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What Patriotism Means to Me

I am in the process of joining Daughters of the American Revolution. Almost every generation in my family has served in the military dating back to the Revolutionary War. My dad was in the Special Forces. Although he was an imperfect man in many ways (and I am myself imperfect), I get a lot of my ideas about patriotism from him.

These days, many Americans feign patriotism by purchasing guns and toting them around, and the like.

I have never owned a gun. It’s highly unlikely that I ever will.

I’m a civilian. Probably always will be. But there’s things one can do and ways one can be that are genuinely patriotic without serving in the military.

My dad showed me how.

Being a patriot, for me, is about doing one’s best for one’s community, and for America. It requires sacrifice and I daresay developing some kind of virtue.

My dad was very good at gardening. He grew a lot of his own food. He often gave away the fruits of his labor to neighbors and friends, without asking for money.

He also mowed neighbors’ lawns. Fixed their cars. In general, my dad used his talents to help others.

Being a patriot, for me, also means doing right by Tribal Nations and foreign countries. It means being welcoming to immigrants.

Being a patriot, for me, means investing in education, both mine and others’. It means doing my best to develop intellectual virtues and encouraging the pursuit of knowledge in younger generations.

Being a patriot means recognizing what America has given me while working to make things better for others.

None of this, as you can see, requires a gun.

Rather, to me, patriotism is a life dedicated to service, whether military or civilian. It means bringing out one’s best and encouraging the best from others. It means tolerating–even celebrating–differences, because they are what make America unique. It means defending democracy, and doing one’s best to keep America upright.

I don’t even own an American Flag. I don’t scare other Americans by pounding my chest. Instead, I seek out the downtrodden, like my dad taught me to, and like it says on the Statue of Liberty.

This is a very different kind of patriotism that what is popularized in the media.

So, when people ask me why I’m joining Daughters of the American Revolution, all of this is why. My values and their values line up.

I’m simply doing what my dad taught me to do.

Celebrate Recovery?

The other day, I started working (again) on a chapbook. Below you will find the title poem and tentative cover art.

A few blocks from me, there is a church. They do meetings for people in all kinds of recovery. The name of the group is “Celebrate Recovery.”

I don’t talk much publicly about my personal life. However, I do know of people who have hit rock bottom. I have, in fact, been one, with schizophrenia.

For me and the people I’ve come to help recover, the darkness and desolation has been overwhelming. Often, too, one has lost all friendships, and perhaps even family. More often, reputation. One is socially isolated, often broke, and trying to figure out the next meal.

Down the street from the church is a gas station with a cluster of woods behind it. There lives a community of homeless people. Sometimes, I give them money. But when I don’t have a dollar to spare, I always make sure to acknowledge them, to speak to them as equals, to reassure them, and look them in the eye, if it’s not too invasive.

My chapbook is about all of this. It’s also about how the people we often see, externally, as weak, frequently turn out to be the strongest, and how people with bravado and machismo turn out to be, in reality, pitifully weak. I am calling it “A Sound Mind” because, a few years ago, when I started meditating, I chose 2 Timothy 1:7 as the idea I focused my mind on.

We never know where life may lead. I feel mostly recovered, with some limitations. But that may not always be the case.

I do not celebrate my recovery the way the church down the street seems to. It’s not a joyous song and dance. When everything–your mind, possessions, social connections–have been taken away from you, getting them back, perhaps in a different way, makes one cry and then, hopefully, help others who have lost it all.

A Sound Mind

One would think

That because they are snowflakes

That they are weak.

But they are the strongest.

Each one providing unique insight

And fighting battles the vicious know nothing about.

While they may seem to lack all virtue

On the surface

Deep down

They rally for the cause.

May we hope for some to rise up

To save themselves, at first

So they may rescue others.

An army of previous snowflakes

Will become self-guided ubermenches,

Ready to help another to their feet.

Tips for Reaching Your Goals (with insight from philosophy!)

The other day I took an assessment for a job. It included behavioral and personality traits. By far, my highest score was for being goal oriented.

As we approach 2023, many people will make New Years resolutions.

I don’t make resolutions. I make yearly goals. This year, I was able to accomplish quite a few of them.

If you have a problem setting and reaching goals, here’s some of my tips:

1. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind, slip up or fail to meet your goal. Don’t ever beat yourself up in general. You don’t deserve that. Life happens. Luck happens. Fate happens.

2. Be flexible. I studied ethics in grad school and learned about using judgement and reason in context rather than sticking to hard and fast rules. Rules can be fine sometimes, but more often it’s important to be “Simper Gumby”—always flexible.

3. Break your goal down. If I set a goal to reach by the end of the year, I try to take small steps toward it daily or weekly. For example, I had a goal to eat healthier this year. I started with a healthier breakfast that I took a picture of and posted to my family on Facebook every day. One meal at a time, I saw measurable improvements on my health.

4. Reward yourself for reaching mini goals. Often, a large goal will have smaller goals inside it. For instance, I take medications and used to hate taking them. But I know taking them is good for my health. So, I rewarded myself monthly for taking my medications and now that I have taken them all year, I will reward myself for reaching that larger goal.

5. Don’t look at your goal or the journey as a punishment. It’s so important to try to be generally positive about your goal. Often, this means setting a worthwhile goal. Not every goal is worth it.

6. Be forgiving. Don’t demand perfection from yourself about your goal. Perfection, as my thesis advisor once smartly told me, is the enemy of the good.

Thoughts on Soren Kierkegaard

I was first introduced to Soren Kierkegaard‘s work around 20 years ago in Introduction to Philosophy. Since then, I have been fascinated by him and his work, although, to be honest, it hasn’t always been easy for me to readily grasp. In this post, I will lay out how I currently understand him, having started to read Either/Or again this week.

Kierkegaard shrouds his work in pseudonyms, irony, humor, and wit. This makes him quite different from many of the other philosophers I have read. There’s a reason for all of this, however. It’s not simply whimsical character traits coming through in his work: Kierkegaard had an important project, perhaps the most important project.

Kierkegaard was a Christian and believed in God. As we shall see, the stage of life he characterized as The Religious was the final form of human life on Earth. I believe Kierkegaard, through all of his literary devices, was trying to bring his readers to that final form.

Of course, if you take this seriously, then, yes, it is important work.

In Either/Or, we see characterizations of the Aesthetic Life and the Ethical Life. Below, I will explain how I understand each of these as well as the final stage–The Religious Life.

Kierkegaard is known as the Father of Existentialism. He also developed numerous psychology concepts.

I have a degree in psychology as well as philosophy. It wasn’t until I pulled out my psychology lens that I better understood Kierkegaard.

In psychology, there are many theories of personal growth, development and motivation. A famous one you may have heard of is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When you reach the top of Maslow’s pyramid, you are able to achieve self actualization.

Kierkegaard lived long before Maslow did. However, he also posited different “Stages on Life’s Way.”

The first stage is what Kierkegaard calls The Aesthetic. This stage is characterized by flight from boredom. In our modern terms, we may think of a person in this stage as one who flees being alone with themselves and their thoughts. They are all in for entertainment as a flight from dealing with the more weighty things in life. They play games as a flight of fancy, they watch TV to flee heavy thoughts of existence, they are obsessed with reality television and trends so they don’t have to deal with serious issues. They will do almost anything to avoid dealing with existential questions. It’s not necessarily what they do, however; it’s why they do it. Kierkegaard says they do these things to flee boredom. Yet, in boredom, we confront ourselves and our lives.

The second stage described by Kierkegaard is The Ethical. In this stage, a person has probably confronted a fair amount of boredom. They become preoccupied with morals, and perhaps politics and laws. Kierkegaard says this stage focuses on commitment and responsibility. In our era, it’s common for many people to take politics as their highest cause. I have been guilty of this. But an extreme focus of things such as this isn’t yet the final stage, according to Kierkegaard. Again, it’s not precisely what they do. It’s why they do it. In this stage, people are typically looking for a universal maxim to live by and impose on others.

The final stage for Kierkegaard is The Religious. Kierkegaard was a Christian, so his theology centers on the Christian tradition. Personally, I am curious as to whether some or all of his thought can generalize to other religions.

The Religious stage is characterized by a deep, personal relationship with God. Contrary to how many Christians these days see it, this isn’t a commitment to a generalizable moral life, especially one that you force on others. In fact, although he was a Christian, Kierkegaard took serious issue with the church of his day. His primary goal was precisely this: How to be a Christian within Christendom.

In his book Fear and Trembling, we see Kierkegaard analyze the Father of Faith, Abraham. Looking carefully at this can help us understand The Religious stage.

If you take these things seriously, you will believe that a person can have an intimate relationship with the Creator. The Religious stage is, contrary to popular belief, not one of strict moral codes. Instead, it is closely and carefully following God.

Abraham did just this, which is why he is considered the Father of Faith. Yet, as Kierkegaard describes it, there must have been a “teleological suspension of the ethical.” By this, Kierkegaard means that Abraham suspended humanly moral codes, like Do Not Murder, in order to fulfill God’s request for Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Abraham trusted God and fully meant to kill Isaac. He was totally ready to do it.

Then, God sent a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice instead.

According to Kierkegaard, what’s important about Abraham is what he shows us about The Religious stage.

It’s not that we must commit horrific acts because we think God says so. It’s that we must move on from The Ethical stage to our final form: Communion with God. (And, if you follow the Bible, you will also have faith that God will not lead you astray because, if you are a Christian, you will have fruits of the spirit, and generally be a loving, caring, just person, against which, according to the Bible, there is no law.)

Kierkegaard says a person who lives in the Religious Stage is a Knight of Faith. He also says you may not recognize a Knight of Faith. That’s because the Knight of Faith can watch reality television, just like the Aesthete, or engage in politics and law, like the Ethical person.

What makes the Knight of Faith different is a deep, personal commitment to God. God has the final say in one’s life. The Knight of Faith looks to God for direction and guidance. God is never wrong. God is always right. God also always wins in the end. Therefore, when one is in this stage, one has perfect guidance, perfect understanding, and perfect grace.

Kierkegaard believed this final form, which is very different from what many people believe about Christianity, is the highest stage of human life, but he also focused on repetition in his work, because The Religious stage isn’t a final destination–it’s a constant quest. A commitment and re-commitment.

All of this, at any rate, is how I’ve come to understand Soren Kierkegaard after 20 years of pondering!

Curious, Flexible, and Jovial: A Portrait of Albert Einstein from “Dear Professor Einstein”

The book Dear Professor Einstein (2002) begins with a foreword by his granddaughter. The book starts out by portraying Einstein and his life and loves. It then goes on to collect letters to Einstein from children around the world–and Einstein’s response to each!

We find explicitly stated what we may now take for granted: Albert Einstein’s brilliance is found in his deep curiosity. As a boy, Einstein hated strict and rigid schooling. Thus, he thrived when he could study independently without being punished or disciplined harshly by teachers for, say, not answering a question quick enough.

Throughout his life, we see how he detested strict and rigid authority. He was even citizenshipless for a period of several years because, partly, he did not want to join the military as a young man.

Albert Einstein felt the irony that came with his success. He commented that it was ironic that he had become an authority when he hated authority.

The letters in the book, by kids all over America and the world, pose curiosity-filled questions to the famous man. He answers honestly, carefully, and gently, without being patronizing.

Einstein is sometimes known as the first media celebrity. His accomplishments became known during a time of a media revolution.

There are several lessons we take take from Albert Einstein.

First, while discipline, rigidity, and harsh structure may be necessary for some, a degree of flexibility is agreeable in personal character and organizational structure in order to achieve maximum creativity of thought.

Second, it is extremely admirable that Albert Einstein took all this time to reply to the questions of children. Many of us, whether academics or not, seek to rise in the ranks and get the utmost esteem of adult colleagues. Albert Einstein appears to have remained humble and, as they say, “kept it real.” He loved that children had a kind of curiosity and way of looking at the world with fresh eyes because Einstein himself managed to keep quite a bit of that in adulthood.

Third, if anyone deserves fame, it’s people like Albert Einstein. He stood for the oppressed, loved justice, and managed to stay fresh in thought all at the same time. He came to detest war so much that he advocated a one-world government to avoid conflicts.

Dear Professor Einstein reminds us that greatness isn’t the gratification of the personal ego. It’s honest, courageous in thought, and modest.

I lost 15 pounds by caring for myself.

I set out three months ago to eat healthier. I focused more on fruits, veggies and whole grains while limiting sugar and processed carbs. It’s not a strict diet. I have a sweet or two here and there. And that’s what makes my lifestyle different.

I am not starving myself. I eat a lot actually. I am not punishing myself or depriving myself. Instead, I am caring for myself.

In this world, and perhaps especially if you were brought up in a neglectful or abusive home, being cared for, including by yourself, is rare. And we are taught that beauty and fitness, too, must be punishments.

I set out to nourish my body. I haven’t even been exercising yet. I didn’t have a weight loss goal at all.

We typically think that we are in fact caring for ourselves if we eat the chocolate bon bons. However, what’s really caring for yourself is eating the apple.

I feel tons better. I think I happen to look better too. 

If you are interested in a rough, though not exact, estimate of how I have been eating, check out this CDC link.

Tips for Better Mental Health

Everyone has mental health. You don’t have to be diagnosed with schizophrenia to take care of it. If you take medications, continue to do so. I do. But there are some other things I’ve picked up over the years that foster mental wellness. Strike a balance in your life with them and I promise you will see improvement even if you have no diagnosis.

Social: take time, hopefully every day, to really connect with at least one or two people. It could be more. And if you are an introvert like I am, make sure you take some “me time”. You can use social media or texting if that’s what you have access to. Make sure you aren’t doomscrolling though! Have a conversation. Try to really connect. It could be family. It could be friends. But make some time for other people in your life.

Physical: invest in your body. You could exercise for a few minutes every day. You could start eating healthier. Or it could be you decide to take your prescribed medications or go to the doctor when you need to. Take time for your physical health.

Psychological: take time each day for personal growth and development. You could start each day by telling yourself that it’s going to be a good day to set a positive, healthy mindset. Think about what makes you tick or why you are the way you are. Think about family dynamics or traumas you experienced to work through them. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. Really examine yourself and work toward health.

Values/Spiritual: healthy people have a strong sense of values, morals and/or spirituality. You may work to improve your moral standing. You may decide to stick up for people in a sense of justice. You may work to be a person of integrity. You may take time each day to pray. You may go to church, mosque or synagogue online or in person. You may decide to start voting for policies and people who encourage a healthy society. Take time to explore your values and work toward the good.

These are my tips. I use them for myself, I used them when I was a mental health case manager, and they were recommended to me by my counselor. It’s important to strike a balance and invest at least a little bit of time each day to every one of these. If you are deficient in one or more of these areas, you may need to purposefully schedule time to do the work. I started out several years ago with a daily tracking sheet. If you make time for each of these, you’ll see your mental health improve!

My Personal Letter from President Obama Regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline (10-17-2016)

Thank you for writing, and for your thoughtful input. As President, my greatest responsibility is ensuring the safety of the American people, including when it comes to our Nation’s energy infrastructure. My Administration is setting the highest possible standards for oil and gas production and transportation, and each day we are working to make sure our pursuit of energy resources does not put our communities at risk. That work includes steps the Army has committed to taking in light of important issues raised about the Dakota Access pipeline.

I understand the risks associated with the development and transportation of fossil fuels, which is why my Administration has overhauled Federal oversight and raised the bar on safety across the board. As part of our efforts to improve Federal permitting and review processes, we are making safe pipeline infrastructure a priority in order to help ensure the health and security of our communities and the environment.

As new energy infrastructure is developed, the Federal Government will continue working with State, local, and tribal governments—which play a central role in the siting and permitting of pipelines—to address the concerns of local communities. One of my priorities as President is upholding an honest and respectful relationship with Native American tribes, and we have made a lot of progress in restoring ancestral lands, waters, and sacred sites over the past 8 years. My Administration also remains committed to consulting with tribes to ensure meaningful tribal input is factored into infrastructure-related decisions across the Federal Government. In the weeks ahead, Departments and Agencies will meet with tribal leaders across the country in a series of formal consultations on this issue.

Again, thank you for writing. I hear you, and I am optimistic that together, we can grow our economy and create new opportunities while securing a cleaner and safer future for all our people.


Barack Obama


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