support. It starts as small as offering aid to a friend in crisis, but it doesn’t have to end there. We here at NAMI have several resources to help, and I encourage you to seek us out. You’ve already made the first step in coming here, and I thank you for listening to my story.

Why Hillary Clinton Will Lose the Debate, Even if She Wins…by Jon Ferreira

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I’ve heard many people preemptively declare Hillary Clinton the presumptive winner of tonight’s debate against Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Many view her intelligence, grasp of policy, superior debating skills, and Presidential demeanor to be so vastly superior to his, that there is no way he could possibly compete with her on stage.

After all, Donald Trump is easily baited, and is completely unstable and unpredictable when faced with adversity and challenges on stage and on the campaign trail. He is known for his outspoken and unapologetic bigotry, misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and many other seemingly insurmountable deficits and short-fallings. Donald Trump is perhaps the most publicly reviled Presidential candidate in history, and one would think, the easiest target to take down. Simply put, Donald Trump has been his own worst enemy, and in any other campaign, it would have taken only a handful of the gaffes he has made to end his run, but not so with Trump.

When Ronald Reagan was President, his critics and detractors called him “the Teflon president”- a nickname that was coined by Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, reflecting how a plethora of scandals surrounding his presidency seemed to have no effect on his individual popularity with the public. Seemingly, nothing could stick to President Reagan, and he left office as wildly popular – if not more – than when he came in. If Reagan was considered the “Teflon President,” than surely Donald Trump has been the “Teflon Candidate.” Despite a 24/7 constant media obsession with every boneheaded, racist, and dangerous thing he has ever said and done, Donald Trump still managed to beat out 17 other Republican hopefuls, gained millions of rabid supporters, won over thousands of independents and disenfranchised voters, and closed the gap between him and Hillary Clinton. Currently, the two are neck and neck in the polls. Trump has done the unthinkable: he has used the hateful rhetoric of an authoritarian demagogue and fascist to demonize huge swaths of the American public, and used divisive language to incite violence and hatred, YET still managed to win over nearly half the electorate. This hatemonger is actually a viable candidate for President of the United States – arguably, the most powerful and influential job on the planet.

Donald Trump’s supporters admit that he sticks his foot in his mouth repeatedly, although they admire him for “telling it like it is” and for speaking the truth to power. They want a candidate who is willfully Anti-Political Correctness, and who flies in the face of traditional politics and convenient policy soundbites. They want someone they perceive to be like them, and Hillary Clinton is decidedly NOT that.

For those on the Left and in support of Hillary Clinton, it would seem that she has all the preternatural abilities and advantages going into tonight’s debate. She has been active in politics for over 30 years, and has spent a lifetime in service to the poor, to children, and to middle class families everywhere. She is the former First Lady and spouse of a former President, and knows the workings of the White House and Capitol Hill. Clinton is an experienced ex-Senator and former Secretary of State, who had very high favorability ratings while in office. Hillary also has a wonkish understanding of policy and the nuances of Government. If anything, Hillary Clinton may be the most capable politician to ever run for the Office. Her grasp of policy and governance is stunning, even to the most veteran of politicians. She also has a practical knowledge of how Washington works, and knows full well what it means to collaborate and work across the aisle. For good or for bad, Hillary Clinton is a career politician and a Washington insider, who has an infinite number of connections and alliances. She also has many enemies and detractors, but what politician doesn’t? It is undeniable that Mrs. Clinton knows how to get things done, and possesses a good deal of political capital. Hillary Clinton may be one of the most experienced, intelligent, and capable people to ever run for the office of the Presidency.

And yet…and yet…she may still lose. Even despite the enormous deficits of her polarizing challenger, and all her many strengths and capabilities, there is still something undeniably looming underneath Hillary Clinton’s Presidential run. There are still huge obstacles to her being elected. It’s something we’ve heard about for months, but it’s something that will inevitably rear its ugly head in the debates specifically. You see, it’s not her grasp of facts and figures, Hillary’s comprehension of policy, or her innate ability to debate that worries me. Clinton obviously has all those strengths in spades, and perhaps in a normal debate, against a more traditional candidate, those would all be huge assets. Yet, even against a more orthodox candidate, as a woman, I still think Hillary has the unenviable task of having to win over people who society has predisposed to dislike her. Her intellect, poise, and debating skills have NEVER been the problem with Hillary Clinton. IT’S ALL ABOUT LIKABILITY.

Men are praised for power, and women are praised for how they look, and for being demure. If she attacks too much or gets too animated, she is labeled a “crazed and shrill bitch.” If she lays back and debates the finer nuances of policy, she’s an “egghead wonk, and completely unrelatable.” And the worst possible scenario is if she appears wonkish and elitist, and seems to be patronizing and haughty at Trump’s inevitable ignorance and perceived stupidity. Remember Al Gore’s loud sighs in his debates against George W. Bush? He was expressing the frustration the rest of us Liberals were feeling at Bush’s lack of policy knowledge and superficial understanding of government. Gore was sighing because he was a smart and capable politician, with years of experience and a firm grasp of how to govern this country. Gore was sighing for all of us, and for everyone who recognized that Bush was simply unsuited for the job of President. Yet, as we soon realized, his justified sighs were patronizing and haughty, and only served to alienate the public and humanize George W. Bush. Those sighs not only made Gore unlikable, they made Bush imminently likable and avuncular. As was oft repeated, many Americans felt that they would enjoy sitting down and drinking a beer with Bush. He was one of them. Those sighs ultimately humanized Bush, and made him instantly relatable. Well, those sighs would be even worse coming from a woman.

I hate to say it, but I think Hillary is — and always has been — in a lose-lose situation. She’s a woman, and sadly, judged by an irrational and woefully sexist patriarchal standard of how a woman should behave. But more so, whereas men are judged positively and worthwhile for being aggressive and confident, women are seen as “bitches” – or worse – for showing the exact same temerity. On the other hand, if she comes across as too wonky and knowledgable, she’s simply a “know-it-all nerd” who nobody likes. If a smart and capable man like Al Gore had trouble seeming relatable, comfortable, and likable, it is a thousand times worse for ANY woman, and especially a woman like Hillary Clinton – with all her perceived baggage – real or imagined.

