What is Friendship?

I have a friend who lost everything. I mean everything. His business, marriage and his apartment. I believe he lives out of his car now and he has been living this way for years.

Most of his wounds were self-inflected. He spent too much, was too arrogant and lost a lot of people’s money in a business deal that went south.  Now as a result, he is totally alone and on his own. His father passed away and the rest of his family lives overseas, so he no longer has a support system he can count on. He still lives in the N.Y.C. area, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, because he wants to stay close to his daughter.

He and I grew up together in N.Y.C.  Most of his closest friends still live there and most of them are financially well off.  Some even have multiple homes. Yet, nobody offers him a place to stay. Most of them know his situation, and from what I can gather, not one of them has offered to take him in.

His predicament got me thinking long and hard about what it means to be a friend. Is a friend just someone who we have a lot in common with and talk to frequently, or does it mean something more?

The city we grew up in is very liberal. There are numerous charities and programs to help the less fortunate. In fact, most of the people in our social circles give lots of money to charity and think of themselves as good people. And yet, when faced with actually doing something personal, like allowing him to stay in their homes, they all have punted. I think their actions say a lot about who they are.

Yet, I don’t believe their actions are any different than what most people’s would be under similar circumstances.

I believe that a true friend is someone that borders close to what we call family. Someone who would give the short off their back for you. The Japanese definition of friendship is likely the appropriate one. They have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past. 

There is an interesting video in France wherein a reporter asks people on the street about the immigration crisis, the lack of housing and the effect it is having on the nation. Most of the citizens are quite welcoming of the immigrants. When asked if they would be willing to open their homes to them they all responded positively; yet, when presented with an actual immigrant who needs their help, they all decline. Check out the video to see what I mean.

The video is great at pointing out the fallacies and foibles of we humans. You see, we all tend to think of ourselves as humane, noble and kind; but, when truly given the opportunity to act in such a manner we decline. It is easier to give lip service than to actually be noble.

I know I’m no different and this pains me. Their are, however, exceptions. My wife used to pick up kids from the street in Ecuador and have them eat in her house. She has changed diapers and bed pans for the old and infirm.  I also have witnessed a friend of mine who, after divorce, took in her ex-spouses elderly relative to live with her. I am not sure I would have the spirit of heart to do something like that but she did. When measured against these people, I truly fall short.

This leads me back to my original question of what does it mean to be a friend? If we are only going to be there for the good times…the laughs… and only for the occasional inconvenience what is the point? Why have friends at all?

The fear of abandonment and failure scares us all. The Huffington Post ran an article that 70% of all Americans fear being homeless. The fear is real and felt by many. Yet, within my close circle of friends, we know someone who is homeless and nothing is being done. This is a tragedy. Its what’s underlying the despair and fear so many feel because we know if we ended up in his same predicament there would be no help. My friend now knows that he is on his own and must fend for himself. The tragedy is that all his friends know it too.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Soccer Hacks & Life Hacks

My daughters play soccer. I used to hate the sport until I saw what it teaches about life.

My girls aren’t big or fast but they are super tricky with the ball. A coach once watched them play and asked me, “Where are they from? They don’t play like Americans.” He knew by their style of play that they were playing at a deeper level. When I told him that my wife was Ecuadorian he said, “Ah, that explains it. The Latino players know how to feel the game.”

That coach was from Spain. He told me it is always easy for him to spot these types of players. His theory is that Americans know the game and can play the game well. They are just too mechanical. To the contrary, Latin players play with spirit and tend to look for the angles and tricks to make the game easier. “Soccer is not a game only of mechanics but of spirit as well.” The same way any musician can play a melody yet a song only takes on true power once the spirit is involved.

My girls play with spirit.

The spirit is what invokes joy of the game and an understanding of where the ball is going. Having been around athletics all my life, I have come to realize how two players in a sport with equal ability and talent can learn the game; yet one person “will get the game” while the other won’t. The issue is not one of merely skill but of being open to allowing the spirit to flow. Being open requires both suffering and expression but along with them comes understanding.

