On Hierarchy

“For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.”

Hierarchy is one unavoidable aspect of modern life that can be difficult not to clash with from time to time. The bigger the group is, the more necessary a hierarchy is in order to ensure order and compliance. For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.

If you have a group of 10 or even up to 100, which is what human beings are able to hold in their memories in terms of remembering names, faces, and details about each person, such small-scale organization did not have a need for a strict hierarchy where one person was in charge of making all of the decisions or whose voice mattered more than others. On the contrary, consensus involved discussion, debate, and a common conclusion at the end of the meeting or congregation. If enough people did not agree with the decisions or the direction of the group, they would often create their own group and go their own way.

These small groups dominated for a long time in human history, but their longevity in terms of collective group decision-making was upended by the agricultural age and when people stopped roaming around the planet. Instead of being hunter-gatherers, the majority of humanity shifted to being settlers and farmers establishing larger and larger groups to form a collective society or nation where you would not know everyone in your group because that group was no longer autonomous. Agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial societies are made up of thousands or millions of people usually brought together under one flag, one state, or one nation.

While this civilizational approach has outlasted our ancient past as hunter-gatherers, our inherent need to be part of a group, to be valued, and to have purpose within that group has not gone away. These small groups had a measure of equality to them with everyone having a key purpose and having a voice regarding what issues or opportunities had come up. In a larger society, cooperation is harder to come by, inequalities can be maximized, and hierarchies are much more common due to the need to instill order and discipline among people of that society even when they feel like they are being disadvantaged in some way.

Hierarchies are not necessarily natural to us as human beings given our origins and our way of life that lasted for thousands of years but to me and others, it was a necessity in order to organize a large-scale society of thousands or millions of people. Hierarchy is not necessarily a bad system, but it can be abused by those who have power who are not held accountable for their actions or who cannot be removed from their leadership role if they do not serve the society’s interests and needs. The fight for democratic governance, for basic human rights, and for equal opportunities in a society; those values are not guaranteed especially when we organize around a hierarchy and give people power over others.

Whether it is the President of a country or the CEO of a company, a hierarchy has to be kept in check and when that leader or ruler is not making wise decisions for the people he serves in that role, there has to be a way to remove someone from that role in the hierarchy. While hierarchies are necessary in our modern world, there have to be ways for those who are subordinate to voice themselves and their views without fears of reprisal or retribution for speaking out.

To ‘speak truth to power’ throughout history has been the exception rather than the norm but for those who did it even when there were financial or personal risks involved, the larger society benefited from the actions of those people who did not remain silenced but spoke out. If a leader is committing injustices, if a manager is doing something illegal, or if a principal is abusing their power, they have to be held accountable and removed from their position especially the higher up in the overall hierarchy that they are placed.

By raising our collective voices, abuses, inequalities, and injustices can be minimized as much as possible if there are democratic safeguards created to prevent a hierarchical order from being abused. There will be those leaders who do right by their subordinates and who make their hierarchy more democratic but in case that does not occur, laws and institutions have to be able to hold those at the top of their hierarchies in check.

Whether it’s’ allowing a few of your employees at a company to have voting rights on the company’s board of directors or making them shareholders or part-owners of the company, these are a few ways to make hierarchies more responsive and fairer. By establishing term limits for those who run for public office and prevent them from being in that office for the rest of their lives so that they aren’t able to have power for thirty or forty years straight is another concrete way to control a hierarchy by allowing others to take charge. When a President or Prime Minister does something illegal or cruel, that hierarchy is not absolute, and they can be removed from office or even be charged with a crime so that people in the society will know that they are not above the law.

It’s not that hierarchies are inherently bad or negative, but they must be actively controlled and made more democratic by those who participate in them. The people who are subordinate to others within a hierarchy should be able to freely voice their opinion, concerns, or dissent when they disagree with their leader. A good leader should take into consideration those stakeholders or constituents who they are responsible for governing over and they should not prevent people from expressing their dismay or disappointment because a good leader will admit when they make a mistake and try to do better for the people under him or her.

