I missed yesterday’s post because I was spending time with my family, so here’s a special Saturday edition. 

Take a moment and appreciate the family you have, the mentors that gave you a helping hand throughout your life, and the love you’ve felt. These are prime candidates for what to be most thankful for this holiday season, but the thing I’m most thankful for is something a little more unconsidered: resilience.

I’ve talked about how being resilient is a part of being a good person. It’s more than that, though; it’s critical for societal advancement.

In sociology, there’s a concept known as the “vicious cycle of poverty.” It means that if you’re in poverty you’re likely to stay there.

There’s more than a vicious cycle of poverty in America – the vicious cycle of poverty is perhaps a symptom of the many others. Millions of households are inflicted with vicious cycles of mental illness; alcoholism and drug abuse; and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. These households, often lacking meaningful and sustained intervention, are the homes of the people in America that fall through the socio-economic cracks.

I’ve known the people in these homes.

Many didn’t make it out.

There are aunts and uncles on cocaine and meth. Sons that are taught that violence is an appropriate expression of emotion. Daughters who must undergo suffering from those they’re supposed to be able to trust most. And mothers too broken by their past, rendered too weak to stand up for themselves. So they watch on – dotingly – as those they cherish most commit felony offenses.

Here’s to the few that make it out.

Here’s to the ones fighting for equity, having felt society’s most powerful blows.

Here’s to the ones overcoming, becoming an example rather than a statistic.

Thank you, resilience, for creating the role models, advocates, and case studies the world needs.



Western Civilization

Western Civilizations, 2009 – Brian Dettmer

It’s all fun and games,
Until someone grows up
Then come the anxiety, neurosis,
Man’s rivalries
We crave love.
Escape the pain
Through video games, drugs, and the LA dynasty;
It starts to feel like it’s not enough.
Hype beasts and iconography give rise
To champagne idolatry
Try to stay tough.

Self-will and good books
Overcome our Byzantine ivory
Scared they won’t accept us.

Those authorities, so sure,
Standing upon divers of mighty degrees –
Lending credibility
Ego fuels the corrupt.
The devil’s a good effigy to enforce our morality
Muster the force to speak up.

Or bury our greed and deplete our license with lies
It’s fine. It’s all right.
True, most of us just get by,
Craving comfort and love.

Art serves to shine a light on humankind;
It can unite or divide, destroy or inspire
Hacks trade what’s right to serve their own devices

There’s a thin line between connection and good service
When you’ve ignored the voice in your heart
And live in comfort despite those hurting,
Ask yourself, “Was it worth it?”


I found the attached picture on Reddit a few days ago with the headline “This photo taken in Paris perfectly captures the spirit of an era.”

My first thought was that the poster was right. We live in an era characterized by a willful disconnection to many social problems. It seems like if it’s not impacting people directly, they would prefer to ignore the problem – presumably out of selfishness or a belief that they can’t do anything about it, so they shouldn’t let it be a burden.

But I think that there’s more that needs to be said. The trouble with social media is that it boils down complex issues into pithy, superficial headlines. And, let’s be honest, most of us just read the headlines. This results in taking sides without thoughtful consideration of the context or other pertinent factors and could likely be a leading cause of much of the polarization we seem to be experiencing.

Our era is characterized by much more than mere selfishness. Don’t believe me, check out Here’s a taste:


Most people are not walking around looking to one-up each other. Sure, there’s a lot of competition. But to boil down the 21st-century Western world into a unique kind of psychopathic self and technological-absorption is ridiculous.

We are complex creatures, experiencing unique realities with different values.

However, there has been some progress made that gives insight into some common themes.

At our deepest, for instance, we all want connection, a meaningful life, and to feel loved and accepted – both by ourselves and by others.

Selfishness, greed, corruption, ego trips, prejudice, and abuse have existed since the dawn of civilization.

Moses freed the slaves. Native Americans battled for territory. And tycoons built America on the backs of people with no access to education.

Never underestimate the difficulty in attempting to define an era. There are powerful stories and nuanced truths everywhere.

The story of the grass growing can be purely scientific. You can focus on the photosynthetic process and the intricacies involved with the conversion of sunlight to energy. Or it might be about values and ethics. Kentucky grass is foreign to many areas, and its use in many yards is contributing to a decrease in native prairies, which harms local wildlife. Or they can be spiritual and enchanting. The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”

Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But you can choose faith, hope, idealism, and wonder or you can choose cynicism and nihilism. Both tend to be equally correct. Right now there’s simply no way to know for sure. And secretly we all want to take the first route.

Here’s a simple reminder you can keep with you for hope when all seems to be going wrong: we tend to crave a happy ending.

Our schools are about teaching kids facts and discipline.

They don’t encourage them to think creatively.

And they don’t build character.

Curriculums, sports, and misguided cliques tend to foster people who value competition, lack a toolkit for critical thinking, and don’t know how to think seriously about what the moral thing to do is.

Schools should be asking more of kids.

Instead of turning in boxtops or cans, they should be working on a community garden, feeding and spending time with the homeless, and sharing their talents with kids in lower-income communities.

There should be lessons about what a dollar does for their neighborhood and how it’s wasted at a big corporation.

And acting out needs to be understood rather than punished.

Technology threatens the old saying that “it takes a village.”

Let’s be proactive, get grounded in the fundamentals of loving homes, and think seriously about how to raise good villagers.


Large companies asking for donations at the end of the checkout process is a useful nudge to get shoppers to be more generous

But a few large companies doing it just isn’t enough.

The local economy is where the biggest direct impact is made on people’s lives in the long-term.

So community leaders should start thinking about how to get local businesses to support important local causes.

In this way, people in the community who are at-need get help and whenever kids go to the store they see a society that cares.


Sites like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator rank charities according to their level of effectiveness. This is great for individuals who are actively looking to give their money to good, trusted causes. But it’s ineffective for the casual giver. These are the types of people who would benefit from these two improvements.

Here’s the first one: sites like the two mentioned work together to develop a certification program. This gives a helpful heuristic for shoppers asked to donate at cash registers. Asking if the cause is certified with the program would help them rest assured that the money they’re giving is being spent wisely.

For what guidelines might be, CharityWatch’s top-rated organizations generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, have met CharityWatch’s governance benchmarks, and receive “open-book” status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch.

And secondly, when asked to donate at self-checkouts there should be an option to get more information. Companies like WalMart expect shoppers to donate to charities out of altruism.  Sure people could take out their phones and look the charity up, but the whole point of the process is to give a nudge. So why shouldn’t they give this easy additional nudge? It would help ensure accountability and give further ease of mind.


Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work you’re passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?