My daughters have a move called the nutmeg where you pass the ball through the other person’s legs. It requires astuteness and an understanding of how the opposing player moves and defends. Most advanced players know the nutmeg but few use it. My daughters use that move at least once a game. For the opposing player, it is quite embarrassing to have a ball pass through their legs. However, once it is successfully done, the player who has watched that ball travel right through their legs knows she has been outclassed and will tend play more timidly. It takes a lot of time to learn the nutmeg but, once mastered, it is devastating because it goes represents a sublime comprehension of the game.

In my own life, I have witnessed the phenomena of studying something and never getting it. When I first started training in Aikido, there was a brown belt who had trained and studied for years but never advanced.  Ten years later, I was awarded my black belt before he reached the same level. Why? He understood all the techniques and could execute them proficiently but, at its core, he never truly understood Aikido.  Aikido is really about blending your energy with your attacker’s energy and redirecting that it all. In Aikido, if you are too severe with your techniques, you become immovable. If too soft the moves don’t work. So Aikido is learned “between the space” of hard and soft. You have to go into that space to learn it.

Here’s an example. I trained with a man named Andy. His techniques were so hard that he was essentially immovable. When I trained with him it was like being in a wrestling match to the death! One particular day, we trained together with a very senior student who broke Andy’s wrist and arm when Andy tried to out-muscle him. The senior student broke Andy’s arm  because Andy left him no other alternative. Andy’s Aikido was so rigid and strong that in the end he broke his own bones.  Had he been lighter and more flexible…more willing to blend with his opponent… he would not have suffered such devastating injuries. He got hurt because he was unable to become soft and vulnerable.

Most the activities that I have tried to become proficient in have involved learning the mechanics of the trade but also understanding the spirit of the endeavor. I’ve begun writing regularly. The only real traction I get is when I write something that stems from some type of deep insight. Yet to write anything that evokes insight takes years of reading and studying to understand the depth of realization. In the book ” One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s  the author conveys that writing is mystical and sublime in nature. The book revolves around a family in Latin America and its multiple generations.  Marquez is able to capture and explain the magical realism of Latin life in a way that seems true to life. Having spent many summers in Ecuador, I can assure you that belief in the mystical is quite real in South America.

The book is able to explain and connect with readers in ways that few books can. Had Marquez been too timid to write about the spirit and mysticism that many Latinos feel, his words would have had the profound and vast impact that it has. Many Westerners mock and laugh at this way of looking at life. While I am sure Marquez knew this he pressed on anyway risking scorn and ridicule.

All of life requires risk whether it be personal, recreational or professional. Many people spend the time to master the task while only a select few take the great leap of surrender, vulnerability and trust and to become great. A simple turtle can live its entire life in its shell but in order to move, walk, eat and procreate it needs to literally “risk it’s neck” to survive and prosper. We humans are no less obligated.

sleeclark@gmail.com

How To Stop The Russians

The Russians hacked the DNC. They also played the Trump campaign. What is going on here is beyond obvious. Yet our partisanship is blinding us to the Russian infiltration of our political process. This is exactly what the Russians want.

The Russians want internal fighting. They are fomenting conflict and uncertainty. They want to foster mistrust between and among Americans. They want chaos. They are masters of disinformation. They have perfected it over decades, if not longer, within their own political system and culture. They bred out religion. They fed totalitarian techniques through fear to bring the populace under centralized governmental control. Its what they are aiming for here.

We Americans, in our lack of experience with such subversive tactics, are sheepishly and all too willingly cooperating with the Russian agenda. It is no coincidence that immigrants from formerly Communist and Socialist countries identify exactly what is happening. They know because they have been there, wherever their particular “there” was, and they made it their mission to get here! Here, to the United States. However, instead of banding together to stop this silent and subversive invasion, we are at each other’s throats, feeding the hatred and fear that emboldens and sustains the invader’s agenda.

