Book Recommendations – Volume X

The Summer reading session is well upon us and there is no better time to dive into another edition of my book recommendations. Whether you are at the beach, at the pool, or lounging on a rooftop deck, you can take some leisure time to read a great fictional or non-fictional offering to indulge your mind or open your imagination. The three books I cover are all non-fiction, which is the category that my favorite books often fall under. I do hope to dive into some fiction books sometime soon, but I’ll save that for other post.

The three books I recommend vary from personal finance to progressive politics to self-help psychology, but they all are educational and thought-provoking in their own way. These books aren’t mindless reads, so you’ll have to pay attention and even re-read certain chapters twice or more to really get the gist of what the author is getting at. However, each of these three books have staying power and they would make an excellent addition to anybody’s personal book collection since the different lessons that these books impart are timeliness in nature. Without further ado, let’s discuss which books I enjoyed in this latest volume of recommendations.

1.) “Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson

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Following up on the tremendous attention and success gained from his previous New York Times best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which dealt with unconventional yet powerful self-help advice, Mark Manson is back with an excellent follow-up book in tackling how to apply similar lessons to humanity as a whole. Whether its today’s turbulent geopolitics, the growing climate crisis, or the negative effects of social media, everything can seem to be f*cked nowadays and hopelessness as a condition of these events seems to be gaining steam.

Manson uses the teachings of Nietzsche, Kant, and other prominent philosophers to denote why humanity is facing these systemic problems and how they came to be based on our collective psychology as a species. He argues that having hope in of itself is a paradox and that it’s best to deal with life’s uncertainties and foibles as they come. Wishing for a better, happier, wealthier, and safer future is unproductive if you do not take actions in the present to create that more hopeful reality. Manson breaks down complex topics such as politics, religion, and even the future of artificial intelligence into digestible concepts on how humanity has gotten to be where it is currently.

One of the aspects I like most about Mark’s writings is that he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and he allows you to draw your own conclusions based on the evidence he presents and the stories he tells. My favorite parts of Everything is F*cked focus on why treating people as means to an end is a selfish endeavor and how our feeling brain has a lot more influence on our thinking brain than we have been told. Also, in accepting what is ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’, as Mark cites in one of the first chapters is part of recognizing our innate humanity and what drives us collectively. This truth, while uncomfortable to all, is the main reason why we strive to do what we do in life, for better or for worse, and how we tend to live our lives denying that truth when it is staring us right in the face.

Instead of looking to politics or religion to give us hope, which tends to have its own set of consequences, it should rather be our own individual actions of being kinder, gentler, and more respectful of others that carry the day. We should not wait around for other people to change for you or be better to you. This book, like Mark’s first, is well worth a second and third reading to grasp all the lessons he lays out for the reader. Posing deep existential questions and acknowledging hard truths rarely covered elsewhere in the self-help genre, Manson stands out as one of my generation’s best authors and a good example of how to live a better life, not just for ourselves but for others as well.

2.) “Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World” by Rutger Bregman

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I really liked this book by Mr. Bregman for several reasons. Whereas most books today examine problems and investigate how they came to be, Bregman describes the possible solutions there can be to these problems and how life in the 21st century should be different from the past. Given the rise of automation, how interconnected we have become globally, and increasing efficiencies in the workplace, Bregman dares to ask how we can make life better for vast majority of people in our societies based on these factors.

Rutger Bregman does an extensive amount of research for this book and draws upon years and decades of datasets and public policy to make his three main ideas not only relevant but persuasive to his overall argument. Bregman’s ideas are not new and have been discussed before but in ‘Utopia for Realists’, he really examines each of his proposals individually from a public policy perspective and how the time is ripe to make them become a reality. Today, it seems like we have lost to the drive to implement big changes to both our economy and our society. Bregman asks his readers to think of the plausibility of the 15-hour work week, a Universal Basic Income for all, and an ‘open borders’ policy that would benefits people’s lives in numerous ways as he lays out diligently in each chapter of the book.

While some may not agree with these proposals politically, Bregman backs up his arguments with facts and evidence, as a good social scientist would. One of the things I did not know before reading his book was how close President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress came to passing a universal basic income in legislative form back in the early 1970’s. Giving people the chance to have basic economic security, the ability to live across borders without bureaucratic roadblocks, and having more free time for family life or to better themselves through personal hobbies, interests, or side businesses are related to his three main proposals. These societal changes, he says, would lead to greater fulfillment and happiness and benefit our collective mental health.

While his ideas may be unrealistic today, the way in which the job market is shifting and has become more efficient in terms of productivity over the past few decades, how automation and advanced Robotics may affect millions of jobs being lost, and how the demographic crunch in the Western world may lead to more liberal immigration policies to spur economic growth, the main proposals that Bregman focuses on could become a reality sooner rather than later. It’s not a question of if these utopian ideas could ever happen, it’s more about when they will happen and how they can be implemented successfully around the world.

3.) “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” (2nd Edition) by Ramit Sethi

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I will be the first to say that I have shied away from reading books on personal finance given that the advice given and the person giving it may not be reliable or trustworthy. However, based on the recommendations of other authors I like and how sensible his recommendations are from watching his videos, Ramit Sethi has delivered and recently updated one of the best personal finance books out there. For someone who is just getting started in thinking about optimal strategies for long-term savings and investments, Mr. Sethi breaks it all down from negotiating lower interest rates on your credit cards to how to find the best investment vehicles to deliver you a secure retirement.

