Restoring The Social Contract

“If everyone just decided to opt out, to not pay their share, to simply protect everything they have, not only would things generally decay quite quickly but the foundational trust that any society is built upon would crumble as well.”

When we are born, we start off with new responsibilities, commitments, or duties. We are purely helpless and rely on other people to assist us in everything from feeding ourselves to being clothed or to even how to be cleanly. Oftentimes, we rely on our first teachers and friends, our parents, to care for us. Of course, not everyone has the luxury to have both or one parent to care and nurture for them, which is why we rely on adoption, local and state services, and even foster care to make sure those who are young, vulnerable, and in need of care are provided for.

If you did not have parents around to guide and nurture you, it is likely that at one point or another, to prevent you from being hungry and homeless, you relied upon services provided by a local, state, or national government. In exchange for such services provided for in part or by whole by taxpayer funding, you would receive support as a child or teenager to receive public schooling, get publicly funded health care or subsidized health insurance to make it more affordable, and even food if you are able to get breakfast or lunch at no or low cost due to circumstances beyond your control. These different services, especially to the young, the poor, the homeless, or even the elderly are part of what I like to call the ‘social contract.’

By participating in the ‘social contract’, you receive certain necessities to live such as food, shelter, housing, and ideally, health care in exchange for later contributing back to the society either financially through taxes and even voluntarily through charitable donations, volunteering, or being active in the political process. The key thing to remember is that the better the taxpayer money is spent and the more accountable it is in those areas, the better those services will end up being.

Going back to the case of an orphaned or abandoned child, since their parent(s) were not there for them when they needed that love and care the most, who else should step in but society itself? Would it be better to abandon such a child to the streets or to an uncertain future to likely starve, to miss school, to be homeless, and to fall into despair or rather should we as a society remember that it could have been us in that situation as a child or a newborn and to ensure that the child will have the same opportunity or chance to succeed despite being born into uncertain circumstances?

Children or teenagers don’t pay taxes but by investing in them, we invest into the collective future of our society. Even if we use private health care, private schools, private roads, etc., the worse off the general society gets, everyone will be negatively affected by it even if those who are well off seek to shield them from such a deformed society. After using such services rather than not having had them at all, I find that it is much more likely that that child will grow a contributing adult to the general society rather than if we had not collectively invested in him or her at all.

Many such issues in adulthood involving joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse, higher likelihood of prison can be avoided if there are safeguards in place because a home without parents can lead to a slippery slope of lack of opportunities and an eventual grim future if society through our provided services funded by each of us does not help to fill in the gap.

Now, that does not mean that personal responsibility should not be accounted for, and each person should work hard to achieve their goals and pursue opportunities if they put the effort in. You can’t just be given these services and expect them to give you an easy life. You still must be able to finish your schooling, find work in your field, and become part of the large pot of contributions that keep our society running. If everyone just decided to opt out, to not pay their share, to simply protect everything they have, not only would things generally decay quite quickly but the foundational trust that any society is built upon would crumble as well.

Any well-run society in any country always has two fundamental pillars going for it: accountability and trust. If you only have one and not the other, the society will be on shaky ground and be deteriorating in the other area after a while. If you lose both, the society will generally collapse until it can be built again after re-establishing at least one of these two fundamental tenets after it has taken hold in the general population again. Advanced societies are inherently fragile because if you can’t be held accountability regarding why certain services are not given when you believe you are paying a lot into the society and feel like you’re not getting much back in return that you can see, feel, touch, or enjoy, then there is a big issue at hand.

If there is no accountability given on behalf of those who provide such services like health, housing, defense, basic services such as water, energy, or even food production, then people will become increasingly distrustful of each other and seek to provide those services themselves outside of the state or society or focus on only having private means of acquiring such services, which due to the profit motive, may leave part of the society out in the dust if they cannot afford the private services and there are no public ones available as a substitute.

As U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. once said about the means of taxation, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” As much as people will complain about their taxes, if we don’t have them, how else would we provide for clean water, clean air, reliable energy, good schools, safe streets, plentiful hospitals, etc.? The key idea to keep in mind is that if we don’t see our taxes going to these areas that improve upon society or advance it further for the well-being of the population, then there is a lack of accountability there that should be rectified.

Waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money is a serious offense and so is an inability to break down for the taxpayer where their money goes to fund local, state, and national services year after year. Collectively, there should be a role in taxpayers demanding accountability from those in power to know where are taxpayer money is going, how can we make it more responsive to societal needs, and are we reaching enough of the population to justify the level of taxes we incur?

While it is seriously unlikely, we ever get a full accounting of where our tax money goes individually, it would improve the trust and accountability tenets of society to know which percentage of our taxes are spent on health care, housing, safety, defense, education, etc. and if we have that general idea, I do believe there would be more transparency to change those percentages at least at a local, state, or even national level to be more befitting with the priorities of the general public.

If we see that millions of people do not have access to public or private health care, perhaps our societal priorities can change to accommodate for that in the general contract. If we believe that economically, our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and public transit are not enough to compete in the 21st century, that should change the calculations. If our schools are crumbling, our teachers are underpaid, and the schoolchildren with parents or no parents are growing hungry there because there is no free lunch or breakfast accommodated for, that should change the calculations.

These are all good examples of how our general societal contract can be expanded and adapted to. Everybody, regardless of their social class or economic upbringing should have basic dignity afforded to them. I believe that social contract needs to be upheld especially if we are paying into it but not getting enough out of it in exchange. When health care, housing, food, and even school are considered luxuries rather than necessities, that contract is fraying and needs to be strengthened.

If our society becomes complacent and does not allow for such public services including health care and housing to care for all, either it will be privatized or it will vanish from being accounted for. We should begin to account for the societal contract where if you work hard, play by the rules, pay your share, and invest back into your community and country, you should get back what you put in especially if you need a leg up when you fall on hard times. Public necessities like education, health care, housing, and good public transit should not at all be considered luxuries.

We should believe it to be absolutely absurd to hear about people with two jobs not able to afford housing, two hard working parents not able to afford to send their children to publicly funded colleges and universities, or even going bankrupt because you have taken on too much medical debt. The societal contract we pay into and hope to receive back in return is fraying when that becomes not only common place in the society but accepted by the population. There should be push back in terms of accepting that kind of contract, which has to be either rewritten or redone entirely.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech on January 6th, 1941, titled the “Four Freedoms” speech. It addressed what should be what we would consider common sense for a social contract to be based on but during the era of Nazism, fascism, and totalitarianism on the march, it was a key historic event where he lined out what people around the world regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, and background should be born with. They are the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Without addressing the whole of human needs from birth, Roosevelt argued that the general society in the United States and in countries around the globe would be worse off.