I know many on the Left who believe that this country has been the bane of the world’s existence through efforts to manipulate, dominate and control other nations. They also believe that in so doing we have caused the death of millions, if not hundreds of millions, around the world. This is what drives them, their disdain for our apparent greed and disregard for others with different cultures, as well as our similar disregard for the planet. I also know many on the Right believe who the United States is all that is good and true in the world and that we are the most charitable nation on the planet. The home of liberty and the benefits of capitalism for the many, both here and around the world.

There is some truth in both beliefs just as there are self-serving agendas in both. These opposite perspectives are each right and are each wrong, at different times and on different issues. However, while fully acknowledging our shortcomings and mistakes, this experiment in human freedom and its resulting advances are unprecedented in human history. It should be what binds us to one another and causes us to support and defend the perpetuation of the nation…not what sets us at each other’s throats.

In our current state of rabid blindness, we are failing to see that we have never produced what our adversaries have. We have never provided the cultural and political petri dish to grow a Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Fidel Castro, Marx, Mugabe, Kim Jung II, Kim II, Idi Amin, Hirohito, Brezhnev, Chiang Kia-shek, Kaiser Wilhelm, Ho Chi Min, Saddam Hussein, Czar Nicholas II or a host of others.  So, before we jump to praise the attributes and benefits of our adversaries and their forms of governance thereby committing national suicide by a thousand internal cuts, perhaps we should find more of what we Americans have in common.

Perhaps we need to stop hating our differences and understand that independence of thought is the ultimate diversity. Through the give and take of opposing ideas is how, and where, we come to find otherwise undetectable truths.

Unless we wake up now and identify real adversaries, who present a clear and present danger, we will soon be their slaves. Then, in hindsight, our petty infighting will be revealed for what it truly was, the tool and end product of evil.

Russia is within our media, our culture, our government and our institutions. North Korea is on the verge (or already capable) of delivering an EMP on the warhead of a ballistic missile that will destroy our power grid and cause the death of millions through panic, starvation and loss of emergency services.  Do you think the Chinese aren’t readying themselves for conflict?

The answer and the cure is not more hatred. It’s more understanding. Perhaps we need to reevaluate and re-prioritize what we value. Find common ground that matters. Universal healthcare or Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting calendar won’t be our top priorities in a Gulag or North Korean prison camp.

Conversation- The Lost Art

We have destroyed a five thousand year old tradition. For all that time, we humans passed along information through conversations among ourselves and within groups whether those groups were a tribe, town, neighborhood, school, family gathering or the dinner table. In the West, that’s over. Discourse and conversations, if they can even be termed that, now happen through advanced technology and digital media. Human to human exchange is gone..replaced with human to human by way of digital media and rapidly evolving technology.And yet, with all of the digital media content out there, radio and podcasts still have a massive grip on the consumer. Why? Because we’re HUMAN and the spoken word with its corresponding human emotion will always hold our attention. Its how we’re wired.

The longevity of radio is a testament to the power of words as well as the ability to educate and entertain. Some of the highest paid entertainers and talk show hosts in the world are on radio. The incomes of Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck verify this fact.

In some ways this result is odd because people on television have a huge advantage over radio due to better distribution systems, higher production quality and larger staffing. Yet they can barely hold on. Further, they have the ability to use and manipulate their audience with images. None-the-less, those “celebrities” or media darlings still can’t command the size audience that a great radio show can. Rachel Maddow is one of the highest rated cable TV shows, with an audience of four million viewers and the power of NBC behind her. Yet Rush Limbaugh, essentially a one man show, consistently pulls in over 25 million listeners a week.

A radio host has only his or her words to convey their message. Because of this, radio hosts are forced to be concise, clear and on-point at all times. In radio all faults, foibles and illogical statements are exposed as they occur. Radio hosts debate listeners and adversaries alike to get their point across which is why only the best speakers thrive in such an unforgiving medium.