If you are new to personal finance, this book is really meant for you. You don’t have to be an expert in 401ks, Roth IRAs, or index funds to make full use of this book. Ramit is not only an author but also provides an additional website, which offers a free blog, multiple courses to improve your finances, and career opportunities. His common-sense finance solutions garner millions of views per month and very positive media coverage. Ramit’s book does not make his readership feel guilty if they have made financial mistakes in the past. Instead, he offers tips and advice as well as personal stories from people he’s helped to get them out of trouble whether its credit card debt, student loan debt, etc. He wants his readers to figure out what exactly a ‘rich’ life is for them and what steps they can take to make it happen.

You are left reading this book feeling uplifted and ready to use his advice to improve your financial situation. You are also left wondering why Ramit’s book isn’t mandatory reading for high school students, given that we tend to neglect this kind of basic financial education for young people in the United States. Whether you are 18 or 28, it’s never too early to start thinking about your long-term finances. With Ramit’s well-written, digestible, and even humorous personal finance book, you are in good hands. He gives you actionable advice on how to greatly improve your finance in weeks instead of years and discusses in detail how many hours it will take you in setting up your savings, investments, and credit card debt payment options with as little of a hassle as possible. While Ramit can give you all the advice in the world, he leaves it up to you, the reader, to take actions yourself to improve your financial situation. Now that you have the knowledge based off his book, you’ll be ready to create a financially secure future for yourself and perhaps your family too.

Hay Vida En Las Calles

During my visit to Salento, Colombia, a beautiful town located in the foothills below the Andes Mountains and adjacent to the famous Cocora Valley, I picked up on a slogan that I found very endearing and memorable. “Hay vida en las calles” was posted on an advertisement on one of the vendors there who was dishing out ice cream, snacks, and other goodies. “Hay vida en las calles” translates to the English language as “There is life in the streets” and I found that to be a very positive sign and one that gets people out of their homes and into the parks, squares, and plazas where the basis of all community life is formed. While life in the streets cannot be found everywhere, I found this prevalent attitude consistent in many towns and cities during my travels in Latin America.

The emphasis on communal spaces and public gathering places is something I really admire about Latin culture and I find it to be a healthy feature of any society, which has strong communities and families. Being able to leave your homes every now and then to walk five minutes away to be in a public park or a town square should be natural and available to more and more of us.

As is well known in psychology and sociology, Human beings are social creatures and we want to be around other people even after we have had some alone time. In order to do so, responsible local, state, and national governments should provide that to their peoples in order to build more trusting and kind societies. In societies where people are isolated, lonely, and without opportunities to meet people and build new friendships, problems related to anxiety, depression, and even violence are likely to rise.

In countries such as the United States and other Western countries, statistics related to anxiety, depression, and loneliness are rising and part of the reason I think for the rise in these issues is related to not being able to gather and socialize in a public place. The atomization related to suburban living, the lack of public transportation options, and the decline of shopping centers all help to contribute to this rise in loneliness. I mention the closing of shopping malls because due to technology giants like Amazon, small businesses and large companies alike are closing their doors causing people to order anything from food to clothes to Amazon Echo from their homes.

While shopping malls and outlet stores aren’t an optimal way to build a sense of community, they still brought people together and were a place to hang out. The question remains regarding how will we replace these stores, strip malls, and outlet centers if they all go out of business? A revitalization of public places from small towns to big cities will not just be a prudent step forward but help societies deal with rising anxiety and loneliness rates. There should be life in the streets.

Whose responsibility should it be to encourage this kind of ‘life in the streets’? I believe it’s the local government combined with local businesses who can really make it work. Also, local community groups and organizations can play a big role in making sure everybody feels welcome and to promote activities, discussion groups, and issues in the community that need to be resolved. The average citizen living in the town or city can contribute to by hosting ‘block parties’ or contributing food or drinks. We ask our taxes to pay for roads, schools, and parks, but why not also a community gathering place, indoors or outdoors, where people can be social, discuss issues, and make new friends.

Without investing in our citizens by providing a ‘public square’, we are really selling ourselves short and it could hurt the fabric of our communities, towns, and cities in the long run. Without a way for people to interact and socialize with each other for free and without needing to buy anything, society as a whole can really benefit. It may sound like a ‘utopian’ idea to some but I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of the potential benefits to people’s mental health.

When I was in Salento, Colombia, for example, there were numerous food vendors, there was live music, and people were chatting with each other on benches. Children were playing in a nearby playground and the air was fresh and clean. The noise of the cars and the buses was off in the distance and it was a sea of calm where there were plentiful trees, flowers, and you could hear the birds chirping. People need that kind of space to gather, talk, listen to music, eat food, and watch their children play peacefully.

In my travels through Latin America in the past few years, I have seen this in multiple towns and cities where there is an emphasis on using the public squares for the public’s benefit. While this may not be a universal thing across the entire region, it is a priority here and one that I really appreciate coming from a culture where these gatherings are in decline. The good news should be that with greater effort and investment, we can bring the public spaces back again in the United States and elsewhere.