The notion of a hierarchy having been around for all of human history is a fallacy and while it is not an ideal way to form a group with one person having power over others by claiming it, it is the only way to organize large-scale societies and nations. However, hierarchies that are successful are responsible to the needs of the people living in them, who want to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal for having done so, and to be able to vote, change, or amend the leadership from time to time so that the hierarchy does not become above the people but rather part of them in a democratic system.

While hierarchy has to be respected, it should not be absolute, and it must be as democratic as possible. A hierarchy that is unequal, unresponsive, and meant to be permanent will ultimately fail because that kind of hierarchy will lose favor with the people under it and will eventually be replaced with something better. If you find yourself under a hierarchical system that you find stifling and demeaning, don’t stick around and support it. Find your own group or place in the world where you can have a voice that is listened to, where decisions can be made as a small group if possible, and where an absolute hierarchy is unheard of and frowned upon.

A Most Difficult Year

“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”

When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.

For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.

We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.  

In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.

Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.

Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.

Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.

Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.

However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.

Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.

Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.

Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.

Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.

The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.

Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.

I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.

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.  

Get Your Own House In Order

“Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.”

There’s an old adage I have been thinking about lately about how it is primarily important to take care of oneself first and not just in one way but in every part of your life. Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.

It can be hard for other people to take you seriously when you don’t take yourself seriously in the first place. How will you be able to lead a team or an organization or a company if you are not able to master your own tasks and your own desires? Self-development isn’t just about making sure you are able to create a good life for yourself but it’s also about setting a positive example for others who would look up to you as a result. You cannot be a mentor or a role model for others without first putting yourself out there and doing what needs to be done to make yourself successful.

When you have not struggled, when have not persevered, when you have not done what it takes to reach your goals, how can you give advice to other people on what they should do to have the same kind of success? “Getting your own house in order” means taking care of yourself first and doing so consistently before you can use those same pieces of advice and examples for others to follow. Firstly, your own house in order starts with your mental and physical health.

Your body is your own house so it must be taken care of first and foremost in terms of getting good sleep, eating properly, not indulging in vices like alcohol or tobacco to excess, and knowing how to exercise as well to keep yourself in shape. It also extends to being able to relax, de-stress, handle anxiety, and be mentally sharp by challenging yourself but also relaxing your mind so as to not exhaust it entirely. Your body and your mind are their own little houses and they must be maintained thoroughly so that other people will know that you are capable enough to handle other demands in life.

Another house we don’t think of is appearance and grooming. Your own house in this case means maintaining a good appearance and practicing good hygiene. These practices are necessary also on a daily basis and to show to the world that you care about yourself and want to be taken seriously. For a job, an internship, a presentation, a seminar, a lecture, etc., your personal dress should indicate that you are a serious person for the role or for the opportunity and that others will know that they can respect your house because you respect it yourself. They will not respect your house when you show up to an interview in shorts or when you wear Yoga pants to a college lecture. Physical appearance and grooming are another ‘house’ that we all must take seriously and to do so primarily before we can give advice to others on how to maintain their own ‘houses’ in good order.

Lastly, the last ‘house’ on a personal level that I would like to focus on is where you live regardless if it is a small studio apartment or a huge mansion. Maintaining your own physical shape in the world is crucial if you want to tackle bigger and better problems. If you can’t make your bed, clean your bathroom, or keep your kitchen clean, how can you tackle any major issue in your community or in your society? At the end of the day, this kind of ‘house’ maintenance comes down to self-respect and putting your own ego aside to do the work that we all must do.

The chances are good that at the end of the work to maintain this ‘house’ that you will feel a lot better for having done the work needed to keep up a clean and orderly home. It is not easy to do this consistently but it is necessary and if you plan on having guests over, having friends over for a get-together, or want to be romantically involved with someone, a clean ‘house’ will go a long way to making you respectable and responsible in the eyes of others. Being able to maintain care not just of yourself but your own physical space means that people will know that they can trust you with other tasks and matters of importance that extend beyond your ‘house’ and to the ‘houses’ of others in the community and in the society.