I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Hillary Clinton to be our nominee, but I like Hillary. I think she is deeply flawed, and has made some catastrophic mistakes, but which of us hasn’t? What politician doesn’t come with baggage? I liked Bernie Sanders, but Hillary is much more electable in today’s political climate. Even if I don’t always think she represents herself well, I know Hillary Clinton is smart, capable, experienced, and passionate about the same issues I care about. But sadly, I also think she’s in a practically no-win scenario when debating this cocky sociopath. I do think Hillary Clinton may narrowly win the Presidency, but in many ways, she will never be “America’s President.” As you know, no candidate will ever receive the mandate of the vast majority of the people ever again, as was sometimes the case in the past. Our society is currently too divided and polarized. However, Hillary Clinton, if elected, will undoubtedly be the most unpopular candidate to ever win the Presidency. If she can nearly be beaten by a man as grotesque and deplorable as Donald Trump, there is something clearly deeper than her past mistakes in Benghazi and email servers at work. This is more than emails and Whitewater. Hillary Clinton is a woman, and although she may become the first female President of the United States, she will never “WIN” a debate. She can’t. We won’t allow her too. It’s not Hillary Clinton I’m worried about tonight. It’s everybody else.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness & How It Saved My Life

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Five years ago, as I was finishing my last semester of graduate school in Chicago, I had a breakdown. Everyone knew it. I knew it. I just didn’t know what was happening to me. After I was rushed back home to Maine for treatment, I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD. My life was over. Or so I thought. For over three months, I had been experiencing a life-threatening manic episode, and desperately needed help. No one knew what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, the good people at Penobscot Community Health Care did. I was put on medication, enrolled in intense therapy, and referred to a local support group for those suffering from mental illness. That group is called NAMI Bangor. I had never heard of NAMI before, but it stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For a few years, it was real touch-and-go, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive. I came close to taking my own life on several occasions. And yet, I kept going to NAMI meetings, and I kept telling my story. And each time, it got a little easier.

If you had asked me three years ago, if I would ever “come out of the closet” and publicly admitted that I had a mental illness, I would have said absolutely no way! I was ashamed and scared, and all I wanted to do was disappear. I didn’t want anyone to know about my illness, and I just wished my life had turned out differently. I didn’t think I could ever be a “normal” person again.

And then something changed inside of me. I found a new purpose. I decided that I wanted to travel again, and to see the country where my family came from – Portugal. For over six months, I planned every detail of my trip, and it gave me such new purpose and a sense of momentum. And at every NAMI Bangor meeting I spoke about my trip, and all my anxiety and fears, as well as my optimism and hope. When the day came for me to leave — a year ago this week — I embarked on a journey home that would inevitably change my life forever.

I had an amazing time in Portugal, but it was more than just a vacation for me. For over four years, I had barricaded myself in a basement, and refused to make contact with the world. I was fearful, ashamed, and angry. After I returned, I was a new man. I had confidence, and a new sense of hope and purpose. I began to volunteer regularly, and now am a Media/ PR assistant for NAMI Bangor, as well as a literacy tutor and mentor for Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. I also work on local political campaigns. I work with children and adults, and I help to change lives.

I also work out and swim nearly every day, and have lost over 50 pounds. I eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, have cut back on stress, reduced my medication to just the right dosage, and actively engage in my therapy, my support groups, and my recovery. I am slowly going back to work, and in 2017, I will be moving back to Boston. I am no longer ashamed of who I am.

I am living proof that NAMI works! So every time that I’ve pestered you on Facebook to pledge to my walk, it hasn’t just been for a charity that I believe in, but an organization that LITERALLY saved my life. I am a new man, and as a result, I can be a fully capable and productive member of society, just like you can. I am not dangerous or unstable, but I needed help. When Governors and Congressman cut funding for mental health, they are not just preventing people like the criminally insane from getting the help they need, but the rest of us, who are no danger to anyone but ourselves, but need a little help to get our lives back. I needed it. And many thousands of other people all across our state and country do too.

If you had asked me five years ago whether I would have come out on Facebook and announced I had mental illness, I would have said no, but today, I am an advocate for all those who have suffered in silence and lived in the shadows for far too long. Won’t you help me in my journey, and help me end the stigma today?

I walk tomorrow, not just for myself, but for every person who has ever suffered in silence and needs our help. Thank you for your support!

How Star Trek Shaped Me As A Man & Can Shape Us As A People

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Over the many years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve gushed so much about how much I love Star Trek, and I know you’re probably sick of it by now. But today is the 50th Anniversary of the first episode, and I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on why the show means so much to me.

I can’t tell you how much Star Trek has meant to me as a person. I first fell in love with the show watching The Original Series in reruns after school. By the late 1980s, I was addicted to its sequel, The Next Generation. And of course, I breathlessly watched all of the movies as they came out in the theatres. It played such an instrumental part in the formation of my values and morality as a young man watching that show. It meant so much to that young boy, and to the man I’ve become. It speaks to every fibre of my being.

Star Trek captures everything about the human condition, and about all that humanity IS capable of. As dark as it sometimes can get, Star Trek is a show driven by optimism, and the hopes and dreams of one tiny planet, amongst a sea of neighbors we may not even know yet. Admittedly, we’ve got a long ways to go on our own small planet, before we can truly hope to populate space with that kind of hope and goodwill, but it all starts with a dream.

You may say you hate Science-Fiction, but despite all the tecnobabble you may hear, Star Trek was never about gadgets and science. It is about people. People from all genders, races, religions, creeds, orientations, and yes…species…all trying to get along in the Universe, and trying to find peace and common ground. It is an allegory. In the mid-1960s, television shows simply could not talk about racism, classism, sexism, etc. Science Fiction was the perfect cover, and was used as a way to address social issues in a vaguely familiar way, but set in a distant future and in a far off place. It allowed the creator, Gene Roddenberry, to tackle the injustices he saw in the turbulent world around him. And spoiler alert: the same issues which are plaguing our world today. Star Trek has used analogous alien species and fictional conflicts to address real world problems, such as sexism, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War, bioethics, Artificial Intelligence and sentience, capital punishment, religious intolerance, bigotry, class warfare, and even drug abuse, to name a few. Star Trek is not some action-packed adventure story with ray-guns and bad prosthetics (I mean, yeah, that’s all there)! Star Trek was the most cutting edge and provocative show of its generation, and STILL CAN BE! The job is not done. Star Trek still has a vital role to play in our society.

You see, Star Trek is not about space, but about the space in between. The space between you and me, and how we can close that gap, bridge that gulf that lies between us. It’s about an idea. An idea that humankind has a future in space, and can be ambassadors of peace and tolerance. But first, we must start with ourselves. That’s not Science-Fiction. But it could be Science-FACT. It’s already within us, we just need to have the courage to be able to find it before it’s too late.