While FDR did not specifically mention health care, housing, education, or infrastructure in his speech, it can be inferred that economic security made up the ‘freedom from want’ part of the four freedoms. If we do not have a roof over our head, food in our belly, medicine, and care when we get sick, or school / work to give us opportunities to afford such needs as we age then general insecurity and the society itself will fray as a result.

Roosevelt understood that if the social contract does not include the four freedoms or the additional needs encompassed within these four freedoms of humanity, then our societies and the world at large will fall victim to another war, another depression, or general malaise and misery. FDR may have given this speech on the ‘Four Freedoms’ over eighty years ago but his words and his call to action remain as ever necessary in our society today. If there is a child without parents, we must be there to provide and care for his or her future, if a teenager can’t find work, we must provide that community college or technical education to give him an opportunity to succeed, and if that man or woman can’t find a way to get health care when they get sick and are in between jobs, we must step in to fill the void.

Simply put, the social contract is what we decide it is if we work together and find common ground on where it’s lacking based on what we pay into it and how we implement it to see the benefits of what comes out the other end. There is no doubt in my view that the four freedoms of FDR should be upheld and strengthened, especially around economic security or the ‘freedom from want’, which would eventually ensure that more and more of the general population would have the means to pursue their dreams, to be better able to succeed, thrive, and live their lives to the fullest extent.

Don’t Rely on Others for Your Happiness

“Happiness is fleeting, comes and goes, and can come from a variety of sources, sometimes unexpectedly. I want you to be sure, dear reader, that you can diversify your happiness as much as possible.”

It’s important that I give my readers a little bit of tough love every now and then. I don’t do it to be negative but to give some advice that may help you out in the future. You can think I am wrong on this one, but I’ll be sure to defend where I’m coming from here. ‘Don’t Rely on Others for Your Happiness’ is what I am wanting to get across to you if nothing else. Happiness is fleeting, comes and goes, and can come from a variety of sources, sometimes unexpectedly. I want you to be sure, dear reader, that you can diversify your happiness as much as possible.

To put it simply, you need to be always cultivating both your internal happiness as well as your external happiness. You cannot have one form of happiness without the other and you should be continually trying to exercise both forms of happiness when you can. Happiness must be experienced, and it can be a futile emotion to pursue. It comes naturally to us, often when we least expect it, and can come from both within us and from those around us. Being happy because someone made you smile, someone made you loved, or even someone made you laugh is just as important as being happy from your own accomplishment(s), your own spirituality, and by being around the right environment.

In my view, happiness should be experienced both internally and externally. It can also be a bit of a balancing act but to neglect your own internal happiness especially or the ability to create your own happiness without others’ input is a key trait that you should always have available to you. If other people can give you happiness and then take it away just as easily without you being able to create that happiness that they took away, then you’re going to be in trouble in terms of your emotional state. Depending on another person or even another thing for all your happiness is a recipe for disaster.

It can be invigorating at first for someone to add on to your happiness by leaps and bounds. You never knew perhaps that you could be that happy or feel as happy as often. You’re basically on ‘cloud nine’ and you owe it to someone else. This can be an emotional kind of apex that gives your life that much more enjoyment and contentedness. While this kind of life event whether it’s a new relationship, a new friendship, or even a new role in society that others rely on you before, it should not take away from your own way to generate happiness internally.

I don’t discourage you from maximizing your happiness but if you rely on someone else such as a lover, a friend, a family member, etc. for all your happiness to be generated then that can lead to a very negative place. You should remember that if someone can give you all your happiness and heighten it to a new level; they can easily take it away just as fast and leave you without any of that emotion left if you let yourself be wrapped up in their adoration, love, or friendship. What I encourage you to remember is that it is good to be happy from what others share with you and what they help you enjoy about life, but don’t let yourself be at the whim of their ability to give you happiness…or not at all.

Always keep some of your own happiness in a personal reserve that cannot be taken away from anyone else regardless of what they mean to you personally. While external validation, love, and warmth is beautiful to enjoy, you should let it be the end all be all your emotional state. It is vital to look within yourself to generate your own happiness even if it comes less often to you or is as not as intense or long-lasting as that external kind of happiness. Internal happiness tends to take discipline, patience, and even action on your own part. It is often not given to you like external happiness but must be done by your own self without any support or encouragement.

When it comes to creating your own happiness, look to yourself to find joy and pleasure in other ways whether it’s a stroll in nature, a goal you’re seeking to accomplish, a new place to travel to and enjoy, or even being able to manage your life well by cleaning your place or by eating healthy. The better you take care of yourself, the happier you’ll be as a result. It’s important to not neglect yourself in your pursuit of happiness externally. Some of the best gratification and contentedness can come from reaching your own goals, having your own unique experiences, or having your own accomplishments that you achieved through hard work and effort.

If you are not able to generate your own feelings of happiness, it is going to be much harder to have external happiness from others as well. If you are not able to laugh, to dance, to celebrate, to enjoy, etc. without it being done with another person by your side, then that is a slippery slope towards not having any happiness at all. While it is great to having both internal and external happiness come together, if you cannot have your own internal happiness first, there is no way in my view for you to have the external happiness to come next. Forming some internal happiness first is the key step to being able to share in being happy with others.

You also should not look to become a total hermit and only take in happiness internally. It is good to share moments of happiness with other people so make sure to get out there once you have that sense of your own happiness that can be generated on your own to seek that external validation within reason to make your life even more content and joyful. To conclude, it does no good for you to have one without the other when it comes to happiness so make sure you work on cultivating both internal and external happiness but if you can only choose one that comes first, make sure you don’t rely on others for your happiness alone and to start with your internal sense of what it means to be happy first.

‘A Serious Man’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.”

Man can be tested again and again but how exactly he deals with life’s challenges and his overall resolve and mettle will be seen as the measure of his true character. If I had to sum up the excellent movie, ‘A Serious Man’, it is a dark comedy but also a human drama regarding fate, fortune, and whether the role of a higher being can ultimately affect our destiny. Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.

‘A Serious Man’ (2009) is an excellent modern-day film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who I would imagine have had a similar childhood to the lead character of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), which is the inspiration for this adapted screenplay, which is brilliantly written and relatable even if you’re not of the Jewish faith. The Coen Brothers both were raised and grew up as Jews in 1960s – 1970s Minnesota near the Twin Cities. It is likely they had to deal with being religious minorities in a mostly goyim (non-Jewish state) as well as with the growing counterculture and changing attitudes towards parental authority, sex, style, personal responsibility, and other societal upheavals including regarding race, gender, and politics.

