Monday, November 24, 2008

Rooted Reality in 24: Redemption

Last night one of my favorite television shows returned for one night. "24" broadcast a 2-hour movie to set up the upcoming season. For those that have not tuned into the show, the premise has been that each season follows a counter terrorism agent named Jack Bauer through one significant day. So each episode is an hour long and there are 24 of them. Seasons have been spaced out so one season might actually take place 4 years later than the season before it. Because of the events that will be happening in this season, the show's creators thought it would be useful to provide us with two hour prequel to let us know how Jack ended up where he is going to be when the season starts in January

"24: Redemption" is set in the fictional African nation Sangala on the eve of a revolutionary coup. Jack is found at an American school that has taken in, what could be assumed as, orphaned children whose parents might have been killed in previous revolutions or counter-revolutions. Not too much unlike the work Invisible Children is trying to do in Uganda.

Which, brings me to the point of this entire blog (if you have been reading my writings, you knew this was not going to be all about a TV show). A lot of what occurred in and was the premise of "24: Redemption" is very much rooted in reality. I am not talking about Jack Bauer kicking ass and not caring enough to take names, that is what we have Chuck Norris for. I am talking about the conflict occurring in the troubled African country. The children on the show were being kidnapped and brainwashed into becoming child soldiers. If you are not aware, then let this be your wake up call. While many of us grew up with relatively little strife, 10-year old children in Uganda and other countries were forced to decide between killing their own parents and siblings or being killed themselves. No one should be faced with that decision especially not at 10. The brutal warlords can then guilt the children into thinking they will be forever unforgiven and their only hope in life is to fight for them or be turned in to the authorities. Other children "volunteer" as a chance to escape poverty or simply to avoid being killed by the militia. It is routinely estimated that there are between 250,000 and 300,000 soldiers under the age of 18 worldwide. I was actually a little disappointed that while Fox brought attention to what is going on, they only gave very brief mention in a commercial that provided the average viewer any indication what they watched is not only real but, minus Jack Bauer, occurs every day. And based on what happened, I imagine this will be largely ignored in January.

I really don't care how much I write here. I am never going to be able to do this topic justice. It is simply sickening to think that while a child should be enjoying days of accepted immaturity, learning new things, playing sports, etc. they are instead forced to be puppets in a war that is not theirs. Forced to kill their family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. I would really encourage you to poke around for more information on sites like this. It might not be occurring in your back yard, but visit a school during recess or look at your own children and imagine the kids who are "playing" war are actually equipped with Ak-47s. There is no laughing, no joy, no careless freedom. Only dead souless eyes who have been stripped of innocence.

I have looked at some of the work people are trying to do to prevent these atrocities. I don't see the good of any of their ideas because they are all based on the assumption the same lawless dogs that use the children would obey some sort of protocol or mandate. So what do we do? Is there anything we can do? Can we only deal with the aftermath?

Friday, November 21, 2008

19-Year Old Commits Suicide with Others Watching Online

Today I came across an article that I found frighteningly disturbing on so many levels. I will try to be brief on each point but there are so many thoughts packed in here, it is going to be tough. Abraham Biggs Jr. was teenager who was having some serious problems in life. On Wednesday November 19, 2008, he took his own life. What makes this suicide different is that it was done on a live web cam. With others not only watching, but some encouraging him to do it. 1500 people reportedly watched this kid end his own life. I actually have to pause to collect myself. This is one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever read.

11 years ago, almost to the exact day, I plotted and was prepared to carry out my own suicide. There aren't that many people that know that. If I am giving my testimony or someone finds out, I freely talk about it but I have not previously gone around pronouncing it. I am not just talking about being sad and thinking death would be better. I mean I was wrecked and had my death and the date planned out. I got lucky though. God used a classmate that I did not know so well to inadvertently bring me from the brink. I wish to God someone had been there for Abraham. [Disclaimer: I have provided a link to the note he left because I think it is important for recognizing what is going on with the people around us. This is not for kicks or entertainment. If you are using it for such, please respectfully do not click on it from my page.] Reading his note, I can identify with the pain, torment and worthlessness he felt and wonder if the people around him could see it in him. I know I was good about hiding my depression. My own parents did not know how bad I had been back then until I told them about it this year.

