Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty; New York, New York, United States
The Life and Times of Ben Weinberg
Entrepreneur, ESL Teacher, Traveler, and Writer
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty; New York, New York, United States
“A lot of the best scenes in the show revolve around this conflicted mobster, Tony Soprano (played brilliantly by James Gandolfini), who suffers from both innate anxiety and depression, along with his dysfunctional families who intend to drag him down if he can’t help doing it himself.”
‘The Sopranos’ is one of the most highly acclaimed television shows of all-time and is not just a show about a man caught between his real family and his mafia family but also about a certain period in American life. A lot of the best scenes in the show revolve around this conflicted mobster, Tony Soprano (played brilliantly by James Gandolfini), who suffers from both innate anxiety and depression, along with his dysfunctional families who intend to drag him down if he can’t help doing it himself.
There is a particular scene early in the 1st season where we are first getting to know the character of Tony Soprano and what makes him tick. The first scene in his therapist’s office, which would be a recurring motif throughout the show, has Tony trying to pin down the roots of his depression, which is what brought him to Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) in the first place. Tony has no idea what is causing him the blues, pontificating openly that it could be “stress, maybe?” especially as he has recently started to have panic attacks occur out of nowhere.
Dr. Melfi asks him about what could be causing the stress he is feeling? Tony isn’t sure but believes that “it’s good to be at something at the ground floor.” Now, the audience can assume what he is referring to is the La Cosa Nostra or Italian-American mafia, which is on the decline as the show first aired in 1999 and could be on its way out. However, since Dr. Melfi isn’t aware yet who Tony Soprano is and what his life in the mafia like, she assumes he means about life in suburban America in the 1990s, which had a lot of amenities including bigger houses and bigger cars with a more privacy, but for which has left many Americans feel unfulfilled.
“I came in at the end…the best is over.” While Tony may be referring to the historical arc of the Italian mafia and how it’s in irrevocable decline, the show paints it to Melfi and the audience as something deeper yet not as pronounced. Melfi replies, “Many Americans, I think, feel that way”, implying that while the country has gotten materially wealthier and more prosperous to a degree, our family and perhaps spiritual life has been on the decline for quite some time and perhaps has led to a moral decline.
While Tony was inferred to be talking about the mafia and how he is now boss of his Soprano crime family unlike his father who never ‘reached the heights like him’ or wasn’t as successful materially in terms of his life in the suburbs, Tony still feels unfulfilled by his success.
While his father wasn’t as successful in the mafia life, he still passed it down to his son, but in those days, Tony feels as many Americans would relate to that there was more pride and togetherness in their communities among families of different backgrounds. In the atomized suburbs, it’s harder to connect with those in your family or to form as tight of cultural or religious or social bonds with people of your background.
“But in a lot of ways, he had it better. He (Tony’s father) had it better. He had his people. They had their standards. Their pride. Now, today, what do we got?” The scene also demonstrates that this was filmed in 1999, just at the turn to the 21st century, before 9/11 happened, the 2008 financial crisis, the election of Donald Trump as President, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Even on the cusp of 2000, the show demonstrates that not all was rosy in America and there was a sense of dissatisfaction back then with where the country was headed and that the ’best days may be behind us’ in more ways than one.
While the focus is on the decline of mob life in this scene and in the show, which does so consistently over six brilliant seasons, it also highlights a parallel loss of faith and trust in American institutions as well as the rise of greed, malaise, and apathy in our cultural attitudes, and a sense that maybe American decline is our future. While the scene is not overtly political, you have Tony reading the Newark Star-Ledger, a New Jersey daily paper, indicating that “President Clinton warns of Medicare going bust in Year 2000.”
The front-page newspaper headline tells you that even back then in 1999, there were worries about our institutions eroding, the promises meant to be kept at danger of being broken after many decades of effort, and the average middle-aged suburbanite feeling unsatisfied about the prospect of a dimmer future, especially for his or her children. While Tony’s parents were better off because of their closer family and community ties in the big city or the exurbs nearby, he was not able to say the same about his suburban life. Even at a time where his generation were able to still have had a better life materially and perhaps financially than their parents, would their children be worse off in both ways if the decline is to pass, both financially and spiritually?
Twenty-two years later since this scene first aired on HBO, it is interesting to look back at Tony’s anxieties as being prophetic rather than misplaced. Younger Americans of my generation and the generation behind me look at it reasonably and think that Tony Soprano, despite his crimes and misdeeds and his Mafia boss life, may have had one thing right: “I came in at the end, the best is over…” Now, the question remains, how do we deal with it as a country and as a people?
“The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.”
The sand beneath me is coarse yet soft as it envelopes my feet and legs whole as I begin to pull myself up after admiring the waves lapping up to cool my body and soothe my worries as if I were in a welcome trance. Looking around at the vast sunset before me, the canvas of colors from blue to yellow to orange to pink, light up the seascape village I find myself near to but still so far away from. The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.
I am wearing all-white as I pick myself up out of the sand and I see the shimmering lights behind me of a picturesque village where there is laughter, unknown music, and the smell of delicious food cooking over an open flame. After the sun sets over the village, I feel the distinct urge to go towards the village where everything and nothing seems familiar to me at the same time. The shimmering lights help me as I climb from the base of the beach up through the rocky hillside feeling at ease even as my bare feet climb over the rocks and shrubbery covered boulders.
