Compelled Patriotism

There have been times where I’ve felt more patriotic than others, but generally speaking, I find it a little strange.

The times where I identified as a patriot, were times where I felt good about how my country was impacting others, and felt aligned with the values my country had displayed.  That doesn’t happen so much these days.  These days, it’s difficult to understand what a patriot really is and whether anyone should want to be one.

The NFL looks to have passed a new anthem policy.  From what I understand, if you’re on the field, you have to stand for the national anthem.  The president’s remarks were something to the effect of, ‘if you don’t want to stand, maybe you shouldn’t be play.  Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.  If you’re not proud of the country, you shouldn’t be here.’  I’ve often said that Trump was going to be one of the best things to happen to this country.  Not because he leads or inspires, but because he’s forcing us to ask questions which weren’t being asked.

What if you’re not proud of the country?

Google defines a patriot as a person who vigorously supports their country and is ready to defend it against enemies or detractors.  Seems pretty straight forward.  So where’s the nuance?  I suppose it would be in how you define supporting your country, and who you determine to be the enemies or detractors.

Some people support their country by displaying the country’s branding as often as possible.  Maybe I should’ve said flag or colors instead of branding, but which is more accurate?  Some people support their country and defend it against enemies by joining the military and fighting overseas.  But how did you know who our enemies were?  Some people defend the country against detractors by protecting the commander and chief.  But what do you think the commander and chief should be protected from?  It seems as though patriotism has more to do with manipulation than it does with national pride.

I’ve struggled with the concept of pride recently,  When to have it, why to have it, and when it’s too much.  I grew up around ‘Azn Pride’.. it was kinda like white pride but Asian.  More often than not, it was about screen names and gamer tags but from time to time, it meant more than that.  It reminded people not be ashamed of where they were from or what they looked like, and gave them a sense of confidence and community among their peers.  But there were also times where Azn Pride was about showing dominance over other groups.  But what are you really proud of at that point?

Personally, I don’t think you can have patriotism without nationalism and nationalism never seems to work well out for anyone.  Nationalism really is a game of us versus them on a global scale.  Not only did we not have a say in where these lines on the map were drawn, we have no choice as to which side of the line we’re born to.  Yet these lines are enforced vigorously.  We are told that the people inside those lines are our brothers and sisters, and that the people outside those lines are potential threats.  And yet our country was built upon those who came from outside the lines.  And is under attack from those who were born here.

Perhaps patriotism is inherently flawed.  Right now, it encourages us to protect our enemies and betray our communities.  We’re told that we’re not patriotic when we don’t follow the direction of our president.  When the values of our people, country, and president are no longer aligned, who deserves our loyalty?  If patriotism is defined by a loyalty to a country, is that better understood as the people of that country, or those who are running it?  People in government demanding loyalty  sounds awfully undemocratic.  In a democratic country, where democracy literally means government for the people by the people.. the answer seems rather obvious.

So what does democratic patriotism look like?  Maybe it’s not necessarily an oxymoron.  I think it looks like a celebration of the people.  It’s a celebration of our diversity rather than a celebration of the red, white and blue.  It’s building monuments to the people who are making the world a better place today rather than arguing over old civil war statues.  It’s marching together for no more wars, and it’s marching together for no more police violence.  It’s not just about celebrating our accomplishments, but about acknowledging our darker moments in arriving here.  And you’re damn right that it’s about being able to take a knee during the national anthem to show your support for those the country has failed.

So what does patriotism look like when the lines between us and them disappear?

 

 

What it Means to be Good Looking

For most of my childhood, the only person who told me I was handsome was my mom. She would tell me that I would be such a heart breaker.  Then I ventured out into the real world and found no such validation.  Occasionally a girl would have a crush on me, but it was never one of the pretty or popular girls.  As far as my friends were concerned, all they knew was that I had a big nose.  I really had no idea of knowing whether I was good looking or not.  I wanted to be… few things were more obvious than the advantages of being good looking.

After high school, I was more focused on building myself up than what I looked like.  I was confident that women were more attracted to character than looks… how else do you explain Jay Z and Beyonce?  So I focused on building character.. integrity.. honesty.. honor.. intelligence.. humor, etc.  I proceeded to date 3 of the most eligible women at my university.  One of them was non-superficial that she could’ve dated a burn victim.  Another thought I was really good looking, but her ex was… rather plain, so not a great measure.  The third was really into the body-builder physique (of which I was not), and that led to some lackluster physical chemistry.  Coming out of university, I knew I had the ability to date beautiful women… but still no clue if I was good looking.