Thinking about a community as a whole, their ‘houses’ include making sure that the schools are meeting the needs of the students, that the community is safe and protected for all of its residents, that the roads and bridges are maintained and do not have potholes or faulty beams, and to make sure that each and every person has access to utilities including water, electricity, and yes, an Internet connection too. If a community does not have those necessities for a high quality of life, then that ‘house’ is not in order and those people who have their own ‘houses’ in order need to step up to do their part to help others get the community in good shape.

If you have your own ‘house’ in order, you can set the standard for the rest of the community and be able to use your ideas to help others especially if you gain their respect and their trust. With how you act and how you behave in addition to your own appearance, ideas, and personal goals, you can make the community better and it’s important for you to get in there and show that you can make a difference there.

When a community can all of its necessities in order, that one community can definitely have an impact on the larger society within a country and even the world. A community where everyone has equal access to a good education, where health care is not a privilege but a right to all in that society, and when kindness, honesty, and virtue are rewarded rather than chastised. That is an overall society that is getting its own house in order and can serve as an example to other societies in other parts of the world.

Being able to provide a high quality of life and a chance to succeed to all of the people in a society should be the goal of society with its own ‘home’ in order. I am not talking about a social utopia per say but rather an ideal place where people know that they can succeed if given a fair shot in life. It’s also about providing the basic tools of any society to all of its people without discrimination and without corruption. Whether that is no homelessness, enough healthy food for everyone, and an economy where inequality is minimalized, that is what a society should be focusing on and using as an example to other societies.

When a society prioritizes the needs of the few over the many based on wealth or another privilege, that society does not have its own house in order. If there are people out there hungry, homeless, or without health care, then that society is not in order. A society cannot be an example for other societies when it lacks the courage to invest in its most vulnerable populations or to provide a higher quality of life for all people.

Without that kind of an example, a society will lose its influence or example setting and will turn inward and often tear itself apart without good leadership or good values. A society that gets its own house in order prioritizes the right social needs and finds the investments, funding necessary to maintain these necessities of its people will automatically become an example to other societies whether they are near or far. A society that doesn’t does not have a moral ground to stand on and will lose the example it could set by practicing bad ‘house’ manners in different ways.

“Getting Your Own House in Order” does not just apply to one individual but it also applies to a community and a society as a whole. We all are human and fallible and sometimes, we will fall short but if we strive to do better in our homes, in our lives, and in our examples we set for others, that kind of ‘Ripple Effect’ of positive values will improve the larger community and society as a result. How we treat ourselves (mind and body), our homes, our way of life has a direct effect on the community we share, and, on the society,  we find ourselves a part of. This kind of example setting starts at home, but it can ripple throughout to the rest of the world and it all begins with ourselves and our own actions.

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

The Art of an Apology

“One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display.”

One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display. Learning how to apologize is done when we are children and our parents tell us to always ‘say sorry’ and to learn to be nice to others.

‘Sorry’ is one of the golden words we learn are key to our day-to-day lives. It doesn’t take much to do and will cost you nothing. The fact that many adults don’t know how to do this today in our society is a worrisome sign of how personal relations have decayed compared to previous times. Some people choose to dance around the offense and not acknowledge it while others refuse to take responsibility for their actions which leads to the person who was offended feeling aggrieved and holding a grudge against that person for longer than they should need to.

The old adage of ‘you forgive but you don’t forget’ is not a pretty one but if there is no apology from that person who committed the offense, the other person may learn to forgive them but they will not forget that there was no apology rendered from the other person. I do not endorse holding a long-lasting grudge against other people but being rude, saying bad things about others, and overall not being a respectful person will cause you to lose many different relationships with others. Most adults do not know want to associate with somebody who refuses to apologize or does not take responsibility for their actions.

I believe that with social media and how often we do not see the other person’s face and their body language that we feel comfortable getting away with rude behavior and it has led to that kind of behavior spilling over into real life interactions. A lack of an apology can be due to a person’s own narcissistic nature and to think that the rules like the ‘golden rule’ don’t apply to them and that they can ever do no wrong including causing harm or offense to other people.