While the Coen Brothers have had successful movies before and have won Academy Awards for movies such as ‘No Country for Old Men’, this film, ‘A Serious Man’ is quite unique given that it combines both comedic and dramatic elements, usually in the same scene. Overall, it triumphs as a film in doing that and is also laugh-out-loud funny and additionally heart-wrenchingly sad and melancholic. This film was universally praised and as I re-watched the film again after many years, it stands as one of the best films of the 2000s. Not only is the screenplay and writing engaging and insightful but also the acting is top notch thanks to the hard work of Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, among others in the film.

When you consider the main themes of ‘A Serious Man’, you think of several of them that deal with human nature such as upholding your morality under stress, taking care of those closest to you, dealing with adversity and unforeseen hurdles, and how to deal with questions of faith when you feel that you have been abandoned. As I mentioned earlier on, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants to be taken seriously given the way he has lived his life and he has strived to do so with his academic and professional accomplishments. Sadly though, he is not only not able to get as much success with his professional pursuits, but he also struggles to hold his personal life together.

Despite how ‘serious’ of a man Larry thinks he is, those in his life can’t help but not take him seriously or choose not to. Instead of reassessing his actions and trying to make some behavioral changes or work on any personal defects he may has in addressing his challenges, Larry instead challenges his faith in God and wonders if the Rabbis of his synagogue will have the answers to the questions God has challenged Larry with.

As the film starts out, Larry appears to be relatively successful as a Physics professor waiting to be tenured. He teaches his classes, does research (albeit has not published anything), and enjoys the work he does. Larry is married with two teenage children and a modest house in the suburbs. Him and his family want for nothing, and it looks like he has everything you could want out of life on the surface.

As appearances can be deceiving, the film breaks down how one man’s life can be turned upside down and inferring what events beyond Larry’s control could have tipped his fortune to be negative, as in a curse, years or centuries ago. It is a series of events that tend to turn Larry’s life upside down even when he has not done anything wrong. A Korean student in his Physics class tries to bribe Larry to get a better grade and leaves before Larry can return the money and punish him for the illegal act.

Larry also comes home to his wife, Judith, who asks him for a divorce and for a ‘gett’ or permission to do so she can remarry within the faith to Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed) who everyone takes seriously as a ‘Serious Man’ except for Larry. Larry is envious of Sy to some degree and feels like he has everything given to him whereas Larry has had to work hard for his success. Suddenly, ‘the domino effect’ of one negative event after another happens including Larry losing his home, access to his bank accounts, his marriage, and even his relationship to his teenage children become estranged.

This string of unfortunate events has Larry looking to cast judgment on God and questioning his faith in Judaism. Larry goes to three different rabbis whose advice and counsel does not help him any further. He cannot relate to what they tell them especially as the eldest, he considers to be too unavailable or unwilling and the youngest rabbi being too inexperienced or immature, who end up wasting his time. The 2nd and wisest rabbi give him the advice through an allegory, that while fictional, has a good message to it ends up helping Larry the most that God can only provide the questions, but you must find your own answers. The best way the 2nd rabbi implies to Larry is that he must “help himself by helping others.”

Essentially, Larry Gopnik must look beyond his own pain and selfish wants and look to control what he can and do what he can to get his life back on track. Larry can also do ‘mitzvahs’ especially regarding his own family. Larry’s younger brother, Arthur, is homeless and not mentally sound so Larry tries to get him on his feet but struggles to find the money or the resources to help his brother with his many troubles. He still attempts to maintain better relations with his kids, his soon to be ex-wife, and with his work colleagues. Without spoiling the rest of the movie, Larry understands that he must look to help others rather than looking to God to intervene. While ‘The Boss’ is present to give questions, the answers must come from within.

How Larry stands up to challenges and adversity is like the Torah’s stories about men like Job and Jonah who had their lives thrown into upheaval but were able to get over the anguish by holding true to their faith in God but looking inwards in their own strength, knowledge, and belief in morality and good will to make it through on the other side better than before. Life throws challenges at us every day and how we react to them and try to get through it with our God-given wisdom, kindness, compassion, patience, and reasoning will decide how far we can proceed in life to get back to being successful. Fortune is not everlasting, and faith will not provide good fortune. What can provide good fortune is to do your best, help yourself and others around you, and look to your own inner beliefs and values to guide you through the tough times.

‘A Serious Man’ is about a man who considers himself to be serious but has to struggle for others to call him ‘serious.’ In an effort to be taken seriously, Larry does end up struggling to fulfill the other important parts of his life that require his attention. He can forget to be loving and caring to his wife, attentive and helpful to his children, and more involved within the Jewish community including at his son’s Hebrew school. Larry is not a bad man but the cracks in his life cause some bad events to happen including events for which there is no logical explanation. Larry does his best to be a good man and although he is flawed, bad things happen out of nowhere to him.

The test throughout this excellent film is how do you claw back from adversity and try to give yourself the best shot at having good things happen in your life. Even if your family may appear to be cursed or have a string of bad fortune dating back to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, how do you turn it around so your son or your daughter don’t deal with the same tragedies and setbacks? There are no easy answers in ‘A Serious Man’ but the Coen Brothers make it clear that it is not wise to look to God to solve the problems for you or provide the answers.

The central message of this film is not just for Jews but for all people. God may have provided life’s questions for you to answer but it’s up to you alone to answer them throughout your life. While you may lose faith in hose providing counsel or advice or in the religion itself, the film makes clear that you have to believe in yourself, to help yourself pull through the pain and sorrow, and to help other people, especially the family and friends closest to you, who are going through tough times as well, whose aid and assistance you can provide may be able to help you get to the right direction in life again and to lead you to a better place than you were before.

Don’t Let Little Transgressions Become Big Issues

“I would also extend to calling out those transgressions where someone is trying to take advantage of you or doing something illegal or unjust when they know it’s wrong but refuse to do anything about it.”

It can be difficult to step in when it comes to witnessing someone commit a transgression, which goes against societal norms and values. A transgression is an act, often small or basic in nature, that goes against a rule, law, code of conduct and causes offense to others in the society. While you may witness these transgressions as a bystander, you have it within your rights to call it out when you see it within reason. While I am not an advocate for self-policing and calling out random strangers for bad behavior, I do believe that it should be allowed especially in matters of public health and/or safety.