A few years after university, I dated a girl who seemed to be grateful and appreciative of everything in her life.  Even her most significant accomplishments, she would dismiss as good fortune.  It was foreign to me as I’ve always been one to celebrate work ethic.  She was extremely grateful for her looks, and said that I should be too.  I told her that I had given up on trying to understand whether or not I was good looking.  She told me that was ridiculous, and that to deny that I was good looking was to be oblivious of the privilege it afforded to me.  Perhaps she had a point.  Instead of exploring that point, I told her it just wasn’t something I thought about very much and I was pretty happy with the results.  It was the first time someone told me I was basically an asshole if I didn’t think I was good looking.  Well then…

Over the last couple months, I’ve probably been called handsome or good looking more than any other period in my entire life.  As someone who was trying to get back into the dating scene, one would hope those compliments would be coming from interested women.  Wishful thinking.  Almost every one of those comments came from older men in my professional life.  Something to the effect of, “you’re a young, good looking guy, the world is your oyster”.  There was an older Asian guy at my local tech summit who probably told me about 10 times in one conversation that I’m handsome, have a great smile, and should be doing business development for Intel.  He made sure to spell Intel for me.. Pretty sure he was several drinks in.

While it’s easy enough to laugh off, maybe there’s something worth observing here.  Am I good looking?  I’d say that depends on who you ask.  I’ve been told by friends overseas that if you were to drop me in a place like Japan, China or Korea, I’d be like catnip.  Put me in a place like California or New York and probably much less so.  So there are cultural factors at play.  I know facial symmetry makes for bonus points…  A full head of hair…  Good genetics… but  what about personal preferences?  When I was young, I spent a lot of time crushing on girls who just weren’t into me.  There seem to be elements of attraction which are general, while others can be highly individual.

So beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes?  Seems like an easy out.  But maybe there’s yet another level to this.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but eyes of the beholders tend to follow similar algorithms.  I think it starts with good genetics.  When you mix genetics from diverse gene pools, you end up with great looking kids.  When you let a brother and sister get it on, there’s a 50/50 chance you end up with a cyclops.  We have instincts that pick up on good genetics and we perceive that as physical attraction.  In reality, we’re just instinctively trying to diversify our gene pool.

Good health is perhaps second on that list.  We seem to be in an interesting time where people who are unhealthy and overweight want to be perceived as attractive in the same way that someone healthy is.  In reality, we’re physically attracted to good health and there are different ways we pick up on that.  Are you fit?  Do you have good skin?  Good teeth? Is your hair falling out?  Something I’ve found interesting is that whether it’s a 5’0″ gymnast or a 6’3″ power lifter, I’ve always found a healthy woman to be attractive.

So based on these parameters am I good looking?  Probably.

My genetic background is Scottish, Irish, Jewish, and Austrian.  Not the most diverse gene pool, but certainly not kissing-cousins.    My face is largely symmetrical from what I can see.  I have a full head of hair and mostly straight teeth.  While I take liberties with my health and fitness from time to time, I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life.  If I had to guess, I would say that I am above average looking.

Great.  Now what?

My concern before was that if I figured out that I was good looking, I’d let it go to my head.  I liked being oblivious to it because it kept my focus on what I thought was more important.  Now that I’m conceding, what changes?  … Nothing…?

 

I think that at this point, it’s unlikely to go to my head.  I’m appreciative for where it’s helped me, indifferent to where it didn’t, and hope that this baby face ages gracefully.  I’m also understanding and accepting where it may have created unearned advantages for me.  While it may have helped in my dating life, it probably wasn’t as big of a factor as some may believe.  Where I think it’s actually helped me the most is in my professional life.  Just about every person that’s hired me or considered me for a role has referred to me as good looking.  I think that early on, I just saw these compliments as innocuous or inconsequential.  Why does being good looking have anything to do with my performance in the work environment?  I know I look good in a suit.. maybe they were just saying something nice.  But I don’t think it’s that simple.  I think that things like facial symmetry, good skin, good hair, and good teeth make a difference in the willingness of strangers to trust you.  Match that with being presentable and well-spoken, and you’re able to earn trust faster than others.  In the world of business, that’s a very real advantage.

Are there any disadvantages?

I often see a duality around privilege, and good looks seem to follow that pattern.  While I’m grateful for my looks, I’m more grateful for that uncertainty while growing up.  It encouraged me to put my efforts and focus elsewhere, and not everyone is so lucky.  Think about the prettiest girl in your high school.  Was she more likely to be headed to university on a full scholarship or date the captain of the football team?  Was she more likely to get recruited out of school to the field of her choice or more likely to be working as a bartender?  Does she stand a better chance of accomplishing things on her own, or being accessory to someone else’s accomplishments?  From a certain perspective, being good looking provides an easier path than most.  But since when is easy a good thing?

A duality.. and a reality of our world.  At the end of the day, physical attraction has a rather functional purpose: visual markers of good genetic and good health that help you find a mate.  But I can’t help but see the tail wagging the dog a bit.  Rather than understanding how physical attraction plays out among several other factors like personality, resources, intelligence, and group-membership, we talk about it like it’s magic.  We often treat it like something that can’t be explained, and that even if it could, it shouldn’t.  That it would take the romance out of things.  I disagree.  I find the truth to be more romantic than any lie.

I think there’s a fair bit of magic in having an honest understanding of what we’re seeing and why we enjoy it.