As I climb higher and higher to the top of the hillside that juts out of this mountainous formation, the sound of people in different languages laughing heartily, the sounds of beautiful music playing in a sweet symphony as to not clash with the people’s joy. The smells of enticing foods, which become more and more familiar to me that come either from a distant past or of a future yet to come. The arduous hill climbing causes me to stumble and rest prematurely but I am undeterred. I do not bleed and while I tire, I do not fall back. Eventually, I make my way to the entrance of this pristine yet unfamiliar village with cobbled streets and stucco walls. Each of the village homes I walk past have large windows but no one’s inside, the walls are white or pastel-colored, and the arches speak to a grandeur of which I immediately fall in love with.
The windows and doors are arched with beige or dark red clay roof tiles with outdoor space with gardens likely filled with lush tomatoes and other plants to grow one’s own food. Surprisingly, I encounter women and men dressed from different eras on these cobbled streets who greet me in the languages of my ancestors. They have carriages and horses with them and exchange pleasantries with me as I pass them by on the way to the party. While I do not know them, they know me and perhaps they’ve known me my whole life. Even though I am tired from my journey, my hunger and thirst apparent to them all, they whisper words of belonging and encouragement in my ears and tell me that, “everyone is waiting for me.”
Who is everyone? Is it my friends? My family? My loves of past, present, or future? Where am I? Questions wash over me, but I am not anxious. It’s that strange sense of anticipation that comes after a fortuitous journey where my last destination is not known but I have no doubt of where it is that I am supposed to go. I am here for a reason and while I do not know when, where, or how I got here, I finally know that I have a destination in mind that may be what I was looking for all along.
Once I get there, the high, wooden entrance of a pure white village house made of solid brown doors swing wide open for me as an honored guest. There are sturdy, mahogany tables filled with known faces who have known me throughout my life and unknown yet familiar faces who I may be related to by blood or folks who I don’t remember as a child or baby but have also met them at one point or another. The tables and chairs seem to go on forever up to the edge of the hillside looking out on the moon, the sea, and the stars as gloriously bright as can be with no way not see hundreds or thousands in the night sky. Ornate dining sets have been set up with wine goblets and delicious foods with peaceful music playing in the background and it seems everyone is waiting for me to arrive to begin the meal together.
Everybody at each table is dressed up in their own regalia from the era they lived in and are at the age that they most would like to be remembered by. Surprisingly, while each person is exchanging languages with each other that they themselves may not speak, they are somehow being instantaneously translated so everyone can understand one another even while having not been from the same century or same continent.
It dawns on me that this is exactly where I’m meant to be. The food is as delicious as can be, the wine and other drinks plentiful, and everyone is enjoying each other’s company with pure joy and happiness lighting up the evening. They all know me as if I were a family…which I am. Many hugs, kisses, and handshakes are exchanged as each of my ancestors and family members encourage me to join them at the table through a night that seems to stretch across time like a flowing river.
I am the latest to arrive to the celebration here, but it feels like they’ve all been waiting a while for me to join them here at this heavenly setting. There is no mention of anything negative in the conversations I have. We don’t highlight my or their own Earthly failures, setbacks, heartbreaks, and tragedies. There is just happiness, joy, warmth, and discussing the fine setting and meal we find ourselves enjoying together after having been apart. There are no hard feelings, no pain, no remorse, no odd person out, as we are a whole family again united after all this time, which feels like just yesterday we were all together but may have been decades, centuries, or millennia since our paths have crossed. If this is heaven, I ask myself, it is certainly a pleasant vision of it.
“When the show talks about balance, it is not just about karate in terms of making sure you are able to work to anticipate your own movements as well as those of your own opponent but to be sure to not be balancing too much where your life suffers from imbalance.”
Recently, I have been watching the ‘Cobra Kai’ series on Netflix and while I was never really a huge fan of the Karate Kid movie series, I have really taken a liking to this TV series featuring the same characters with some new ones over 35 years later. There are a lot of great things about this particular popular series such as the 80s music and influence, the acting, the fight choreography among other positives that make you root for each character for different reasons. However, my favorite thing about the series is the life lesson that is not only applicable to the martial art of Karate but to someone’s life in general.
Without spoiling too much about the show, Mr. Miyagi’s philosophy of living life with a sense of balance is applicable not only to his protégé student, Daniel LaRusso, but also to the audience who is watching the show. When the show talks about balance, it is not just about karate in terms of making sure you are able to work to anticipate your own movements as well as those of your own opponent but to be sure to not be balancing too much where your life suffers from imbalance.
Imbalance can cause you to slip, fall, and end up in a fishpond as what happens to Daniel in the movie and to some of the characters for whom he teaches. When you balance on a plank or board, you have to balance your body but beyond karate as in regular life, you have to balance your mind in order to succeed in life. It’s important to be able to not lose sight of what is important in your life to what is trivial at best. When you don’t have balance, you can quickly lose sight of what’s important and what should not take up both your time and your mental capacity.