My friend Bill Doughty expressed a few thoughts on Star Trek that I’ve shared below. He meaningfully articulates some points that I may have missed. His words, like mine, are love letters. Love letters to a show that has given generations of hopeful dreamers a place to hang their hats, and hold out hope for tomorrow. A chance to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!!!  Live Long and Prosper.

From a post by Bill Doughty from Facebook (September 8, 2016):

“I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts on Star Trek today. I’ve always loved Trek for the simple reason that no matter the series or format, it has always been about one thing: look at everything we could accomplish if we could only *get over ourselves.* But at the same time, it expresses that idea a million different ways across any sort of plot, genre, or storytelling medium you can imagine. Honestly, there’s at least one Star Trek story out there to speak to every man, woman, and child on earth, and if you say you’re the exception you’re wrong amd probably just trying to impress someone.

But whether it’s a TV show, movie, book, gamw, comic, or cartoon, and whether it’s tense, moody, silly, creepy, exciting, dark, thoughtful, or, yes, occasionally stupid, that same optimism is always there, hardwired into the DNA. Accept, tolerate, embrace, and explore, and there’s little we won’t be able to accomplish.

And we’ll also get teleporters and food replicators. You know you’d be down with that.”

The Goals vs. Gains of Political Correctness: Losing the War of Words & Making Enemies Where There Were None

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Today I came across a video of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perryas she took offense to a guest’s use of the term ‘hard worker’ Saturday, arguing that it diminished the experiences of slaves.“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” argued conservative guest Alfonso Aguilar. Harris-Perry didn’t disagree but wasn’t a fan of his word choice. She went on to say, “I just want to pause on one thing, because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr Ryan is a great choice for this role,” she said. “But I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker.’ Because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like.”

As soon as I finished the video, I immediately began writing this furious blog entry. I have no tolerance for that kind of bullshit and cultural reappropriation, especially to a well-meaning and harmless guest’s totally innocuous off-hand comment. She took it out of context, transported it to a new setting, and then manipulated it by endowing it with a racial and oppressive dimension it didn’t have before. The man’s words were condemned for an offense he could have never foreseen or prevented, and he was baffled and embarrassed needlessly. This is a glaring example of political correctness gone awry and the self-righteous overreach of those who rigidly enforce PC doctrine. I find few things as vile as vigilant censorship and an attack on free speech, especially when done in the name of lofty goals like equality, social justice, tolerance, and egalitarianism.

I have to say that I am socially very liberal, while being perhaps a little more fiscally moderate, but I consider myself a progressive, egalitarian, and open-minded person who is committed to equality and social justice and accepting everyone for who they are. I’m a registered liberal Democrat, but I also envy much of what socialism provides for its citizens.

Having said all that, there is one issue that I absolutely HATE to acknowledge I find myself agreeing with conservatives about, and that is political correctness. I am much more progressive, sensitive, and tolerant of Political Correctness than most Republicans I’ve met or seen online. In looking for a picture for this article, I poured over dozens of mean-spirited, racist, and hateful memes, all taking aim at the hated and maligned PC movement. Whereas, I recognize its objectives are good and noble, and that it started as a way to give voice to the voiceless and promote multiculturalism and cultural plurality. Disenfranchised groups could choose how they wished to be called, and the spirit of the movement was to provide safe environments where we could use uncoded and respectful language we could all agree on. People could pick how they chose to define and describe themselves. It was a way of taking ownership back, and probably even more obviously, a shift in power to the previously marginalized and disenfranchised.

Yet now, I feel like it’s gotten out of control, and actually curbs and muzzles free speech, sanitizes it of its character and strips away the vernacular, and removes anything remotely controversial or contentious. That might sound good to you, but the kernel of our healing and reconciling as a nation lies in that uncomfortable gray area where language breaks down, and we must find new ways to communicate. When everyone is so ultra-sensitive and easily offended, we don’t have a discussion anymore, just a unilateral wall thrown up in the face of the offender, and a public shaming of them, perhaps as cruel as the embarrassment once felt by the victim at the hands of a merciless majority. You see? It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not just the advocates of political correctness being victimized and crying foul, but now the majority, who like to cast themselves as the oppressed minority, and stripped of their First Amendment rights.The Right call the Left sissies and whiners, but that’s no better than the pot calling the kettle black. Or should I say African American? 😉 Either way, the burden is on the P.C. movement, because more often than not, the conversation terminates with them. It’s a conversation ender, and someone feels vindicated, and someone feels silenced, but neither one learned a damn thing!

I don’t advocate racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other language that doesn’t belong in a civil conversation. Everyone deserves to be respected, and should have the right to be addressed with dignity. I’m talking about the overreactions and demonization of certain phrases or words, or even symbols that some overly sensitive people find objectionable. Listen up: the moral of this story is this: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CONTEXT AND INTENT. There, I made it easy for you, and now you know what to look for.

Let’s say a white linguistics teacher is teaching the powerful book, N–gger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy, (You see? Even I’m afraid to write the full word in the title of the book, for fear I may invite anger or censure!) and the very purpose is to dissect and understand the history of the word, and why it is still a powder-keg loaded word today. Some in the PC Police might condemn this teacher’s actions, and claim he has no right to use that word and is unfit to teach black students. This even happens in high schools, when well-meaning teachers teach lesson units on works like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, both which contain frequent uses of the n-word. I’m not saying this should be casually thrown around either. But rather, it should be used as a teachable moment, where the word is a jumping off place for more serious and rigorous discussion. It’s all about context and a well-meaning teacher’s intent to educate his students about all the realities of the world, even the dark and shameful parts. That’s how kids learn.

I remember when I was in high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s biographical book, Night, about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–45, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the Second World War. It was graphic and disturbing, and often hard to read, but it captured my attention, and taught me an invaluable lesson about man’s inhumanity to man and the strength of an indomitable spirit to overcome even the most hopeless and desperate situations. Years later, in Boston, I saw Wiesel speak, and got to meet him after the presentation. What I remember most is how firmly he locked eyes with me, and as he looked me straight in the eye, he gave me a surprisingly firm handshake for a man his age. He was so strong, even after seeing all that and losing that much. I instantly knew how a man like that could have survived. And after reading his thrilling book, I had to reflect on those few students in my class whose parents forbid them from reading the book, perhaps because it was too realistic and had things like nudity or sexuality, or some other inconvenient fact of life. If you’re sheltered from even finding life in a book, I’d hate to see how real life’s gonna treat you.