 

 

The Religion of Self-Help

A few weeks ago, I attended my first self-help seminar.  I resisted the invite but a good friend insisted that if I went in with an open-mind, I was bound to learn something.  I told him that with an open-mind, you’re bound to learn something no matter where you are.  He said there was a money-back guarantee.  He said that if nothing else, he was very interested to see how someone like me to would behave in an environment like that.  I agreed.

I went to PSI Seminars: Basic which was a 3 day seminar with about 70 other people at a middle-tier hotel in the burbs.  The group was diverse but seemed to be weighted more towards newer immigrants and the middle-class.  I also noticed that while many came in with a healthy dose of skepticism, they also came looking for help in facing their own personal challenges.

The curriculum introduced several valuable concepts like game theory, personality science, and why it helps to stray from your comfort zone.  It also included classics like the law of attraction and self-love.  The 3 days were largely a mix of lectures, group exercises, and personal exercises.  There was a lot of clapping.

When I wrapped up the weekend, I asked for my money back.  It just wasn’t for me.  I think that when you ask for your money back, they follow up to try and figure out why.  They sent my group’s ‘micro-leader’, a 20-something nice kid who I got along well with.  In our conversation, he asked me what I learned at the seminar.  I told him that I learned many things, but perhaps most significant, I learned a great deal about religion.  I don’t think that’s the answer he was expecting.

I grew up without religion.  Both my parents went to church when they were young but they had fallen out of it by the time they had children of their own.  My earliest understanding of religion was that it was unnecessary.  It was easy to see that you could be a good person without religion, and that you could be a bad person with religion.  I also knew that many religious teachings hadn’t aged well, leaving their supporters with out-dated values.  More than anything, it seemed like religion was holding back the natural progression of morality.

As I got older, I became more spiritual and started focusing more on the intangibles of the universe which connect us all.  On that journey, I started noticing that much of what I was discovering for myself already existed in religious texts.  These epiphanies of mine weren’t new ideas, they were ancient ideas.  They were ideas that resonated so strongly with their audience, that people built entire organizations around these ideas.  This was the root of religion.  Things started to make more sense.  Where I once resisted religion, I was now in a place where I could understand it.

When I was younger, I came up with an idea: The Church of Good.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever typed that out because I just saw the play on words.  Anyways… the church of good was simply a church without religion.  This would be a place where people would come to hear the inspiring stories of what real people have done to make the world a better place.  It would be a place where we could learn the ideas and practices which would help us be better to one another.  It would also be a place were people could find community among others who were motivated to be good people.  It was supposed to be the best of religion without the worst.

That idea has sat in the back of my mind for over a decade now.  For most of that time, I saw religion as toxic.  But then I kept meeting people whom I admired in many ways, who also happened to be religious.  How could I admire someone who lived their life according to something which I considered to be toxic?  There was a disconnect.  The people I admired were good, decent people.  They generous when they didn’t have much, they were kind to those who weren’t kind to them, and they seemed to be more motivated by a collective good than by personal gain.   Most of them looked at the organized side of religion as a formality, traditions within their tribe.  For many of them, it was the least interesting part.  What they all seemed to have in common though, was an appreciation for the greater good and and enjoying being part of a community that prioritized it.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why religion had such popularity and staying power in the face of such obvious flaws.  Why couldn’t people see that they were being lied to?  And manipulated?  And often, for the sake of those who clearly weren’t operating in the spirit of the teachings.  But then it clicked, they were learning things at church that they weren’t learning anywhere else – Important things.

When I was fired from the bank, I was forced to leave a career I had put my everything into.  My world came crashing down and I experienced suffering.  That experience offered me lessons about myself and my journey that would’ve been very challenging to grasp otherwise.  I became a much stronger and more capable person because of it.  The last time something happened like that, it was my dad who died.  I noticed a pattern: that my greatest moments of growth followed my greatest moments of suffering.  With that understanding, my perspective on suffering changed.  Suffering was no longer to be feared or avoided, but understood, appreciated, and embraced.  I mentioned this to a friend and he told me that this was a classic Buddhist teaching.  Well then.

If we were to look at all the lessons learned from all the religions, I suspect we would find patterns of morality and purpose.  I’m not saying that everything we’d find is something which should be taught today.   What I am saying that we would find a pattern of people trying to understand how to be better to one another and a pattern of people trying to understand their place within the universe.  I can’t help but think that this is the true value of religion… an opportunity to learn about the more philosophical side of the human experience.. A deeper understanding of who you are and your place in the universe.

I knew all this going into the PSI Seminar.  I had even made some connections between religion and self-help before going in.  Experiencing it first hand was something else.

I would imagine that for those who weren’t raised to be religious, turning to religion is an exercise in finding answers.  I think self-help serves that same purpose.  The people in that room were not there because everything was going well, they were in search of a better way.  But many still arrived skeptical, perhaps like you would on your first day of church.