In the movie and the show too, Daniel, the protagonist of Karate Kid and a teacher in Cobra Kai, struggles to balance his responsibilities as an adult. He has a loving wife and two great kids but finds his life is out of balance. He loves Karate and misses Mr. Miyagi, his sensei or teacher, so when the show begins, his life is somewhat out of balance, which takes time for him to realize. He has a really successful car dealership business with multiple locations but even then, he uses Karate metaphors as a way of expressing how much he misses the martial art he had been practicing for years. In a way, while his life is successful on the surface, he has placed too much weight on his family and personal success but had forgotten the nurturing, passionate side of who he is as a person.
This sense of balance can be missing as it was for Daniel when we put too much weight on professional and personal success but forget what makes us passionate about life and to devote some time out of our busy lives to focus on that passion even if it doesn’t make us money. When it comes to balancing out responsibilities, duties, and habits, you should make time for each part of one’s life but not too much where one responsibility crowds out the rest.
With Daniel as an example, he has to balance it out, so he does not overwhelm himself with one part of his life when he is being pulled in three directions. He has to keep his marriage romantic and show love to his children while not neglecting his role as a business owner and making sure his customers are satisfied. If he spends too much time at work, he still has to be a present father and a loving husband, so he has to be extra cognizant of how much time he is spending on each responsibility.
When you add his love of Karate in the show to the mix, it makes that ‘sense of balance’ much harder to achieve. However, the love of Karate and spending time on his passion makes him as happy, if not more so, than when he is at his job or when he is with family. If you in your life find a passion that great where you want to mentor or help others develop that passion, you should try to add that to your life and do your best to maintain balance.
Karate, like life itself is about maintaining balance and anticipating what your opponent or what life will throw at you next. Part of having a sense of balance is to predict what is to come and adjusting your duties and responsibilities in terms of time spent on those commitments.
For example, if Daniel has a big meeting at work, hypothetically, when it comes to car sales, he may need someone to fill in at the Karate dojo for him such as a top student so that his business does not suffer. If he has to do so, he can move his training hours for the dojo to nights or weekends but that may conflict with his family obligations so maybe he has to ask his wife first to make sure he is spending enough time with them when he’s not managing the car dealership. He also has to be sure to not spend too many hours at the dealership so as to miss breakfast or dinner with his children who may be in school all day.
A good way Daniel can balance his love of Karate with his love of family and work is to incorporate an element of Karate in his work and with his family. He can add a line like ‘kicking the competition’ to his company logo or giving away Bonsai trees to customers who buy cars from them. He can also involve his wife in his dojo by showing her around the training center he set up for his students. Daniel can also encourage his children to join him and to show them how to use Karate in their lives when they are not busy with school.
Similar to Daniel in ‘Cobra Kai’ and ‘Karate Kid’, we must continue to maintain that sense of balance in our lives and to keep adjusting the balance when we become too top heavy in one part of our life which can crowd out our other responsibilities. Be sure to not lose your passion or your family or your livelihoods in the process but see first how much time and effort you can devote to each commitment you make to yourself.
Rather than totally give up something you love or are passionate about, try to do better with time management first, see if it really conflicts with your other daily or weekly tasks, and then determine if it brings enough joy in your life before getting rid of it to improve your internal balance. Balance is not just about time management but it’s also about being aware of other people’s feelings and emotions. You have to anticipate how they’ll react to what you choose to focus on. If you spend too much time at work, you should be aware of how your wife may feel about it. If you are working on a passion too much, your family may feel neglected. If you are focusing on family too much and your work suffers, you have to improve your concentration in order to be able to provide for them.
Balance involves analyzing how your life is going and being self-aware enough to know if change is needed in it. If you do nothing, your life balance is likely to suffer. When you can instead manage your time better, seek out input from others, and figure out what priorities come first, your life balance will be that much better, and your level of happiness will likely increase as a result.
“Staying on top of the things in your life from finances to exercise to managing your home are all ways to have peace of mind. There are a lot of things in life we have no control over so I encourage you all reading this article to put those things you can control on your to-do list each day and each week.”
It can be hard for a lot of us these days given what’s going on in the world. It is easy to be stressed out, anxious, and generally worried about the future. I would say that on the whole people don’t do well with uncertainty and not knowing what the future holds. It can be quite daunting not know what will happen a month from now, six months from now, or even a year from now. When I think of myself who prefers certainty and planning things out on a week-by-week basis, it can be frustrating to have to change or amend plans due to lack of feasibility or to remember that the world has changed, and you have to adapt to it.
Instead of fighting an uphill battle against the various changes going on in our society right now not alone to due to the pandemic but other economic and social factors, you have to learn to swim with the tide and to adapt as best as you can. Part of doing that is also knowing what it is strictly under your control each day and exercising that kind of control as best as you can. Given a lot of things in our lives now are out of our own control, the best way to combat that fact is to stay on top of the things we can control and to do them to the best of our abilities.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article about the common-sense kind of wisdom of U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven, who said that the best way to start your day is “to make your bed” and it relates to having a sense of control in a world where we often lack control. It is also a larger part of staying on top of things or tasks in your life that will always need your attention and won’t get done without your effort. Making your bed is a good habit to build each day and will make you feel better right away for taking action over a thing that you have direct control over.