Further automation and loss of jobs in the retail and manufacturing sector is a tragedy and one worth acknowledging. My hope is that the loss of these retail and commercial spaces can be put to some good use and even lead to different kinds of jobs to take root, ones that are more social and that benefit people more, especially young children and the elderly. Being able to revitalize certain neighborhoods with greener public spacers where people can gather, eat, play, talk, and even dance would help curb the loneliness epidemic that we are seeing in Western societies. If there is life in the streets, people will show up and they will be better for it.

Part of the beauty of travel is seeing how other cultures value family and community life and make it a high priority. I believe that you can take these positive values from other cultures and place them within your own. It must involve buy-in though from the people themselves and they have to feel that it was the next step forward in improving their community. With the rise of automation and the closing of large shopping centers, we may be at the point in time where we can turn these empty buildings and useless parking lots into real gathering places in the future.

Without social interaction and a sense of community, people will suffer as a result mentally. This has been shown in many studies and in many surveys. I think it is part of who we are as social animals and being isolated in our homes and in our cars for 90% of the day will not make us healthier. For what I saw in Salento, Colombia a few years ago and what I have seen in other towns in Latin America, placing a high value on social life within these communities will make people feel a sense of togetherness and cohesion. A greater emphasis on community gatherings and social spaces would create a large ripple effect that would drastically improve the greater society, the country you’re in, and the world.

Why Do We Read?

We often hear the phrase in school that “Reading is fundamental.” Maybe it is our parents, our teachers, or our friends who play the biggest influence on us when it comes to imparting the wisdom of how important it is to read and to read a lot. I remember taking trips to the school library when I was younger to pick out a book and read during recess or after school if I were to borrow one. Sometimes, my classmates and I would go to book fairs to buy a few books for cheap where they would be different genres including action, adventure, history, science fiction, etc. I always looked forward to these book fairs or to go to the library and I was lucky enough to go to schools where reading was encouraged and how it was part of the curriculum. This freedom to pick out books to rent or to buy and to choose what, when, and how to read is one of the fundamental joys of life. However, even in our modern age, I find that reading books is not emphasized nearly as enough as it should.

While we have access to more information than ever before in more ways than ever before, there are still disappointing statistics when it comes to how much the average American is reading books. According to Pew Research, a quarter of American adults have not read a book in electronic or physical form in the past year, either in finishing part of a book or finishing the whole of it. Even with the rise of electronic books such as Amazon Kindle, audiobooks such as Audible, and the continuance of the printed book form, there is still a sizable part of the population who choose not to read books.

It is important to note that you cannot force someone to read books or to acquire knowledge through the written form, but any society does have the responsibility to give its citizens the chance and opportunity to read books at low to no cost. In order to do this, it is important to foster a great sense of importance surrounding books and the acquiring of knowledge through that medium from a very young age. Every child should have access to discounted or free books so that they learn to love reading whatever the subject may be. I was lucky enough to have access through my school, the local public library, or through being assigned books to read by teachers who cared. Every young person should be able to access the same opportunity to read and to acquire knowledge in that way without barriers.

Reading should be a fundamental right and not a luxury. To build a better society, fostering a love of reading plays a critical yet underrated role. At our core, most of us are curious about the world and we can learn so much about it if we have access to books. Reading can be quite powerful in several ways in that it expands our comprehension of the world and all its peculiarities.

Our ability to experience the word is limited so reading plays a great role in expanding our understanding of different people, places, and concepts that we may not get direct exposure to. This is especially the case when it comes to geography, history, science, etc. because while we may not experience these events or these chain reactions or these places directly, reading books is the closest any of us will get to being there in person or being apart of what happened.

Reading also forms the basis of having a strong imagination, one that can conceptualize and create new ideas based on previous books that one has read in the past or currently. Architects, engineers, politicians, scientists, writers, etc. can better develop themselves in their professions precisely because of the books that they have read from those who came before them. While you wouldn’t copy word for word the experiences or the work of others, anybody who reads can take those ideas to influence their own ideas to carry our actions that would change the world in some measurable way.

Reading books is also a needed respite from the daily anxieties and stresses that we experience in daily life. Taking 30 minutes to an hour at night or in the morning to escape to a fictional, fantasy, or previous state of the world is a way to calm the mind and to let your imagination run wild in a healthy manner. To calm yourself down, to ease into a nice book, and to let your mind wander for a little while is a key part of developing a healthy individual and is almost meditative in its calming nature.

Long after high school, college, or even graduate school, the knowledge and wisdom encapsulated in books will remain an important way to develop oneself intellectually and stoke one’s curiosity long after the first part of your life is over. Reading is a way to tap into one’s ability to be a lifelong learner and to become better in your profession or in your career pursuits. Whether you want to become an expert in your chosen field or to start a business or to run with a new idea that could change the world, books hold the key that could make your dreams a reality.

Perhaps the next time you see someone reading a book, go up to them and politely ask them about it. You should bring yourself back to that time when you were younger, and you walked down the halls of the school or local library and were curious about many books that all seem captivating. You should not let that fire go out of you as you get older. You should make the time to go to the bookstore, to the public library, or to a local fair to read something that perks your own interest. One of the worst things that we can do to ourselves is to lose that sense of curiosity and wonder related so closely with reading a new book for the first time. It is also important to bond with other readers, find out what they like to read, and whether they would be able to recommend you anything based on your personal tastes.