And that’s ultimately why I draw this line between political correctness, and editing, redacting, abridging, rewriting, forbidding, or banning a certain book for containing something controversial, indecent, profane, political, or rebellious. It’s when we coddle children from toddlers up through their teenage years and into young adulthood, and we send them off to college enabled, entitled, weak, dependent, helpless, and overly sensitive. And I speak as someone who was ostensibly no better, and just as connected to a psychic umbilical cord. I’m not going to start parroting some conservative meme I saw today, depicting tough cowboys fighting for their freedom of speech with weak, dainty, effeminate, delicate, and breakable ‘pansies’ or ‘whinny babies’ as they said. I’m no tough guy, and I could never tell another human to ‘man up.’ At least, not in so many words. I will say that children learn best from exploring, discovering stuff on their own, building things with their own two hands, playing with all kinds of different kids, being exposed to as many different ways of life as they can, and perhaps more important than anything else…failing. And failing often. Kids need to learn how to fail, and face challenging adversity. They need to break their arm, get lost and spend a night in the woods, build a campfire in the wind, fail an exam, not get cast in the school play or make it on to the baseball team. Kids need to have microcosms of our own adult lives, and gradually be given more and more responsibility, so that by the time they do go off to college, they’ll have failed so often, they’ll have taught themselves how to succeed.

The problem in some of the more extreme and militant corners of the politically correct movement, is many of these young college students have been raised much like the kids I described above, but the stakes are raised by the fact that they come from a diverse range of minorities: Hispanic, Arab, Jewish, Black, Trans, Lesbian, Gay, Overweight, Female, etc. They carry with them all the traits of the group above, but have an added dimension of their race, gender, orientation, religion, or cultural identity. Many of them will have been taught how to identify and represent themselves, and also learned the respect and courtesy they should expect of others. This is where the breakdown happens. Kids are still kids, and universities are more widely diverse than at any time in human history. That’s a lot of jostling cultures and conflicting belief systems to come up against each other, and try and get along. Just the sheer fact that they’re all mixing and mingling at all is a small miracle, and shows how far we’ve come as a nation. But that’s where our high expectations have to end, and we have to be realistic about the kind of results we’re going to see.

Those minority students are guaranteed by law the right to the same education as their white and homogenous counterparts. They have a right to be treated with respect and insist on a professor treating them fairly and protecting their best interests. The problem is, there are necessarily going to be times when things are said and feelings are hurt. Perhaps the professor didn’t word something right, or a fellow student said something offensive. Perhaps even racist. Unfortunately, these things happen, and we still live in a society not that far removed from slavery, indian genocide, sexist and subjugation of women, and just months out from gays earning the right to marry. This country’s just a handful more police shootings of unarmed black men and no justice served from turning into widespread race riots. They’re fed up in the streets, and white America only watch helplessly, knowing that someone should do something, but not quite realizing it’s us. These are fresh wounds, and classrooms now turn into battlefields, as Antietam, Gettysburg, and Fredericksburg are fought with words, as students try and understand what they’re learning, while trying to express themselves and not look stupid. But people always do. Because some people just weren’t raised the way you were. And the things you value might not mean anything to someone else. Should it? Sure, in an idea world, we would all demonstrate and exercise empathy, understanding, acceptance, respect, and value other people’s feelings. In that world, those minority students wouldn’t have to worry about being unfairly judged for not fault of their own, and just for being born. To those in the majority, they undoubtedly value stuff the others don’t, like the right own guns or their freedom of speech. If they’re from the south, these are cultural characteristics of many people from Dixie. There’s a rugged and rebellious streak that runs through many of those who identify from this region, and their individualism, intense love of freedom, patriotism, liberty, right to bear arms, and right to say what they please, are the values worth fighting and dying for.

Where does an honest dialogue and difference of opinion cross  over and become a racist incident or hate crime? What if an offended student had accepted an apology, and opened the door for another heated conversation? It may sound funny, but there’s no telling where that relationship could have gone. But we’ll never know. Doesn’t it take two parties to fight and offend the other? If so, why does one get to shut down a dialogue and stop the free — and potentially healthy — exchange of ideas, while the other is cast as the aggressor, regardless of who said what? Modeling courtesy, treating people with the dignity they deserve, and respecting the wishes and boundaries of others you may not share views with is the cornerstone of mature discourse and healthy work and school environments. When taken to the extreme, political correctness is much more dangerous to our society, than free speech, and harms much more than it helps! We shouldn’t end up violating one group’s rights and freedom of speech, in order to take pains to protect the right of another group — NOT to not be offended or challenged. Obviously, if there’s legitimate harassment, intimidation, hate crimes, or other serious violations, than a minority, individual, or group must be protected and their dignity and rights championed. But a difference of opinion, however distasteful that opinion might be, is the foundation of interpersonal communication, and learning how to communicate with those you may not like.

To completely change gears, how about all the noise a few months back, when states were finally taking down Confederate flags from state capitol buildings. Personally, I believe no symbol of hate like that flag belongs on state or federal land, and especially a building that legislates laws for EVERY citizen, not just white racists or Civil War enthusiasts. It may be a part of the south’s heritage, but so was slavery and cross burning, but we don’t allow that anymore either. I wouldn’t allow a flag with a cross on it either, or a Star of David, or a Wiccan symbol. It’s a neutral place for everyone, so it’s only fair we clear it of stones bearing the Ten Commandments or flags that mean family to some, but hatred, racism, and forced servitude to others. Like it or not, the Confederate flag was born out of a legacy of slavery and rebellion against a nation trying to abolish the hateful practice. The first place I believe the Confederate flag belongs is in a museum (remember, it’s all about context, and a museum is a place to learn history and where such a controversial object fits into history). The second place, is wherever private citizens want to display it on their property. People have the right to free speech, and I’d never deny anyone that.

However, having said all that, political correctness played an ugly and sometimes necessary role in that whole national conversation. The country was certainly divided and mostly fell along party and regional lines. As you can see, I mostly supported removing the flag from public and advocating for the feelings and needs of those who were victimized under the Confederate flag. However, there was instance where the PC Police went too far, and totally missed the point. It wasn’t before long that people seized on the show Dukes of Hazard, and soon, certain parties were calling for the show to be pulled from the air, banned, digitally edited to erase the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, and eventually, toy companies were scrambling to pull toys, edit websites, and all the rest of the mess. Here is another example of an overreaction and people blowing something way out of proportion, without taking context or intent into consideration. The Duke Boys weren’t racist, even if they did have a car named after the General of the Confederate forces and a Confederate flag painted on the roof. They were proud southern boys, ‘never meanin’ no harm’ — as the song says — and like many in the region, they showed off their legacy. Not once was there anything to even suggest that Luke and Bo were racist or had any ill will towards any group…other than Boss Hogg, the law, and authority figures, perhaps. The task of going through and digitally removing the flag from the General Lee in every episode is time intensive, and completely unwarranted. The car isn’t being used as a symbol of hate, and it’s not even prominently featured enough to draw attention to itself. Rather than attacking the show and car reflexively, perhaps they would have realized it was a sanitized set dressing, and completely neutralized within the context of the show. Furthermore, if parents were that concerned, it seems like the perfect teachable moment to discuss how the flag can have two meanings, and in this instance, it’s a source of regional and cultural pride, but take the time to tell them its more malevolent history, and why it’s still being debated today. Kids can handle it. Black Americans can handle it.

