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.

On Leadership

There are a number of keys and steps that it takes to become a good leader. There are also many interpretations of what a good leader can be, but I believe there is also a specific formula of characteristics, habits, and traits that separate the good leaders from the bad ones. It is extremely useful nowadays to go over the themes and the values that often make up the blueprint of a good leader whether you are referring to a business executive or to a prime minister. I particularly rely upon using books and other reference materials for further analysis, which help to highlight the importance of leadership when operating under difficult circumstances.

Especially when it comes to working within an adaptive leadership framework, you have to be able to address different challenges and crises that arise which may cause you to adapt your leadership style to fit the times. In order to meet these challenges, a leader has to be open to new ideas, be able to self-reflect, and stay true to the overall vision or goals at hand even when obstacles are thrown in the way.

Each modern and historical leadership figure that you can think of was an adaptive leader since they were not following a specific script or manual and had to sometimes improvise or change their beliefs or views when the time came for it. Still though, these leaders had a steadfast vision, were good communicators, and had the trust of their constituents and colleagues to carry out the work they were doing even under high pressure situations.

The most useful example for me of displaying adaptive leadership in action was the movie “Invictus”. That movie portrays an excellent example set by the former President of South Africa and human rights icon Nelson Mandela as an adaptive leader. He did not let his past experiences of being jailed unjustly in Robben Island cloud his ability to forgive and bring his country together to fight for a better future. He was open to compromise, dialogue, and reconciliation to heal a very divided country.

I think that even if we do not consider ourselves to be a natural leader, it would do us a lot of good to put ourselves in other leaders’ shoes to decide how we would act if we had been the leader in those situations. I believe it would be very beneficial for anyone to do role playing scenarios, either historical or modern-day ones, where someone is forced to put our leadership abilities to the test and see how they would do when evaluated by counterparts or colleagues.

Being a principled leader takes time but can be rather straightforward when you really think about it. Anyone can have principles that they stand for but that does not necessarily make a good leader. There are other qualities that make a good leader which involves having a deep sense of who they are including their strengths, weaknesses, and how they can tell their story. Even if a leader has principles, they may not be morally sound or ethically fashionable, which is what someone can conclude when you consider the actions of controversial leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

When you contrast these principled yet morally compromised modern leaders with positives historical examples of real leadership from the likes of President John F. Kennedy or Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, you can get a better sense of how a leader can be principled in their decision-making but still a bad leader in terms of reputation. The Kennedy brothers still had principles, but they were based in sound morals and humane values as well as an ability to reach out for advice and counsel before making an important decision. They were decisive but not arrogant. Both men would be considered well-versed in exercising what is known as emotional intelligence. Under immense pressure, they were able to not let their ego or personal feelings get in the way of making a fateful executive decision that prevented World War III.

I have learned through my own life experience and by reading about other people that a leader must be able to put him or herself in difficult situations where their ability to exercise leadership will be tested. Being able to open yourself up to risk, setbacks, and failure can help to mold a true leader as overcoming adversity has helped many people in the past to rise up to take charge when their community, their country or the world needed them.

You do not need a stirring personal narrative to be a good leader, but it does help you build a strong connection with others. Sharing your story and connecting that story to the larger society is a very powerful tool that can make you stand out as a leader. I believe that a leader should always aim to be authentic when they connect with other people and to see themselves as not the center of attention but a small part of a larger story. To be transformational and a servant of the people, you have to put your ego aside. Those leaders who are the most developed as individuals are those who know themselves well.

A leader must not only be successful in leading himself or herself but also in successfully leading a team to achieve goals and in working together collaboratively. In order to lead a team, every member must be open and honest with each other. Accountability is a key aspect of being a team leader both to themselves and the rest of the group in order to be a more cohesive force.

While the leader has to hold the team members accountable for how they work and what they do, the leader must expect that the team members can also hold their leader fully accountable in response. Each member of the team must live up to the duties expected of them because if just one of the team members isn’t pulling their weight, then everyone on the team will suffer as a result. A true leader will not let the weight of the powers and responsibilities given to them let it go to their head. True leaders must be humble as well as selfless in how they set the example for the rest of the team or organization that they are in charge of.