Cultivate that love of reading and spread it around to your friends and your family. Reading books is contagious, and people are curious so don’t be afraid to read a book at the lunch counter, on the subway, or even in a public park. We can get more people to read books again by setting the example and by imparting the knowledge and wisdom gained from books to others through our reading experience. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, “Reading is fundamental” and it should not be gone to waste.

Any active and engaged reader should also be standing up for others in terms of easy access to books, whether psychical or digital in our modern age. In your community, city, or country, you should be playing a part to make sure that public libraries stay open and are in good shape. You should donate books when you are done with them and especially to those children and adults who go without them. In addition, volunteering to read to children and/or teenagers is a great way to give back to your community. Everybody should have access to read and they should not be limited by the cost of it. That is why it is extremely important to support those politicians and community leaders who make sure the schools have libraries, that the public library is free for all, and that there are local book fairs that are cheap and are not too expensive for those citizens who want to buy books.

Without books, true knowledge and wisdom cannot be obtained. Be wary of those who do not read at all but do not insult them. Instead, try to bring them on to your side by highlighting the benefits of reading and how it has changed you to be a better learner. Reading should not be forced, of course, but it should be encouraged in helping to build a better society and a better world. Anyone can play a small part in this and I hope that you, the reader of this article, will play a small part in shaping it.

Book Recommendations – Volume VIII

As always, the summer season is an excellent time to be catching up on personal reading. One of my favorite activities during the summer is to lie out in the park or at the beach and dive into some books that have piqued my interest. Whether you are a fiction fan or a non-fiction fan, there are a lot of excellent books out there to keep you occupied. My three choices for reading this summer deal with non-fiction topics yet I hope they peak your interest as well even if you are a fiction fan.

1.) “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari

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The follow-up to Harari’s first book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ dives into the promise, the challenges, and the problems facing humanity as we go through the 21st century and beyond. ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ looks at how human beings got to this point in our collective history and how we will need to come up with new solutions whether political, economic, or social to adapt to this current age of rapid technological and climatic change. Clearly, this book deals with more speculation on the part of Harari as he lays out a number of possibilities that could come about in this century and beyond, rather than solely focusing on past human history as ‘Sapiens’ did.

Harari devotes a large part of the book to the fact at how much progress has been made across humankind in terms of eradicating disease, famine, and also how war has been limited in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The question that Harari poses is what will humanity focus its efforts on now that we have been able to get past in large part major sources of human suffering in the form of disease, famine, and war. Mr. Harari makes the argument that humanity will focus a lot of its collective effort on artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, machine learning, etc.

The goal particularly of the rich and wealthy will be to conquer death and achieve immortality through various means that the author goes more into detail about. However, how will social harmony be insured as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning wipe out a large percentage of human jobs over the next few decades? Will the rights of the individual be maintained when a large part of the population no longer are able to find work or where they can receive adequate educational training for the jobs of tomorrow?

Harari is a sociologist so the details of the actual engineering and technology that would need to occur to make this shift happen is lacking in the book. However, he poses urgent questions for policymakers, economists, and other leaders as to what will happen when ‘big data’ algorithms know us and our desires better than they ever have. How will the meaning of ‘work, leisure, and relationships’ change as artificial intelligence continues to advance? Increasingly, Mr. Harari concludes that humans and machines will complement each other in various ways whether its in education, technology, the workplace, etc. and there can be nothing done to avoid this shift from happening in our lifetimes. What remains to be seen is how human societies react to a future where people must adapt to these technological changes to survive, prosper and how man and machine will act as they merge together beyond what was considered possible just a century ago.

2.) “Us v. Them: The Failure of Globalism” by Ian Bremmer

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Ian Bremmer, a notable political scientist has written a new book on the populist resurgence in the United States and around the world. He tackles the failure of ‘globalism’ as an ideology and how unfortunately it doesn’t look like we will all be able to live and thrive in a truly borderless world without political, economic, and social differences getting in the way. The fear of the ‘other’ and the tendency for human beings to organize themselves in separate tribes whether it’s the form of nations, races, and religions takes precedence even today as the reaction to globalism.

Mr. Bremmer makes the argument that ‘globalism’ and ‘globalization’ are separate in their meanings as ‘globalism’ as a term is primarily political in nature while ‘globalization’ is primarily economic. Globalization will continue to expand and thrive because its’ practical for nations to engage in trade and finance at the international level to boost and grow their national economies. As long as it is economically advantageous for nations to trade and do business with each other, globalization will continue to be a mainstay in economic relations.

‘Globalism’ however has received a backlash from the rise of political populism primarily in the Western world (the U.S., the U.K.) but also in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland), and also in developing nations like India, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Issues of mass migration, cultural shifts in nations, growing income inequality have led populations to look towards protectionism and ‘strongmen-lite’ politicians to address these systemic issues. In my opinion, Bremmer correctly argues that while the world is collectively doing well in terms of economic growth and the subsequent rise in living standards, there is still a serious political recession going on with far left and far right politicians gaining stream in terms of popularity.

‘Us v. Them’ reflect the growing unease and anxiety that a lot of people have regarding ‘globalism.’ Besides the cosmopolitan populations that live in the major cities of the world and who have benefited from the cross-cultural exchange of peoples, trade, finance, etc., there are many others who feel threatened by the ‘other’ and how their country and culture may be changing as a result. Mr. Bremmer sees the happening of Brexit, the election of Trump, and the rise of strongmen around the world as a reaction to ‘globalism’, and how there are drawbacks in that many people feel left behind by their political and economic elites who enacted these policies without their support. ‘Us v. Them’ is something that has occurred throughout human history and to myself, it goes back to our fundamental nature of our willingness to divide ourselves into separate tribes and to look upon the ‘other’ with suspicion and fear.