The sign of a true mature adult is one who apologize and does so in a sincere manner. It is a heartfelt apology and is usually more than just a simple ‘sorry’ and then move on. If someone cannot even say ‘sorry’ or realize the hurt that they have caused, then they still have a lot of growing up to do and act more like a child or a teenager in an adult’s body than an adult themselves. The sad thing to see in society is when a 45 year old acts like a 15 year old or when a 75 year old acts like a 5 year old, which is often as the result of them not registering other people’s emotions or feelings, and thinking reflectively about their behavior, their tone of voice, and how their language was inappropriate.

The art of an apology is not as simple as it can be made out to be with just a quick ‘sorry’. Often in life, a simple ‘sorry’ does not cut it. I think it’s better to follow these steps to having a legitimate and heartfelt apology that will make the other person feel better and try to restart the relationship or improve it rather than letting it fester and causing the other person to dwell on your insult.

1. Acknowledge You Were Wrong

The first step for any good apology is to acknowledge to someone face-to-face if you can or over phone or email if you can’t see that person that you were wrong. Whether it was something you said or something you did or that you hurt their feelings, acknowledge the thing that caused the original offense, state how it wasn’t right for you to do that, and apologize in that way beyond a quick ‘sorry’. It’s as direct as “I was wrong to…”, “It was not right for me to…”, “You deserve an apology for…”

2. Remember the Incident and What You Took from It

When you acknowledge what you did and that it was wrong, it makes the other person feel like you remembered that it was not the right thing for them to do and that pain was caused. It also means remembering that certain feelings were hurt and that the other person realizes they could have done things different / not said anything at all / or watched what they have said better. Saying ‘sorry’ or apologizing without saying what the ‘sorry’ is for is not a good way to do an apology because you have to be specific regarding what the apology is for and what you did wrong if you caused offense.

3. Be Sincere and Don’t Rush It

How you say an apology is often more important than what you say in the apology. If you are rushing through it, only saying a one-word apology, and not even looking at the person or acknowledging their presence while saying it, then that is not a real apology. A real apology must be congruent with your body language and your eye contact and your tone of voice all on the same page together. You should give that person your full attention and not be checking your phone, reading your email, or have your attention generally elsewhere while doing the apology.

Also, not rushing it means it’s going to take more than a five second ‘sorry’ and move on, if you follow the previous two steps, a good apology will take as long as it needs to which could be anywhere from a minute to ten minutes depending upon what the other person has to say. Depending on the severity of the negative action, you want to give that person a chance to respond, to accept your apology, and to decide how your relationship with them is going to move forward. You cannot force an apology to move forward without the other person agreeing to it so make sure you are patient, forthcoming, and open to listening to what they have to say to you.

4. Be Open to a Change in the Relationship

Even with an apology, sometimes, that person is going to want to take a break from seeing you, hanging out with you, or being around. It can be hard to bring that relationship back to what it was when harsh words are exchanged or when negative actions happened between two people to cause the strife. You have to understand and accept what the other person does because they may not want to trust you again as much or recognize that you aren’t the person who they thought you were.

This may be a hard pill to swallow but you are likely going to have to spend some time away from that person, let them forgive you on their own timetable, and they will set the terms on if they see you again or not. It is possible they may never fully get over what you did and not want to be around you again at all. This is a harsh truth to face for most people but the least you can do is apologize and try to move on.

If that person chooses to accept your apology but not go out of their way to see you again then that is their right to do so and it is up to them how they want to conduct their interactions with you moving forward. As adults, people want to spend time with those people who treat them well, respect them, and are emotionally mature. If you can’t do that, it’s going to be tough to have friends or to be around other family members.

I write this article because too often today I have seen other adults refuse to apologize for being in the wrong and this can cascade throughout the rest of our society. There is a fundamental lack of accountability and also responsibility that starts with a failure to apologize sincerely. It takes real wisdom and maturity to apologize to someone, but it is necessary since we are all flawed and make mistakes.

A true adult owns up to these mistakes they made, apologizes for them to seek forgiveness, and accepts what the other person does in response without any future expectations on how the relationship can move forward. It begins with saying ‘you’re sorry’ but it does not end there and a good apology is more than saying ‘sorry.’ It means acknowledging what you did was wrong, being sincere about it, listening to the other person, and being open to a change in the relationship based on how they want to move forward with you in the future. That is the true art of an apology and one that I hope you will follow in your own life.