The facilitator (who happened to be a former church minister), took the stage with all the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker (or preacher).  And after some icebreakers, he started getting into some very real teachings.  People learned.  There were ‘a-ha!’ moments.  People were making breakthroughs.  Trust was being earned.

There were various exercises where you were encouraged to build deep connections with those around you.  Almost all were strangers who you didn’t know 48 hours ago.  It was a valuable reminder that we’re more similar than we are different.  It also reminded us that connecting with one another is a rather natural experience when we don’t let our personal baggage get in the way.  A sense of community was being built.

A few rituals were introduced.  Things like a big ‘good morning!’ response, jumping up and down yelling ‘I’m excited’, or the awkward soul-train dance party.  Part of how I picked up on it was observing the volunteers.  These were individuals who had done the course previously, and were coming back to observe.  They were on-point with all the rituals.  Culture was being established.

On the third day, PSI showed how they approached the business side of self-help.  The 3 day seminar cost about $800.  People who have taken the seminar are then heavily encouraged to have their friends take it.  The general message seems to be, ‘look at how great it was for you and everyone else here, don’t you want this for your friends?’  The PSI: Basic seems to operate as a feeder for their second seminar, referred to as The Ranch.  The Ranch is a 7 day retreat (to a ranch), and about 10x the cost of the basic.  When they made the pitch for the ranch, they also made the pitch for the course after it.  Then they offered to bundle the two together for a discounted price (about  $9,000).  They said “If you think that’s a lot of money and you’re not sure, just sign up for it.  If you make the commitment, you’ll find the money.”  Then they said this deal is only available for the next 20 minutes.

You’re doing what now?

After two and a half days of learning, and appreciating, and building community… where did this come from?  At least the church focused on the collection plate.  I couldn’t sit there and do nothing.  So I piped up and asked if this was the kind of financial decision that people should probably think about for more than 20 minutes.  The facilitator agreed.

During that 20 minutes, the facilitator came back up to me and offered a different answer to my question.  I reminded him that regardless of what answer he wanted to provide, he knows that these are classic pressure-sales tactics.  He conceded.  I asked him why he went along with it.  He said that whether it was the church or PSI, there were always practices that he didn’t agree with.  That sounds about right.

When I was doing the follow-up interview with our micro-leader, I asked him what he thought about these tactics.  He said lots of other people do the same thing.  I told him he was right, that you see it everywhere from MLMs, to time-shares, to religious cults.  I asked why he wasn’t more interested in holding them accountable.  He spoke about all the good that PSI does for people.  That being manipulated into a self-help program that turns out to be really good for you isn’t really that bad.  I asked him if the end justified the means.  He said no, not really.

But he found his religion.. his tribe.. where he wants to search for answers.. and I wasn’t going to change his mind.

 

 

 

 

Infinity War Prediction: Soul Stone

I’m a nerd, a recognizer of patterns, and someone who’s constantly trying to predict the future.  I just watched a clip on YouTube ‘What you need to know before watching Infinity Wars’.  Pretty sure I’ve watched each marvel movie six or seven times leading up to this so I’m probably not missing anything.. so I was surprised to know that the location of the Soul Stone was still a mystery.  Really?

I’m pretty sure the Soul Stone made its appearance in Black Panther.  I actually thought it was pretty obvious.  Unless I’m mistaken, it was the soul stone is what allowed T’Challa and Killmonger to visit the ancestral plane.  The MCU is big on keeping things within the scientific realm, even explaining in Dr. Strange that magic is simply science that we don’t yet understand.  As advanced as Wakanda is, I doubt that they would have been able to develop the technology necessary to visit the Ancestral Plane.  I think the most likely source of that ability would be the soul stone.

The other part that stands out to me is the potential connection between vibranium and the soul stone.  The infinity stones are demonstrated to be so powerful that they can’t be handled directly (for the most part).  The power stone has that ball thingy, the mind stone had Loki’s staff, then Vision’s forehead, the space stone within the tesseract, and apparently the reality stone is somehow in that floaty liquid.  So if the soul stone was in Wakanda, there had to be some protective casing: Enter vibranium

Once upon a time, vibranium was the metal that Cap’s shield was made from and what made it special was that it absorbed vibrations.  In Wakanda, it’s reintroduced as perhaps one of the most versatile materials in the known MCU.  What would be more fitting to contain an infinity stone?  I’m pretty sure that at one point, the soul stone was contained within a large mass of vibranium and it’s this vibranium mass that crashed into Wakanda.

The last piece I’ll speculate on is what that mass was.  The fact that it came from the cosmos aligns with it containing an infinity stone, but I’m curious about the origin of vibranium now.  Every other infinity stone was contained within something small and highly portable.  If I’m right, the soul stone was contained in something massive.  Considering how durable and versatile vibranium is, it seems like containing an infinity stone in something that large would be overkill.  If it wasn’t a natural rock formation and if it wasn’t a purpose built container for the infinity stone, what was it?  My first thought would be a ship of some sort that experienced a crash landing in Wakanda.  Reverse engineering of that ship could’ve led to the advanced technologies seen in Wakanda, but there wasn’t anything in Black Panther which would’ve indicated that.  So if not a ship.. what else?

A Celestial

I’m going way out on a limb with this one, but assuming continuity, it’s my best guess.  The events leading up to that crash landing are beyond me at this point, but I’m sure that if this is the case, it’ll be explained in Infinity War.  We know that the infinity stones have a close connection to the celestials and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that a celestial’s body could’ve been made from Vibranium.  In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, they’re introduced to Knowhere as the severed head of a celestial which has been harvested for all kinds of rare bio-organic material.  Vibranium was never mentioned, but then again, vibranium is a term which was coined on earth.  Who knows, maybe it’s the body of this celestial, containing the soul stone, which eventually crashed into earth.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

Walking Through Life with the Confidence of a Honey Badger

Several years ago, I watched ‘The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger” video.  As entertaining as that video was, it was also the first time I had really seen a Honey Badger in action.  King Cobras, bees, jackals.. The Honey Badger did not give a shit.

Last week, I found out that the skin of a Honey Badger was so durable, that it could withstand a machete, arrows, and spears.  I suppose there can be some real value in having thick skin.  And off my mind went…

I read a book a couple years ago which discussed the concept of not taking anything personally.  The idea is that whatever someone was saying about you or to you, was a reflection of how they were experiencing their reality, more than it was a reflection of you.  If a random stranger yelled a racial slur at you, there’s a good chance that outburst had more to do with them than it did with you.  Even if that random stranger said something flattering, the premise is the same.  The goal is to understand why something is being said, rather than to take what is being said at face value.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach.  There are times where someone paid me a compliment that I really enjoyed hearing, and instead of understanding why they had paid me a compliment, I accepted it as a true statement.  Later, I would discover that I had been misled, not because the other person was malicious in their intentions, but because I misunderstood their perspective or what they were trying to communicate.  If your priority is to have an accurate understanding of the world, you need to be mindful of the prejudice and bias of how others see the world – even when it’s in your favor.

While I appreciate how this approach has helped keep my ego in check, it’s arguably most effective as a defensive measure.  While I’m not perfect, I do my best to walk through life without fear, anger, or hate.  And I’m getting pretty darn good at it.  How?  I walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger.

I wasn’t born with thick skin.  These callouses were earned.  A lot of it was scar tissue.

I entered into adulthood understanding that sensitivity was not always a strength.  Being sensitive worked against me more often that it worked in my favor because a high degree of sensitivity would bypass my ability to think about things rationally – and I would just react.  More often than not, these reactions were extremely counter-productive.  I had to learn to handle things differently.

In my 20s, I learned the value of rational thought.  Emotions and sensitivity became something to control, not something which I would let control me.  Someone could call me the meanest thing they could come up with, and I’d be more likely to end up at a point of compassion than of anger.  I would also have more confidence in my ability to turn that person into a friend than an enemy.  And even if I couldn’t make any progress with that individual, I could move on from the situation knowing that I handled the situation the best I could and that I may have created an opening for someone else down the road.  There was something enlightened about this approach, and yet it left me feeling invincible.

I now walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger, knowing that there’s very little that others can do to hurt me.  And it’s changed the way I see the world.  Without fear, there is no hate.  Without hate, there is no anger.  Without fear, hate, or anger, Love is a much more natural state of mind.  Walking through life, ready to love… I can’t help but think this is a far more productive approach than walking through life ready to fear.

Now in my 30s, I’m trying to incorporate a more balanced approach, inclusive of sensitivity and emotions.  These days, I understand sensitivity to be like a dial on an instrument which collects data. If you turn the dial to zero, then you’ll collect no new information and you might as well not have the instrument at all.  If you turn the dial on the instrument to 100, you better have the ability to process all that information accurately.  I suspect that most people have a hard time adjusting that dial themselves.  I’ve seen a lot of men out there who have set that dial as low as possible and go through life too insensitive to notice the emotional nuances of those around them.  I’ve also seen a lot of women out there who have their dial set rather high, and go through life overly sensitive to the actions and words of those around them.  I doubt either is healthy.

A thick skin doesn’t make you insensitive to the world around you.  A thick skin is the difference between someone wanting to hurt you and someone being able to hurt you.  And when you realize that this dynamic exists entirely in your head, as an understanding of how the world works, it really does stand out to me as something special.  Imagine a world, full of people who are never offended, never angry, never fearful.  That world often exists inside my head… but then I venture out into the real world and I’m reminded of how much fear, hate, and despair exists in the world.

I’m not entirely sure how to navigate what comes next…  But I do know how I’ll carry myself in the process.

 

Back from the Depths

Back in December, I decided that enough was enough.  I had spent so much time in a holding pattern with the important parts of my life… waiting for key events to launch me back into the state of mind I enjoyed most.  I knew it wasn’t the best approach I could take, but I was smoking so much weed that I lacked the motivation to break that routine.  Until I started thinking more about Max.

Max was an ex-girlfriend from a few years ago.  We broke up because she was consumed with the idea of leaving a city she had never left and having a chance to explore a world she had never seen.  I’m glad I didn’t try to hold her back from that.

Last year, my whole world came crashing down and I was fortunate enough to have the time and space to reflect on all that had led up to that moment.  For me to understand all that had happened, I needed to be able to see through the noise.  The noise of the outside world, the noise of those who knew me, and even the noise of what I would tell myself.  To truly understand all that had happened, I had to prioritize the truth above all else.  What I found, opened my eyes in a way they had never been opened.

It was through that experience, that I learned to see Max in a much different light.  I thought I had always respected and appreciated her… but I’m not so sure anymore.  At least not in the way it mattered.  Back then, it was about what she meant to me.  Now it has much less to do with me, and much more to do with having a deeper understanding of who she was, and just being in awe of it.

One of the most important things I had learned about myself last year was that I needed to stop trying to force things into reality.  In many ways, it feels like I’ve spent most of my life swimming against the current.  When things got easy, I’d find ways to make them hard.  Many of my life’s accomplishments have been defined by fighting for every inch.  I think there’s a time and a place to fight for what you love, but I have no interest in living a life defined by conflict.  Nor do I have any interest in living a life defined by milestones, or accomplishments, or any other tangible metric.  I realized I wanted to live my life honestly, fearlessly, and with an open mind… and let the universe handle the rest.  And that’s when I couldn’t get Max out of my mind.  She lived by those virtues more so than anyone I’ve ever known.  In some sense, she had become my north star.

I couldn’t help but ask myself, what if we had another shot?  The first thing that came to mind was that I didn’t deserve it.  It was nice that I had gained a deeper appreciation for who she was, but I’d be embarrassed to reintroduce her to the rest of me.  Enough was enough.

I decided that even if it didn’t end up being her, she had set the bar.  For me to be with someone like her, I needed to be… better.  So I stopped smoking weed.  Started training twice a day, 6 days a week.  Started reading a lot more.  Started writing a lot more.  I was still in a holding pattern with my career, but I was determined to break that holding pattern for everything else.  It felt awesome.  So I decided to send her a note.  It was a YouTube video, on Christmas day, apologizing for my mid-steps and thanking her for all that she had inspired.

I didn’t send it expecting a response, but I knew it was likely.  It arrived about a month later and it left me with mixed emotions.  She was surprised, but happy to hear from me.   She said some kind things and then asked if I was up for a call, hoping we could have a real conversation.  I responded later that day saying I would be happy to make the time.  Then radio silence.

A week later, I separated my shoulder playing basketball.  The pain was pretty bad for the first week, enough to keep me from sleeping.  So back to cannabis I went.  Still nothing from Max.

A week after that, Facebook reminded me that it was an old fling’s birthday.  We’ll call her Mia.  I sent her a cake emoji, she sent me a cheers emoji, and we started texting for a bit.  We were both big into superhero movies so I asked if she wanted to go see Black Panther.  She was all for it.  Neither of us had been on a date in a year so we figured maybe this was what we both needed.  There was certainly a part of me that thought if I was going on a real date with a real girl, it would be easier to understand that Max probably wasn’t a real option.  Or maybe I was just hedging my bets on what was looking more and more like a disinterested Max.

Then Mia flaked out and went radio silent.  It’s why we stopped dating the first time, so I was tempted to write her off again.  Instead, I told her no hard feelings, that I hoped she was ok, and that if she ever wanted to let me in, I was curious to know why she was like this from time to time.   She apologized, said she wasn’t trying to be flaky but it was a combination of being really busy and a little awkward around me.  I asked her what she thought I should do.  She asked why I wanted to reconnect, so I told her.  She was into it, said we should probably catch up, and conceded with a smile that this was the original plan.

At this point I still hadn’t heard from Max, and I think my first reaction was being annoyed.  But I’m better than that.  Even if it had been a month, I knew she was likely busy, and I needed to be ok with not being a priority.  But I couldn’t help but reach out, so I asked what was on her mind.

She responded shortly after, saying that she was dealing with a few things and then offered up a rather disheartening email.  Knowing that she still cared about me and always being honest, she told me what she really thought about the video I had sent her.  In the video, I told her that I was on a new path, and that she was the only one who I knew who had the courage and ability to walk that path beside me and not behind me.  I was alluding to a path defined by the journey, not the destination.  A path defined by a compass of honesty, fearlessness, and open-mindedness, not milestones like income or assets.  It was a path I thought she was already on.  She took it as me thinking of her as an accessory to a path which I was taking.  It was frustrating to be misunderstood like that.  But I had to appreciate that her idea of who I was, was largely influenced by the person I was when we dated.  And maybe I was a bigger ass than I realized.

Truth is, as frustrating as that email was, it let me know that she was still exactly who I hoped she was.  She was brutally honest.  Talked about how what she wanted in a partner was a true equal.  Said that she could still see growth in me and was really happy for how far I had come.  She also apologized for taking so long to reply, but said it was a tough email to write because of how much she cared for me.  She wrapped up by saying that she was about to spend the next 10 days in Sri Lanka with some free time if I wanted to chat.

A couple more emails went back and forth and things were positive.  I could tell that she was trying to balance a few different thoughts and emotions, on top of all that she was dealing with in her in life.  If I were to guess what those thoughts and emotions were, I’d guess a lingering sense of disappointment from letting her down in our relationship, a healthy skepticism of where this was all coming from, and a genuine interest in my well-being.  She gave me her new number and suggested we chat on whatsapp.  So I did and we did.

Within the first few messages, I told her that I still wanted to respond to her last email.  She was still making assumptions based on who I was, and I was so eager to show her who I had become.  She welcomed the email, but didn’t respond to it.  What is it with people and radio silence?  Is it a girl thing?  A dating thing?  A me thing?  Am I still unreasonable today?  These are the kinds of things that drive me a little nutty, but I choose to react sensibly.  I took a night off cannabis earlier this week and went into full insomnia mode.  I couldn’t help but think of the situation.  I thought that perhaps it was unfair of me to put this on her at a time in her life where she had other things which were more important to focus on.  All I wanted was for her to understand what had happened to me and appreciate what it meant to the hypothetical ‘us’.  Beyond that, I had no expectations.  But just because that was important to me, doesn’t mean it had to be important to her.  So I grabbed my phone and decided to send her a message that would basically say no hard feelings, I know you have a lot going on, and if you ever feel compelled, here’s a link to my blog.  The hope was that when she was ready, she’d see the journey I took, and see the steps that I’ve taken to arrive at who I am today.  She’s also see my ENTJ Love Story which is one of my life’s most honest moments, and all about her.  Instead I accidentally hit the call button.

I hit the hang-up button like I was button mashing a Mario Party game but to no avail. The call never went through, but she noticed and asked what’s up?  I was a little tongue-tied.  It was difficult to express myself in short text messages, when she was still making so many assumptions about who I am, based on who I was.  We texted until about 4am, but most of that was me deleting and rewriting messages, desperate not to be misunderstood.

She told me that her stance on us was that she wasn’t in the right mindset to be thinking about it since she didn’t have a clue which city she’d be living in once she graduated.  I told her it might be an interesting conversation to have, but not one that I was ready for either.  Truth is, I still have more ground that I need to cover before I would consider myself ready to be in that caliber of a relationship.  What I did want to know is that if the path that I was on was aligned with hers.

When we broke up, we each recognized that we had things that we needed to work on.  And if we did, we could come back to each other and our relationship would be that much stronger.  At the time, I didn’t realize how much of that work was mine to be had, nor did I realize that it would end up being me that would be more compatible to who she was, and not her who would become more compatible to who I was.  But I didn’t know for sure, because all I had to work with was my memory of who she was.

She said it was tough to talk about because she would think about how we were before and it was like she was talking to a whole new person.  I breathed a sigh of relief… she was finally seeing what I was trying to show her.  Then she told me that one of our biggest issues was how dominant I was.  No one had ever described me as dominant in a relationship before, but it was easy to understand why.  I’m happy she said it.  She went on to say that I would push my point of view rather aggressively, and wasn’t the best at taking the time to reflect on my stance.  She was right.  But then she said that it seemed like I was doing that now… and my heart sank.

I conceded that I had issues.  Give me a woman who follows my lead and I get bored.  Give me a woman who challenges me and I compete to win.  Her emails reminded me of these issues, but they also reminded me of how far I had come.  I told her I hoped she’d have a chance to get to know this person, because she played a very real role in where I am now.  She said that she was happy, but was concerned that it didn’t happen until years later.  I responded by saying that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to learn these things when we dated.  I was consumed with becoming what I thought the world expected of me, not taking the time to figure out who I really was and what I had to offer to the world.  She said she was proud, and it sounded like I was on the right track.

And that was it.  We have no future plans to talk.  I have no interest in taking up any more of her time.  I don’t think she’s all that interested in putting thought into this either… but I know I’ve planted a seed.  What I wanted most was to know if any of what I thought or felt was real.  But once I did, I cared too much to do nothing, and knew better than to chase after her.  So I planted a seed.  I haven’t a clue what happens next.  I’d be lying if there wasn’t a part of me thinking about booking a ticket to her grad ceremony but I’m not sure if it’ll be a sign of stalking, support, or a grand gesture of romance.  Especially since my intentions are probably a combination of all three.  But then the pragmatic side of me says there’s at least a 50/50 chance that it goes horribly wrong.  But then the romantic says 50/50 are great odds when you’re talking about something this meaningful.

All I know is that having a chance to reconnect with her and put this out there has left me with a sense of peace.  The rest of my life still feels like the eye of the storm, but at least here, I’ve made progress.