We can’t possibly scour history for every vestige of slavery or some other shameful period in our nation’s history, nor can we sanitize words or artifacts from a time we’d rather forget. We must engage with history, and put it in its proper cultural context, and see what we can learn about our ancestors, and ultimately ourselves. The Politically Correct movement has its heart in the right place, and its aims are lofty and noble. It truly is about inclusion, and giving voice to everyone, while advocating for respect and sensitivity. I just think it’s gone off the rails. It has been taken too far, and we need to use common sense, and most importantly, pay careful attention to context and intent. Each case has its own set of challenges and circumstances. I would simply urge caution, patience, and a little thicker skin. None of us use language as precisely as we’d like to.

Uncovering History’s Inconvenient Truths: Separating Art from the Artists

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Not long ago, I responded to a friend’s recent posting of an article detailing how the actor Gary Sinise was openly supporting a group committed to curing sinners of their homosexuality. The article can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/mmgfnzz. As one might expect, my liberal friend had many messages of support and outrage at such casual bigotry, seemingly in the face of science and common sense. People expressed disappointment and betrayal at being ‘duped’ into liking Sinise’s work, and enjoying his long and impressive career. Finally, they nearly all affirmed that they would no longer support the actor, and would actively boycott his work. This cultural shaming is quite common in the media and entertainment field, and certainly thrives in the world of politics as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and I have taken similar actions on many occasions. However, tonight I decided to pose a moral dilemma, and questioned the wisdom of silence and solidarity against supporting an artist versus engaging them further, and/or simply separating the art from the artist, and selfishly enjoying the product, even while at odds with the maker. I was surely being provocative, but by no means a troll. After all, I seek discourse and reason, not discord and treason! I began by relaying my own personal connection to Gary Sinise, whom I have never met, but have several close connections to. Sinise graduated from the theatre program where I did my graduate work and earned my MFA in Directing, as did many of the other co-founders of Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre, which Gary helped found. When I directed in Chicago, I worked with many of his famous colleagues — many of whom are also renowned actors of stage and screen. Where most of them are predictably liberal, I often heard them speak of how conservative Sinise was and a what a devout and committed Catholic he was. At least one of them — an actor you would all know — is openly gay and married to his partner of many years, and arguably stood the most to lose from Sinise’s hateful views. And yet, to hear him and the others speak, although they don’t share his unenlightened beliefs on homosexuality and marriage equality, they are loyal friends and love him regardless. Can we, his fans, do the same, and somehow manage to separate the art from the artist? History is replete with flawed icons and troubling heroes. How do we reconcile ourselves with the beautiful art of Wagner, Hemingway, Eliot, Woody Allen, and countless other objectionable artists, who reportedly hold/ held hateful, sexist, anti-semitic, or racist beliefs? Or sexual predators such as Roman Polanski? The troubling thing about learning the values and belief of our most celebrated and respected artists, is deciding whether it’s morally reprehensible to support them, even after learning of their hateful transgressions. Do we do ourselves a disservice by lumping all offenders in together, and dispelling them all from our lives? While we must be consistent and honor our values and beliefs, while simultaneously undermining the hatred and intolerance of others, perhaps there is wriggle room when we consider historical context and take all factors into consideration. There seems to be something tangible in the different approaches and strategies we take to handle a piece of hateful and intolerant work. After all it’s a slippery slope of approval, having to vet our tastes, for fear the sins of the father aren;t delivered upon the son. If others saw me as hijacking the post or pushing an agenda, that was not my intent. As always, I came seeking knowledge and fellowship, and for me, that often means good natured debate and exploring the boundaries of any given situation. Whether it is possible or right to separate the art from the artist, and enjoy guilt free, is an age old question within the art world. At the very least, I thought I might challenge people to reconsider their inflexible stances, if not because I disagreed with them, but because it is intellectually honest and discerning to consider all sides of an argument. Whatever glaring faults I may possess, I have an aptitude for asking the right questions and breaking down people’s enmity and resolve. I am unwavering in my belief that the truth and solution are invariably closer to the middle, than either extreme side. Although I most closely identify as liberal, I am a moderate and independent at heart. I always seek to assert myself into conflict, and find ways to argue for both sides. Some see this as two-faced or disloyal, but I see it as the greatest act of love a person could do. Why go out of your way to burn a bridge, when you can help to rebuild it? I wish I could more closely live by my own words, but at least I think I can say I learn from my mistakes, and always seek reconciliation and peace. However, such feats of derring are incapable of being faked, manipulated, or pulled off without a few basic–yet integral–concepts: trust, love, humility, courage, acceptance, respect, good faith, a willingness to compromise, and a commitment to peace over unconditional comfort and sacrifice.

I say all this because when we confront the reality that our heroes and icons are somehow frauds who deceived us with beauty and virtue, and all that art holds dear, while harboring hateful and vindictive thoughts and beliefs. And sometimes, even actions done in the name of oppression, disgust, contempt, pity, or any other number of motivating factors. If the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and somewhere in the mix we both have valid points, the easier it is to find a common ground. Admittedly, there should be no tolerance for violence, hatred, willful ignorance, or bigotry, but we must still be willing to sit at the same bargaining table, and take steps to resolve animosity and enmity. You both know you are right, and have the full weight of….the Bible? Socail justice? Liberty? The Constitution? The fill-in-the-blank.. If nothing else, open and honest engagement with an enemy or objectionable piece of art is a learning experience, and goes a long way towards earning respect, seeing a situation from another’s perspective, and learning about prohibitive obstacles to another person’s understanding — geographical location, access to schools, history of domestic violence, incidents of rape or incest, educational attainment, physical and mental disabilities, crippling poverty, strong handed religious exposure and enforced obedience, and many other factors. We are both nature and nurture, and invariably products of our time and place. We are not raised in a vacuum or arid dessert, but in the richly embroidered world of some kind of family unit, perhaps a spiritual community, a cultural one, ethnic identity, and increasingly larger concentric circles of membership and identity. It is with these eyes that we must necessarily see, and we are as we so often were raised and reared. The world is full of a wide range of circumstances, entitlement, access to wealth and resources, and inherited physical and intellectual limitations. At the same time, we are all human beings of worth, intrinsically endowed with inalienable rights as human beings, including an innate dignity and special value, That means that we are all valuable and indispensable souls, with our own unique strengths and shortcomings, and most importantly, worthy of respect and the greatest gift of all – one;s undivided attention. Each of us has something to say or to add, and it is high time the responsibility fell on us to search for those qualities in others that we recognize in ourselves. The burden of proof should no longer fall on our foes and enemies to prove their worth and goodness. Nothing will ever get solved in this world if we continue to shift blame, point fingers, and go into each dispute with the foregone conclusion that our adversaries are morally corrupt, savages, incapable of feeling, humorless, devoid of mercy and sympathy, and generally the monsters we make them out to be. Love is the elixir of all hate, misunderstanding, and strife, and it all starts from the accepted truth that none of us are better than anyone else, and that we are all capable of loving and being loved. Regardless of whether you are a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology or a simple and unassuming impoverished tenant farmer from Jackson, Mississippi, you are equals in the eyes of the law — perhaps both secularly, and for some, spiritually.

When we approach a work of art — the careful and passionate expression of one’s closest thoughts and feelings — we cannot ever fully understand what the artist intended, but because it’s subjective, it hardly matters. It’s not just beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder, but the intrinsic value of art, which means something different to all of us. If and when we find out that an artist;s actions or beliefs are deeply at odds with our own value system, it is completely understandable to reject the artists work — all future endeavors, as well as past favorites. And perhaps that is where it becomes the most complicated. If art is subjective, the experience is transcendental and deeply personal, and in many ways, a confidential conversation between a fan and the work/ artist. When tragedy strikes, we are shaken to the core, and all our accepted truths are thrown into disarray, and we must somehow struggle to condemn those that we once loved, and disavow ourselves from work that inspired, entertained, or perhaps only distracted us from our otherwise meaningless lives. I am not suggesting consumers and fans go on supporting a celebrity with despicable views, but only that we take time to process our true feelings, and what it means to abandon something or someone we once loved so dearly. Grief and despair come in many shapes, and we do ourselves no favors when we impulsively reject people and groups, without at least first learning what they are all about. It’s far easier to say goodbye to a truly hopeless cause, than to burn a bridge where you could have built one, and missed a genuine opportunity to educate and enlighten a soul just as worthy as yours, but perhaps not quite so fortunate and privileged. Not only do we owe it to each other to treat one another with respect and the assumption that they are good and valuable, our very livelihood as a species depends upon it. Since the Industrial Revolution began, our brains and our value systems have dramatically changed and evolved, and we generally place higher premiums on things like education, personal betterment, social justice, a commitment to less violence and an end to war, egalitarian principles of love and respect, a less punitive and more reformative criminal justice system, laws that promote freedom of speech, personal liberty, and other freedoms believed to be innate to humanity, and an unmistakable attraction to science and the virtues of an enlightened mind. 

And yet, somedays it seems like we have so far to go. We are confronted with artists and leaders we followed and were moved by, suddenly revealing their toxic belief in suppression of civil liberties and a denial and invalidation of another group’s right to exist. In all cases, is it best to disinvest from the situation, and publicly shun them for their actions, or is it ever acceptable to continue to engage the artist, or take steps to enlighten their stunted world views?

I simply raised the question out of intellectual curiosity, and perhaps to play devil’s advocate and generate discussion. I personally find it difficult and dishonest to consume the art of an artist who loudly espouses bigotry and hate, and who does not share your fundamental values of love and inclusion. Sinise is wrong, and deserves censure, as do all contemporary offenders. On the other hand, I suppose I would be less rigid in holding our dead and predictably less evolved artists to quite the same rigid standards. That’s not to excuse away deplorable acts like the Inquisition or the Holocaust, but to perhaps take context into consideration. If nothing else, there would hardly be anything left to read, admire on a wall, or listen to if we held past masters to the same inflexible criteria and divorced the work from its historical context. There is plenty of incontrovertible and demonstrable truth that the Industrial Revolution accelerated the efficacy of the human mind, which led to innovation in all the areas that contribute to greater equality and commingling of races and cultures. After millennia of much of the same barbarism and the rise and fall of countless Imperial empires, the last two hundred years of so have seen remarkable innovation and an evolution of thought.

It would be unfair to boycott Shakespeare because he may or may not have been anti-semitic. We must not read him with rose colored glasses, but always with a keen eye focused on context and intent. It may change the way we feel about certain passages, but it should never deprive us of drinking from the cultural well of those who shaped our very humanity. Even the most highly evolved and progressive figure from history was invariably a product of his or her time, and would likely fail miserably at any modern American dinner party. In such cases, we may not agree with the vitriol, actions, or objectionable beliefs of the artists we are exposed to, but still recognize that they were giants in their fields, and made invaluable contributions to Western culture. Indeed, one ignores such legendary icons at one’s own peril. In such cases, we have just as much to learn from those whose rhetoric we despise than those who only echo and reaffirm our own sentiments. When it comes to boycotting art, perhaps time and perspective are the only way to neutralize toxic hate and prejudice, and allow us to even consider historical context and biographical restraints when assessing the intrinsic worth of a piece. No matter how horrifying it is to learn of unconscionable acts of slaughter, slavery, and social injustice, it is somehow more palatable than being subjected to hate speech and bigotry today. The severity of condoning present transgressions is that their affect is compounded by the fact that we share oxygen with those being persecuted, and the bigoted words and deeds of contemporaries have immediate and far reaching consequences for tomorrow and for future generations.

In short, we cannot change the past, but we can shape the future by manipulating events of the present. It is our social duty to censure, scorn, and condemn hate speech in contemporary artists, businessmen, politicians, or anyone else who shares a public spotlight and has any modicum of influence. It is our civic responsibility to hold these men and women accountable, and never surrender love and inclusion for messages of hate and oppression. Yet still, we must not fall victim to the same sorts of knee-jerk reactions of those we oppose. We must handle each case judiciously, and carefully make informed decisions about intrinsic worth, contribution, and whether it promotes and upholds our most basic values. And if not, we should always consider its historical relevancy, and place it in its proper historical context, while deeply considering its influence on our shared cultural history — for good and for bad. Just because a work is objectionable, does not mean it is devoid of merit, and unworthy of consideration. On the contrary, the true scholar…social activist….loving human being…must consider all sides of an artifact and never forget that every piece of history can tell us something about where we are and where we’re heading.

who we are today. Keep an open mind. You’ll need it.