‘Office Space’ – Film Review and Analysis

“1999 was an incredible and unique year for movies in America. In an era where Hollywood would regularly produce thought-provoking content that did not dumb it down for audience and would tackle tricky real-life topics without a filter, it may have been the golden age of film for those of us in the Millennial generation.”

1999 was an incredible and unique year for movies in America. In an era where Hollywood would regularly produce thought-provoking content that did not dumb it down for audience and would tackle tricky real-life topics without a filter, it may have been the golden age of film for those of us in the Millennial generation. While not as ‘politically correct’, these movies such as ‘Office Space’ challenged our assumptions, made us question our modern comforts, and perhaps most importantly showed us the ridiculousness of having flair as a waiter or waitress at a chain restaurant as a part of the service given.

Poking fun at chain restaurants is far from the only good thing about ‘Office Space’, one of my favorite movies of all-time. During that year of 1999, two other excellent movies placed a mirror in front of our society and made us reflect on whether ‘modern’ was really that good and whether ‘materialism’ was that spiritually enlightening. While not as complex as ‘The Matrix’ or as serious as ‘American Beauty’, ‘Office Space’ is a comedy but not your average one. It chides you with wisecracking humor but also lays bare certain aspects of American adult life that are not just unpleasant but downright silly.

Whether it is a loud co-worker talking too much over the phone, a crappy printer that just won’t do its job, meaningless reports to file each week, or an obnoxious boss who makes you come in on the weekends, ‘Office Space’ is an ode to the white collar worker who despite the good health care benefits and the steady salary is unfulfilled with his life and is not sure why.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is exasperated with his office job in IT (Information Technology) at a software company, Initech. He goes out of his way to avoid his obnoxious and micro-managing boss, Bill Lumbergh, who insists on him working on the weekends but also indicates wanting covers on the TPS reports, which is a mindless and meaningless task. Peter is comfortable with the job but knows deep down it isn’t satisfying him and he comes into work dreading it each day. Peter dislikes most of his co-workers including a lady who says to him, “Somebody has a case of the Mondays” to downplay his frustration of commuting to a suburban office park each and every week while dealing with traffic and the lack of purpose involved.

Probably the only reason Peter stays at his job are his two friends at work who sympathize with him, Michael Bolton (no relation to the singer as he makes clear) and Samir Nagheenanajar (who is obviously frustrated that no one in America can pronounce his last name). They are not as depressed as Peter but they also understand where he is coming from. Peter also gets sympathy from his neighbor, Lawrence, who lives next door. Lawrence does not work in an office and works on construction projects outdoors so he can’t relate to Peter so much with his drudgery at work but he emphasizes how nobody ever told him that he ‘has a case of the Mondays.’ He makes clear in a hilarious way that if somebody ever did that to him, they would get their ass kicked for that.

Peter’s unsatisfying life is also compounded by his girlfriend who is cheating on him and the fact that he is forced to go see a hypnotist who she thinks can help Peter get out of the funk that he is in. In perhaps the funniest scene in the film, the hypnotist / psychotherapist who is extremely overweight is in the process of hypnotizing Peter to snap him out of his lethargy regarding work and seemingly drops dead in front of him and his girlfriend.

Because the hypnotist died before taking Peter out of his temporary state of ease and relaxation, Peter’s whole personality changes and he stops worrying about work and his performance there with hilarious results. He starts to be honest about his work, his boss, and his forced weekend workdays and shockingly, instead of him getting fired, he gets promoted. Even though his girlfriend leaves him because of his lack of concern for the hypnotist’s death, Peter meets a new love interest shortly after.

His meeting with Joanna at an Applebee’s clone as he grabs a long lunch one day while skipping work; he is drawn to her because of her beauty, humor, and the fact that they both love kung-fu. Unbeknownst to her, she is also working a crummy job which is demeaning, and Peter starts to show her how to take control of her working life by caring less and being more honest.