I would also extend to calling out those transgressions where someone is trying to take advantage of you or doing something illegal or unjust when they know it’s wrong but refuse to do anything about it. To give you some basic examples, if you are living in a city or a town and see somebody littering or throwing trash on the ground in front of you, I believe it’s worth calling them out for doing it because your tax dollars are going towards maintaining the cleanliness of your community and for hiring those local employees who help keep the streets clean.

The person causing the offense must be held accountable or at least giving a stern reprimand because while they may think they get away with it, everybody including yourself witnessing it is paying for it in extra tax money or effort to pick that trash up later. When you call out a transgression, be stern, make your point, and move on. It does not do any good to escalate directly with that person since you’re not enforcing the law yourself as your duty but rather express your concern as an ordinary citizen.

Other transgressions that come to mind include not picking up after your pet when they do their daily business, which you should call the person out for if you witness it and to report it after privately if you know where the transgression occurred. Also, another increasingly common one in certain cities is to see a group or a few individuals shoplifting and if you see this serious transgression, let a store person know to apprehend them or even call the police who can catch the individuals if the store or place has cameras.

You must keep your eye out for these kinds of transgressions because if there are no consequences for acts like littering, trespassing, not picking up after your pet, shoplifting, etc. which can result in heavy fines and even mandatory community service, those offenders will feel more emboldened to continue doing so and even commit even more violations of the laws and rules that our society is built on. If some people are abusing these basic morals and values with their transgressions, no matter how small they are, they must be held accountable for them in some form or another.

Think of our society as pillars holding the foundation together that binds us all under the same rules, laws, regulations no matter who we are. When one of those pillars starts to falter, in this case, being when little transgressions go without reprimand or punishment, it can start to crumble the entire foundation and weaken the other pillars as well. When these violators cause infractions and don’t get a stern slap on the wrist or a scolding at least, then they will be emboldened to do it again or even commit worse offenses, which we should be mindful of as a society.

The COVID-19 pandemic made me think about these small transgressions especially when you’re abiding by a mandate on public transportation, for example, and others refuse to abide by the mandate, and for which is not being enforced. When you follow the temporary mandate especially in a bus or on a train and others don’t, it does create a sense of entitlement to for those people who think they are above the rules and that the mandate should not apply to them even when it is a ‘mandate.’ I often ignored those people who would not abide by the mandate but there was one instance where I had to say something when the only people not wearing a face mask on the bus were sitting next to me and it was an entire family. They were oblivious to the fact that everyone else on the bus had a mask on at the time and even the driver had one on. This was before the vaccines were being distributed.

I would rather the bus driver had enforced the mandate himself but if you’re sitting next to me without a mask and I’m abiding by it, I don’t want my health to be put at risk by your lack of acquiescence. It was the only time I spoke out about it to a group of people as it puts you in an awkward spot but when it comes to public health, mask mandates on a bus, train, or a plane at the time should be the same for everybody especially when 90-95% care enough to abide by the temporary measure.

Unfortunately, those who impose the mandates are not able or willing to enforce them, which is doubly annoying for those people who abided by them each time and yet had to see other people flaunt the rules like it was no big deal without being held accountable for it. This kind of transgression is particularly disturbing when you realize that it could have public health consequences and those who set up such a mandate to begin with lacked the follow through or the care to enforce such a mandate making it rather useless and abusable.

Another transgression I’ve noticed is some people jumping the fare gate at the metro system or going in right behind someone who has paid their fare ahead of them and not paying it because they sneak in before the gate closes. That situation happened to me as I paid my fare to enter the metro station and go down to the train like any usual trip and there was a young guy behind me who bumped up right behind me and invaded my personal space. I noticed he came in right behind as I paid the fare and the gate opened for me. I also noted how he didn’t pay the fare since he wanted to use mine without paying his own way. I was mad about this to the point that I sternly reprimanded him and told him that he was abusing the system by not paying his fare like the rest of us.

He made a lame excuse in saying that he was in a rush and had to catch the next train. I kept my cool but informed him sternly that was not an excuse to not pay his fare and that some of us pay taxes and the fares each time to keep the system running well. The offender didn’t get it, of course, and weaseled his way onto the next train and I kept my distance from him. Sadly, he is a violator of the metro system like others who feel like they can jump the gate or not pay by bumping up against someone like me who pays each time.

These hooligans who do it unfortunately don’t get fined or reprimanded by the metro system officials very often, if at all, which is quite unfortunate and even detrimental to the larger society. When fare-beaters and anti-maskers get away with breaking the rules without consequences, it makes the rest of us sad that we are carrying all the weight for them, and they are mooching off the system based on mutual trust, benefit, and adherence.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, the rules and laws are meant for everyone and when the smaller ones are abused or not followed, these transgressions can lead to bigger issues in the general society. It leads to a lack of trust, a breakdown in norms, and an inability to keep track of how many people are abusing the basic laws and standards that keep the society running well. It erodes the pillars over time that keep the foundation of our shared society afloat. I’m not arguing for self-policing since that tends to not solve anything, but we need stricter enforcement for everyone to avoid these little transgressions, so they don’t lead to bigger problems that form later for all of us when the accountability and transparency is gone.

A Life Well Lived According to Emerson

“Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.”

Whenever I am looking for inspiration in my own life whether it comes to how to develop myself professionally or to be better on a personal level with others, I like to refer to the excellent quote on success and on a well-lived life by American essayist, philosopher, abolitionist, and 19th century transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.

Emerson saw success and life itself as leaving the world a little better than when you found it. He believed in the importance of caring for nature, of having good relationships with other people, of honing your craft professionally in whatever you were passionate about, and of caring for family or friends who could rely upon your kindness and care. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been a favorite of mine because while it was a conventional means of measuring a life well lived or a ‘successful’ life in the 19th century; I believe that too often today, we measure a ‘good life’ in shallow and often selfish ways.

In the era of the transcendentalist movement, there was much more to life than accruing things for material worth, or showing off how much money you had, or thinking that because you have more you are then better than someone else. On the contrary, Emerson and other thinkers of that movement believed in progressive ideals of equality, justice, and fairness. They believed in giving back to others in whatever way was possible and to do so consistently. While it was not a religious movement, it was based around individual actions to help a larger community or society.

It did not shun personal success or individual wants or needs as being unnecessary, but it asked people to believe in the power of working together to a common goal or cause, treating your fellow man or women with respect, fairness, and dignity, and to believe in giving back through charity, through helping others, and to be of good character not just in words but in actual deeds. Emerson like others were idealists and believed in the goodness of humanity despite the dark impulses that can lead us astray. While we are unique individuals of free will, we must never forget to care for our family or our friends, or nature itself which is gift not to be squandered.