Other things involve getting enough sleep each night (7-8 hours preferably) and managing that aspect of your life well so you can perform better in your work or schooling. Staying on top of things also involves our diet and our exercise routine. These things are more open ended but establishing what is a good diet for you, buying the food items each week that contribute to your diet, and then cooking the meals to reflect that diet are important things to stay on top of in your life. The general guidance for exercise is 3-4x a week and I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you exercise whether its weightlifting, yoga, running, sports, or even martial arts. The important thing to do is to keep track of how much exercise you’re getting each week, how consistent you are being with it, and whether you are seeing any improvement(s) in your life based on your exercise regime.
I also want to prioritize the importance of control over one’s domain or where you are living. You will feel better when your place is clean, when things are organized, and when you are not living in a place that is messy and unkempt. Part of being a responsible adult is to independently take care of yourself with your grooming, your appearance, but also your abode. Don’t let another thing that you have control over fall by the wayside. Take the necessary time to clean and to tidy your place up from the bathroom to the kitchen to the living room. Your self-esteem will be raised from doing that and you’ll be better off for exercising control of your living space, which is an important place where now we are working from more often and also studying from in this time of the pandemic.
When it comes to staying on top of things, it means making sure too that you are managing your finances whether it’s saving more money, not spending beyond your means, and recording your budget on a weekly or monthly basis. Financial management is a key thing to stay on top of and it will help you to organize your life in another necessary way. It is also a way to be in control because it’s your money and only you know where it’s going each month and how much money you have available to you.
Our own relationships with friends and family members are another aspect of our lives that we often overlook our control of. We can choose to associate with people who value us, respect us, and care about us and I would say that it’s important to prioritize those people, whether family, friends, or general acquaintances who value not only our time but who we are as human beings. You can control who you give your time and effort to in relationships and it’s important to exercise that right to let those people into your life who treat you well, who like you for who you are, and don’t try to belittle or demean you.
Lastly, I do want to mention that beyond taking care of your bed, your sleep, your diet and exercise, your finances, and your relationships, you have to take care of yourself. Mental health is extremely important as well as physical health these days and it’s important that you make time in your life to check in with yourself, to go easy on yourself in terms of not beating up on yourself too much for past mistakes. If you need to meditate or treat yourself to a movie or a video game or a hike on your own, I believe you should do so. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health in a private manner, I encourage it as well. Talking to a licensed professional is something you always have control over so you should feel free to do so if you need to help your mental health. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that and it should not carry with it any kind of stigma or reservation.
Staying on top of the things in your life from finances to exercise to managing your home are all ways to have peace of mind. There are a lot of things in life we have no control over so I encourage you all reading this article to put those things you can control on your to-do list each day and each week. Please make it a priority to handle those pending things in your life that you alone are responsible for and don’t let these small things pile up.
You will feel better and happier for handling the small things well before you take on the big things. If you want to make a difference in the world, start by making a difference in your own life and see how that positive momentum will carry you forward. If you can handle your own business successfully, you will gain more confidence and be more self-reliant, which are positive traits when it comes to handling uncertainty, unease, or the inability to know what the future holds. Take things on one day at a time and do the things you can to the best of your ability as often as you can.
“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”
When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.
For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.
We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.
In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.
Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.
Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.
Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.
Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.
However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.
Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.
Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.
Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.
Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.
The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.
Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.
I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.
“One consequence of the pandemic that has accelerated in terms of being an option for our lives is how the easiness and convenience of going a day or more without seeing or speaking to another human being.”
One consequence of the pandemic that has accelerated in terms of being an option for our lives is how the easiness and convenience of going a day or more without seeing or speaking to another human being. Obviously, if you’re counting virtual meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you’re interacting with plenty of people on a daily basis but to me, it’s not the same and shouldn’t be considered a real replacement for face-to-face interactions. Whereas ten or twenty years ago, you would need to leave the house or apartment to get pretty much anything done, you now have the chance to do everything from the comfort of your own domicile, for better or for worse.
If you’re an introvert, you may be welcoming this kind of societal shift, but I do worry how we are sacrificing convenience for social awareness and better interpersonal relations. Even if you consider yourself pretty comfortable on your own, I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy to be cooped up all the time even in a pandemic. Of course, we have to be socially distant, stay home according to what guidelines may be in place, and keep washing our hands but that shouldn’t prevent us from saying ‘hello’ to a stranger or asking a cashier that’s not a robot or automated computer the common courtesy of ‘how you are doing?’
Right now, it’s acceptable to minimize human to human contact especially if you’re elderly, vulnerable, or with a preexisting condition but the rest of us should still make time to interact with someone outside of our ‘COVID bubble’ even if it’s in a limited way. I do believe that companies have made it way too easy for us to subsidize our usual running of errands by keeping us at home. While it does help people, who can’t leave due to concerns for their health, I think it does a disservice in making things a little too convenient and then perhaps keeping our reliance on applications, e-commerce, and delivery services to meet our every need.
Running errands to go to the grocery store or to pick up stamps or to pick up medical prescriptions may end up going the way of the Dodo bird and while some of us may be holdouts even after the pandemic, this is a huge societal shift that will affect our way to socialize and build shared communities with other people. The 2020s may have us needing to go out of our way and building our willpower up in terms of seeking out social connections rather than them happening organically. In order to meet new people, it may not happen as much if your university is online or you are a remote worker, you’re going to have to put it upon yourself to find a way to meet people again which will take some creativity.