Both of us listen to talk radio, especially Conservative talk radio.  We see why so many of the hosts are successful. They have the ability to converse, influence and explain very complicated matters in easy-to-understand terms. At first glance it  appears they are uniquely qualified to speak on these matters or have some special talent that allows them to.  The reality is that most benefit from having had a family structure where conversation and discourse was encouraged and enforced.

Take the case of Rush Limbaugh. He was an unremarkable student in the lower grades and did not go to college. He does not have a law, or any other, advanced degree. Even his employment history leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, he had mid-to-low-level jobs at which he toiled for years. What Limbaugh did have was a stable family and an inquisitive father who took the time to educate his children. His father was a lawyer and judge.  Meal times were a family affair where hour long conversations about politics took place. His father would discuss many of the cases he worked on and how those cases, and their outcomes, related to society at-large. Civics, history and Constitutional Law were common topics of conversation and were so detailed that Limbaugh felt he received the best education just sitting at home! Although he was not academically gifted, what he did have was a love of radio and the ability to speak well. His ability to make an argument, explain the basis for his position and defend his ideas were challenged and refined every day of his youth at the dinner table.

Michael Savage is another example. A radio host with a vast following, Savage has said on numerous occasions that his time around the dinner table is what trained him for his career in radio. Although he has multiple degrees and is highly educated, Savage says that what fine-tuned his views on life were the hours spent with his mother.  She was a Russian immigrant who would gather with other women from the community and talk well into the night. As a child, Savage was not excused from these gatherings but instead was “forced” to hear them every night. These conversations helped shape him and his ability to critically think. He began to understand and view America from the eyes of immigrants: the hopes and dreams of what the United States offered from their perspective. A window into the world that other Americans could never understand.

Think about it. Two of the most influential men in radio and political analysis got the majority of their training around a dinner table! Not through textbooks, universities or television. Such is the power of family and spending time together engaged in meaningful and thoughtful conversation in a safe but challenging environment.

Today, as a father of six, I (Steve) know my kids benefit immensely from hearing my wife’s stories about growing up in South America. Latinos have a vivid way of speaking that sparks the imagination. Their stories are imbued with faith and mysticism.  I’ve worked in sales but my wife can tell a story much better than I ever could! I thank God our kids are reaping the rewards of hearing and seeing this county (as did Savage) through the eyes of an immigrant whose stories drive home   the truly extraordinary possibilities and benefits available here that can be found nowhere else.

As a mother, lawyer and former talk radio host, I (Carole) was raised in a home such as were both Limbaugh and Savage. Our dinner table was where heated and diverse opinions were shared and challenged. I learned early on to think critically and to be articulate if I hoped to be taken seriously. In many ways, it was the foundational training ground I needed to go on to both the practice of law and talk radio.

The technological advances have helped our children in many ways. But those raised with it, in the absence of sufficient human interaction, will be the first generation educated primarily by a digital medium rather than the spoken word. Our world has always been shaped by ideas. As a culture, we tend to move in the direction of the ones that are most convincing  not necessarily best.

In the recently released book, “Stealing Fire” authors Stephen Kotler and Jamie Wheal analyze “The Flow…that part of the brain where creative problem solving resides. Whether using meditation, prayer or drugs (Silicon Valley execs are now daily taking LSD and mescaline to enhance flow), time spent in that state exponentially enhances, by as much as 500%, creative thinking; but, it also shuts down the prefrontal cortex where critical thinking occurs. Since the power of great oratory has the ability to also move the masses into the flow (think Jesus, Hitler, Martin Luther King) it simultaneously causes critical thinking to shut down…which is why oratory must be accompanied by an intent to do good by the speaker as well as be critically evaluated by the listener.

