The Need to Have a Social Conscience

Keeping with what’s been going on in the world lately, I believe it’s important to reinforce just how important it is now and into the future the need to have a social conscience. What do I mean by a social conscience? Boiling down the formal definition to even simpler terms, it is the feeling derived from caring for others more than yourself. You feel the urge to put others’ needs before your own. It does not mean to stop caring for yourself and taking care of your daily needs but to think of others who rely on you and to put them first especially for family members and friends.

However, having a social conscience goes beyond just our family and our friends. It goes for our immediate society as a whole whether it is the community you live in, the nation you reside in, or the world you inhabit. You feel responsible for what goes on outside of your own life and those of family and friends to think of a larger picture. To have a social conscience is to see beyond your own problems and to see the injustices that continue to plague our world.

You also have to realize that your problems while difficult or not unique and others are going through the same tribulations as you are and sometimes worse. Having a social conscience involves putting yourselves into the shoes of other people and to realize how they could possibly be helped and how you personally can be involved in assisting them. Showing concern for others is the right way to have a social conscience and also to think about how these injustices can be resolved. Any individual can make a difference by having a social conscience and by taking it upon themselves to change their behavior to reflect their new attitude.

How do you show your social conscience? There are numerous ways to do so and you could even put them on a scale from small actions to large movements designed to change the foundations of the society. In the case of a social conscience, I find that it’s like exercising your body. You don’t want to take on too much weight or distance at first for weightlifting or running. You should rather want to start small and build up your actions over time and to be more ambitious.

For some examples, starting off small with your social conscience can include environmental stewardship, collecting donations, or getting involved in your local community. Any of these actions can create a ripple effect and can cause a shift in societal behavior for others to follow your lead or for the actions to spread to other people and even communities based on how consistent and courteous you are with these goodwill efforts. For environmental stewardship, it could be recycling your own bottles and cans each day and getting your neighborhood to do so as well.

You can also plant trees and install solar panels on your house if able to gather momentum from smaller actions. Donating your own clothes or extra food can lead to organizing food drives or even creating your own organizations to help collect donations in your town or city. Leading a local trash pickup event can lead to other future leadership roles for yourself such as running for your child’s PTA (parent – teacher association) board to running for the town / city council board seat. Social consciousness does not have to encompass all of humanity but rather as the popular saying goes, “think globally, act locally.”

As long as you are having a positive impact on the life of another person, you are exercising your social consciousness. The more you do it, the more natural it is, and it becomes your routine or habit. Your first time donating your old clothes to the Salvation Army becomes a monthly habit. Your first-time volunteering at the local food bank becomes a weekly occurrence. Helping others feels good and it can lead to you doing it more often so why not give it a try? A social consciousness does not have to extend to everybody in the world all at once but the actions you do locally can definitely ripple out and stand as a positive example for others to implement in their own communities.

If you would like to get involved globally, there are an almost infinite number of opportunities to study, teach, work, and volunteer in non-governmental organizations and local non-for-profits in important areas such as education, health care, infrastructure and the environment. Spending time to educate yourself on the culture, history, politics, and the society of other places around the world will help better inform you of the injustices and problems of your own. No human society is perfect but there are small improvements that each day we can choose to perform to make it a little bit better than it was before.

Even when you are not in a position of local, national, or even global leadership, you can elect to pay attention to the problems that must be solved, form your position on the issues by being educated and choosing your sources of information carefully and then choose to vote and elect those leaders who have a social conscience. You will know if they have one or not by not only of what they advocate for but how they have advocated for these issues and who they have surrounded themselves with. A person with no social conscience cares for no one but himself and his own brood. Their friends are disposable to them and they care nothing for others beyond what they can do for him or her and how their own prospects can be improved. A person without a social conscience deserves to lead nobody and not be followed by anyone.

A socially conscious leader cares for the least among them and feels their pain as his or her own. While they have not experienced pain or misery as those whom he or she advocates for, he can listen to them, see what they say based on those experiences, and come to an educated decision on how to best fix the problem and work with those who are experts in that field to solve the issue as best as humanly possible. Social conscious behavior is so key to have when it comes to be a leader of a community or a nation and it is unfortunately neglected as of late when it comes to judging the men and the women we put into positions of influence and power.