The good news is that clubs, organizations, sports teams, and language groups aren’t going to die out even if some of them remain online in some capacity. You will have to seek out those groups that are similar to your hobbies and interests especially if you’re in a new city or a new country, but they are going to be out there, but you have to take the initiative to find those groups, attend those meetings, get involved, and also give back to that group when you can. Volunteering your time and effort in person will also be a boost to communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and even after it is finally over, if you find yourself isolated and needing to be social more, volunteering with others is a great way to do it and will be sorely needed due to economic and health needs that people will need help with.
What you need to avoid is getting too comfortable with the increasing automation of our society, which will make it harder to deal with anyone face to face, for better or worse. Even if you do leave the house, it’s becoming likelier that you’ll deal with an automated register at a convenience store or supermarket, an ATM at a bank, and with a touchscreen to order food. With just a smartphone alone, you can order groceries delivered to your door, get dry cleaning picked up for you, have prescriptions delivered, food for lunch and dinner, and also most consumer items with a conglomerate like Amazon or Alibaba. The eCommerce industry is set to grow exponentially in this young decade to suit consumer needs and with the rise of Internet of Things, your home will become more adjustable to your comforts too making it harder to leave your place.
Whether it is UberEats, HelloFresh, Amazon’s prescription service (coming soon), online banking, or Zoom for teleconferencing, the pandemic has accelerated wide shifts in society and one that becomes more evident each day is how much easier it is getting to stay at home 24 / 7. Again, after the pandemic, this may let up a bit as people socialize again but the automation of jobs will continue, remote working will become the norm, and online education will become cheaper and of better quality to suit those who want to be virtual for at least part of their higher learning.
I don’t encourage people to become hermits, recluses, or to avoid human contact with anyone who is not a family member or a friend even if it’s during a pandemic with safety precautions in mind. However, the societal shift to convenience at any cost and becoming an island to oneself does have a cost. While you may love your dog Fido or your cat Fifi, they are not substituting for other people. With increased convenience comes a cost like anything else and in this case, it’s our ability to socialize and be around others.
In a post-COVID world where automation, eCommerce, and the Internet of Things will make it harder to leave your home, you are going to need to be more proactive in seeking out activities, events, and groups where you can be free to meet new people and have new friends. We will all be socially awkward after the pandemic but at least we’ll be social again and I promise it will be worth the effort.
While you’re not going to be friends with most of the people we meet, it is important to be open to the possibility and to put yourself out there again. Staying at home with your delivered food, groceries, and prescriptions may be really appealing and easy to get used to but I promise after a while, you’ll miss the feeling of going to a physical store or a pharmacy and just being in a public place again and away from your screen(s). That’s a unique feeling that I hope never truly goes away because our daily interactions, somewhat mundane but potentially unique too, can help make our life that much fuller and richer.
“One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display.”
One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display. Learning how to apologize is done when we are children and our parents tell us to always ‘say sorry’ and to learn to be nice to others.
‘Sorry’ is one of the golden words we learn are key to our day-to-day lives. It doesn’t take much to do and will cost you nothing. The fact that many adults don’t know how to do this today in our society is a worrisome sign of how personal relations have decayed compared to previous times. Some people choose to dance around the offense and not acknowledge it while others refuse to take responsibility for their actions which leads to the person who was offended feeling aggrieved and holding a grudge against that person for longer than they should need to.
The old adage of ‘you forgive but you don’t forget’ is not a pretty one but if there is no apology from that person who committed the offense, the other person may learn to forgive them but they will not forget that there was no apology rendered from the other person. I do not endorse holding a long-lasting grudge against other people but being rude, saying bad things about others, and overall not being a respectful person will cause you to lose many different relationships with others. Most adults do not know want to associate with somebody who refuses to apologize or does not take responsibility for their actions.
I believe that with social media and how often we do not see the other person’s face and their body language that we feel comfortable getting away with rude behavior and it has led to that kind of behavior spilling over into real life interactions. A lack of an apology can be due to a person’s own narcissistic nature and to think that the rules like the ‘golden rule’ don’t apply to them and that they can ever do no wrong including causing harm or offense to other people.
The sign of a true mature adult is one who apologize and does so in a sincere manner. It is a heartfelt apology and is usually more than just a simple ‘sorry’ and then move on. If someone cannot even say ‘sorry’ or realize the hurt that they have caused, then they still have a lot of growing up to do and act more like a child or a teenager in an adult’s body than an adult themselves. The sad thing to see in society is when a 45 year old acts like a 15 year old or when a 75 year old acts like a 5 year old, which is often as the result of them not registering other people’s emotions or feelings, and thinking reflectively about their behavior, their tone of voice, and how their language was inappropriate.
The art of an apology is not as simple as it can be made out to be with just a quick ‘sorry’. Often in life, a simple ‘sorry’ does not cut it. I think it’s better to follow these steps to having a legitimate and heartfelt apology that will make the other person feel better and try to restart the relationship or improve it rather than letting it fester and causing the other person to dwell on your insult.