One of the things that I found most disturbing is that some people in that online community did not only doubt Abraham's intent, they encouraged him to end his life. Now, I am not trying to blame these people for his death. He made the final choice to end his life. But what I do want to hit on is how much people can lack in empathy that they would not only fail to provide any semblance of care and support, but would go out of their way to encourage death. I hope that you are not like that but it does remind me of the Milgram Experiment that showed almost all are capable of harming someone we don't directly know. By the time people took Abraham seriously, it was too late.

Another aspect is that we have been blessed with incredible opportunities for connecting with complete strangers because of the internet. Unfortunately, it can also rob of us of our humaneness because of the content we are exposed to. Sadly in our quest for attention and entertainment, I do not think this is the last online suicide we will read about.

If you are thinking about suicide, please stop. Go talk with someone. A friend, a parent, even a professional counselor or therapist. Life is not one we should journey in alone. And I promise you that no matter what is going wrong, no matter how bad things are, there is someone who can relate to you. There is someone that cares enough that their life would be affected by your death. But more than anything, if you end your life, you do not get to see what tomorrow holds and it might just be the day things turn around. How do I know? I was there. Hopeless. Welcoming death. In 24 hours my life did a complete 180 and I have never looked back. Come away from the edge. Someone will listen.

Please! I implore you. If you know someone that is battling depression or hear of a suicide plot online or in your community, take it seriously. Sometimes simple interaction can change things around for the person. Sometimes you need more help. Please visit the The National Institute for Mental Health and To Write Love on Her Arms for more information on suicide prevention, support, and resources.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Feeling Trapped?

As I stepped on the elevator today, I thought to myself, "I hope I make it back in time and the next session has not started yet." I was at CltWordCamp, a conference type of event that focuses squarely on everything WordPress because I am going to be starting two new blogs over the next year and wanted to learn more about We had just finished a meet and greet and were given a 15 minute break before the start of the next event. Knowing there would be some networking opportunities later, I ignored my bladder and ran to the car to grab some business cards.
On the assent to the third floor I suddenly realized my journey was taking significantly longer than it should have. None of the buttons were lit. "Ah ha!" I thought. "I had simply forgotten to press the button." After pressing all of the buttons, I realized I was not going anywhere. Prying the doors open revealed that I was lodged between the 2nd and 3rd floors as indicated by the numbers painted on the concrete slab outside the door. I could see that I had less than a foot of clearance to look out over the third floor.
After pressing the alarm button to no avail, I raised my phone to the small opening and got enough signal to text Andy Denton that I was stuck. Within a a minute or two I could hear Andy and a few others outside the door. Jason Silverstein and Steve Gunn showed up and let me know they were going to be getting help. They stuck around and provided me with a copy of the Charlotte Observer and The Eye to keep me occupied.
During my time in the elevator I spent my time whistling The Girl From Ipanema and briefly started to sing Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator" before realizing how wildly inappropriate it was given my present company of no one. I did a few sets of push ups and joked around with the people outside the door. I think they were more nervous about my situation than I was.
As the seminar broke for lunch, the maintenance crew found they were able to pry the doors open wide enough so I could get some cooler air. I now had a one foot slot where people could stop by and take pictures (which have been contributed here). I was also fed pizza and salad through my small hole to the outside world.
I set out my business cards for Peer In Counseling Center and shouted things at passersby such as, "Do you feel trapped in life like I am trapped in this elevator? Then give me a call and let's talk!" and "Trapped in a loveless relationship is no better than being trapped in an elevator. Call me and let's get your relationship back on the tracks!"
After nearly an hour an half they were finally able to hand crank the elevator to the next floor and I was set free. I felt like a puppy that has been in the kennel all day. I didn't know who to talk to first, or if I should eat, or perhaps go pee (which, by this point I definitely regretted putting off).
I eventually gave my thanks, told a few more jokes about the situation, and went to slam back a few slices of pizza before the seminar started again. By the time I finally sat back down, my reputation had reached epic proportions. I was given a new name tag and for the rest of the day was known as "Elevator Man" or "The Elevator Guy." All in all I had a ton of fun with it, used it as an opportunity for networking and meeting some great folks, and even did a little marketing. Lisa Hoffmann would be proud.
So the next time you are "trapped," whether it be in a job, relationship, or elevator, keep in mind that it is what you make out of it and it can actually turn into a great experience.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Losing Fight