In a group setting, each member of the team including the leader must be willing to have difficult conversations and point out both the positives and negatives that are ongoing within the team. Sometimes, I believe it is best to pull a team member aside to have a private conversation if the matter is really serious but if it is a consistent yet small error that is hampering progress, then that should be brought up in the team meeting. However, it’s best for the leader or any members to gossip or talk negatively about someone in a passive-aggressive manner.

I, myself, am wary of a hierarchical structure when it comes to leading teams. It creates an unhealthy dynamic where the team leader may not be accountable to anyone in the group but himself or herself. They may be able to critique their team members flaws without any fear, but the team members would not be able to do the same to the leader. The hierarchical system of leadership should be considered imperfect in its nature and I think it’s best to consider a more collaborative approach to the concept of leadership where the team or group take turns becoming the leader at different intervals in order to better understand what it’s like to lead the group rather than just stay on the sidelines and carry out orders from above.

As a leader, you should be willing to bring together qualified people of different skill sets and capabilities together in the hopes of achieving a common goal that you have set for your team. There is an inherent importance of being open with your teammates as well as a willingness to accept your own boundaries within the team or organization. In order to be an effective leader, one must realize their own limits within their given expertise and skillset. A good leader will not try to do everything or infringe upon the necessary work of other team members. Building a true sense of collaboration and cohesiveness instead of competition and infringement is key in order to achieve the goals and objectives you set as a leader.

Being vulnerable with your team members is a key part of being an effective leader. However, there’s a balance that you have to have as a leader. You should be open to having difficult yet necessary discussions with all team members, a few of them, or just one-on-one if the discussion is extremely sensitive. I believe it’s best to be open and honest with your team members rather than closed off and withdrawn. You should act with transparency when it comes to your decision-making process and the actions that the team as a whole should implement. It’s also necessary to not sweep things under the rug and let a small issue become a big one. A leader should also admit his or her own shortcomings, which will let others in the team be more comfortable around you in expressing their flaws as well.

When constructive criticism is warranted both for the leader and team members, it should be discussed. Before criticizing, I think it’s important to follow the rule of saying one or two nice things about the work the team is doing before discussing what should be improved upon. Any kind of critical feedback should be preempted by a positive remark that would soften the blow of a negative comment that could be taken the wrong way. A true leader will let himself hear open feedback from the team he or she is leading and implement those changes to improve the results of the team. Also, it’s the most important job of a leader to delegate responsibilities and tasks well enough so they are not responsible for too much or find themselves to be too prideful to bring on new team members.

Lastly, I think another distinct priority of a leader should be to always actively look for the most qualified people and bring them onboard. Having the diversity of background and of opinion can build a strong team but you must also have a variety of opinions available to you so as to avoid groupthink within the ranks. A leader should be aware of their strengths and weaknesses at all times and be humble enough to fill in the gaps with wise counsel, strategy through the addition of others who compliment his or her area of expertise. Any leader can only go so far in life and in work by themselves, but it is the team, the organization, the army, or the people that the leader builds who can help that leader build their legacy in the history books for their good governance and fair decision-making.

The European Parliament

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

LocationBrussels, Belgium

How to Present Yourself Well

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

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

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

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

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

  • Clean Appearance and Appropriate Dress

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

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

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

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

  • Positive Attitude and Good Manners

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

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

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

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

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

  • Strong Eye Contact and Confident Body Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditions

Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.

I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.

By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.

Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.

Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.

Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.

It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.

Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.

In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.

Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.

The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.

Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.


You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you…I don’t know, but it’s a tradition!” -Fiddler on the Roof

Being Sentimental

Is it worth it for a person to be sentimental? Is it healthy or unhealthy to hold on to certain items, memories, or keepsakes for the long-term? Like most things in life, there is a balance that has to be struck when it comes to sentimentality. Some folks are not sentimental at all and don’t have much care for old family photos or for holding on to gifts beyond their initial utility. Other people are much more sentimental and hold on to personal keepsakes for years on end allowing their living spaces and their memories to become cluttered as time goes by.

As you get older, your memories will inevitably start to fade away so certain items, keepsakes, and important people in your life can help you to remember certain moments of your past that you’ll want to preserve due to their importance to you. Not everything and not everyone from your past will live on in your memories so you have to be responsible enough to choose what really matters to you and which memories mean the most to you going forward. Being able to balance your sentimentality will help you to become a more mature and emotionally healthier adult.