After the hypnotist’s unfortunate death, Peter’s life does a complete 180 as he is more relaxed, less angry, and strangely more confident. He sleeps in more, gets a pay raise from two of his eight bosses (the Bob’s), and he devises a plan to steal a little bit of money from his company over a period of years. While not a good move on his part, Peter and his two co-workers, Michael and Samir, are also tired of the monotony and mistreatment at the hands of their bosses and co-workers. If they can get a little bit of money before quitting, they figure it won’t backfire on them.

While I do not want to spoil the rest of the movie, Peter is not innocent and bites off more than he can chew which causes him to wake up in a number of ways and to really fix his life instead of floating through it or resorting to a criminal action. He does realize that he is responsible for his own happiness or unhappiness and it is up to him alone to make his life fulfilling rather than meaningless. Peter is a likable character who a lot of people can relate to who have worked in an office type of setting. Still, what is blasé and unappealing to him, may be amazing and meaningful to others.

‘Office Space’ is not just about the negatives of office work and that kind of lifestyle but it is a meaningful referendum on a life not well lived. The film is a dark comedy by genre, but it also holds some deep truths within it. Director Mike Judge reminds everybody watching that you only get one life to live and how you really should consider spending it before time runs out. In addition to the fact that it is both a reflective and entertaining comedy, it is also of course a really funny movie worth a repeat viewing or two to catch all of the jokes.

While not very successful when it first released in 1999, it later became a cult classic film thanks to Blockbuster, DVDs, and the Internet’s growth. ‘Office Space’ is very quotable and I have myself referenced it multiple times especially when a printer I’m using is not working. The soundtrack of hip hop and rap from the 90s also makes it a true film from that decade. As many of America’s working men and women went from being in factories to office parks, this film has really hit a cord with not just Generation X but also the Millennial generation.

I would like to think that when you watch this film, you start to examine your own working life to figure out if it is ‘working’ for you or not. Maybe you prefer to be in another environment when you work or you prefer to work alone, this film probes the question of what office work is usually like and the downsides that it comes with. When this film was made, there were no remote work options and now it seems to be more popular. I like to think that one of the major effects of ‘Office Space’s later popularity in the 21st century is that it got more and more people to realize that cubicles aren’t and shouldn’t be for everyone. They just aren’t.

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.

Why Do We Read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Producer vs. Consumer Mindset

We are all consumers but not all of us are producers. This dichotomy between producing vs. consuming has become especially relevant in the 21st century when levels of consumption are at historic levels. When you think about it, being able to consume in different parts of life has never been easier or faster. You can stream vast amounts of music, download movies within minutes, and have food delivered to you at the click of a button. These days, you don’t even have to leave your house or apartment to consume food, books, music, movies, etc. Everything has become more widely available to the average person and that also includes education.

The Internet and other forms of technology have made it easier than ever to consume but despite that fact, is that all we should be doing? Aren’t we met to do more than to order food online, surf Amazon.com for the latest book, or listen to multiple Pink Floyd albums for hours thanks to Spotify? I believe that recently we have strayed too much to being only consumers without realizing that what is most fulfilling is to produce something of value. There should be a balance between consuming and producing and it’s best to strive for a mix of producing and consuming in your life with the former being more of a priority. Consuming is easy but it’s been shown to not be fulfilling and the utility of consumption decreases consistently the more you do it.

While consuming is incredibly easy and requires little to no effort, producing is the exact opposite. Producing something of worth or of value takes some or a lot of effort and the results are not immediate. To be a producer, you need to be determined, patient, put your skills to the test, and be able to think outside the box. Even though producing may not be the most fun or most enjoyable thing to do, it’s really what we as human beings are meant to do and what also gives us the most satisfaction.

If you think about it, our ancient ancestors had to produce or create in order to stay alive and sustain themselves. Back in those times, you had to catch a fish, spear a buffalo, or even a build a hut or you would not last very long. Simply put, our intrinsic value as people is based off of what we can contribute to our friends, families, communities, and the greater society. Now, this does not imply that you have to be producing something of value for others all of the time in order to be considered valuable. You don’t have to produce something for the sake of it or just to impress someone. You should find something to produce for yourself because you’ll build up some self-confidence as well as create more skills and abilities for yourself. You should choose to produce over consume yet you must figure out on your own what you would like to contribute whether that’s writing a blog, creating a piece of music, making an invention, or starting a business.