According to Mr. Bremmer, political populism is not likely to go away anytime soon and the rise of automation, an increase in artificial intelligence, the weakening of the middle class in both the developed and developing world are likely to put continued pressure on weakening political institutions who may or may not be agile and forward-thinking enough to come up with satisfactory solutions to these 21st century issues.

3.) “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” by Suzy Hansen

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‘Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World’ by Suzy Hansen is a refreshing take on the way American foreign policy decisions have affected the U.S.’s relationships with certain countries such as Iran, Greece, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, and specifically the people who feel that they have been negatively affected by those decisions. The average American is likely to be unaware of how large of a role the country has played beyond its borders and how some of those decisions have left deep, festering wounds in the people of those countries who were directly affected and still haven’t forgotten.

Ms. Hansen who came from a personal background similar to mine has lived in Turkey for over ten years and has traveled to the Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Egypt looking for the perspectives of those citizens in regards to how America changed their countries, mainly for the worse. Her personal background growing up was very insular and she went to travel and live overseas in order to see her country differently.

From reading this book, it was refreshing to see Ms. Hansen do her research about the countries she was living in and visiting as well as interviewing many people in those countries to hear their stories and their perspectives. I believe that her book does a great job of enlightening Americans about negative foreign policy decisions made in the past that our country may not like to remember but is still forefront in many other countries’ perspective of the United States.

As Hansen left home and lived overseas, her innocence and that of America is stripped away because it’s a harsh truth to face yet it is one that we must all face is that America has not always done good in the world and there have been negative effects of past U.S. foreign policy decisions that heavily resonate with those peoples to this day. The key aspect of this mix of journalism and personal memoir makes this book stand out as a referendum on America’s role in the world, and how its likely to decline in the future. While our impact may lessen on our nations in the future, Hansen sees that as a possible good occurrence do the damage that has already been done.

My main critiques of this book is that while Ms. Hansen diagnoses that issues with U.S. foreign policy, I do wish there was an addition to the book where the author discusses how America can better its foreign relations in the future and to move forward positively with the countries she has become familiar with. However, to be fair, that would take a whole another book to diagnose how U.S. foreign policy should move forward. Also, I believe that this book was a bit too negative in its perspective on America and it could have been more balanced in its overall viewpoint. Ms. Hansen’s book pulls no punches and is a clear-eyed look on the blindspots of American exceptionalism and how our values have not always been well received beyond our borders.

How to Present Yourself Well

We live in a world where the first impression that we give out to others is a key determining factor into what kind of relationship we have with them and how they see us as human beings. I believe that it is naïve in this day and age still to think that first impressions don’t matter at all because they really do matter and if you don’t know how to present yourself in a positive, mature manner, it may affect your life in various negative ways.

Our culture is based around the individual yet we cannot forget that ultimately, you are still tied to other parts of society such as your family, your local community, and your country. Now, one may not care what others think of them and that is their right to do so but your actions, words, habits, and personal dress have an affect on society whether you like it or not. You are not an island unto yourself where you can do whatever you want and there are no consequences that can come of that. We are all part of an overall society and failure to recognize that fact of life will not change this part of human nature.

Whenever you’re out in public meeting new people for the first time, how you dress, how you act, and how you use your spoken language carries a number of effects as to how people will treat you. You never know what kind of relationship whether personal or professional you’ll be able to build with somebody else if you’re not willing to put in that effort. There are numerous opportunities that the average person can miss out on in their daily interactions if they are not actively thinking about presenting themselves in the right fashion.

The key thing to know is that people are always going to judge you when they first meet you and this always happens very rapidly. There are certain ways that you can make yourself stand out in a positive manner which will benefit you in terms of more people will take you seriously and will respect you more. The opposite of that is also true in that if you fail to present yourself in a respectable manner when you meet other people for the first time, there could be a number of negative consequences for you if you don’t learn to change certain bad habits.

In this day and age where people are becoming more and more addicted to technology, especially the smartphone, you can stand out easily if you know how to present yourself. Basic social skills are not being taught as much whether it’s for young people in school or for adults in the workforce. Just a few generations ago, both men and women were taught at a young age how best to present them so they could be taken seriously as individuals who are part of the collective society. To put it simply, we do not teach these social graces, cues, and skills anymore but I’d like to propose a few tips on how to present oneself for the good of yourself and the good of your society.

  • Clean Appearance and Appropriate Dress

If you want to be taken seriously, you have to look the part. Everyone has the choice to make in terms of how they dress and look everyday but it is important to keep in mind how that will effect others opinions of you. If you go to an interview for a job that you really want, you have to present yourself professionally. You wouldn’t wear a baseball hat, shorts, and a tank top to an important job interview, right? If you don’t dress the part, it’s a certainty that you won’t get to play the part. Obviously, modes of dress in the workplace are flexible.                                                                                                                     

An office worker is going to dress differently than a construction worker but even for both jobs, you want to present yourself with an appearance where you’ll be taken seriously. If you put in the bare minimum and your colleagues are putting more effort into their appearance, who is going to get the benefit of the doubt? Your colleagues. A suit and tie isn’t necessary for most jobs these days but you don’t want to be that one person who shows up in flip flops and jeans when everybody else is putting in the effort. There’s a healthy balance that needs to be struck and you want to make sure that you are following the dress code while even going a bit above and beyond to make yourself stand out.

Your appearance is not just about what you wear but how you wear it. Good-fitting clothes, polished shoes, facial and body hair that has been cut groomed or shaved properly; all of these small actions add up that can help you in both your personal and professional life. If you’re not able to take care of your face and body, what does that say about you as a person? It doesn’t say anything positive because the effort really matters and other people will notice when your appearance is on point. Others will see that if you’re able to take care of your appearance, you’ll be able to manage an important coding project, closing that lucrative business deal, or overseeing the construction of a tall skyscraper. When you’re able to take care of yourself first, you’ll be better able to tackle the big projects that you will come across in your professional life.

If you’re worried about how much money it costs to put into your appearance, it really doesn’t cost too much these days. I’m not going to go into exact figures but some new clothes, a haircut, and a nice pair of shoes as your baseline in terms of appearance would cost about $100 here in the U.S. I believe that the return on investment would be much more on that because the clothes and shoes will last you a while and the haircut will be positively noticed by your peers. While you may put $100-200 per month into your appearance, think about how much use or gains that you can get out of this personal investment. I think most people would find that they get a lot out of dressing and looking well when you do the math.

  • Positive Attitude and Good Manners

Presenting yourself doesn’t end in terms of taking care of your dress and your grooming. It extends greatly to how you follow social graces and courtesies that keep our society running smoothly. Even if you have had a bad day and don’t feel like extending these courtesies to strangers, try to see it from their perspective. Being polite, respectful, and minding your behavior is an integral part to how you present yourself in public. While graces, courtesies, and customs vary greatly from culture to culture, I have found in my own travels that you should always say ‘hello, please, and thank you’ to win yourself some points. It doesn’t hurt to say ‘how are you?’ or the equivalent in other languages to strike up a conversation with the person making your coffee, serving your food, or cutting your hair.

While there is a trend of people being on their Smartphone, listening to the music through their earphones, and ignoring the world around them, you can be better than that by making an effort to express pleasantries to the people you rely upon in your day to day activities. Social skills take time to develop and they can atrophy if they are not put to good use. Everyone is guilty of being antisocial every now and then, and that’s okay, but it can be a bad habit if you don’t make the effort.

As human beings, we tend to err towards the negative as a biological impulse but it’s really important to try and stay positive. You may not think of it too much but we are all social creatures and the attitude that we display has a contagious effect on to how others act and behave. If you are negative about life constantly and put on a negative attitude to those around you, you should not be surprised when no one wants to hang out with you or even help you. It’s okay to express frustrations about the stress and anxiety of daily life but you have to keep it in check. Things do get better over time and having a positive attitude about life will help you enormously rather than being negative all the time.

With your manners, you also want to go the extra mile. Helping other people feels good and the easiest way to do that is by having good manners. You could help an old lady cross the street, let the women and children off the elevator first (chivalry is not dead yet, ladies), tip a service worker extra if they did a great job, or even wait to let people off the bus and train first before you get on. These actions all display having good manners and will brighten up someone else’s day causing a ripple effect throughout our society. If everybody observed the golden rule of ‘treat others the way you would like to be treated’, our manners and attitude would shift quite a bit.

Sometimes, we don’t have the right attitude or display good manners but it’s good to be remembered of what they are. Unfortunately, there are no schools or institutions anymore that teach these social graces and courtesies to young men and young women, but I do hope that they make a comeback. Without each member of our society trying their best to display good manners and have a positive attitude, there would immediately be dysfunction, chaos, and a torrent of rudeness.

  • Strong Eye Contact and Confident Body Language

You wouldn’t think about it often but it is the icing on the proverbial cake to be able to present yourself well when it comes to both your eye contact and body language. While these two actions take place subconsciously, if you’re able to be mindful of it at times especially at key moments in your personal and professional life, you will be able to stand out in a great way. Maintaining strong eye contact and confident body language could help you improve your life tremendously. This is especially the case when you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to look them in the eye, keep your head held high, and give them a firm handshake.

Even after you meet them, you want to keep your shoulders back and walk with purpose. I’m not an expert when it comes to body language but I know what not to do in most situations. You want to be keep your legs pointing forward, your head should be at eye level, and you should keep your body open in how you stand and sit. Bad body language like looking down at the floor, having your legs crossed all of the time, folding your arms, and scrunching your shoulders are all bad habits that you are going to be mindful of avoiding. It’s important when presenting yourself to be confident, serious, and even smile a bit to diffuse your own internal stress and anxiety depending on the situation you’re in.

The saying, “Fake it until you make it” is key when it comes to body language. If you practice it enough times, it will eventually be so ingrained in you that you won’t have to act the part anymore. Having strong eye contact and confident body language will set you apart from other people who display the opposite. If you’re looking for that edge in work, business, or aspects of your personal life, you’ll want to be working hard to present yourself well in these two regards.

When you meet strangers for the first time, eye contact and body language are two key things that they’ll notice right off the bat. If you’re not able to create a positive impression with them, it’s likely that you won’t get very far with them professionally or personally. If you have a trustworthy family member or a good friend, it’s beneficial to practice body language and eye contact with them. Once they give you high marks for setting the right tone and finishing it off with a firm handshake, you’ll be able to impress strangers, employers, and even love interests with this overlooked aspect of presenting yourself well.

The main reason why I wrote this article is because I think we have reached the point in society where we pay too little attention to presenting ourselves well. With the absence of rules or standards, society can degrade to a point where it becomes dysfunctional. This comes down to being able to present yourself well to the world in the hopes that it will return the favor to you in one way or another. It’s not just about other people too but it’s about self-respect and doing your best to live up to your own standards and code. Having an overall society made up of individuals who understand that appearances do actually matter but so do manners and body language can help us progress to be fairer, kinder, and more respectful of one another.

Unfortunately, knowing how to present oneself is not taught anymore and hasn’t been for a few generations but I hope with this article that this kind of advice can come back into fashion and spur a good dialogue. How you dress, what you say, and how you act does not stop at you as an individual but ripples out to the rest of your society. If you’re not putting in the effort, why should anyone else do the same? We all have an individual responsibility to present ourselves well because by doing that, the society as a whole can improve in a number of ways by following your example.

The Power of Mentorship

Since the days of ancient Greece, the concept of mentoring or mentorship has been apart of human recordkeeping and history. The naming of the word itself ‘mentor’ is said to have come from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ where the main character, Odysseus, while getting ready to leave for his famous voyage, decided to leave his infant son behind. Because he didn’t want to leave his son alone considering how long his ‘odyssey’ could be, His infant son, Telemachos, was left in the care and companionship of Odysseus’s friend named ‘Mentor.’ From this allegorical story from Homer, we get a sense of how longstanding the idea of mentorship has been around and why it has lasted throughout the centuries.

Why exactly is mentorship so powerful? Well, there are a number of reasons why it can be such a helpful and important part of a person’s success. People very rarely can do everything by themselves and to have the ability to seek out someone who gives them both their time and expertise without asking for anything in exchange is what makes having a mentor so powerful. Now, not everybody starts out being the best mentor. It’s a skill like any other skill that takes time to develop. It’s also impossible to mentor somebody in every aspect of his or her life.

It would be better to focus on an area where you think you can be a good mentor and lend help to another person. For example, if you’re good at writing and consider yourself to be a writer, you should want to mentor someone else who’s aspiring to be a writer and not someone who wants to become a mechanical engineer. Your mentoring has to line up with the mentee’s aspirations and what they hope to do in the future. Mentorship doesn’t only have to be professional advice but it can also involve be personal advice as well. Mentorship can range from how to learn a new skill set in order to make more money to being able to manage your personal relationships better.

Before mentorship can begin though, a level of trust has to be built up over time between the mentor and the mentee. When you’ve taken upon the role of the mentor, it’s important to make sure that you think that the mentee can be successful and that they can put in the work and effort to reach their goals. If somebody is mentoring you, it’s important to make sure that you know them well already, you respect them, and you find that they have good expertise and knowledge in the field or area that you need mentoring in.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a boss or a co-worker. It could also be a friend or family member who you have a close relationship to and is able to give you sound advice based off of their personal and/or professional experiences. When it comes to mentorship, it has to be a consistent and long-standing relationship between two people. The mentor and the mentee should be meeting on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis together in order to make actual real and sustained progress on both their short-term and long-term goals. If you’re only meeting with a mentor once every month or every three months, it’s not going to work out and you’ll be lucky to make any lasting progress. If mentorship is done right, the mentee will see themselves go far in the area, skillset, or field that they’re focusing on especially if the mentor is giving out real, practical advice that they themselves have proven to work.

For mentorship to be successful, it’s important that this kind of relationship between two people be a two-way street and not just a one-sided affair. The mentee should not be getting 100% of the benefits out of the mentorship because respect and appreciation has to be paid from the mentee to the mentor. Time, as we all know, is quite valuable and for a mentor to be giving his time freely to the mentee especially on a weekly or monthly basis is a very selfless thing to be doing. While the mentor should not expect anything in return right away, a healthy mentorship would involve the mentee taking it upon himself to show his appreciation and thanks through small gestures. It could be buying your mentor a gift for the holidays or buying them a ticket to a baseball game or a concert but it’s important to show that you care about the mentorship and that you realize it’s nice to give back every now and then.

If you’ve built up a strong personal friendship with your mentor, it would be nice for the mentee to spend time with the mentor outside of their formal meetings / sit-downs, etc. For example, if you two have shared interests outside of business, you can go out together for dinner, or do an activity together. Mentorships don’t have to be strictly business all of the time and the best mentorships are when both parties like each other and would consider themselves to be good friends. One of the key powers of mentorship is its’ sustainability and longevity when it’s done right. A fruitful mentorship of months and even years can definitely change the course of a person’s life. While not the easiest thing in life to take upon oneself, being a mentor to someone is one of the most rewarding things a person can do and it’s an easy way to make the world a bit better than before.

Unfortunately, true mentorship today isn’t as prevalent as it used to be and is a far cry from what it was like just a generation or two ago. Most people today do not have a mentor in their lives to help them who can they rely on for good advice without paying money. If you’re able to be a mentor to someone who needs your help or advice, it is something that should be seriously considered especially if that person has a lot of potential. Mentorships shouldn’t always be thought of in terms of the mentor being older the mentee in terms of age.