The Economy of Despair & Stewardship of the Soul

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It’s occasionally frustrating to accept how out-of-step one person may be with the rest of the world, and how divergent their values and broad interests can be from the society they emerged from and were presumably shaped by. It is in lonely and isolating moments like this when I surrender myself to hopelessness and despair. In these times, I cannot help but be gripped by negativity and anguish during those moments we all have of uncertainty and self-doubt. Although infrequent, I find myself most often vulnerable when I seek validation and affirmation from my peers. The mind can be a lonely place, and inevitably ends up being a sounding board for various sundry complaints and criticisms  — both real and imagined, and both at the micro level (you) and the macro level (the greater society). In times of reflection and clarity, I find it useful to write and record my various griefs and grievances with our troubling world, and the various factions that inhabit it. It’s probably worth noting that although many of the questions ostensibly appear to be bitingly acrid and shockingly negative, they are in fact indicative of a deeply seated optimism and hope for the human race. Although obviously bitter and hopeless at first blush, perhaps it may help to keep in mind that I wouldn’t express such concerns so passionately, had I no faith they may some day be remedied. These items are by no means a complete or comprehensive list, but a sample of themes and obstacles I see as standing in the way of a peaceful, fair, and equitable world. Many betray my own distrust and disillusionment with the zeitgeist of our age, and all its many incarnations.
Is it possible to deplore the shifting values of your own generation, while not being labeled a lunatic or cultural heretic?

Can we move forward and inch towards egalitarianism, while abandoning common sense and that which makes us uniquely human?

Is it blasphemy simply to question the role of technology in our lives and suggest safeguards?

How does one embrace the inevitable zeitgeist, look to a more equitable future, and retain the curiosity, scholarship, and rigorous aestheticism of the past?

How does one make peace with diverse interests and curiosities in an increasingly specialized society of parochial common interest groups and homogenized learning environments?

How do we continue to work towards a democratic society that educates everyone equally, while not diluting the content, rigor, or meritocracy of scholarship and those who work tirelessly to excel, both for the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the urge to succeed?

How does a society effectively become smaller and more connected, while inversely becoming more hostile,  ignorant and disdainful of each other’s cultures?

How does a society assimilate new cultures without stripping color and cultural heritage, and neutralizing everyone into a dull, homogenous pablum?

How can a single adult navigate a world built for families and breeding, without fear of reprisal and scorn?

How is it more acceptable to allow a mind to wither and atrophy, than for a body to age and betray the inevitable ravages of time and neglect?

How can a society become ostensibly so self-obsessed and motivated by praise and attention, without losing its ability to empathize and protect our weakest members?

If time travel were possible, could a man ever find solace in the erudition and aesthetics of the past, while being forced to endure their primitive beliefs about faith, science and racial hierarchy?

How can one so repelled by the virtues and priorities of many of their contemporaries ever hope to enjoy any sort of life in the public sphere?

Can those afflicted by varying degrees of mental illness and depression ever find empathy and support in a nation terrified of ‘crazy and dangerous individuals’ intent on hurting and killing innocents unpredictably? Will those afraid of unprovoked and random attacks ever be convinced that only an infinitesimally small number of mentally ill are ever violent, and that they have a much higher and probable chance of developing mental illness in their own lifetimes than they do of being hurt by someone else who suffers from it?

Can an increasingly compartmentalized and loyal public ever embrace cultural pluralism and the virtues of curiosity and diverse interests?

Will we as a society learn to be less polarizing, and appreciate seemingly conflicting styles, pastimes, passions, and interests, recognizing that two superficially opposite things need not be mutually exclusive and consumed ‘either-or?’

Will we ever stop leaning towards extremism and absolute fidelity to a position, at the expense of compromise, good will, generosity, respect, and good sense?

Can art and sport ever peacefully coexist and ultimately attract devotees who enjoy both endeavors?

Is there a useful and valuable place for faith and religion in an increasingly secular, scientific, and faithless world? Can science and religious belief belong in the same universe, and not seek to disprove the other, but have ‘faith’ that there is something uniquely human and valuable in both systems of thought?

Invariably, there are innumerable other questions I grapple with, and things that challenge how I avoid/confront/attack the world in which I live. At this point in my life, I have received all the formal education I’m going to get, and for the first time since I first began school, I am adrift without the structure of education. I have three formal degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and several certifications. Until now, I have ostensibly been in school or teaching school for nearly 25 years, Learning and academics have fundamentally been apart of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always thirsted for both knowledge and structure, and school always provided me with that. I have also spent over thirty years working as an amateur, collegiate, and professional actor, director, designer, and crew member in the theatre, and boast a resume of well over a hundred and fifty plays, musicals, and other live performances. My career was my life for much of my adult life. When I was performing on stage, I was learning how to in class. For various reasons, I no longer actively work in the theatre or are enrolled in any school or classes. My life has lost much of what defined me up until now, and much of my life is occupied by attending to my physical and mental good health and learning coping mechanisms to pursue other interests, diversify my loyalties and pastimes, and find new and productive ways to thrive in the relatively unstructured culture outside academia. I will not lie and try and convince you that I haven’t faced serious challenges over the last three years. I have. I suffer from debilitating depression, mania, and crippling anxiety, and am acutely sensitive to stress and other taxing realities of life. I continue to teach because it gives me great pleasure to educate others, but many of the more social aspects of my life have changed or been eliminated entirely. Although I’m convinced nobody reads my blog, I continue to write, as a way to reconcile myself with my demons, hopes, and desires, as well as challenge myself stylistically, intellectually, and artistically. With few opportunities to engage in the deep and rigorous intellectual debates and challenges to my thinking I once was exposed to in the classroom — and woefully took for granted — writing allows me to play the dialectical, and explore an idea, concept, or feeling with some degree of rigor and regularity. I have a complicated history with social media, and a few isolated instances of frequent and erratic posting, writing provocatively on other’s walls, and generally abusing the accepted standards and rules of the medium. Although not a regular or frequent occurrence, these isolated incidents have been problematic and hazardous to many a personal and professional relationship. I have since mended many fences, but I must be vigilante, and realize I have many of the same temptations a recovering alcoholic has towards drink. The chemistry of my brain demands constant intellectual stimulation and craves nourishing art, politics, sport, and other distractions to feel occupied. Only at the age of 35 was I finally diagnosed with severe ADHD and an overactive mind. Social media is a dangerous elixir, and there are endless conversations to engage in, and things to learn. Nowadays, with a safe and reasonable use of social media, no classrooms to deliberate in, and a an unfortunate absence of friends in my immediate vicinity, I must find healthier outlets to my intellect and imagination. In many ways, writing has become an acceptable substitute for the intrinsically more public and social art form of live theatre. I no longer crave the instant gratification I once did, nor feel as satisfied in the entertainment field. Some would suggest I have become more morose and withdrawn, and while that may be true, I have also become more reflective, accountable, and healthy in my approach to the world. As the list above demonstrates, I have daily frustrations with much of the state of the world, and my perception that much of our cultural and technological progress often comes at the expense of other things. I worry about the world, yet still engage it, in my own modest way, and believe it or not, have proud hopes for its future. But first, we must wrestle with just some of the many concerns I expressed above. I often wish I could find employment in a think tank, where I would be spoiled by constant stimulation and debate, while also serving a more practical and applicable function. My sensitivity often leads me to want to save the world from itself, and all its sundry ills. My epistemological, sociological, metaphysical, and ontological observations and thinking prompts are far fancier than my solutions and answers. My remedy and absolution of guilt stands at the center of most organized religions, and is nothing more than love, empathy, abstaining from judgement, communication, common sense, and faith in the intentions and good faith of others. I say that these are the backbones of many world religions, but the application and follow-thru has historically been fatally flawed, misguided, and corrupted by the acts and motives of humankind. Nevertheless, they are words and ideals to live up to, and with considerably more vigilance and commitment, we might be able right half this world’s wrongs. If we could only see ourselves in our foe, we may make more concerted efforts at peace and reconciliation, rather than empty promises and posturing.