It isn’t that our future will not be peppered with great orators. The danger lies in the capacity and developed ability of generations, raised without the benefits of intellectually challenging family life and reduced human interaction, to be able to discern between a well-intentioned leader and a despot.

sleeclark@gmail.com   contact@carolegold.com

How Meditation Reduces Bad Behavior

My good friend, David Kupferman, has been a Transcendental Meditation (TM) instructor for most of his adult life. A few years ago he taught me the process. It changed my life and there is science to prove it can change yours. While TM has worked for me reducing stress, eliminating a propensity to quickly anger and opened up channels of creativity, there are many forms of mediation. Clearly, this Baltimore school has found one that is working for their students in a most inspiring way. Read here: http://www.positivenewsus.org/meditation-not-detention.html

 

Wonder Woman: Why Now?

The movie “Wonder Woman” officially opened on June 2nd.  At 8PM Central on June 1st, my twenty-four-year-old daughter and I were in our seats at an Austin, TX theater awaiting the pre-opening showing.  I’m not sure which one of us more eagerly had counted down to this moment. Since I can only speak for myself, I’ll share my eagerness and why.

I have had a Wonder Woman t-shirt (my favorite of all time!) for about 20 years. The particular shirt graphic that I have is no longer made (see the photo above). Throughout all that time, it seemed that whenever I wore the shirt something occurred that was noteworthy…or the basis for a good story. I’ve never tried to figure out if the shirt’s graphic simply acted as a catalyst to others, or whether I became empowered by all that it represented and then acted accordingly. Once, I actually stopped my car, stood in the middle of a four lane highway with a 60mph speed limit to help a paraplegic in a wheelchair to cross the road. Wearing the shirt at the time, I can only imagine the thoughts and comments of some of those drivers I held up, arms fully extended, from proceeding along their way as the young man in the wheelchair slowly wheeled himself from one side of the road to the other.

But there is more to my affinity with the Wonder Woman character than the shirt or acts of physical courage. I am a Divine Feminist, but before you groan and get off this page let me explain what that means.

We live in a world that attempts to resolve disputes by war and keeps masses enslaved with fear. It is both fair and accurate to say that men have run this world for more than two thousand years (perhaps five thousand according to Jewish history). It is a system that allows for technological and scientific progress but prevents social and spiritual development. When not preventing the latter, the system certainly inhibits and punishes them.

The reason for this is that any system out of balance lacks the means to moderate and modulate itself. A world run by male energy absent the input and countervailing force of female energy is doomed to look as ours does now: in perpetual repetition of an unsuccessful and self-destructive pattern.

Everything is energy.

Different energies vibrate at different frequencies. Different energies serve different purposes. When energies are correctly aligned or connected, positive outcomes result. Yet the opposite is equally true. Incompatible or inharmonious energies have the power to destroy.

Male energy was not meant to exist alone or without an equal and opposite energetic force. Hence, female energy. It is the Universal countervailing force to imbalance. It is what is called the Divine Feminine and why I call myself a Divine Feminist. This feminism is the polar opposite of political feminism, which would replace a world dominated by male energy with one dominated by female energy. Such a world would be as out of balance as the one we now suffer.

Fear breeds war. Love breeds peace.

Wonder Woman depicts and stands for the principle of Love. Not only will it not destroy male energy but, combined, the two will manifest the proper balance of energies that are intended as the basis for a prosperous humanity engaged in harmonious existence. Kept apart, those energies cannot fulfill their intended purpose. United, they are the principle of Oneness in action.

The making of the movie “Wonder Woman” has taken decades. The movie’s message that love is the answer has been beautifully and successfully brought to life by the first female director of a super-hero film. There are no accidents. I believe the time is ripe for the emergence of the Divine Feminine energy and its corresponding message. That’s why the movie has finally been brought to the screen. Enough of us are ready to put down the pattern of self-destruction through division. Let’s seize the moment and the opportunity to understand, once and for all, what “United we stand divided we fall” really means.                     Carole

Talent, Timing and Luck

I played football at a small high school in the Bronx. I played just good enough to later play for a small college program where I was lucky enough to have played with a few guys who made it to the NFL and I got to witness firsthand how they did it.