The actual quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a long yet impactful one that touches on many different parts of one’s success in life that must not be ignored. When most people define success in a singular manner and often involving their own joy and happiness, Emerson does quite the contrary by arguing that success or a good life is based on how we leave the world after we depart from the Earth and what do we do in life to leave those around us better off than they were before. Above all else, Emerson asks the reader to imagine how they can impact the world in their own way for the betterment of not just themselves but for others as well and humanity.

In the quote, he does not ignore our hierarchy of mental needs such as the need to be respected by others, to laugh often with friends, to be appreciated for what we do, to be able to overcome adversity such as suffering betrayal, which is inevitable at points in our lives but to also appreciate the beauty around us because it is temporary in life as well. Fulfilling that life well lived according to Emerson is not just about being there for others but also being there for ourselves mentally by having our emotional needs met and fulfilled with joy, happiness, laughter, kindness, respect, and overcoming negative emotions such as betrayal and deceit.

“What is success?…
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you look at this memorable quote from Emerson, he prioritizes in life partaking in individual joy in the form of laughter most importantly. He also indicates the need to be respected by other people especially who you choose to associate with as being intelligent either emotionally or figuratively. He also discusses the need to be compassionate towards children, whether they are your own or not. Knowing that critics are inevitable in various avenues of life, Emerson seeks that any individual appreciate the critics who are honest about him or her and asks the reader of the quote to be mindful of those who want you to improve and to try to do right by them in becoming better at what you do.

Emerson also asks that while some friends are necessary to have in life; we must be prepared for betrayals that can occur from those who you thought were friends but were rather only looking out for themselves. Even though others, even friends and family members will let us down at times, we should still seek to see the good in others and to try to get the best out of everyone we meet. Human beings are fallible creatures, Emerson would say, but we should try to look for signs of redemption and efforts of good faith because people deserve to show you that they have good in them, and they can rectify their wrong doings often when they are given a real chance.

Despite facing inevitable criticism, betrayal, and disappointments throughout life, we must stop and take time to appreciate life itself for all its natural beauty. It will calm us down, put our lives in perspective, and think of a world much bigger than our own internal musings. Because of the sheer beauty surrounding us that we can often fail to fully appreciate, this divine beauty should inspire us to be caretakers of this world that we inherited at our birth and to be true guardians of the planet for the next generations. He includes in his musings on success in life to include leaving the world ‘a bit better.’ As individuals, we can only do so much for the state of the world, but if we all pitch in to do our part, that will cause massive change to occur on a societal and global level.

Leaving the world, a bit better is not just about recycling or not littering or being aware of how you’re affecting the natural world with consumption but it’s also about beautifying the world too. Whether it is cleaning a park littered with trash or creating a garden patch for others to enjoy or deciding to walk instead of driving a car, little actions like these by individuals can leave the world better off than before. I saw this kind of contagious effect working with others as a volunteer lately in helping to create a new vegetable and flower garden for a youth center in Washington, DC. Getting your hands dirty, beautifying a small part of the neighborhood, and having others pitch in to help is one of the best feelings one can have in life. It’s not often in our lives when we get to see a positive change happen in real life but creating a garden or even beautifying a park has a large ‘ripple effect’ that can change the world for the better even if it is on a small scale.

Emerson lasts mentions that if you have a child or care for one in your custody that to ensure their health and happiness is one of the great joys of living and contributes to improving the world in a measurable way. Giving back to nature and to other people is a consistent theme in this quote by Emerson and to redeem a societal condition such as creating a garden, raising a child, or being a mentor to a friend who needs your help will not only be doing good for you but for others as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson finishes his quote to sum up success in life and having a good life as coming down to fundamentally whether because you lived, did others live easier because of your presence? Was someone or something healthier, happier, or more fulfilled because you were there? These are important questions to ask yourself. In your life, are you just in it for the fame, fortune, and your own personal gratification? Or are you living your life to leave a legacy that can do some good in the world in some measurable way?

Emerson never mentions personal gratification such as having a lot of money or being popular as keys to a life well-lived and I agree with him. Emerson prioritizes the fact that after we depart from this Earth, what will we be remembered by? What contribution to others and our society did we make? Are people in our lives better or worse off because of your existence? That is what true ‘success’ means in the long-run and that a life well-lived should be based around. I hope that you take this excellent quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to heart as I have. It’s a brilliant piece of wisdom that gives each of us steps to make the most of our remaining days on this Earth. Let the joy, laughter, beauty, conscientiousness, and unselfishness among other characteristics that he mentions as being the keys to a life well-lived guide you in all your days here.

Greed Is Not Good

“My hope is that the ethos paraded in popular culture and media of ‘Greed is good’ first popularized back in 1987 by the fictional character on Wall Street known as Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) will die out and be replaced by a different ethos.”

The ethos of an era or a generation usually spans about 40-50 years. I think we are living in a time of great upheaval obviously due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to the economic and social disruptions that occur as a result. What was thought to be as acceptable before the pandemic will likely draw condemnation and pushback after the pandemic. My hope is that the ethos paraded in popular culture and media of ‘Greed is good’ first popularized back in 1987 by the fictional character on Wall Street known as Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) will die out and be replaced by a different ethos.

I’m not sure exactly what that new ethos will become but I do fervently hope that it will push back on the notion of greed being good at all but rather a detriment to the wider society. This new ethos in the 2020s and beyond will hopefully not prioritize the pursuit of money and fame above all else but rather the pursuit of kindness, caring for others, and leaving the world better than we found it.

While Gordon Gekko is just a fictional villain and the movie ‘Wall Street’ fictional in nature, there are examples throughout our society where people actually believe the ethos of ‘greed is good’ and actively pursue it in different ways without understanding or caring about the repercussions.

I’ll give a few examples that are not from 1987 or even earlier in the 1980s but from 2020: A college admissions scandal which involved bribery so the children of well-to-do families could get into prestigious colleges without earning their admissions, Multiple U.S. Senators caught red-handed doing insider trading to profit off of a pandemic and then not admitting their wrong doing, and large firms receiving loans they likely don’t need while they use that money for stock buybacks rather than investing in the solvency of their workers during the height of this unemployment crisis.

These are just three examples of this hopefully dying ethos of ‘greed is good’ but the problem still is that these kinds of practices, while they are being condemned, they are not being cracked down hard enough and the laws have not been changed enough to prevent future misdeeds. When you have an economy that protects high income inequality, lopsided CEO-to-worker compensation ratios, and a consistent hesitancy to guarantee collective bargaining rates for employees and an ability to raise wages to livable levels, that shows that ‘greed is good’ is still a predominant ideology that is hurting the average person.