As long as people err in their own behavior and judgment, there will be manmade problems and injustices. What someone with a social conscience can do is to do their best to continue to fight for justice and solve those problems in any way they can. Rather than focus on 100 problems at one time, it is best to focus one’s attention at 1 or 2 big problems that can be solved in time and that can gain popular support from the community after receiving the facts of why and how the injustice exists. Keep educating yourself on the injustices and the problems that exist in your world and decide how you want to push our world back towards the ‘arc of justice’ that our conscience and actions should bend to as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. We only have a finite amount of time on this planet and if we can right some wrongs and create justice where there was little or none before then we are doing our small part to make this world a better and fairer place.

Anatomy of a Scene – The Training

Batman Begins – The Will to Act (Training Scene HD)

‘Batman Begins’ is an excellent film for many different reasons. It has a great cast, excellent cinematography, a realistic story even if based on a famous comic book character, and also a great origin theme to it that is compelling and relatable. While we know that the idea of an ordinary man becoming a ‘superhero’ is farcical at best, the way that process is shown in ‘Batman Begins’ and the way Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is able to transform himself both mentally and physically into that role is really awe-inspiring when you think about it.

This is really the first Batman on film experience that shows how this caped crusader was born and what it took for him to become a masked hero to Gotham’s people. The hero’s journey in this one is believable because it takes up almost 30 minutes of the film. We see him at the beginning in a rural Chinese prison for no discernible reason and we only know that he is a wealthy man named ‘Bruce Wayne’ who seems to have lost his way. He seems desperate to find his way in the world and is desperate to fight criminals wherever they are even if it may cost him his life. Rather than concentrating his energy on his home city or finding a way to use his philanthropy for good, he wiles away in a prison fighting lowly conmen and convicts before the police have to force him into solitary confinement for ‘their’ protection and not his.

What Bruce needed at this time in the film is a good mentor to show him a better path and that person at the time is Henri Ducard (played by Liam Neeson). We do not know much about this month but only that he commands a powerful group of ninjas / mercenaries called the ‘League of Shadows’ and they are tucked away in the mountains. He offers Bruce in a previous scene the chance to join them but instills a challenge in other to be worthy. He must seek out a rare blue flower and climb up the mountain by himself so he may be deemed ready to begin his real training to instill fear in his enemies and fight them wherever there is injustice. It is a tall task, but Bruce is up for the challenge of going to their hideaway.

When he gets to this mountain hideout, he is immediately forced to start fighting even though he can barely stand. He is challenged to confront his fears especially of bats when the rare blue flower he carried can be used as a fear-inducing toxin, which he must confront and control in order to be able to succeed as a new member of the League of Shadows. In addition to challenging his mind, in different scenes, he has to learn different kinds of martial arts and learn to balance himself even as he is being attacked with sticks by many members of the League.

In ‘The Training’ scene, we are introduced to the aftermath of Bruce losing both of his parents and feeling guilty that they are dead because of him but Alfred reassures him that it was nothing he did that made them lost their lives in a cowardly homicide by the murderer.

“My anger outweighs my guilty.” Bruce does not feel guilt anymore but the anger of not being able to apprehend or kill the murderer of his parents is difficult for him to still deal with. In this Training scene, what I really enjoy is how both epic and intimate it feels from the snow-covered ice sheets to the sprawling mountain landscapes, it feels as if a superhero is being trained and that his mentor is there to help him launch that path.

“You know how to fight six men; we can teach you to engage 600.” This quote from Henri Ducard shows that he is doing more than training a mercenary like his other men, but he wants to train a future leader who will be able to use ‘theatricality and deception’ to strike fear in the hearts of hundreds of men rather than a few.’ As we see later on in the film, Bruce takes his former mentor’s advice literally by becoming Batman. Beyond different forms of martial arts, we see that Henri and Bruce are sword-fighting as well for the first time which is part of the League of Shadows arsenal. Bruce is curious to learn from Henri intermixed with their training on how to become truly invisible such as using ‘explosive powder’ and disguising one’s identity to disappear and then reappear suddenly.

“Always mind your surroundings.” In addition to skills in dodging, deflecting attacks and also going on the offensive, Ducard likes to remind Bruce on how to always be aware of the environment around you as it can be turned against you or made into an ally as well. Despite the immediate threat of his sword, Bruce must also be considered with the ice-sheets below him and the cold mountain air that can cause him to also lose his life if he is not careful.