I realize that I see the world in simplified terms, and perhaps have no business interjecting my thoughts. At the same time, I also know that somehow my mother raised me in such a way that despite my many given flaws, I have a unique capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and resolution through open and honest communication. I have damaged many relationships over the years, and some irreparably, but I never stop trying to repair past wrongs and look to within myself for lessons learned and chances for self-improvement. As such, I have a considerable number of friends and family, each from very different national, cultural, educational, vocational, and religious backgrounds. What they all have in common is me. Because for one reason or another, I have a sizable capacity to accept and tolerate a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural value systems. I have always traveled widely, sampled foods enthusiastically, and greedily embraced new and foreign cultures. But that hasn’t always meant leaving the country. America is packed full of its own multicultural challenges, and these days, there are plenty of chances for cross-pollinating with ‘them’ and the ‘other’ than ever before. Sometimes without scarcely leaving your own hometown. Yet still, we are rigidly guarded in our beliefs and interests, and myopic in our stilted view of the world, and what it takes to peaceably coexist and even work in collaboration, towards one common goal. For some reason, although I have very firm beliefs and values about certain inherent rights and civil liberties, I make an effort to understand the motives and animus that fuels another person. I practice concerted empathy and do my very best to see the other person’s side. That may be surprising to some, given my aggressive debates on social media, and seemingly steadfast opinions on how things ought to be. And I still feel that way. Love, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and empathy are my guiding principles, and must underly every choice we make as a society. However, I recognize that as humans, we all more or less share the same feelings, wants, and needs. Sometimes educational inequities have stood in the way. For some, poverty and abuse were mitigating factors. Others are simply willfully ignorant and combative, but even for them, I try and hope that clarity and egalitarianism will one day knock on their door. However noxious their beliefs and ignorance may be, I’ll never accept that most humans are beyond saving. Having said that, I am also a realist, and at least superficially, a cynic and pessimist. Yet still, my eternal and deeply buried optimism will not allow me to deny someone redemption, the right to change, and opportunities for personal enrichment. I’d rather be called naive and unreasonable, than to stridently and emphatically deny someone their capacity for change and progressive socio-evolution. As I said before, though we may all talk a big game (myself included!) about acceptance, love, and a deniability of prejudice and bigotry, in practice, most of us fall far short of our stated goals and beliefs. In fact, most of us are intractably territorial, selfish, suspicious, and unyielding in our relations with others. Or rather, those who look and feel different than us, and who we presume holds none of our cherished morals and values. Therefore, most attempts at peace and reconciliation are ceremonial, at best, and neither party is a trustworthy negotiator. How could they be? When we bring all our grudges, prejudices, and inability to humanize those who sit across from us at the bargaining table, we betray ourselves as actors not in good faith, and essentially only present to uphold certain beliefs and ensure they lose no ground to their enemy. There is rarely an atmosphere if trust, respect, compromise, humility, or accountability for one’s own actions and culpability.

I am by no means a saint, or some charismatic figure of peace and social justice. I’m just a simple man who was raised a certain way, with perhaps a unique perspective, and the sincere desire to negotiate peace and understanding between all the valued and polarized groups in my life, and in the world around us. Although I fail quite often, I always attempt to see both sides, and find strengths and weaknesses in each tenable side. As a theatre artist, educator, and writer, I always strive to seek compromise and find common ground amongst cultures, and value the building of bridges, rather than burning them. That being said, many of my best laid plans and good intentions were thwarted by my own troubled mind, insecurities, stubbornness, and sometimes combative nature. More often than not, my abject failures have been impulsive and irrational outbursts of hurt and anger, and seldom ever premeditated. Invariably, time and distance provides me with empathy, understanding, and a renewed desire to make peace and find helpful solutions moving forward. If only I could always be successful in my application of collaboration and compromise, and if only our world’s most intractable and disingenuous community leaders, clergy, politicians, corporations, scientists, and other players could show an honest commitment to peace and negotiation. Perhaps we’d finally be able to live in a world where everyone can feel safe, supported, respected, and accepted. I firmly belief that once those needs are met, the rest more easily falls into place.

My philosophy and world outlook aren’t complex, but nevertheless, ask a lot of people. Such stark nakedness and vulnerability might frighten most people, and the trust and faith it takes to surrender beliefs and assets for the sake of compromise may just be too much to ask. And yet, I firmly believe that there is no other viable way. The cost of Peace is embracing humility, adopting respect, parting with those things that most likely divide you, and ultimately, committing to finding a way to put faith in your foes, and turning them into partners. It takes good faith and steel resolve. Only then can we ever hope to learn that we share infinitely more in common with out enemies, than the vexing thorns which have for too long kept us apart.