1. Acknowledge You Were Wrong
The first step for any good apology is to acknowledge to someone face-to-face if you can or over phone or email if you can’t see that person that you were wrong. Whether it was something you said or something you did or that you hurt their feelings, acknowledge the thing that caused the original offense, state how it wasn’t right for you to do that, and apologize in that way beyond a quick ‘sorry’. It’s as direct as “I was wrong to…”, “It was not right for me to…”, “You deserve an apology for…”
2. Remember the Incident and What You Took from It
When you acknowledge what you did and that it was wrong, it makes the other person feel like you remembered that it was not the right thing for them to do and that pain was caused. It also means remembering that certain feelings were hurt and that the other person realizes they could have done things different / not said anything at all / or watched what they have said better. Saying ‘sorry’ or apologizing without saying what the ‘sorry’ is for is not a good way to do an apology because you have to be specific regarding what the apology is for and what you did wrong if you caused offense.
3. Be Sincere and Don’t Rush It
How you say an apology is often more important than what you say in the apology. If you are rushing through it, only saying a one-word apology, and not even looking at the person or acknowledging their presence while saying it, then that is not a real apology. A real apology must be congruent with your body language and your eye contact and your tone of voice all on the same page together. You should give that person your full attention and not be checking your phone, reading your email, or have your attention generally elsewhere while doing the apology.
Also, not rushing it means it’s going to take more than a five second ‘sorry’ and move on, if you follow the previous two steps, a good apology will take as long as it needs to which could be anywhere from a minute to ten minutes depending upon what the other person has to say. Depending on the severity of the negative action, you want to give that person a chance to respond, to accept your apology, and to decide how your relationship with them is going to move forward. You cannot force an apology to move forward without the other person agreeing to it so make sure you are patient, forthcoming, and open to listening to what they have to say to you.
4. Be Open to a Change in the Relationship
Even with an apology, sometimes, that person is going to want to take a break from seeing you, hanging out with you, or being around. It can be hard to bring that relationship back to what it was when harsh words are exchanged or when negative actions happened between two people to cause the strife. You have to understand and accept what the other person does because they may not want to trust you again as much or recognize that you aren’t the person who they thought you were.
This may be a hard pill to swallow but you are likely going to have to spend some time away from that person, let them forgive you on their own timetable, and they will set the terms on if they see you again or not. It is possible they may never fully get over what you did and not want to be around you again at all. This is a harsh truth to face for most people but the least you can do is apologize and try to move on.
If that person chooses to accept your apology but not go out of their way to see you again then that is their right to do so and it is up to them how they want to conduct their interactions with you moving forward. As adults, people want to spend time with those people who treat them well, respect them, and are emotionally mature. If you can’t do that, it’s going to be tough to have friends or to be around other family members.
I write this article because too often today I have seen other adults refuse to apologize for being in the wrong and this can cascade throughout the rest of our society. There is a fundamental lack of accountability and also responsibility that starts with a failure to apologize sincerely. It takes real wisdom and maturity to apologize to someone, but it is necessary since we are all flawed and make mistakes.
A true adult owns up to these mistakes they made, apologizes for them to seek forgiveness, and accepts what the other person does in response without any future expectations on how the relationship can move forward. It begins with saying ‘you’re sorry’ but it does not end there and a good apology is more than saying ‘sorry.’ It means acknowledging what you did was wrong, being sincere about it, listening to the other person, and being open to a change in the relationship based on how they want to move forward with you in the future. That is the true art of an apology and one that I hope you will follow in your own life.
As we all know by now, the world is going through a very tough time right now. Instead of speculating about when will things be back to some sense of normalcy, it would not be right to do guesswork about that as of today. Instead, I think it would be best to remind ourselves of a few things we can do over the next few weeks or months to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for these challenging times. I would like to give my readers out there some advice which has helped me so far in terms of moving forward with my day-to-day activities and also the larger goals that I have for myself.
Remote work and schooling are important and should be a priority, but you should not forget to make time for those around you and to check in on them. Given how much running around you could be doing, you will likely have more time to reach out to loved ones and really take the time to engage in conversation or have dinner together or just to FaceTime every night before bed. I think it is the #1 priority right now to have during this difficult time.
Nothing is permanent and even if it is not a job you want to be doing, consider it a way to build up your resilience and to be helping others especially if the job calls for it. The wider you broaden the search, the better off you will be. You just want to make sure you polish off your resume and your cover letter to update it after a gap of some time.
Tempers can flare with ease and things can get out of control so just be aware of your emotions, realize that nothing is worth a verbal or physical confrontation over (especially toilet paper), and always remember to say please and thank you. It does not cost anything to be nice and you should always leave the house if you have to now with that in mind. Good manners will always help you get through a crisis like that.
Get together with some friends and put together a spreadsheet of organizations / places in your local town or city that are asking for monetary donations or for food/clothing/supplies, etc. It is a misconception that you need to leave the house to donate or to volunteer. In a time like this, sometimes, people especially the elderly or the solitary just could use someone to talk to or listen to them. I have heard stories of mental health professionals volunteering their time for free to help those people in need and that warms my heart quite a bit. If you are not completely healthy and/or free of symptoms, you should not be volunteering outside of the house!