The stock market may hit all-time highs but that is good news only for those who actually own stocks and that number is only over half of Americans whereas the gains of the stock market are only truly felt by the Top 10% of income earners. The previous financial crisis of 2007-2009 showed the world how ‘greed is good’ can cause companies to go bankrupt, houses to be foreclosed, and businesses to be shuttered, while no CEO who was responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis actually went to jail. The bonuses continued to flow, and the banking system maintained its solvency, but unemployment and inequality grew for the next few years with both now increasing in 2020 even while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 30k for the first time.

I should state clearly that I am not against people going into business, try to make money for themselves to feed themselves and their families, and enjoying the fruits of their labor. However, when people are caught being greedy and harming others in the process as which continues to happen, there need to be harsh consequences and changes to the law. As Theodore Roosevelt knew as President, corporate oligopolies need to be reined in, broken up, and held accountable. Gilded ages may be good for the few, but they lead to disaster for the many. In this pandemic, many billionaires have seen their net worth skyrocket and their stock prices increase but at the same time, you have millions of people jobless, homeless, and in food lines often for the first time in their lives.

The ethos of a culture has to push back against this kind of greed and ignorance. It starts with condemning the actions of those who don’t play by the rules, won’t change the rules to be fairer, and who go out of their way to make life difficult and unfair for others trying to succeed. It also means calling out those people who refuse to pay taxes, use offshore tax laws to park their money elsewhere, and whose companies don’t pay a time in actual taxes while other parts of society suffer. Not only should these practices be condemned but they should be made illegal as well.

Social trust, belief in the goodness of others, and the willingness to do what’s right suffers when greed is pursued #1 above all else. The past thirty years have shown this to be true as the increased financialization of the economy as a whole, loose regulations, increased corporate influence and money in government have all atrophied our system to where we are dealing with serious labor, environmental, and employment concerns.

Not everybody who has earned a lot of money is greedy, but they have a role in helping to make the system fairer by abiding by the rules and respecting the fact that they do have a role in allowing others to have their chance to be successful. You can’t climb up the ladder and then pull it out from under you when you get there. Others who are not greedy but do well for themselves have to remember that they have a responsibility to hold those in power and those who have immense wealth in check to be consistently vigilant that they are not flouting the rules or if the rules don’t exist yet, perhaps they should be incorporated to combat unrestrained greed.

There will always be some kind of inequality and differences in outcomes in a capitalist system but there are clear signs to tell when that inequality has gotten out of control, when greed has become too prominent, and when justice or basic fairness has taken a back seat. Greed is not good, and it should be one of the guiding ethos of the next generation. Being a success, working hard for that success, and spreading that success around so others have a good shot at it is a much better philosophy to embody. What’s good for you is not always good for others. It is important that those with immense wealth or power understand that they too live in a society and there are certain duties and obligations that we have to one another.

Knowing when enough is enough, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and knowing when things have gone sideways and need to be fixed, those are all key components on pushing back against the ‘greed is good’ ethos, which has had its prominence over the past four decades. Greed can harm others, do tremendous damage, and atrophy the bonds of trust in our society. It is important that we never forget these facts and to fight against it as much as we can in our lives, both personally and professionally.  

The Value of Self-Awareness

“Having self-awareness shows that you also have the right personal values that will make it easier for you to get ahead in life in terms of your character.”

Self-awareness is a key character trait that will improve your relationships with others and also improve your relationship with yourself. Having self-awareness shows that you also have the right personal values that will make it easier for you to get ahead in life in terms of your character. Achieving self-awareness takes a number of traits to embody such as showing wisdom by working to understand yourself and your own actions. You have to understand how your actions affect others, both positively and negatively, and to also take responsibility for those actions in both cases.

Beyond wisdom, you have to be honest about what you are capable of and what you need help with including your abilities at work or at school. You want to be able to keep your ego in check and to know your own limits but to be able to work on pushing those limits. This is also a key part of having self-awareness. There are key differences between being confident and being cocky and a self-aware person knows the differences between the two traits. You should show confidence but know how that confidence is coming across to others and to be open to receive feedback even when it can be critical at times.

A confident person knows their strengths but also knows their weaknesses and will make those traits aware so that others know what you can do and what you cannot do. Being aware of those strengths and weaknesses will make you humbler and more open to learn from others. Admitting to others that you have weaknesses and that you have strengths openly will garner respect and help from people who will know that you are not perfect and that you always have things to work on to be better and to do better.

Humility and self-awareness go hand in hand too. Being self-aware means owning up to your failures and shortcomings and not blaming others for them. Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions is a key part of being self-aware. You applaud and recognize other people and do not take all of the credit yourself, which is what happens most often in life that you cannot take sole credit for an accomplishment, but with which is achieved through the mentorship and support of others. Showing humility and being humble are key parts of being self-aware and having that personality trait be made known to others through your actions and your words.

A self-aware person can exercise wisdom, be honest, show confidence without being cocky, and displaying humble actions and words to get others to support you and be a friend to you. Arrogance, dismissiveness, immaturity, and dishonesty all show a lack of self-awareness and I would argue that not being straightforward and direct with people will often hurt you in the long run because they will not know where you stand. Being able to self-reflect and look inward to what you did and why you did it will help you to become more self-aware in retrospect even if you do not practice self-awareness in the moment. Ideally, you would like to be self-aware at all times but if you are not self-aware at the present moment, at the least, you should try to be self-aware about the past for better or for worse.

Self-awareness and self-reflection go hand in hand so you must be able to so some self-reflection in order to be fully self-aware. Actions speak louder than words, so you need to make sure that the actions you take offer some space for some self-reflection afterwards. It’s critical that you know how to practice self-awareness in your actions, and I would like to give a few examples below.

Self-awareness in practice means also knowing how to apologize and being aware of your actions when they have caused harm or anguish. If you do not say ‘sorry’ or give an apology, it means you have a lack of self-awareness and other people may not want to be around you knowing that you do not take accountability for your actions. On the other hand, you do not want to react with anger or other strong emotions in order to get what you want. Remaining calm, cool, and collected is much needed as well when dealing with others. You should not ever be insulting them when they give you some feedback that you may not want to hear but it’s in your best interest to take it into consideration.