Power Vs. Strength

When dealing in abstract concepts like these, it can be difficult to have a real conversation without first agreeing on how to define the terms.  I think that a lot of people use power and strength interchangeably, yet I can’t help but think that they differ in very important ways.

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I was taught that quote by a very influential history teacher in high school and it has continued to echo through my mind since.  I can’t help but be reminded of it when I see people in positions of power put the needs of the few before the needs of the many.  It’s as if there’s something inherently inefficient about power.

When I think of strength, it’s similar to power.  But not quite.  Strength is almost like the potential of power.  Unused power.  A visual of strength does not require a display of aggression.  Perhaps there’s a duality here.  Is power to offense as strength is to defense?

It’s interesting, you could say that someone is both powerful and weak at the same time.  A frail old king is both re(g)ally powerful and physically weak.  Politicians are known for having political power but weak integrity.  Movies are constantly filled with villains who wield vast power, but lack a strength of character.  I’m not sure if I know of any villains who have a great strength of character, but wield little power.  In many cases, is that not the hero?  The unassuming, jacked, strong jaw line with a warm smile kinda hero?

Analyzing this in the abstract is usually a journey down the rabbit hole, but there are some examples that help me clarify what I’m thinking.

Name calling has gotten out of control.  For most of my life, I was taught not to feed into it.  To walk away.  To appreciate that the person doing the name calling is probably doing so because they’re battling their own demons.  It was tough when I was younger but it’s second nature now.  Now, when someone’s hostile towards me, I’m much more likely to view the situation with compassion than anger and I can’t help but think that makes me strong.  Moving through life, invulnerable to the malicious attitudes of others is really something else… I highly recommend it.

Yet I seem to be in the minority.  Rather than seeing it as an issue of personal strength, compassion, and helping someone move beyond their own issues, it’s about power.  The victim being name called is no longer interested in making themselves stronger, they’re interested in becoming more powerful.  This is the era of the victim shaming the bully.

If we could teach everyone the simple philosophy of not taking things personally, the effectiveness of name calling would disappear.  When something is no longer effective, we tend to stop using it.  We become stronger, we become wiser, and we move forward.  Instead, we’re more interested in giving the victims the power to hurt them back.  Laws are being changed for compelled speech.  What does being triggered in this context mean?  What happens when being triggered is an excuse to tap into that power?

I also can’t help but see this dynamic in women’s empowerment.  I remember finding out that I was a feminist back in university because I believed in equality.  It made sense to me that men and women were different but equal.  But I struggle to resonate with parts of modern feminism.  There seems to be this pursuit of equal outcome over equal opportunity.  A denial of inconvenient biology.  A tendency to deal in absolutes instead of nuances.  And what drives it all, seems to be a pursuit of power over the pursuit of equality.

I don’t think it’s that complicated either.  For decades, centuries, or millennia (however you want to look at it), men have been powerful.  They’ve ruled, they’ve warred, they’ve killed, they’ve raped, and they’ve pillaged.  Things are different now.  In an age of equality, women want to be powerful too.  They’re no longer looking for a seat at the table, now they want equal rights to be the asshole boss at the table.  I suppose that is equality, I suppose I’m just a little bummed out that there isn’t a motivation to be better.

I sometimes joke that I feel sorry for Hilary Clinton for having lost the 2016 election.  She could’ve been a role model for feminism.  She lost when she ran against Obama, but had the composure to pick her self up and run again.  Then she went up against one of feminism’s greatest foes, keeping her composure throughout.  Had it not been for Russian interference, she probably would’ve won that presidency.  She couldn’t have been a role-model for feminism, right?  One of the bigger reasons why Hilary lost, was because for many, she was indistinguishable from the Washington establishment.  She literally spent her entire career learning how to play within a corrupt, man’s world to the point where she probably played it better than anyone else – Just in time for the American public to be fed up with it.  I felt bad for women that they missed out on their first female president, but I had hope.

My hope is that the first woman to be elected president, be the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, locomotion of intelligence, strength, integrity and all the qualities of a great leader, but without the sacrifice of feminine qualities like compassion, intuition, and ability to nurture.  I want her to be able to set the bar.  Not just for future women, but for future men and politics in general.  I want her to inspire us to look up to women, not to reasons to avoid looking down on them.

In the pursuit of equality, women are looking at men, and trying to draw the line 50/50 through it all.  You don’t want it all.  A lot of it is garbage.  Please don’t take the garbage too.  We’d all be way better off if we could leave it behind, and this is an opportunity to do so.  This power isn’t something you want, it’s something that none of us should want.  We need to let it go.  But we need help.  We need a little leadership.

It’s not power that you want, it’s strength.  It can be tough to tell the difference when you look at the people holding you down and the most obvious difference between you is power.  But they’re not strong.  That’s why your strength makes their power irrelevant.

You can have a world where everyone is strong, but not a world where everyone is powerful.  For someone to be powerful, someone else must be powerless.  Strength however, resides within.  A world in which everyone pursues power is chaos.  A world in which everyone pursues inner-strength is peace.