“You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent.” In order to become more than just a vigilante, Bruce must become a symbol that strikes fear in the hearts of his enemies. The idea of becoming Batman is born in this pivotal training scene and the fact that he must his own fear of bats against his enemies is worth remembering later on in the film.

The example of the farmer as a prisoner because of his murder of his neighbor of a land dispute shows the beginning of a rift between Henri Ducard, the mentor, and Bruce Wayne, the student.:” Crime cannot be tolerated; criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.” Henri Ducard has a zero tolerance of criminals and does not believe in society’s prisons and judicial systems as a means of holding them accountable for their heinous actions.

Ducard believes in an ‘eye for an eye’ such as if you murder someone, you must be murdered in return to really receive final justice. It is a very black and white view which Bruce does not entirely agree with and will push back on later. Bruce has faith in his fellow citizens and knows that a punishment such as imprisonment can be sufficient for true justice to occur. He does not believe in the total corruption of society as Henri does and this scene also shows the beginning of that difference in their world views.

In order to get Bruce to lash out at him and cause him to truly unless his potential, Ducard goads Bruce by saying that the death of his parents was not his fault but his father’s. This is a successful ploy by Ducard as Bruce loses control of his emotions and strikes wildly at Ducard who blocks his attempts and causes him to be subdued.

“Your training is nothing, the will is everything! The will to act.” This quote is by far the most powerful moment of this scene and perhaps the movie itself. It does not matter how much physical or mental training you have built what do you do when it comes time to act and take a stand. Will you be able to put your training or your knowledge to good use and make it count? This is an excellent quote by Ducard and shows that when it comes down to it, we can have all the training, expertise, and knowledge in the world on martial arts, advanced chemistry, or business but what good is that knowledge if we fail to act and use this training for the benefit of ourselves but also others in the world. It is a powerful quote that makes this scene stand out from others in ‘Batman Begins.’

Urged on by this challenge to act, Bruce seems to finally subdue Henri towards the end of the scene only to be put back in his place with Ducard’s ability to carve out a hole beneath Bruce’s feet to sink him into the frigid, icy waters. This part shows that Ducard is still the mentor and Bruce still has a lot to learn about his surroundings but also what it means to finally beat your enemies and leave no room for silly errors.

The scene ends with how much Ducard and Bruce have in common even though they barely know each other. They have both felt great anger in the loss of loved ones and how they grieve the same and how they understand the pain that drives them to exact vengeance against criminals like the ones who robbed them of their families. The scene ends with Henri’s warning to Bruce that “Your anger gives you great power but if you let it, it will destroy you as it almost did me.” Unlike Bruce though, Ducard could avenge his wife’s death but Bruce lives with the guilt that he could do what was necessary to avenge the murder of his beloved parents, which haunts him in this ending of the scene.

‘The Training’ scene in Batman Begins is exquisitely filmed, has excellent scenery, and really has different life lessons imbued in its powerful dialogue. The chemistry shows between Henri Ducard and Bruce Wayne is really authentic as a mentor-mentee relationship and this scene is the first one where you can see how their paths will diverge based on their differences in opinion regarding murder, vengeance and what really encompasses true justice for criminals. A must-watch scene as part of a must-watch movie. Check it out when you have the chance.

Thursday Night Lights

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Morumbi; São Paulo, Brazil

500 Years of Da Vinci

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: 500 Years of Da Vinci Exhibit; São Paulo, Brazil

Teotihuacan

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: San Juan Teotihuacan de Arista, México State, Mexico

‘Governing The World: The History of an Idea’ – Book Review

Governing the World: The History of an Idea by Mark Mazower is an illuminating and insightful history regarding the shaky yet continuous rise of internationalism that began with the Concert of Vienna in 1815. Mazower’s look at the emergence of global governance continues up until the wake of the Eurozone crisis with regards to the present needs of reforming the European Union in the wake of unpopular austerity measures and burdensome bureaucratic regulations from Brussels.

His book addresses ‘globalization’ different from previous books I’ve read in the past with regards to focus on ‘ideas’ themselves and the rise and fall of those ideas throughout the 19th and 20th centuries led by primarily politicians and philosophers such as Kant, Metternich, Mazzini, Marx, Lenin, Bentham, Wilson, the Roosevelts, etc. among many others who were driven in defining what the international system should look, act, and be like.