As mentioned earlier, you should not pretend to be a know-it-all and you should be self-aware to know the limits of your knowledge as well as your skillset. In life, you should not be afraid to reach out to others for advice, counsel, mentorship, or for them to teach you things whether that is a new language, a job skill, or a sport. You will never be the expert on everything, and it is not wise to pretend you know everything as that will cause other people to see that you are arrogant and too egotistical.

Being honest and direct with others should be done politely and tactfully. It is better for others to know where you stand than for them to be guessing where your head and heart are at a lot of the time. The feedback that you give should be genuine and the feedback that you receive from others should be taken into consideration even if you don’t agree with it. Being defensive, attacking the person who criticized you, or getting too emotional about it will look bad in the eyes of others and hurt your ability to work with other people.

A self-aware person knows where and when they need help, how they can become a better person, or always striving to be as empathetic as possible. You should want to put others in your shoes and vice versa to be emotionally in tune with other people (related to having a high level of emotional intelligence). Above all else, you want to stay true to yourself, to your family and friends, as well as knowing what your core values and principles are in life. You should always put yourself on the path to succeed while not stepping over anyone to get there.

Being self-aware will make you an emotionally healthier person, allow you to form healthier relationships, and also be able to form better friendships at work, at school, or elsewhere. You want to value other people and not ignore how they feel but to recognize their emotions and understand where they are coming from without dismissing their views outright. Self-awareness is not an innate trait in the sense that we all have it equally. It has to be worked on, fostered, and built up over our lives.

You need to be consistently aware of your behavior, your emotions, and how they play off on other people. It comes down to having respect for others, being humble in your demeanor and your abilities, and also knowing how to behave responsibly and without letting your emotions control how you act all the time without regulating them. Self-awareness is a really important personal trait and has so much value that you must be willing to work on it day-in and day-out to become a better human being.

Three Tips for Public Safety

A recent incident and rather close call as well regarding my personal safety reminded me of how important it is to take certain precautions when you are out and about especially in an unfamiliar setting. If you’re in a new city or a new country, you’ll want to double down even more on your own safety when you don’t know your way around or are not able to communicate well in the local language. Urban environments tend to be the most difficult safety wise which is why I am compiling a list of these three public safety tips that I often use and which you may also find useful.

Now, these three tips may not be able to keep you 100% safe, but they will lower the odds and substantially minimize your exposure to risky situations and potential danger. One tip that should be common sense to begin with but which I sometimes neglect is to always be on your guard in some measurable way. To let your guard down even just for a little while can be all someone needs to attack, harm, or rob you in some way. The most important thing you can do in an unfamiliar setting is never let your guard down and to stay vigilant.

These three tips add on to that basic philosophy and will help you in additional ways. While I am far of a safety expert and am not a security professional, I give these tips based on my own experiences and reasoning. I hope that you find them useful and are able to utilize them for your own personal security. While this is definitely not an exhaustive list, I definitely believe that these three tips are some of the most common sense and reasonable out there when it comes to exercising caution in public.

  1. Keep away from the sidewalk curb or edge

You may not see this tip as being very important, but I find this is an underrated one when it comes to staying safe in public. You’ll want to maintain your distance from oncoming traffic as much as possible and I find that it’s safer to be closer to the building than to the curb. These days, you simply never know if a car, bus, or even a truck could lose control and end up mounting the curb to cause serious harm to you or another person.

Also, if you happen to be in a city where snatch-and-grab robberies can happen quickly, you want to make it as hard as possible for those robbers in a car or in a motorcycle to nab your personal items. You will want to keep away from them as much as possible when walking on the sidewalk. It makes it easier for them to grab your purse, bag, backpack, or phone the closer you are in proximity to the street.

Lastly, regarding events in the past, intentional attacks by criminals or terrorists using vehicles while a very remote possibility is something you could keep in mind by staying away from the street traffic. You should maintain awareness when you’re walking on the sidewalk as well which will lead me to my next point in a later tip. If you have a loved one with you whether that’s a romantic partner or a family member who might be more vulnerable, consider putting yourself closer to the street and have them be at your side closer to the building. If they’re older, don’t move as well, or have to take a call or answer some texts, it would be the wise thing to do to have them walk by your side away from the street especially if they’re distracted by something else. While this tip isn’t very popular, I find that it makes a lot of sense and can enhance your awareness.

  1. Face towards the entrance of the café or restaurant

Maybe you’re out at a café enjoying a nice coffee or at a restaurant celebrating your birthday, regardless of the circumstance involved, I recommend that when your sitting at a table or a counter or a bar, try to always face towards the entrance or exit to be aware of what’s going around you. Restaurants, cafes, and bars can be loud, distracting, and disorientating but it’s key to your personal safety to know where the entrances and exits are at all times in case of an emergency. Emergencies are unlikely to happen in these public settings but it’s better to be safe than sorry by knowing who’s coming in and who’s leaving. It’s also good to scout out the additional entrances and exits of the place you’re at if you can do a walk-around after you arrive.

If you are in a big group or a larger party of people at a restaurant or bar, try to do your best to sit facing the exit as well. It can be more difficult, but most people are not aware of this safety tip, but it shows that you are being responsible in caring for the safety of the group by looking at what’s going on around you. While it is extremely unlikely that anything bad would happen in a restaurant or a bar or café, you are at a significant disadvantage to react to any situation if you are facing towards the wall or towards the kitchen. What would even be worse leads me to my third tip involving using the smartphone at these kinds of places instead of minding your surroundings or paying attention to the people with you or around you.

  1. Put the phone away in public as much as possible

Your smartphone can be a big hindrance to both your awareness in public of potential dangers and hazards as well as making you an easier target for theft or robbery. While it is usually safe to use your phone in most places, depending on the city or country, you may want to leave it at home or wait until you’re at a café, bank, or a restaurant to use it. To walk around with it and advertise its value is an increased risk which you may want to do without. While it can be helpful in mapping out your location and where you need to go next, it can highlight the fact that you are a tourist or are not aware of your surroundings even more.

On top of that, walking with your phone out is not a good idea because you will be completely unaware as to what is going on around you in terms of cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles, or potential street hazards. Having your phone out not only compromises your safety but your awareness as well. Try to memorize your immediate area so you will not be tempted to use your phone as much. Also, even when you are out at a restaurant, café, or bar, it is best to use your phone sparingly so as to not distract yourself from your surroundings or from your friends or family who are out with you. Your phone is a great tool, but it can take away from your public safety very easily if you use it too much or make it obvious as to how much street value it has.