In my possessions, I have a duffel bag, which has some sentimental value to me. I tend to be a more sentimental person than most people and I try to collect photographs and hold on to personal keepsakes as long as I can. One of the items that is particularly sentimental to me is my duffel bag. There’s nothing particularly notable about this duffel bag based on its’ design, style or purpose. Its’ similar to most other duffel bags on the market and can be used for multiple purposes including trips to other places, which is something that I have done a lot of the past couple of years.

The one thing that visually stands out about this duffel bag is its’ logo. Its’ a black duffel bag with a logo of a purple dragon and the name ‘Saprissa’ embroidered in the same logo. ‘Saprissa’ is short for ‘Deportivo Saprissa’, which is a popular Costa Rican football club based out of San Jose, the capital of the country. The duffel bag’s significance to me isn’t based out of its’ usability, color, or design but rather its’ importance lies in where I bought the item and what I have done with it since then.

The reason why this particular duffel bag is sentimental to me, and why I have continuously used it for almost a decade now is because it brings back a lot of memories for me. Ever since I bought the Saprissa duffel bag back in 2008 when I was studying the Spanish language in Costa Rica, I’ve held on to it and have brought it around the world with me.

From short trips to Jordan and the Czech Republic to my long-stays in Turkey and Colombia, this duffel bag has been to almost as many foreign countries as I have. What the bag lacks in style or design, it makes up for it in terms of substance and reliability. For over eight years, my duffel bag has weathered mud, dirt, snow, rain, wind, and other natural elements that I’ve traveled in along with the dozens of taxi, train, plane, and bus rides I’ve been on. It’s never failed me and it has concurrently led to me becoming more and more attached to using it for each of my trips to distant places.

After almost nine years of using this duffel bag, like all things, its’ starting to show physical wear and tear. Most likely, I should have stopped using it after two or three years but the memories always seem to flow back to me when I see the bag lying there in my room or when I pack it up for another trip. The bag itself is linked to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the meals I’ve had, and the experiences that were tied into the adventures I’ve gone through with the help of this simple, black duffel bag which I carried along with me.

The bag handle is starting to fray, the zippers are exhausted, and the strap material is starting to rupture, and I think it may be time for a new duffel bag. It will be difficult for me to stop using the Saprissa bag that I’ve grown so accustomed to over the years. You simply can’t transfer those powerful memories to another bag quite so easily. The best you can do is mentally let your attachment dissolve, get rid of the bag, and transfer those special memories over to those other keepsakes and photographs that will remind you similarly of your past adventures.

Everything and everyone in your past will fade away to some degree. The important thing is to have one or two things left in your possession that you can fall back on so those items can also trigger those past memories for you to remember and recollect, whether they were joyous, happy, sad, or challenging. Being sentimental about all the things from your past can lead to a cluttered memory and a lack of set priorities. However, having one or two items from a trip or event can be enough to give you all the memories and remembrance you need in order to feel connected to your past.

Finding that particular balance of healthy sentimentality is a lifelong struggle but it helps to pave the way for a complete and fulfilling life. The key is to not the let the remembrance of your past keep you from living in the present and from creating your future. Your sentimentality should not prevent you from making new memories, creating new friendships, and forming new bonds with keepsakes.

Like my duffel bag, certain objects will fade away so it may be best to sustain your past with personal photographs, writings, or even paintings so that your memories can feel more permanent and can even be enjoyed by your friends and family members long after the day when you’re no longer around. Where you can let go of your sentimentality is when you realize that some things will be taken away from you whether you like it or not sometimes and it’s not productive to fight against this fact of life.

The best you can do is to place your memories into different items whether it be a journal or a photo album, which are much more sturdy and reliable than my trusty yet fading duffel bag. Above all else, Sentimentality is about caring. As an adult, you have to find out what’s truly worth caring about. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to replace what’s been lost and hold on to the memories that are special to you. You have to be ready to let go one day because nothing lasts forever.

The Last Full Measure

This past weekend, I was able to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the most notable battle of the American Civil War, and one of the biggest battles in American military history. The battle of Gettysburg is also notable for being the main turning point of the Civil War. The outcome of the battle concluded with the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, being prevented from invading further into the Northeast. Lee and his army were forced to retreat back into Virginia after the battles’ end and never again stepped foot in Union-controlled territory.