Why do we choose to produce? It reflects our innate sense of purpose and wanting to leave an imprint on the world regardless of how small or big it may be. There’s a true sense of satisfaction that you get from creating something out of nothing. Our ideas and our thoughts when they are put into actions can create a massive ripple effect that can change our lives if we do big things. The richest companies in the world such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook started out as simple ideas in the minds of their founders but they became real through actions and deeds after starting out just as words.

A producer takes their thoughts and ideas and turns them into something real. For each person, what they would like to produce is going to be different but the simple act of deciding to produce something instead of consuming all of the time is a beautiful thing in its own right. You can start out small by producing a poem, a painting, a piece of music, and then once you successfully create those things, you can aim bigger and better for producing things like a screenplay, a novel, a film, a multi-million-dollar business, etc. If you do not know what to produce but would like to start somewhere, think of which skills and abilities you currently have and make a list of what interests and hobbies you have as well. It’s also best to realize that producing something of value takes serious hard work and effort. It is not an instantaneous event and takes months and sometimes years depending on how big the thing is you’re producing.

Once you get the first thing you produce out of the way, you’ll start to realize how useful, fun, and innovative it can be to be a producer instead of a consumer. As mentioned before, there’s an innate sense of satisfaction out of crafting something from nothing as well as the fact that you used either your mind or your body or both to make it happen. Happiness, I would argue, does not come from consuming the things of this world but rather producing things to bring into the world that weren’t in existence before.

Depending on what you produce, you’ll also be helping people with what you make whether it’s a house that a family will live, a business that will hire employees, or a bridge that will connect town and city together. Also, the thing that you produce will last beyond your life here on Earth and can even transcend time if it is that impactful. Beyond the creation and production, what you’ll be creating is a legacy that you’ll be remembered for. Could you say the same for someone who doesn’t produce anything at all and just consumes? That person won’t be remembered for anything because they will not have left a legacy of producing for themselves, their family, and humanity while they were around. Consumers may benefit in the short run but not in the long run.

Our lives can both be about consuming and producing but think about what would be a better use of your time. Is it binging Netflix for multiple hours or creating a garden to grow fresh vegetables? Is it about playing video games or coming up with ideas for a new novel? Is it better to eat ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s or to make it from scratch? Depending on what answers you gave for these questions, you will be better off as a consumer or a producer.

Everybody has different priorities with what they value in their free time. If you find that you’re producing enough in your day to day work, keep doing that. However, if you find that you’re consuming all the time and not really producing beyond what you’re paid to do, you may want to reconsider how you spend your time. Giving yourself a chance to do more, write more, build more, play more, etc. is likely to be much more satisfying for you and give you a sense of fulfillment and even happiness that can’t be found in Netflix, Spotify, or UberEats. By being a producer, you’re creating value for the world and you’re building your skills, abilities, and knowledge at a time when you can do more than ever if you’re willing to educate yourself and put those traits and turn them into conceivable actions.

I’ll leave you with the idea of compiling a list of your day-to-day activities, map out the amount of time you spend on consuming or producing. If you’re consuming for hours on end and you feel listless, demoralized, or sad, you can turn it around by starting to take those free hours of your time and turning it into something productive. Producing is simply harder and more intensive than being a simple consumer. However, the return of investment on your time put into producing something far outweighs any benefit(s) you would receive from consuming a video game, an order of take-out, or a pop album.

Start from scratch and do your best to take the skills and abilities you have and turn out something totally original that only you and you alone came up with. The books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the music you’ve listened to, the classes you’ve enrolled in, the people you’ve met; that kind of consumption isn’t inherently bad but you should take the time you spent consuming other people’s products and using that knowledge to create your own product. Your own novel, your own play, your own symphony, your own business, or your own recipe: these are all ways that you can find fulfillment and meaning as a producer in this life. You won’t have forever to do both producing and consuming so why not choose producing because you may find that you’re not only good at it but you like it just that much more than being a consumer.