The distinguished French philosopher and priest, Teilhard de Chardin, wrote, “Humankind is being brought to a moment where it will have to decide between suicide and adoration.”
The distance between those two is enormous. It’s a long drop from adoration to suicide but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45,000 Americans killed themselves in 2016, the most recent statistics available. Another 1 million people attempt suicide each year.
The latest casualty was celebrated chef, author, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain. He left us at age 61, devoted to a beautiful girlfriend and the father of an adorable 11-year old daughter. Famous, wealthy, revered by millions of fans, Bourdain nevertheless found life unbearable.
When I was eleven years old I was hit in the head with a baseball bat. It was an accident and my fault. I was playing baseball with a few kids from the neighborhood in the backyard of our home on Locust Street in Victoria, Texas. I was catching. I did not think my playmate would swing at the badly pitched ball and I moved forward. She did swing and hit me with full force on my left temple.
The blow to my head hurt so bad I cried and cried. My skull pounded for hours and my vision was blurry. I was sick to my stomach and thought I would faint. Although I was not taken to the doctor, I am certain I suffered a concussion. I know for sure the violent blow permanently injured my neck and jaw as decades later I live in constant discomfort.
I keep dipping in and out of the Showtime series, “Billions.” It fascinates me. It depresses me. It wildly entertains me. It intrigues me. It infuriates me. It pushes boundaries that disturb me. It portrays people that I wonder if really exist out there, and if so, man, is society screwed.
The episodes are based on the moral and ethical conflicts between billionaire financier Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti).
Axe, as he is called, is a cunning hedge fund genius with sociopathic
As children, my sister and I had a pet rabbit named Honey Bunny, a tiny ball of soft, fluffy fur. She was cute, cuddly, and consistently calm. When I encounter a tense circumstance, or want to keep from being sucked into other people’s negativity, I repeat “fluffy bunny, fluffy bunny, fluffy bunny” over and over in my head.
It really works. I let go of any frustration or resentment and cannot stay annoyed when I concentrate on a cute little bunny rabbit.
One day I was walking back from a neighborhood shop when I witnessed a driver stopped in the middle of the intersection, talking on her phone while presumably waiting to turn left. After the light turned red, she made a U-turn. Although there were signs indicating U-turns were illegal, she chose to do it anyway. Her SUV was too large to make it on the first attempt, so she had to back up and move forward repeatedly.
Drivers at the green light laid on their horns, while many of the pedestrians who were forced to wait on the sidewalk screamed at her. The woman gestured through her windshield with a rude hand signal, continued chatting on the phone, and maneuvered into the illegal turn to take a parking space in front of a certain store.
I was out in the Christmas crowd shopping for my grandchildren. They don’t really need a thing. They have so much. They fortunately live within the amazing care of a dad and mom who adore and cherish and abundantly provide for them. I wanted to just package up some hugs and kisses and send those as my gifts. Wouldn’t that be enough? It would, for them. They would be perfectly fine with such gifts. But I followed the rest of the holiday legion to Target and elsewhere to lend my effort to our society’s commercial Christmas mania.
There is that line in Dr. Seuss’ famous “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” that nudges me this time of year: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
I realize we all make mistakes and that it often takes time for us learn so we don’t make the same hurtful mistakes again. It certainly took me time to appreciate the vital importance of being responsible for each of my thoughts, words and actions. However, I learned one crucial lesson the first time my words hurt someone, which I share in painful detail in my first book – Lead with Your Heart, Creating a Life of Love, Compassion and Purpose.
Briefly the lesson I learned is that gossip, slander and character assassination are completely irresponsible and were signs of my emotional and spiritual immaturity. Now, this is a lesson each of us needs to learn if we are to move ourselves toward a peaceful world and fix what is wrong in our politics and with society in general.
Each day we hear countless people tearing others down in an attempt to build themselves up. There are also people who listen to and allow themselves to be influenced by negative trash-talk, hate speech, and slanderous attacks on someone seen as a political or social rival. Then there are people who do not question the credibility of those who spread conspiracy theories, or racist, homophobic, divisive, xenophobic, propaganda.
Does anyone actually believe Jesus would think purveyors of gossip and slander offer something worth listening to? They offer nothing of value to our society. Their agenda is one of sowing discourse and distraction. And some get paid to spread their trash talk.