A consistent theme of this history of ideas and institutions from 1815 to about 2012 was how instrumental the ‘Great Powers’ in each era were in setting up the foundation of the international system whether it was the ‘Concert of Europe’, the ‘League of Nations’, or the ‘United Nations.’ In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I, II, the leading powers desired to create a ‘balance of power’ among the great nations yet whose actions could be backed up by a single hegemon such as the U.K., U.S. to set the rules and boost the institutions they founded. Mazower is clear in that the history of global governance evolved originally from the heart of Europe and then spread across the Atlantic as the title of global hegemon shifted from the U.K. to the U.S. with the emergence of Wilsonianism and the ‘fourteen points’ in the 1910s.

Whereas the origins of internationalism started out with a gentlemen’s agreement among the Great Powers of Europe to refrain from conquering each other in unending, bloody wars over territory based on religious and political aims, this shift has now ended up only two hundred years later encompassing the entire world over with 193-member states being represented from the People’s Republic of China to Tuvalu.

While the United Nations could be seen by some observers as a success story in terms of its inclusive nature and the ability for nations from around the world to have a voice regarding international issues, there are problems still today that plague the UN and its sister agencies and bodies. Whether it was how the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine could be implemented in different conflicts around the world with UN peacekeeping forces or the controversial over-usage of vetoes by the five permanent members of the Security Council to control the debate about their national self-interests, global governance increasingly mirrors national governance in being quite messy and imperfect.

Real questions remained in 2012 when this book was published and more so today regarding the vitality of the United Nations especially given the fact that the United States is responsible for 22 percent of the overall budget of the UN. In the 2nd half of the book, Mazower focuses on the differing approaches of various U.S. administrations towards the UN and how fundamentally the U.S. government, mostly during Republican administrations, were acting out of self-interest and would often go out of the way to create competing international bodies to marginalize the UN such as the IMF, the World Bank, and most recently the WTO. Often times, the U.S. has bypassed, ignored, threatened, and left UN bodies and have held themselves to a standard above those given to other member states which has caused a backlash among not only allies but also developing countries (see: International Court of Justice and U.S. nationals being exempted from its jurisdiction).

Similarly to how the League of Nations through the guise of British and French leadership failed to hold imperial ambitions in check between the World Wars, U.S. disengagement and disenchantment with the U.N. increasingly from the 1970s onwards and the rise of other ambitious states such as China, India, Brazil, etc. signals that there may be a shift towards a multipolar world where there is no true hegemon leading to more of a systemic anarchy within the international system in the near future.

By the end of Governing the World, Mazower sees serious needs for reform in not just the United Nations but also in the European Union, another leading international institution created during this period. Western-led international institutions are in real danger of losing relevancy, argues Mazower, due to a number of overlapping factors including rising political apathy, catering too heavily towards financial elites, and being unable to meet the lofty goals that they set for themselves. I didn’t even mention a resurgence in nationalism and populism around the world from Brazil to the Philippines, but you get the picture, right?

Much to the chagrin of internationalists, Mazower argues that the nation-state still remains the primary way for the average citizen around the world to receive or pay into ‘public goods’ so their attention will largely remain focused on what their President or Prime Minister is doing and not the UN Secretary-General or IMF Director. There are numerous challenges that face the international system currently and it remains to be seen whether the UN and numerous other bodies are ready to be able to tackle income inequality, climate change, financial crises, the threat of global pandemics in the rest of this tumultuous 21st century.

Overall, I thought it was refreshing to see his attention on the ‘Concert of Europe’ in Vienna and how he started this event as a jumping off point where leading powers would try to use regional and later international cooperation to prevent conflicts from emerging among nation-states. The lack of support given to bodies of ‘International Law’ remains as a consistent theme throughout this book and while ‘arbitration’ between nations was popular, it lost relevancy and hasn’t gained it back since.

Seeing ‘globalization’ through the ideas of influential thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Karl Marx to Henry Kissinger really paints a wholistic picture on how nation-states were driven by different belief and value systems. The clash between nations especially in the 20th century can be seen through the ideological lens (ex: Capitalism v. Communism). While I really enjoyed Mazower’s conclusion, I thought it could have been expanded upon a bit further especially with regards to the rise of private foundations, i.e. the Clintons, the Gates and other NGOs, and how that has affected larger institutional institutions which are now not as well funded. On that note, the chapters titled, “The Empire of Law” and “Science the Unifier” could have been shortened or condensed into one chapter. It took away from the timeline narrative of the book and didn’t relate well to the political history unfolding during the two centuries.