How do you fight against the will of man
When God's gift of freedom can thwart all plans?
Desire runs in tunnels deep.
What has sprung must return to sleep.

Happiness is what others hold
Fleeting from my control.
Rare as precious stone,
The pain extends to the bone.

Are God and I so far apart
Wanting different things for our shared heart?
Battles that can be won will be fought.
Solitude will remain always not.

But how do you fight against the will of man?
Seek Him first and you will understand.

To Every Season There is a Cold

I am sick today. I have a full blown cold and it makes for a less than pleasant day. I will spare you details but if Jesus ushered me into Heaven today, I would certainly think he picked a good day to spare me my misery.

I don't know about you, but when I get sick, it is easy to focus on all of the other things that are going wrong in my life because I am already discontent. Family life isn't perfectly balanced, money is tight, I am still wallowing in singleness when I feel built for marriage, etc. I am sure you have your own list of despondency.
However, I know this is just a season. In Ecclesiastes 3 Solomon reminds us that what we are going through is not only for a purpose but only for a time as well. You are probably more familiar with the The Byrds' song, but it expresses that there is a season to everything and then it passes. Some of it is good, some of it is miserable.
So while I will never promote the idea that life has the potential to be perfect, hang in there because whatever you are going through will only last for a time before it is replaced.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Misnomer of Inspiration

In a recent blog I spoke of peoples' draw to Obama being in large part due to his ability to inspire the people around him. I heard multiple times towards the end of the campaign that some were voting for Obama because he inspired them and they expected him to inspire others to be better people. I labeled this to be a misnomer for several reasons. Personally, the only thing Obama has inspired me to do is move to Ireland where they have cool accents, leprechauns, and lower taxes. But I digress.

Anybody who has taken a cursory course in Psychology has heard the terms extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Summed up, extrinsic motivation is being motivated by outside sources such as rewards or to avoid pain while intrinsic motivation is an internal process when you do something because you enjoy it or because you believe it is the right thing to do.
My contention with Obama's inspiration of motivation actually has little to do with him and has more to do with the mindset of the American people. Don't get me wrong. Obama was very wise to tap into the idea of acting as an external motivator but I think he should just as readily tap into people's evaluations of self-worth that help or hinder intrinsic growth.

The reason why Barak never inspired me is because I am very intrinsically motivated. Don't get me wrong, I love a pat on the back and to be recognized for the things I do. The difference is , I would do them even if there was not any external payoff. Now, I know a few of my psychological buddies might now be taking issue with the separation I have just made. It is an implication that those inspired by Obama were lacking in intrinsic motivation and would fail to move forward without the dangling carrot stick. Ehhh somewhat my point but not all of it. You see, intrinsic motivation has been tied to the concept of self-worth. Those with higher levels of self-worth tend to be more intrinsically motivated.

So how does one increase self-worth when their world is figuratively in the crapper? How does one move from needing someone to inspire and push them, to becoming self-motivated to institute change in their own life?