If you can go for a walk on your own, it is great to get some fresh air even if it is just around the block. You will need some sunlight (vitamin D) and as long as you maintain your social distancing of 2 meters (six feet), there’s nothing wrong with walking for 10-15 minutes to clear your head and shake off the inevitable cabin fever.
Who knows? If you found extra items or clothes around during cleanup time, you could perhaps donate them when you’re finished collecting all those things you may not need but may help out somebody else during this tough time. With restaurants closed for the time being and delivery every day an expensive proposition, now is the best time to crack open your old recipe book and take your cooking more seriously.
You may be able to eat healthier now more than ever with the added time to cook and prepare your meals in advance and it is a good way to bond if you have a family or a loved one with you. Organizing extends to your personal computer and devices as well to make sure your files, bills, and documents are in order. Don’t forget to take the time to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a good cleaning too because it is a germ magnet and it would be wise to keep it clean as much as possible.
I believe you don’t need much to do these workouts as most of them can be done just with your bodyweight when it comes to pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups, squats, crunches, etc. If you can spend the money, it doesn’t hurt to get some free weights or some barbells in order to add some weight to your exercises. You can also get creative by doing some Yoga and Meditation with just a simple mat.
Due to the Internet, you can look up practically anything fitness related to create a good 30 to 45-minute workout. As if that wasn’t enough, you can always use your body to move quickly with sprints, hill runs, jogs, or a brisk walk if you can get out of the house for a bit. It won’t be the same as going to a physical gym, which has a ton of equipment and a sauna or other great amenities but it’s better than nothing and it is relatively easy to make the most of it.
In the next weeks and months, I am positive that there will be an absolute growth in creative pursuits, both online and offline. There are a number of skills and traits that you can work on almost always for free or if you spend money, it is likely be a worthwhile investment from the right teacher. It is also a great time to develop that business idea or side hustle you have been thinking about but never actually committed to. You can always bounce these ideas off your family and friends or if you are able to do so, try to find like-minded people through your network or your organizations to see what they think of your idea and if it has some potential.
Isaac Newton, for example, worked day and night, when a great plague was spreading around the world and due to the time he had to just sit, learn, and experiment, he was able to come up with the brilliant equations and inventions that helped invent the modern life that we have today. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried and done your best than to have wondered later on, what if?
We will all get through this difficult time. It will be a tragic time in human history, but you will be a stronger and more compassionate person at the other end of this pandemic. There are often things in life that happen that are out of our control. It sucks and it is demoralizing but you have to move on, move forward, and keep on moving. We have no choice but to move on and to make the most of the time that we are given. We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our community to be the best that we can be especially now. I hope you take this difficult time to be caring, be kind, and be productive. I wish you well and hope you are well.
How many times have you been out, either alone or with a friend or family member, and you have noticed in the café or restaurant a couple or a group of people just staring at their phones rather than each other? I’ve noticed this occurring multiple times and more often than not in the past year or so. Now, it’s not great to be out in public on your own on your phone either but it seems rather ironic to be out in public with a friend or a family member and you are both on your phone at the same time rather than living in the moment and being engaged with each other instead of their device.
It’s one thing as well for friends to be on their phones at the same time perhaps to keep up with their other friends but it’s quite silly for me to see couples out in public staring down at their phones when they should be connecting with each other. What is the point of going out to a café or to a restaurant or any other public place if you would rather interact with your handheld device than the person sitting right in front of you?
I can see if one of the two or more people in the group need to respond or send a text, check on a work e-mail, or take an important call but it is quite ridiculous when both people or all people in the group have nothing better to do than to look at their phones. There are a number of ways that I want to suggest in this article on how to retain that important ability to connect with another person especially out in public rather than connecting on social media, be social yourself with the person(s) you are with.
1.The Lost Art of People Watching: There is really something to be said about just wondering what other people are doing and checking out how they are going about their daily lives. Now, I am not suggesting you and your group or friend(s) just stare at somebody and make them uncomfortable. That’s not it at all. What I would recommend is to really just watch how people go running, cook your food, clean up the streets, deal with other restaurant patrons, etc.
For example, if you are at a park with someone else, it’s nice to make conversation about the joggers, the musicians, the frisbee players, the traffic police, etc. It’s a good way to stay engaged in conversation without turning to the phone to be entertained. Watching the world go by is a pleasurable activity and it can make you appreciate the rhythms of daily life. You should not be ‘people watching’ so intently that you make those who know they are being watched notice you doing so! Try to do so casually and without staring too intently. That’s a good way to do it in the mature way.
2. Leave the Phones at Home: What better way to have a good time with somebody then to leave the phone at home. It can be mutually agreed upon beforehand and you can both figure out where to meet up the old-fashioned way: by consulting a map or checking Google before leaving the house. It is really easy to leave the phone at home when you have the logistics squared away in terms of time, date, and where to meet. It’s also easier by car as well when you can leave the phone in your car for the two or three hours you are spending with them and can come back to it later to help you navigate home.
This is a really underrated way of maintaining that personal connection with someone and also strengthening it by flexing that resistance muscle and resisting the temptation of the phone by putting it both out of sight and at least, temporarily out of mind. I think both of you will be glad to rid yourselves of the phone for a few hours or even a whole day and the conversation and the activity will be much more rewarding. You will also remember what happened a lot more because you just were that much more engaged in what was happening because that person and the activity you did together had your full and undivided attention.