Mike was the high school quarterback of our team and an amazing athlete. As a freshman, he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. He was, by far, the fastest, strongest and all round best athlete on the team. I had been around good athletes before but nothing like Mike. One day, during practice, the coaches decided to play him as a wide receiver. He caught sixty balls in a row without dropping one!  Many of those catches were so incredible that the whole team ended up marveling at his talent. By the time he was a senior, he had over 100 recruiting offers and could have played on any college football team in the country. In the end, he decided to play at his father’s Alma Mater in North Carolina.

North Carolina was a huge school and already had a quarterback. This player had been a superstar in the state and the team boosters wanted to see their hometown hero succeed. Unbeknownst to Mike, he had been brought in as an insurance policy; he was never meant to upend the other player.

Mike was so talented only a fool would have never played him; but, that is exactly what happened. Being a “Yankee” from the North, the boosters were never going to let a northerner start for a team from the south.

So Mike never played. I mean not once.

Out of desperation, frustration and disgust, he walked away from football after college never to play again. Interestingly enough, his physical gifts were so great that several NFL teams inquired about him even though he had barely played. Even they could see his talent. But, he rebuffed them all… never to play again.

I remember watching a game where his team was not doing well. They had benched the starting quarterback. Logically I thought Mike would go on but it didn’t happen. Instead, a walk-on player was inserted into to play the remainder of the game. I watched the game with my father, who said that given what he saw, Mike was never going to get a chance to play for them. I’m not sure why Mike didn’t transfer schools right after that game but he never did. Instead, he rode it out for four miserable years.

At Boston University, I played receiver with a walk on (not on scholarship) named Darvell from Massachusetts. He was small: only 5 feet 7 inches tall and barely weighed 160 pounds. But he was quick, strong and had good hands. Over time, he got to play. In fact, because B.U. was a small program with a lot less competition, he got to play a lot. He was talented and coaches and professionals got to see his body of work. Had he gone to a bigger school, he probably never would have played. But at a small school he was given chances. He landed in the NFL and played for three seasons, which is an undeniable accomplishment most aspiring players never get to experience.

Much of life is like that: chances, circumstances and timing. Technology is littered with companies that did not make it specifically due to bad timing or bad luck.  Facebook, for example, was not the first social network nor the best; but, through a series of events, it ended up as the premier destination for social media after replacing MySpace.

Even in my own life I have benefited from these twists of fate. Twenty years ago, I was planning to go to Spain on vacation but had a really bad injury the day before I was to leave which forced me to cancel the trip. Later that year, with unused vacation time, I decided to go to South America to my cousins weeding. There I met my future wife. Had I not suffered that injury, I would never have gone to South America or met her. Six kids later, I can happily say that I am thankful for what I then thought was an unfortunate and ill-timed injury.

The challenge in life is trying to sense the changing tides, the twists of fate that can harm us or help us. Sometimes its knowing when to quit or when to press on. Maybe one day I will figure it all out. In the meantime, I stopped trying to judge what occurs and be more present and accepting that it may have meaning and purpose I simply cannot yet discern and that my job, in advance of knowing, is to handle the unexpected with grace.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

25 Years Without a Job

I have been a fan of Steve Pavlina for years and I love the fact at the way he looks at things from an unconventional manner. For him, all problems great or small can be solved with a dose of inspiration and creativity. His latest posts about not having a job for 25 years is great. Here is excerpt:

“This is also a path of self-trust. The one time I had a job, I became an employee because I didn’t really trust myself, and I felt I needed the stabilizing effect of following orders for a while. After several months I realized that I could and should trust myself to lead my own life instead of hiring a boss to manage part of it for me. Surely I’d make some mistakes, but I’d learn and grow from them. And that is indeed what happened.”

 

25 Years Without a Job