First, take a realistic determination of your value. This is best done with the help of close friends, co-workers and a counselor/therapist. Most people requiring external motivation rate their worth far lower than what it actually is and do not realize how many people actually view them.
Second: once you realize that, even if it is one person or minuscule, someone loves and depends on you, you can begin to understand your value and importance. Knowing that you are worthy in ANY capacity is foundational. Because if you find yourself worthy in one role you can expand that to others. If you have a child that sees you as a provider and nurturer, you can take that ability to less fortunate children who do not currently experience the same love and devotion. If you find you are good at building or creating things, you can expand that to help an organization like Habitat for Humanity.
Third, begin to find joy and appreciation in those areas where you are instrumental or matter.
By now I may actually have you secretly inspiring others. But, at the same time as you are increasing your self-worth you are also inspiring yourself to try new things as well as expanding your abilities in areas what you are already familiar with. The next step to take is to use that same new realization of intrinsic motivation and try utilizing it in less familiar areas. Now that you find people enjoy your ability to cook and you have started cooking for the homeless, try taking that same energy for serving and apply it to learning a new skill to better your life so you can then better others. For example learning the task of financial planning so you can create a successful budget for yourself and then teach that skill to the homeless you cook for.

You see, the misnomer of inspiration is that it must come from outside of ourselves. Each of us has the somewhere within us the inherent ability to inspire ourselves for change. The thing often missing is the understanding that we are worthy enough to create that very change.

[refrences: A Conservative's Support of President Obama; Change "You" Can Believe In]

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Conservative's Support of President Obama

Let me first tell you about my political affiliation. I am about as conservative as they come in a voting booth. I unashamedly voted for Bush twice (although there are a lot of things recently that have given me pause), I am for smaller government, less taxation or at least a fair tax, and protection of life from conception to death. I enjoy capitalism and believe people should be rewarded based on the fruits of their labor including the education it took to get them there. While I am all for helping the poor, I am not for blanket handouts (widespread not cloth). I believe our welfare system sucks and should be re-examined and revamped. I am for personal responsibility in all areas. While I am all for helping the Earth, I think people have gone too far in their ideals and demands especially when it is a world effort and China is not helping. I am against the gay agenda and its push to make itself known to children as young as five. Regardless of belief, I am against pushing the mere mention of God out of schools and every government institution.
As you can imagine, last night was a kick in the teeth to my ideals and view of what America is and what America can be. I will say that I was not a fan of McCain either, but felt he was the better option to at least stem the tide until someone else could get us back on track. I literally felt sick with dread yesterday, knowing the inevitable was coming.

With all of that being said, I am calling for the immediate support of Barak Obama from everyone. I know people are mad and upset. I would rather strap raw meat to my back and run through a pack of hyenas than to have seen this outcome. I am absolutely pissed because I think he has successfully pulled the wool over America's eyes with fancy rhetoric and speeches. However, he is the fairly elected President of the United States of America.
I think people forget, that more than anything, the President is a symbol of this great nation and a testament to the democratic process. People definitely forgot that with Bush. Dissent is okay and people who disagreed with the war had every right to raise hell. But they went to far, made it too personal, and then made sure they never agreed with him even if he was right on an issue. I believe this further fragmented and diluted the power of our great nation. I do not want to see the same thing continue.
I will pledge to continue to stand up for conservative ideals but at the same time I am going to support Barak Obama as President of the United States. When he fails with certain decisions or policies, and he will, I will fairly criticize him. However, as sharp as my dissension may be, I will not bitch and moan for the sake of it without having rational alternatives behind it. I will keep a sharp eye out for Socialistic tendencies and anything that contradicts our Constitution, including the re-distribution of wealth through taxation. We will soon see how much Barak cares about this country by the policies he makes that will either help or cripple this nation.
While conservatives should remain hopeful and confident in our position, looking forward to 2012, we should at least offer Barak a chance to better this nation. The American people have spoken. America is split. It is time for liberals and conservatives to do a little listening. If there is one thing I have learned during this election, it is that many people were magnetized to Obama because they believed he would inspire Americans to be better people (look for a future blog real soon on this misnomer). If he is halfway successful, I will consider his presidency good for this country. If not, we can boot his ass in four years.
Here is to democracy and the future of the United States of America.