That’s a fallacy in that there are ways in which older people can learn from younger people especially in this current digital age of technology. The power of mentorships lies in the inherent decency of one person helping another person to get ahead in life in any way that they can. The mentee can then take the advice to heart and work hard to improve themselves in professional and/or personal ways. The mentee should show gratitude and appreciation to the mentor because having a good mentor who is generous with his time is not easy to find these days. While mentorships and apprenticeships were more common a generation or two ago, they are exceedingly rare nowadays. If you’re able to have a good mentor in your life, remember to be grateful for it and pay it back in the future by mentoring another person who is growing through the same struggles and setbacks that you once conquered yourself.

If there were more active mentoring going on between people, not only would their own individual lives improve over time but also that of the local community and society as a whole. When more and more folks are willing to give back to others in their community and help them out consistently, that helps out the society in general. The power of mentorship is also a reminder that we’re all in this together and we should try to spur on success of others rather than kick them down a notch. You’ll feel happier and more engaged in the world to when you give mentorship a shot so I encourage those of you reading this article to go out there, think about why mentorship is important, and figure out if that is a calling that you personally would like to take upon in the future in an effort to help other people help themselves.

Interconnected

interconnected
“Will humanity become more or less interconnected during the 21st century?”

When the 21st Century is over and becomes apart of the history books, it will be known as the first truly interconnected, interdependent, and entangled era of human history. Compared to past eras, borders are more open, long-distance travel is common place due to modern aviation, and global commerce is more free than it ever has been. Globalization as a phenomenon has been made possible not just through open borders and advances in aviation but also due to the wonders of the Internet.

While many human beings can not physically cross borders or take modes of transport to other countries, the Internet has helped to minimize that gap of connection by allowing people from around the world to connect virtually at an increasing frequency. As the technology continues to improve and advance, the Internet has made our planet interconnected on a scale once considered unthinkable a generation ago.

I woke up one morning in New York, had my breakfast and juice, and then was able to log-in to Skype and chat with my good friend who is living in Beirut, Lebanon about his work there and how he has adjusted to living in the Mediterranean metropolis. After that, I sat down to have lunch and finished some homework for a 1:30 PM Spanish lesson with my teacher who is originally from Mexico but currently lives in Italy. Somehow, we were able to make the six-hour time difference work between me in New York and her in Italy. Before the day was over, I had two more Skype and Google Hangout based English lessons with my students from countries like Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Satisfied with my day of both teaching and learning, I settled the rest of my affairs and went down to the kitchen to prepare my dinner for the evening.

None of these lessons or exchanges of information would be possible between persons of different countries and backgrounds without the invention of the Internet. Too often, the average person either takes for granted the capabilities that allow us to stay connected on a worldwide scale or doesn’t take advantage of using this technology to bolster their abilities personally or professionally.

Professionally, as an ESL teacher, the fact that I have been able to use the Internet and web applications such as Skype, Google+, etc. to connect with numerous students from around the world virtually has been a real treat for me. Sometimes, my students with whom I’m working with online do not have the means or ability to work with a native English speaker / teacher in person in their own city or country. Those of us language teachers who commit time out of our lives to help others learn our native languages should be commended for making this a possibility. It is truly enjoyable for me to work with those students online from different countries who will share with me interesting tidbits about their cultures and societies.

Personally, I have been able to stay in touch and meet up again with friends of mine from different regions of the world thanks to staying connected through social media websites like Facebook, CouchSurfing, Twitter, etc. The Internet has allowed me to stay connected with international friends, both new and old, thanks to the rise of social media and its applications. It is funny to think that only fifty to hundred years ago, or even before the advent of the Internet, twenty years ago, the best that you could do is send a handwritten letter by mail or make an expensive call to any location overseas. Now, such communication to an international location is often very cheap or even free of charge depending on which application you decide to use.

While the advent of globalization has its positives and negatives, which are often debated and discussed endlessly, I believe that one net positive from globalization has been how the Internet and the “world wide web” has made humanity interconnected. This one trend of “Interconnectedness” for the 21st century is one that isn’t going to reverse course anytime soon and is going to be hard pressed to find itself limited in total amount of users or overall global popularity.

According to the World Bank’s recent report titled “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends”, the number of people worldwide who have access to the Internet has tripled from about 1 billion people in 2006 to about 3.5 billion people in 2016. This recent development is an extraordinary occurrence. This means that over 40% of humanity now has some type of access to the Internet which has become increasingly possible due to rise of mobile technology and the spread of 3G and 4G cellular networks.

As more and more people connect to digital markets of e-commerce, become new entrepreneurs and start to create their own small businesses, this will also allow more students to connect and learn with me here in New York and other teachers around the world to learn English or another foreign language. The possibilities of eventually having everyone connected to the Internet would be truly endless. It could lift millions more people out of poverty and create new economic opportunities where there were none before.

Some of the big questions to be answered in the coming decades is how do we as a global community work together to connect the remaining 60% of humanity to the Internet? How do we work together as governments, NGOs, and individuals to give people the means virtually to benefit economically and personally from the advent of the Internet? These are not easy questions to answer let alone solve. However, if humanity is to continue advancing and developing into the future, we must continue to become more interconnected to each other. That is a fundamental truth of the 21st century for which we all must be aware of.

Sources:

1.)  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/13/internet-not-conquered-digital-divide-rich-poor-world-bank-report

2.) http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016