When I was a boy, I was loved by the sweetest women in the world. My Mom, of course, beautiful in every way was one. Smart, devoted, lovingly and fiercely protective of her family. But then also, on my Dad’s side, there was my grandmother, Maude, whom I called Nana. Quiet and reserved, small and lovely, she was a tender presence. By my Aunt Laura, who was fun and beautiful with a contagious laugh, generous and open hearted. By my Aunt Mary, tiny and petite, poised and gracious. By Aunt Florida, snow white hair and the most winsome smile, a deeply self-confident woman.
On my mother’s side, there was my grandmother, Ruby, whom I called Momo. Quite simply, a saint. I adored her. My great-grandmother, Joanna, whom I called Gammy. A gifted pianist, the first female American Indian graduate in the school of music at Bacone College. Her embrace was arms of love. And there were my Aunt Emerald and my Aunt Jackie, wonderful women of grace and affection.
This is a difficult topic for me to write about because it is not something that I consciously think of. I am certainly not an expert on “what it means to be a man” and I have made many mistakes like all the rest of us. For this reason, I do not want to promote myself as some sort of hero, saint, or model citizen. We are all flawed (men and women) and I believe that we are all on a continuous journey of learning from our mistakes and striving to be better.
With that in mind, we uncover the most important core principle of what it means to be a man which is a willingness to listen and change. It’s incredible to me that such a simple concept can be so difficult to follow. Men are often characterized as tough, macho, hard headed, and stubborn and there is good reason for this portrayal. Many guys dig their heels into the dirt when it comes to their opinions on politics, work, sports, and so on. We idolize stories of strong men who are unrelenting in their resolve, who persevere despite the pressures of the world around them. Historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln are all praised for this very trait. But it is a mistake to use the stories of these men as evidence for digging our own heels into the ground, ignoring the perspectives of others, and bulldozing our way forward. Instead, I believe that to be a man you need to be willing to admit you were wrong and to adjust your opinions accordingly. I am a big sports fan and I often listen to a popular sports talk show host, Collin Cowherd. Cowherd often uses this saying, “I don’t want to be right, I want to get it right.” So often sports fans state their opinion and look for any piece of evidence to support them being right, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. The smart fan is the one who is willing to say they were wrong and to change his opinion to get it right.
We should extend this mantra beyond sports to all walks of life, especially to one of the most important social issues that our nation faces which has been brought to light by the “me too” movement. Women in our country are often objectified and this has resulted in an abundance of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Unfortunately, our society has perpetuated this objectification. For example, women are portrayed as sex symbols in movies, social media influencers are using provocative photos to sell more products, and who can ignore the impact of the pornography industry. As I mentioned earlier, I do not stand here and pretend that I am impervious to the effects of these influences on my own views of women. But, this is where the willingness of a man to listen and change becomes so important. Are we as men willing to listen to facts that are contradictory to what we want to believe, accept them, and adjust our perspective accordingly? Are we willing to get it right or do we just want to be right? If we want to truly be a man, if we want to get it right, then we need to be open to hearing the stories of women who have been mistreated and we need to change how we act and treat women to avoid making the same mistakes again.
When I think about what it means to be a man, something else comes to mind that needs to be acknowledged. Men feel the need to provide. The easiest way to measure our effectiveness at providing has been based on our salary and what that allows us to afford for our families. In this last year I have had to reevaluate this measuring stick of my ability to provide for my family. I went back to school to pursue a graduate degree, while my wife worked to support our family. Not being able to financially support our family was a huge challenge for me and has caused me to reevaluate what it means to “provide.” Since I cannot provide financially, I have found ways to provide emotionally by being an interested listener and a shoulder to cry on. I have provided tangibly by cleaning the house and preparing meals. Listening and changing does not just mean listening to others and changing for others. Over the last year I was forced to listen to my own need to provide and to change the way in which I was providing for my wife. Perhaps, by changing how we value our own contribution, we can change how we value women and their role in our society.
Dealing with physical pain over a long period of time wore me down. After a while, life was dull. I found less joy in daily activities, and the constant discomfort kept me on edge. Every day I woke up focused on the pain. Each evening I went to sleep wishing something would change.
When I received news that my twenty-nine-year-old cousin had been killed in an automobile accident, I experienced a dramatic shift in the way I viewed life. Physical pain turned into a positive sign that I was still alive. It was surprising to discover how much my pain decreased when my focus changed from living in pain to appreciating the life I had.
After being downsized from a job, I faced the daily temptation to just give