Set over a period of three days from July 1st – July 3rd of 1863, over 51,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies were killed, wounded, captured, or declared missing. It was the largest land battle ever fought in North America. More than 160,000 soldiers from both sides fought in the battle during those three tumultuous days with the town of Gettysburg and its civilians’ being caught in the crossfire. The battle of Gettysburg was fought on fields, marshes, hills, and sloping ridges over 10 square miles and around 6,000 total acres. In addition to the battlefield, Gettysburg is also home to a national soldiers’ cemetery close to the battlefield where the thousands of Union and Confederate troops, now long passed away, are ensconced in their final resting place.

The first thing one notices about Gettysburg is just how quiet and peaceful it is. One would have never guessed that a major battle had been fought here or that thousands of lives had been lost while fighting for their principles and values. The battlefield of Gettysburg, now devoid of soldiers and horses, still retains its wooden barriers, its replica cannons, and artillery. The National Park Service should be commended for restoring the grounds of the battlefield and keeping it clean for the more than one million plus tourists who visit the national military park each year.

What I was most surprised and pleased about during my visit was the amount of memorials, monuments, and tributes paid to the thousands of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides. The armies, brigades, corps, divisions, etc. from each of the thirty states on both sides of the Civil War are each commemorated and memorialized in some form.

The most striking memorial to me was Pennsylvania’s state monument, the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all. The Pennsylvania monument lists all of the soldiers’ names that fought for the commonwealth in the battle of Gettysburg. This monument in particular is Greco-Roman in design and has tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, and to notable soldiers and commanders from Pennsylvania. It also overlooks the entire battlefield of Gettysburg and can be seen from every part of the area.

Another notable memorial from the Gettysburg National Military Park can be found at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the center of the cemetery and overlooking the thousands of graves lying in repose is the Soldiers’ National Monument. This monument pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg and is unique in quoting an allegory at its’ base that states, “Peace and plenty under freedom…following a heroic struggle.” In addition, this soldiers’ monument depicts the concept of ‘Liberty’ signified by a woman who carries a sword of war, while holding a wreath of peace. At the base, there are four separate statues representing ‘War, History, Peace, and Plenty’ in a chronological, circular order. In total, there are over 1,300 monuments, memorials and tributes at Gettysburg. It’s nearly impossible to see them all without spending a week or more at the battlefield because they are spread out over miles and miles of land. This is why it is known for being “the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.”

You cannot come to Gettysburg without learning about the Gettysburg Address, and the process that led to President Lincoln delivering this famous and historic speech. While the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech is not open to the public at this time, you can still see into the cemetery to view the general speech area. In addition, park rangers from the National Park Service are available for questions about the Gettysburg Address and a tour of the cemetery upon formal request. There’s also a bronze statue and monument of Lincoln’s bust along with an emblazoned copy of the entire Gettysburg Address close to the cemetery’s entrance.

American history was one of my favorite subjects from my high school days. The ability to go and visit historical battlefields like Gettysburg, Normandy, Lexington and Concord brings the history to life for me. I’ve been lucky enough so far to see some of the most notable locations of the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II.

By visiting these places, you gain a great sense of gratitude and reverence around the conflicts, which these men fought and died in. You can better understand the costs and sacrifices that come with making war. Its’ also good to appreciate what we have today in our united country. There were times in our collective past as a nation when the concept of a ‘United States’ was very much in peril. Hopefully, we can continue to avoid the mistakes of the past, and learn from these dreadful conflicts.

The importance of seeking a brighter and peaceful future for our nation and the world is what I took from my visit to Gettysburg. These memorials, monuments, and the military park remind visitors and patrons alike why peace is something to strive for, even if it comes at a great cost. Sometimes, peace can only come through means of warfare, and that is why we give thanks to those men who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

To learn more about the Gettysburg National Military Park, you can visit these websites for more information:

1.) https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

2.) http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org

A Future To Believe In

It is very rare in American politics these days to have a candidate running for high office who is sincere, genuine, and committed to his principles and ideals. A candidate who will not bow to the special interests, who will look out for all citizens and not just the wealthy few, and who has the ideas to make the United States a more fair, equal, and prosperous country. Because of these reasons, I am supporting  Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President and why I will be voting for him in the upcoming Democratic primary in New York on April 19th.

While there is no such thing as the “perfect Presidential candidate”, Senator Bernie Sanders is the best choice not only for the Democratic Party but for the nation as a whole. He has served not only as a U.S. Senator for Vermont, but also as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Mayor of Burlington before that. For over thirty years, Senator Sanders has been a faithful and dutiful public servant. Over the course of his political career, he has always been a staunch defender for the rights of working class people, the middle class, and the poor.

From a young age of 22 when he was apart of the historic ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ along with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, he has continuously fought for equality of opportunity and greater freedom for minorities, women, and the LGBT community. What is also notable to mention from his past was his willingness to participate in an anti-segregation protest in Chicago in 1963. Because he stood up for his beliefs, he ended up being arrested and was taken away by the police for living up to those principles of fairness, justice, and equality.

Mr. Sanders has made his Presidential campaign “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He refuses to take money from SuperPACs unlike his Democratic and Republican rivals. He also does not accept donations from big corporations and the millionaires, billionaires of the country. He wishes to nominate Supreme Court justices who will attempt to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision, which allowed large corporations the ability to donate huge sums of money to their favored candidates for elected office. I applaud his commitment to making his campaign about the individual supporters, donors rather than about corporate sponsorship and special interest contributions. More so than any other Presidential candidate in recent history, he has shown a commitment to running a national campaign that’s fueled and powered by the average voter.

In addition, I believe in his policy proposals for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour, a Medicare-for-all policy that would ensure universal health care for all U.S. citizens, and to reduce the incarceration rate significantly over time to end the unfortunate distinction of being the country that has the biggest prison population in the world. Over the past few weeks since I returned from Colombia, it has been a pleasure for me to knock on doors, make phone calls, and to volunteer for his campaign at the Washington Square Park rally on April 13th.

About 30,000 people attended one of the largest rallies of the 2016 election season at Washington Square Park this past Wednesday night to see Senator Bernie Sanders speak about his vision for America. As a volunteer at the event, I helped with crowd control by keeping the huge lines orderly and moving cordially. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and anticipation. The mood of the people attending the rally was happy and even joyous at times. It was a cold evening in lower Manhattan but you could feel the energy and the passion people felt about this particular campaign. In addition to Senator Sanders’ rousing one-hour stump speech, notable celebrities, public officials and figures also lent their voices during the massive rally. The most notable names were Tim Robbins, Spike Lee, Rosario Dawson, and Shailene Woodley.

I enjoyed the rally immensely and I was lucky enough to be close to the stage after a hectic day of volunteering and keeping order among the large crowds of people waiting in line. I shook Senator Sanders’ hand after the end of his speech and wished him well in Tuesday’s New York primary. It was an exciting moment for me and I was glad to be apart of such a large and historic campaign event. I can only hope that this rally will lead to a large turnout and a successful result at the polling places across New York State in just a few days from now.

While I usually avoid writing blog posts about politics, I have to make an exception in this case because I feel strongly about Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and believe that he is the best choice not only for the Democrats but for the country too. Similar to Candidate Obama in 2008, Candidate Sanders has created a lot of enthusiasm, held huge rallies, and has earned support from diverse groups of voters due to his campaign’s message and consistency.

Time will tell if his candidacy will be successful enough to be nominated as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer and to continue on to the 2016 general election against the Republican nominee. However, so far, he has shocked all of his doubters and made it further than anyone would have originally thought possible. Despite what may happen in Tuesday’s New York primary and beyond, I know that I will continue to “Feel The Bern.”

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post represent solely my own and do not reflect or represent those of any outside party, organization, company, or group. Thank you.

 

The Importance of Community

“Be part of a group. Life is better that way.”

“Being apart of a community is what makes you happy…not rising to the top and sequestering yourself from community.” This quote is from one of my favorite podcasts, “Tangentially Speaking” with Dr. Christopher Ryan. During this show, he conducted an interview with travel host and producer, Jonathan Legg of ‘The Road Less Traveled’ who is the author of the quote above. I was listening to the podcast while I was driving through my hometown when the subject of ‘community’ came to the forefront of their interview. The two of them, who are both very intelligent and worldly men, explained to the listeners how chasing money, fame, and fortune doesn’t ultimately make us happy as human beings.

I absolutely agree with this assessment made on the podcast and believe that while possessions, money, and owning property can create happiness in the short-term, long-term happiness and fulfillment can only come from strong bonds with your friends, family, and community. Dr. Ryan and Mr. Legg also mentioned in one segment of the podcast how isolating oneself while traveling, and staying in hotels does not create a great life experience. I couldn’t agree more having stayed in nice hotels, hostels, and guesthouses during my own travels.

While one could be very comfortable and relaxed in a hotel, you won’t meet other travelers and potential friends as easily compared to when you’re staying in a cheaper hostel that’s in the city center. Dr. Ryan and Mr. Legg concluded in their discussion on communal living that the best way to live is to have your own space to eat and sleep, but to live in close enough proximity to others nearby that you can still have a sense of community and sharing without being isolated. I believe that compared to recent generations and even further back, the idea of community is starting to weaken and become less important which is in direct contrast to human nature and true happiness.

Harvard Political Scientist and Professor, Robert D. Putnam, was one of the first people to bring to national attention the change and decline in communities with his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” He makes the argument that people have been interacting with each other less and less over the past few decades. Instead of going out to socialize in public through bowling leagues, picnics, sport clubs, religious organizations, etc., more and more people are opting out and have been expanding the amount of time spent using technology as a substitute.

With the ability to have groceries, electronics, books, restaurant food, etc. delivered right to one’s doorstep in major cities and towns now, people have less and less motivation to leave the house. Telecommuting and ‘working from home’ have become more popular as well making ‘office work’ and ‘happy hours’ less obligatory. Social and traditional forms of media have exploded in the sheer amount of offerings whether its’ through websites, TV channels, and/or digital gadgets.

When it comes to community life, religious and social organizations have often formed the backbone and glue that holds people together. However, many different news media outlets have reported that attendance at churches and synagogues have been taking a downward spiral. A growing percentage of Americans are identifying themselves as ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ when it comes to their religious beliefs. Personally, I have no problem with our generation being an irreligious one but I do think it’s tough to replicate that type of community within other types of social organizations.

In addition to the close bonds between neighbors that shared religious beliefs can bring, it can provide a sense of belonging just like many other social groups. Beyond religious affiliated groups, membership in long-standing organizations such as the Boy Scouts and other volunteer organizations is also on the decline as well.

Newsweek.com highlighted this trend illustrated this disturbing trend with official numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In recent years, the percentage of Americans volunteering has dwindled and is now at its lowest level in a decade. Last year, In 2014, the official volunteer rate was 25.4 percent, or 62.6 million people, compared with 29 percent of the population in 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Official statistics on volunteer rates go back only to 2002.)”

Recently, one of the pillars of my community that I was born into and grew up with shuttered its’ doors last year. My local synagogue where I was Bar Mitzvah’d, went to Shabbat services, and celebrated the Jewish holidays was not able to fund itself due to overall lack of membership and decided to merge with another still functional congregation. This was disappointing for me to hear about because I have a lot of fond memories of that place and the people I met there. It was more than just about religion but it was also a gathering place for Jewish residents of the local area to come together and get to know one each other better and form bonds of friendship. While members of the former synagogue have moved on to another synagogue nearby, it’s not the same as it once was and it’s difficult to integrate oneself into a new community.

This is a trend that seems to be replicating itself across the country. Most Americans don’t know their neighbor next door like they used to and beyond the local school PTA of the local town or city, there’s not much anymore to bring people together. The increasing atomization and isolation of people is worrying for me to hear about. However, I am quite positive about the power and spread of the internet to bring people from different backgrounds and beliefs all over the world together.

While it’s not perfect, you can still remain connected to old friends, former classmates, past roommates, etc. through social networking. Instead of bowling leagues, sports clubs, the local YMCA, now we have Meetup.com and Groupspaces. As technology continues to advance, the meaning of ‘community’ will continue to change and adapt to the times. However, we as human beings must not forget the importance of being apart of a community and how much it means to our mental health and overall happiness.

References:

http://www.saddleback.edu/faculty/agordon/documents/Bowling_Alone.pdf

http://www.newsweek.com/2014/10/03/volunteering-america-decline-272675.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/17/us-usa-boyscouts-idUSKBN0KQ05O20150117