If you are looking for an interesting, comprehensive, yet digestible read regarding the tumultuous development of the international system over the past two centuries, then you will want to take a chance at reading Mr. Mazower’s Governing The World: The History of an Idea. The one question that we are left at the end of this over 400-page book is what will the international system look like for the rest of the 21st century? We shall have to wait to find out but there are numerous challenges and obstacles ahead.

‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

Carnaval!

 

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“A large crowd gathers to dance, listen to music, and enjoy the beginning of Carnaval 2016 here in Colombia.”

Carnaval Season here in Colombia has officially come and gone. Life here is starting to return to normalcy and I’m sure some of the locals are already beginning to count down to when Carnaval will be back in 2017. This was my first Carnaval ever and I can firmly say that it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. In addition to the festive parades and diverse costumes, there were also the live concerts, the neighborhood parties, and the street foods/drinks to add to the already festive atmosphere. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Barranquilla’s Carnaval this year but I still was able to enjoy myself by attending other parades, parties, and festivities in the Atlántico department.

The biggest highlight for me during the Carnaval celebrations was attending ‘La Gran Parada’ in one of the major towns located outside of Barranquilla. It was really cool to experience the parade from the seats and be able to enjoy a cold beverage and a warm snack while both the kids and adults danced, sang in their unique costumes as they came streaming down the main parade route.

Historically, Carnaval has been known as the main celebration associated with the Christian festive season that occurs before the period of Lent. There are many Carnaval festivals that happen around the world. The most famous one takes place in Rio de Janeiro, which attracts about a 1 million visitors to Brazil each year. Carnaval in Barranquilla is the 2nd largest in the world and brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists, partygoers as well. For those of us from the United States, we are more familiar with the Mardi Gras celebration and the infamous ‘Fat Tuesday’ which is also known for its size and scope of partying as well.

Before ‘Ash Wednesday’ and the beginning of Lent and the Easter season for Christians around the world, Carnaval represents a shedding of inhibitions, and an enjoyment of the pleasures in life. Some people see it as indulgent in heavy drinking, eating greasy foods, and fraternizing with the opposite sex but other people see it as a way to reconnect with their diverse culture, spending quality time with their family and friends, and enjoying a break from work and the daily grind. For my first Carnaval, I spent the festivities mainly meeting new people in my community, enjoying the company of new friends and my host family, and checking out the cool costumes and cultural dances that make up this very unique holiday.

I also had to deal with the tradition of young children and adults throwing great amounts of Maizena (corn starch) and white foam spray all over random strangers. It occurred multiple times where my clothes and my body, face would be covered with both substances during the festivities. Needless to say, I had to wash my clothes extra hard in order to get the cornstarch / spray out of my clothes and hair as best as I could. Besides getting messy, it was nice to drink a beer in public, eat some good food, watch the parade, and then reconnect with my fellow Peace Corps trainees later to celebrate together.

Carnaval was originally introduced to Colombia and Latin America from the Spaniards during the early days of the colonization hundreds of years ago. However, the celebration has evolved over hundreds of years to reflect the diversity in Colombian culture. In addition to European elements, Carnaval combines those traditions with those of the African, Amerindian indigenous cultures. It is a really interesting mix of cultures combined together and is reflected in the costumes, music, and dancing styles that are put on display in events like ‘La Gran Parada’ and ‘La Batalla de Flores.’ As for the types of music, they are various and diverse.

They include the popular Cumbia, Rumba, Vallenato, Reggaeton, Porro, Mapale, and African Congo music. Finally, it wouldn’t be Carnaval without the King and Queen of the festivities being anointed. For each town and city that is involved in the celebrations here in Carnaval, they must appoint a King and Queen to lead the main parade, to dance up a storm, and to wave to the partygoers in the stands. As far as I can tell in Colombia, being the King or Queen of Carnaval (Rey / Reina) is a huge honor and is very competitive between the young men and women vying for the title to represent their town or even the city of Barranquilla.

After experiencing my first Carnaval, it’s going to be difficult to top that kind of day party in the future. It truly was one of the best times I ever had in terms of celebrating a holiday. The only way I could top it in 2017 and beyond is if I was able to spend some free time and head to Barranquilla for the big kahuna there. I don’t know if it will be logistically possible but we’ll see what happens. If not, there’s always the biggest carnaval in Rio but that can wait until after I finish my Peace Corps service.