My key point in writing this article is to make sure you don’t fall victim to some sort of accident or tragedy because you weren’t paying attention. You should always be striving to be aware of your surroundings and to make it a personal priority to maintain vigilance in public. Things can happen very quickly and it’s extremely important these days to stay ready in case something happens unlikely as that may be. Use these tips at your own discretion and if you would like to add your own public safety tips, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

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.

The Power of An Idea

According to the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuroimaging, the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. That is about 45 thoughts per minute and 2,700 thoughts per hour. Most likely, 90% of those thoughts are focused on the day-to-day habits and responsibilities that we take upon ourselves out of necessity. Where we go to eat, where we go shop for food, what to clean and how to clean it, and the need to brush, dress, and groom ourselves so that we look presentable to the world. However, what makes us stand out as a species is our ability to pull a few ideas from these thousands of thoughts that end up changing the world in some measurable way.

Thoughts can be random, scattered, and hard to quantify but with concentrated effort and documentation, these thoughts become ideas that later can become a reality. How does an idea turn into a real thing? Well, one part of making an idea real is jotting it down on paper or even on a smartphone today and really spending a lot of time focusing on the plausibility of it. Ideas can make the best sense in the world to you but if they are not popular or don’t transcend just your belief in them, they will go nowhere fast.

Ideas are meant to be tested, changed, and optimized so that people believe in them, for better or for worse. The paradox that is inherent with ideas is that they are very similar to human nature. They can be used for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Ideas are so powerful that wars have been waged over them, millions have lost their lives, and untold amounts of money have been spent to promote or degrade them.

When you really think about it, ideas that are put into action have caused changes to human civilizations throughout the millennia. Whether its education, health, infrastructure, scientific advancement, community building, ideas are at the forefront of upending the status quo and changing human lives, sometimes for the better or sometimes for worse. While I just mentioned the positive advancements that come from ideas, it is also valid that ideas have led to war, poverty, inequality, destruction, and multiple isms that have caused conflict and strife among nations, races, and religions.

You may be reading this article and wondering that maybe it’s best to not contribute your ideas to the world in some way. I think this is a false dichotomy because I like to think that if your ideas are not harming people, are not harming the planet, and can lead to a better community, country or world, then you should try out your ideas and see what happens. The key part to realizing an idea of yours is to see how other people react to it. Are they happier because of your idea? Are they healthier because of it? Are they better educated because of your idea?

You should be asking yourself: Is my idea doing some sort of measurable good for the world and how can I improve upon it? Ideas start out as being imperfect but once you start acting to make those ideas a reality in the world, you will soon learn that implementation of those ideas will take serious hard work and effort. Getting feedback from unbiased users or participants is a key step to see whether the idea is worth merit and whether it is sustainable or not in the long-term. Imposing your idea on the world without substantive feedback or without understanding how your idea fits in to your specific niche will end up in failure.

If you have an idea, remember to write it down and construct how it could work and whether it would be worth pursuing. Similar to starting a business or launching a campaign, you have to test drive the idea first to see if people would be interested in what you have to offer whether they are paying customers or voters from the town you are running your campaign in. Careful assessment and fleshing out of your idea will make a better idea and will make your idea stand out from others that are similar or may be able to usurp yours.

Ideas do not always have to be original but there must be some added benefit or advantage that hasn’t been tried before or could change the status quo in some positive way. There is a rightful stigma against ideas, but it is important to realize that our faith in ideas is crucial to keeping civilization going even when some ideas turn out to be bad for us. Our shared belief in ideas is what leads to massive companies like Google or Apple becoming the most influential or profitable in the world and has led to nation-states forming in the past few centuries such as the United States of America or the United Kingdom.

Without thoughts that turned into ideas which turned into actions, where would humanity be? Our ability to analyze, process, and think about how to change the world or how to introduce something new in the world is what sets us apart from other species on the planet. Essentially, the story of human progress could be argued to revolve around how to maximize the impact and spread of good ideas and how to minimize the influence and the source of bad ideas. Most of us tend to shy away from sharing our ideas or trying them out but I think having a more entrepreneurial and innovative vision is a key part of being self-actualized as a person.

Having a sense of belief in your ideas and how you can leave the world better than you found it is extremely powerful. While working on the ideas of others and promoting them to the world is also very useful, I tend to think that each and every one of us has a good idea that could be fleshed out, tried out, and implemented with the help of others, which would play a key part in making the world a better place.

Because the world is so interconnected, ideas spread so rapidly that it can be overwhelming with how much is out there. However, the ideas that stick around are the ones that take time to develop, that are tweaked with, that refine their logic and their execution, and for which have gained a solid following of people who believe in those ideas. An idea that has a powerful story which resonates with people can also withstand the test of time.

The next time you have an idea, think deeply about it. Maybe you’re on your commute to work or you’re in the bathroom, or you’re on a walk in the local park, but don’t let it slip away if you think that it can serve a positive purpose and if it is actionable. Ideas can come and go in a millisecond so being able to concentrate on the idea, remember it, and write it down as soon as possible could pay off in a big way. Another way to let your ideas form is to focus on the impact that it could have and how people could benefit from the idea(s). I believe that the more observant you are of your surroundings, the better your ideas will be. Another part of gaining traction with your ideas is reading books, whether they were entrepreneurs, inventors, politicians, and reformists from different eras of history.

You may find that your idea is not so unique and may date back a few decades or even a few centuries but maybe that idea never took off. You are eager to learn more about that so you do your research, you find out more about the history of the idea, and you decide why it may be right for the present and into the future based on changes to society. Just because an idea failed in the past doesn’t mean it can’t make a return with a few useful tweaks. From the electric car to virtual reality to smartphones, these kinds of ideas have their roots buried firmly in previous unsuccessful efforts in the past only to be revived because of inventors and thinkers who thought of how to adapt these inventions to the modern era.

Ideas are powerful because of are shared belief in them and how they can change the world. However, without serious action, commitment, and hard work, ideas of ours will just stay like that as ideas alone. Ideas without belief or without support from others will go nowhere. The key to implementing good ideas in our era is that they have been tested, have some measurable benefit to humanity, and have staying power because of their relevance to our societies. If you are not sure that you are an ‘ideas’ person, try to concentrate on your thoughts and remember whether there are any of them in your daily life that could become a reality.

You must decide if any of these ideas of yours could be written down, planned out, implemented, and eventually supported by the work of others. Once you go through that chronological checklist, you will be ready to start putting those ideas into action. Your ideas may ultimately fail and you may get discouraged but if your idea(s) were able to have a kind of positive impact on someone or something because of that thought that you first had go through your mind, you will know that it will have been worth the effort of carrying it out in the first place.

%d bloggers like this: