Show some Respect

by The Augustan on 04/12/2014

I placed my groceries in the trunk of my car. Then I started pushing my shopping cart in the direction of the collection area in the parking lot where a man was gathering up the carts to take inside. With a smile, the man walked towards me and motioned for me to give him my cart.

I gladly gave it to him and said, “Thank you, James.”

James’ face perked up. He looked pleased and bewildered. This was the first time we had ever met. I knew his name only because he was wearing a name tag. James is a Walmart employee. There are a dozen possible explanations for why James seemed surprised by my expression of gratitude.

The simplest explanation is probably the correct one: James was not used to being acknowledged in that way.

Regrettably, graciousness, civility, consideration, politeness, and gratitude are courtesies that are often only extended to people in high social positions. It is convenient to respect and acknowledge those that we consider equals or superiors while disregarding those of “lower class.” The people that care for our children, prepare and serve our food, haul our goods, and clean our streets are frequently brushed off and treated as if they are dispensable.

This is what is called, “snobbery.”

Frankly, snobbery does not only plague the wealthy. Everyday people are just as likely to be discourteous to others especially when they believe that they can get away with it.

Decent human beings should not behave that way.

If we believe that there is dignity in work, then we should start treating everyone that works with dignity.

Show some respect. Even when you do not have to.

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” —Matthew 25:40

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Justice is Blind, So Why isn’t It?

by The Augustan on 04/5/2014

A few days ago, I watched a video on YouTube of a conversation between Malcolm Gladwell, columnist and author of a book that I am currently reading titled, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” and Adam Alter, associate professor of marketing and psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business and psychology department and author of the book titled, “Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave.”

Part of their conversation was about racial bias, social psychology, and the law. During their talk, Gladwell posed an interesting question concerning fairness in court trial decisions. He asked, “Why does the jury have to see the defendant?”

To some degree, we are all biased. In that context, how can we judge all people fairly? Consider the most highly-publicized and controversial cases of the past year. How many of those cases involved race, gender, religion, social class, sexual orientation, or political affiliation?

Imagine if we removed those aspects.

I would take Gladwell’s question a few steps further: During a court trial, why does anyone need to see anyone else? Why does the jury need to see the plaintiff? Why does the judge need to see the defendant? Why does the judge or jury need to see the witnesses? Most importantly, why does the public need to see anybody?

Admittedly, concealing the identities of all the people involved in a court trial is not a perfect strategy for addressing prejudice in the judicial system. The truth is, there is no perfect strategy. As long as people harbor biases, whether consciously or subconsciously, the judicial system will be imperfect. The question becomes, does being aware of a person’s appearance enhance or impede our ability to arrive at objective conclusions about them? Does a person’s appearance determine their guilt or innocence? Evaluating the evidence presented by council on its own merits should be sufficient. In fact, not seeing the participants in a trial forces people to do just that.

That is the point of a trial, right?

In the 15th century, a blindfolded version of the Lady of Justice Statue was created by a man named Hans Gieng. The blindfold represents impartiality and objectivity. Perhaps Mr. Gieng was onto something. If justice is blind, then why aren’t those that judge?

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Money and Medicine Do Not Mix

by The Augustan on 04/2/2014

Although the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) is considered unsatisfactory by many, there are a few key provisions in the law that most people find acceptable. These specific provisions tell an interesting story. They reveal the inherent conflict between the pursuit of money and the practice of medicine.

I would argue that the two are irreconcilable.

Few people can afford to pay out-of-pocket for their healthcare needs, so for many, health insurance is a necessity. One of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

What conflict does this provision reveal?

Prior to the Affordable Care Act being signed into law, many insurance companies denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. For health insurance companies, providing coverage to someone that is already sick is extremely costly. People that are sick are likely to use more services than their monthly premium payments can pay for. As a result, health insurance companies view the ill as a financial liability.

Denying sick people coverage may sound cruel, but in the context of a profit-driven business it makes perfect sense. If you are a company faced with the decision of insuring an individual that will cost your company money or denying them coverage and leaving them vulnerable, which choice sounds more financially advantageous?

Insuring sick people is not profitable.

This is just one example of the inherent conflict between the pursuit of money and the practice of medicine. There are dozens more.

Perhaps we should look at healthcare as a communal service instead of a profit-driven enterprise. Not surprisingly, some will argue that communal healthcare is a step towards socialism. However, in principle at least, communal healthcare is no more a form of socialism than social security, national defense, disaster relief, and public education.

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Choose your Friends Deliberately

by The Augustan on 03/26/2014

As a young child, I enjoyed playing basketball and chess, drawing, and reading comic books. Most of my friends enjoyed nearly all of the same activities.

In fact, we became friends because of our shared interests.

Growing up, most of my friends were members of my homeroom class, hung around the local basketball court, or lived in my neighborhood. I picked my friends out of the crowd of children that were already a part of my daily routine. It was convenient. It was also a very crude method of selecting friends.

I continued that same approach to finding friends well into adulthood.

Not long ago, I realized that building relationships based solely on shared interests was inadequate. I decided that it was far more important to build relationships based on shared values. I committed myself to being more deliberate in seeking out meaningful relationships with people that added value to my life. I resolved to search for people that possessed character traits that I admired.

Choosing friends calls for a great deal of careful consideration. Our friends are a profound influence in our lives. Over time, we adopt the attitudes and behavior of those that we spend the most time with. Who we become is largely shaped by the types of associations that we make.

If, for example, we want to become more thoughtful, disciplined, enthusiastic, and open-minded people, then we should build relationships that reflect those qualities. I invite everyone to examine their network of associations. Do your current relationships reflect the kinds of qualities that you aspire to possess?

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” —C.S. Lewis

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Prejudice? No, just Color-Blind

by The Augustan on 03/20/2014

A lot of people practice what is called “color-blindness,” a term often used to describe the act of overlooking another person’s race. They will make statements such as, “I don’t see race.” Many think of color-blindness as a positive, progressive concept.

I disagree with that notion.

In fact, I would argue that overlooking another person’s race is a subtle, suppressed form of bigotry. At the very least, it suggests that there is something distressing about racial diversity. Why else would there be a need to avoid the issue? I happen to be a black male. There is nothing inherently unsettling, offensive, or polarizing about being black. People may find some of the issues that currently surround race unpleasant, but is disregarding race altogether a sensible response? If we are truly tolerant, then acknowledging a person’s race should not, by itself, cause any problems.

Race, along with religion, political affiliation, and sexual orientation matters. They inform our cultural perspectives and come with unique cultural experiences. They are a part of who we are. Overlooking them not only takes people’s ideas and feelings out of context, but it also legitimizes the biases that we claim that we are beyond. What is it about things that are different that bothers us so much? Is the only way that we can imagine coexisting with diverse groups of people to turn a blind eye to the very things that make them different?

What does all of this say about who we are?

When it comes to race relations in America, our challenge has little to do with people acknowledging their similarities. We do that all the time. Quite frankly, it does not require much effort or maturity to get along with people that are similar to us. Our challenge lies in learning how to manage our differences, and we will never learn to do so by ignoring them.

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“There’s a Muslim on the Plane”

by The Augustan on 03/18/2014

This past weekend, I was boarding a flight in Chicago. I was on my way back to Augusta. The flight to Chicago was rough. My hope was that the trip back would be a bit more forgiving. Fortunately, ticketing and security clearance procedures went smoothly.

After my section was called over the PA system, I got on the plane, stowed my luggage in the overhead compartment, and sat down. It was an early flight and I was extremely tired. Before I drifted off to sleep, I noticed a man of Middle-Eastern decent boarding the plane. He was wearing what appeared to be traditional Muslim attire. For me, the sight of a Muslim man was nostalgic. It reminded me of my days growing up abroad. I wondered how other people felt given that the media has not always presented favorable images of Muslims. Regrettably, the media has yet to do a good job of drawing a clear distinction between terrorists and Muslims.

My thoughts quickly turned to the Middle-Eastern man. I wondered how he felt? I thought to myself: How would it feel to walk onto a plane knowing that some people are associating me with acts of terrorism? I would get tired of all the judgmental stares. That kind of burden probably has a physical weight to it. I spent the next few minutes of the flight feeling very concerned. I was not concerned about the people on the plane who might feel uneasy. I was concerned for the Middle-Eastern man who was just going home.

At some point, prejudice against any group of people has to stop in America.

NOTE: According to the Pew Research Center, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world (that is nearly 1 out of every 4 people).

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What We don’t know can kill Us

by The Augustan on 03/10/2014

What do beer, a wet suit, and air fresheners have in common? They all contain carcinogens (substances that are known or suspected to cause cancer). It is unbelievable how many known carcinogens are a part of our everyday lives.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Dr. Joshua Fields, a Biochemist who is currently an Associate Professor at Georgia Military College, with the intention of getting the answers to two questions: Should I use completely organic products to clean my home and what foods should I stay away from? I left his office with more questions than answers. I learned that cancer and the contributing factors that lead to cancer are far more complex than I imagined.

According to Dr. Fields, there are significant variations within even one type of cancer. Because of this, one kind of treatment may not work on two different patients that have the same type of cancer. It appears that we still have a long way to go before we will be able to rid ourselves of this broad and complicated group of diseases.

Be that as it may, it does not seem improbable that the chances of getting cancer increase by exposing ourselves to a combination of carcinogens. I am not qualified to offer any science-based opinions, but my advice is to limit exposure to carcinogens whenever possible.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Fields left me with one last thought that I found quite disturbing: “It took us several years to discover that asbestos was harmful. It would not surprise me if in 20 years we discovered that prolonged exposure to other things that we thought were fine before turned out to be harmful, too.”

NOTE: Each year, approximately 8 million people die of cancer worldwide (that’s roughly the population of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston, combined). That’s scary. Give $5.00 to help cancer research right now. Click HERE.

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Teach the Children Well

by The Augustan on 03/2/2014

Yesterday, I decided to take my girls to the local park. It was a clear, 63-degree day and I thought that we could all use the fresh air and sunshine. The park was full of energetic, merry children. While watching my girls play on the slide, I noticed a middle-aged black woman pushing a child in a stroller around the fenced in play area. She stopped about five feet away from me. She appeared to be looking for one of her children. Just then, a little black girl emerged from the swarm of kids in the center of the play area and ran up to her.

The woman looked down at the girl and said, “Where yo’ sister at?” The little girl shrugged her shoulders. The woman continued, “Ya’ll ‘posed to had been together.” I cringed while listening to this woman speak to her child this way.

I could cite a dozen studies and quote several statistics that highlight the importance of language and literacy skills, but it does not take a specialist to understand the obvious: The more words that a child knows, the more concepts they are able to understand; the more concepts they are able to understand, the greater their capacity for learning.

Some people regard broken English (also known as “Ebonics”) as a language in its own right. I reject that view. Nevertheless, the effects of its usage are undeniable. Children that grow up hearing broken English and fewer words do not acquire the vocabulary that is necessary to be successful students.

When it comes to literacy, we should heed the lessons of the past.

During slavery, educating slaves was strictly forbidden. Slave-owners recognized that communication and literacy were keys to independence and thus a threat to the slave industry because they eliminated a slave’s reliance on his or her master. Slave-owners understood that in order to control their slaves, they had to keep them intellectually immature.

The key to freedom is knowledge. The key to knowledge is literacy. The key to literacy is proper speech.

In a way, when we use broken English to communicate with our children, we are employing the same method that slave-owners used to keep their slaves intellectually immature. We are preventing them from acquiring the vocabulary that they will need to be successful in the classroom. Effectively, we are mentally enslaving our children.

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Michael Dunn, Guns, and my Leatherman

by The Augustan on 02/22/2014

Back in my military service days, I owned what is called a Leatherman. Essentially, a Leatherman is a pocket-sized multi-tool. I bought it because I thought that one day I might need a bottle opener and a Phillips screwdriver, simultaneously.

I carried it everywhere. At first, I utilized it for practical things like tightening screws, pulling nails out of my tire, and cutting twine. It was a tool that helped me accomplish small projects and fix minor problems. After a few weeks of owning a Leatherman, something interesting happened: I began to deliberately seek out opportunities to use it.

Gradually, more tasks turned into occasions to whip out my Leatherman. I became overzealous and acted presumptuously at times. Before I knew it, every situation I encountered called for my trusty, shiny multi-tool. A small package that could have easily been opened by hand suddenly required the use of the razor-sharp knife in my Leatherman (I recall almost cutting off one of my fingers while trying to open a small, thin FedEx package). Carrying a Leatherman changed the way that I approached many situations.

What if my Leatherman were a gun?

On the heels of the Michael Dunn trial, it seems appropriate to discuss the psychological effects of carrying a gun. Are they similar to the psychological effects that I experienced while carrying a Leatherman? Does carrying a gun influence the way that people behave in any way? Does it make them less tolerant? Does it embolden people in ways that prompt them to make rash decisions? Does it increase the likelihood that they will confront people that are being belligerent?

Probably.

When I see yard signs that have silhouettes of guns and say, “We don’t call 911,” or a sign posted on the front door of a local restaurant (ten minutes away from my house) that reads, “Due to the rising cost of ammunition, we don’t fire warning shots,” it comes across that some gun owners are almost eager to shoot someone. We should be treating guns and the consequences of their use with a bit more reverence than that.

All things considered, I still support the Second Amendment. I have friends that are responsible gun owners. I am fine with people owning guns. However, because the decisions made with guns can be irreversible, we should think deeply about the psychological implications of everyday citizens walking around carrying them. What began as a tool to use under extreme circumstances may have progressively become an expedient and deadly resolution to conflicts that just as easily could have been avoided.

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Tell me what I want to hear

by The Augustan on 02/16/2014

There is a subtle, unspoken pressure that exists between people. It compels them to withhold, or be dishonest about, their thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, for some, sharing their perspective with others is simply not worth the trouble.

Do we have a hand in this pressure?

It depends. Do we value congeniality more than sincerity? Are we consciously creating an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings? Is there a culture within our conversations that welcomes truthfulness?

The answer may be surprising.

While we may think that we are seeking people’s honest opinions, sometimes what we are actually doing is asking for reassurance. If a person is genuinely interested in an intelligent, truthful exchange of ideas, then they will give others the space to be honest without the threat of ridicule or hostility.

Moreover, if a person reacts explosively to the thoughts or feelings of others simply because they conflict with their opinions, beliefs, or expectations, then they are effectively saying, “I am not interested in what anyone else thinks.” As a result, they isolate themselves from other people’s genuine perspectives. Interestingly, when people lie about what they think, it does not change what they actually think. Sooner or later, their true thoughts and feelings will emerge. Pressuring others to agree with us or tell us what we want to hear is pointless. We are only deceiving ourselves.

This is especially true in the context of a relationship.

For those that are sincere in their pursuit of thoughtful, open dialogue with others, it is important to create and cultivate conditions where people can be completely truthful and straightforward. To do this, we have to acknowledge and alleviate the subtle, unspoken pressure that exists between people by intentionally encouraging others to express themselves. Otherwise, we are allowing our vanity, insecurity, and intolerance to dictate the terms of our relationships.

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The Moment we ruined our Children

by The Augustan on 02/8/2014

The children’s activity center in the Family Y is alive with the sounds of carefree kids playing. Some are jumping around in the inflated castle; others are whizzing down the slide. A group of boys are running back and forth across the room doing karate kicks and flips. A little girl is quietly coloring at a table in the corner. A few girls are dancing in the middle of the floor.

My youngest daughter, Mya, has found a friend who is dragging her from activity to activity. I have lost sight of my two other girls. They disappeared in the rainbow tunnel, but I can still hear their giggles and shouts of joy echoing throughout the room. There is a radio blasting One Direction’s song, “What makes you beautiful,” but it cannot compete with the rising tide of excitement and happiness that fills the entire space.

As I sat in the corner watching a beautiful sea of culturally diverse children playing together, laughing together, and having fun together, a series of disturbing questions entered my mind.

When do children learn that there are limits to what they can achieve? When are their dreams demolished? When do they learn to despise those that do not share their views? When do they learn to shun those that do not look like them or love the same way that they do? When do they learn bigotry? When do they learn to trade hope for pessimism? When is their confidence and self-esteem destroyed? When is their innocence lost?

When is the moment that we ruin our children?

Perhaps it is insidious. Maybe it does not happen in a single moment, but in a string of moments? Nevertheless, it happens. I cannot stomach the thought of spoiling any of our wonderful children.

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Thoughts on Gay Marriage

by The Augustan on 02/1/2014

Being gay is not a crime. More importantly, there is no (constitutional) way to govern people’s domestic arrangements. Though the gay lifestyle may conflict with some people’s religious beliefs, in America, no one is obligated to adhere to any one else’s religious convictions.

That said, there is an aspect of this issue that I find troubling: Why are people that do not support the gay lifestyle automatically characterized as narrow-minded or hateful? It seems that anything less than unconditional support for gay marriage invites intense criticism from the LGBT community and their advocates.

In those instances, regrettably, some are confusing tolerance with conformity and open-mindedness with agreement. Listening to what people have to say and treating everyone with dignity is an honorable thing. However, abandoning one’s beliefs to appease others is cowardice. It is possible to love people in a genuine sense without agreeing with every facet of their lifestyle.

Personally, I cannot imagine being sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. When I look at the male anatomy alongside that of the female, I cannot help but notice their compatibility with one another. In addition, I often see masculine and feminine roles present within some same-sex couples; I believe this reinforces the fundamental, intuitive nature of the heterosexual model. Lastly, in order for human life to exist at all, heterosexual interaction is required at some level; this is an extremely profound and revealing characteristic of human beings.

I have always understood sexuality in this way.

On the other hand, I can relate to gay men and women. I know what it is like to be discriminated against. I would never want to make anyone feel belittled, ostracized, or disrespected. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many gay men and women are experiencing. That is wrong. When people see my wedding ring, they instinctively acknowledge my connection with my wife. Society affirms that my relationship with my wife is honest and real.

Homosexual relationships are no less honest or real.

I do not view other people’s lifestyles as a threat to my beliefs. People are far more than their sexual orientation. In the end, do I support the gay lifestyle? Not really. However, do I believe that gay relationships should be acknowledged and respected by society? Absolutely.

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The Most Cold-Hearted Objection to Obamacare

by The Augustan on 01/25/2014

Many people agree that the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) is imperfect. That is a fair statement. Most laws are imperfect. If President Obama could go back in time, I’m sure that there are a range of things that he would do differently. In hindsight problems are clear and answers are obvious.

There are many that disagree with the Affordable Care Act and have put forward very compelling and thoughtful arguments for why they believe that the law is a bad idea. We should carefully consider multiple perspectives before taking a position on the issue. Ultimately, our interest should be what is best for our fellow Americans.

Not long ago, I heard an argument against the Affordable Care Act that made me nauseous. While there are variations of this argument, the central idea is this: “Because of Obamacare, people are going to have to wait 9 months to see a specialist and will have longer wait times for emergency room visits.”

Think about the implications of that statement for a moment.

The fear is that because more people will have access to health care services, those that already have access to it will have to wait longer to receive medical attention. Not only is this argument horrifying, but it also reveals a sickening, self-serving motive. It implies that some are comfortable with expedient care even at the expense of others not having access to care at all.

If one is faced with a situation where they have to wait for care because their physician is seeing other patients, then the correct response is to encourage more people to enter the health care field to help meet the demand. If we find that Americans are overcrowding emergency rooms with conditions that could be treated more efficiently elsewhere, then we should be developing a system that connects patients with the appropriate level of care. If our health care system cannot accommodate the volume of patients in America that need care, then we should be expanding it instead of limiting the demand by excluding people from the system.

The challenge of providing affordable care to all Americans is complex. There are no simple solutions. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers; however, I am convinced that any lasting solution must deal with the issue squarely and should consider what is best for all, not just some.

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A Tale of Broken Men (Part 2)

by The Augustan on 01/16/2014

Valuable life lessons are hardly ever transmitted from one man to another. Consequently, generations of men are believing the same lies, making the same misguided decisions, and falling into the same traps as the men that came before them. It’s a tragedy that I see unfolding in front of me almost daily. In many ways, being a man is like living on an island. A lot of men are emotionally closed off from one another. Because of this, countless men go through life feeling alone.

That’s a problem.

Sadly, the paralyzing fear of judgement, rejection, and disappointment prevents men from sharing their experiences and connecting with one another. Since publishing the first part of this essay, I’ve learned that the way to establish sincere connections with other men is by being authentic. Authenticity requires courage. Unfortunately, a lot of men have the wrong idea about what courage is. Many believe that courage is about showiness, bravado, and outward displays of power. That could not be further from the truth. Courage is a combination of humility, vulnerability, restraint, audacity, integrity, and openness.

When I take the time to explore and articulate my true thoughts and feelings, I discover a genuine camaraderie with other men. I discover a great deal about myself. When I give up the facade of being certain of everything and having everything under control, I am able to be more relatable. I am able to listen. I am able to understand. I am able to learn. It’s freeing. It’s empowering.

It’s real.

My hope is that men will read this and start to really talk to each other. I want men to share their stories and begin to have candid discussions about the things that matter to them. I want to encourage men to reach out to one another and share their whole heart. I want them to have the courage to ask each other for forgiveness. I want them to have the courage to ask each other for comfort. I want them to have the courage to ask each other for guidance. I want them to have the courage to ask each other for help. Most importantly, I want them to have the courage to challenge each other.

I don’t want men to continue to walk through this life proud and alone. I don’t want them to continue to walk through this life broken.

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A Tale of Broken Men (Part 1)

by The Augustan on 01/10/2014

I rarely have open, honest conversations about personal matters with other men. Nearly all the men I know seldom, if ever, discuss their emotions, struggles, doubts, and fears. Most of my exchanges with men are fairly superficial and predictable. For the most part, we have the same conversation over and over again (sports, women, and work).

Something tells me that this is true for a lot more men.

A few days ago, I published an essay titled, “A Father’s Failure.” Among other things, it explored my shortcomings as a father. The response I received after publishing it was extraordinary. Men that I’ve known for years reached out to me to express their appreciation for my words. Many said that they shared my feelings about fatherhood. Hour-long conversations developed. Our discussions about fatherhood evolved into broader discussions about some of the other personal challenges that we face as men. We talked about many of the unfounded, destructive beliefs that guide our behavior: our distorted perspective on communicating our feelings, our misconceptions about what strength is, and how our pride can get in the way of our development.

Unintentionally, I had opened up a dialogue about manhood.

I learned that many of my male friends are wrestling with some deeply-rooted emotional issues. Some have unresolved grievances with their parents while others are dealing with residual animosity towards a past mate. It’s astonishing how many of them felt that their fathers had not given them much guidance growing up. Oddly enough, even though I shared many of the same issues with my male friends, we never spoke about them prior to them reading my essay. I was completely oblivious to the burdens that men I have known for years were carrying around.

During one, hour-long conversation, a friend and I really delved into one particular issue. We talked about how growing up there was always a looming expectation from our fathers that if we were hurt (physically or emotionally) we should “be a man” about it. That meant that we should not show any emotion or complain. Instead, we should “get over” whatever was bothering us. When said aloud, the phrase, “Be a man,” silenced any further discussion about whatever issue was troubling us which emotionally isolated us from our fathers. Ultimately, this taught us that communicating our thoughts and feelings was inappropriate. As adults, one of our greatest challenges is communicating, especially about things that hurt us.

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