3. One Phone, One Group: If you feel the need to compromise about phones in a group, a good way to fix the issue or at least put a stopgap to it is have one phone for everybody in the sense that you are using that phone for everybody to see or use such as making a quick phone call away from the group, checking out travel pictures together, or doing a fun game through an application. Instead of everyone bringing their phones to the group meetup, if one person does it, you’ll have to share and be social about it. Obviously, you do not want others to see your private text messages and contacts on your personal phone but there are ways to do it and still be secure in having others use it.
I really do suggest having some group games on there or using it for showing off pictures and talking about travel or activity plans that you have all done. Another way to be social about a phone is to hook it up to somebody’s speaker and listen to different music together. It can even be some kind of a game where each person chooses a different song in a circle-like setting and your friends or family have to guess the musical artist or the name of the song itself. Being social and using your phone do not have to be separate from each other but the best way to make that happen is to only have one phone per group rather than one phone per person if you want to keep that ability to connect.
4. Enjoy the Silence and Nature: If you have been out with someone or a group for a few hours and you all happen to run out of things to say to each other, don’t go back to the phone! Instead, simply enjoy the silence and each other’s company. You do not have to fill every waking moment together with a witty remark or a sarcastic joke. Sometimes, it’s nice to be alone in your thoughts, people watching together, or just living in the moment and enjoying the ambiance of the place where you are at. This also applies to enjoying nature especially if you are outdoors. You both or the group will not need your phones when you are listening to the birds chirping, watching the monkeys climb to the peak of the trees, or checking out the beautiful mountain or sea view vistas.
You may say, “well, Ben, how can I enjoy nature when I do not have my phone to take a picture of the beauty?” That’s a good question but there’s an easy and simple solution to that problem as well. It’s known as bringing a camera that you like and rely upon and practice taking real photographs. I think it’s often better to take pictures of nature and scenery with a real camera than your phone even though camera phones have become quite popular. Practicing your photography skills with a real camera is a great way to use the tip well and to your advantage.
Photography can be a group activity and will allow both of you or your whole group to take better pictures, enjoy the nature around you, and listen carefully for the silence of the world around you. Lastly, you do not always have to be talking with each other to be connected. That is a false construct invented by our culture really that you have to be engaged with each other socially by always talking. Friends and/or loved ones of many years know so much about each other that they can really be there with one another in silence without filling the void with a conversation 100% of the time.
5. Shame the Phone User(s): This tip will be the most controversial of my suggestions, but I stand by it as having done so myself on a few occasions. The best way to avoid two people from using their phone at one time is to shame politely the first person who pulls out their phone first. Now, ‘shame’ has a negative connotation as it should have in our culture but a little dose of shame in my opinion is not the worst thing in the world especially when what that person is doing is impolite or inconsiderate. If the person you are out with, especially on a date, is constantly checking their phone every five minutes or is not engaged with you socially, then you have the right to shame them for it and ask them to stop.
If they continue with that kind of behavior, instead of doing it right back to them and escalating the tensions, it would be best to just say goodbye and let them know that you don’t appreciate them being on their phone. There are sometimes in life when you have to be both direct and firm with those who are in your social circle, even friends and family members. Respect is a key component in any relationship so if that person doesn’t value you enough to put their phone away like you are for an hour or even more unless it’s an emergency, then they simply do not deserve your time or the money spent to hang out together. Shaming the phone user in public when you’re with them is principally about setting healthy boundaries which are key in our relationships.
Also, you should hold yourself to the same standards and put the phone away as well lest that person you’re with get offended, walk away, or shame you into being more socially conscientious. Turn the phone off, put it in a locker, tell them that text or Instagram message can wait but above all else, shame them politely and remind them that we should be connecting and enjoying each other’s company and not off in a virtual world with other people. Maintaining that sense of cordiality will ensure better relationships and less wasted time staring at your phones in public.
Our healthy and lasting relationships are a key part of our mental health and our outlook on life. I believe that social media is still making us less social and while these networks do connect people on the surface, they do not foster deep friendships or relationships. Social media are like the gateways to having connections with others but you and only you are responsible for fostering and harvesting those connections to grow and become deeply rooted over time. You and the other person(s) who want to connect must do your best to put your phones away and focus on connecting directly by following some or all of these tips I have suggesting especially keeping the phone out of sight and out of mind temporarily.
Flexing your willpower and retaining that ability to connect will make you a happier and a healthier person overall. Your attention span is likely to improve as well as your friendships and/or relationships. I also believe and the research would show that your anxiety, feelings of depression, or of loneliness will decrease the more time you spend connecting with a person in person instead of through a virtual network. This ability to retain deep connections with people is a profound struggle in this age of instant yet flighty connections.
There are easy ways to counteract this trend though by letting go of the temptation when possible, embracing the silence and the natural world, and by politely reminding the person(s) you are with how it is good social etiquette to give someone their undivided attention when you are together in a public place or setting. If you struggle or have a setback, do not beat yourself up too much about it. Keep doing your best, lessen your use of your phone in the first place, and let the people in your life know how much they mean to you by giving them more of your attention and your love.