Thank You

One of the things our parents drummed into our ears as children from the time we learned to talk was to say thank you (and please). We grew up saying Thank You for as many things as I can remember. We said thank you as we were handed our groceries, or change in the store; thank you to someone who held the door for us, and thank you to the person who passed us the salt or bread at dinner. Thank you to the one who drove us home safely be it in a car or bus, to the one who paid for our meal, to the one who cooked, to the one who served, to the one who cleaned. Thank you for the food, for rain for sun, for the people in our lives, for parents, teachers, and for crisp clean sheets as we tucked ourselves into bed at night. We said thank you. It became a spontaneous response to situations or moments at hand for the smallest of things to the big things that in everyday life could be taken for granted.

Many years ago, I happened to be in Jordan as a guest in the home of an acquaintance. The home was in a settlement camp on the outskirts of Amman. There, the houses were made of mud brick. The interior walls and floors were covered with rattan. Some had decorative kilim rugs. Furniture was scant. Seating for family meals was usually on low stools or pillows on the floor surrounding a large tray of food from which all would eat. Mattresses laid side by side sufficed for sleeping accommodations for the many members who shared a household. Electricity was available through a maze of cable wires that drew their energy source from a few main electrical posts. Water, a necessary commodity, was fetched from communal faucets outside the homes where children and adults would gather to carry a supply in buckets. Above these faucets scattered around the “camp” were signs that read “USHKUR,” which meant “Give Thanks.” A child carrying two buckets of water explained to me with a huge smile on his face that because the novelty of having something wears off and eventually is taken for granted, the sign was to remind them to be thankful for what they had. Gratitude. Regardless of their material poverty, their gratitude stemmed from the riches of their hearts. It stemmed from seeing every opportunity offered as a gift and not as an entitlement.

In the Arab world or Armenian culture, gratitude is a language unto itself. “May your hands never feel pain.” “May the next meal you cook be in celebration of your child’s happiness.” “You see me through kind eyes.” “May God extend your life.” “May your prayers be heard.” “May your hands that gave me this gift be blessed.” “May your table always be bountiful.” “May your pockets be blessed,” and so it flows, with an infinite string of prayerful appreciation for deeds done, meals eaten, gifts received, compliments paid and so on.

No matter how we say it, and in whatever language, Thank You goes beyond good manners. It serves as one of the more important ways in which we interact with others, both with those closest to us and those with whom we have contact for the briefest of times. US psychologist Sara Algoe of the University of N. Carolina, published a study in June 2012 based on the Find-Remind-and-Bind Theory of Gratitude. The research specifically looked at how expressions of gratitude among strangers shape social relations. According to this theory, gratitude ‘finds’ new friendships, ‘reminds’ people of existing relationships and ‘binds’ them further in the relationship. For example, the verbal expression of appreciation of kindness in a simple Thank You becomes the survival language in a foreign country that connects us to the social and cultural norms of an unknown people.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I “thank you” my readers. Each time I sit down to write my blog, I try to express ideas and feelings that make a difference in my life, and I hope in yours too. Like the child fetching water in Jordan, may you see all that you have received in and around your lives as gifts given you…nothing bought, nothing earned, nothing traded in, nothing owed, nothing entitled. Pure and simple gratitude for the value of what life and those around you offer. With an immense wealth of gratitude nestled in my heart, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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MEN, Step Forward

October and the color purple, with hashtags #CATURNSPURPLE, #DVAM2017 spread across the Golden State and social media, remind the nation that this is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month, designed to increase awareness and understanding of a topic not often brought into the open. You would think that domestic violence is a thing of the past, but instead of diminishing, it keeps growing in our societies. Campaigns such as ENOUGH, NO MORE, There’s No Excuse for Violence or Abuse, SPEAK OUT, REAL MEN DON’T HIT, ME TOO, still haven’t Put The Nail In It.

According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, domestic violence threatens the lives of more young women than cancer, malaria or war. It affects one in three women worldwide who has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her. Studies show that everyday more than three women are fatally killed by their husbands or boyfriends while survivors are left mentally scarred for life.

MEN, you should be outraged that in 2017 you can allow for this escalation in abuse, violence and death to occur at the hands of your gender. We live in a society where violence and disrespect against women—both in action and in speech—is prevalent. Every woman (consider for one moment your sister, your mother or your daughter) is at risk for becoming a victim of domestic violence. DV has no regard for socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, employment status, physical aptness, age, education, marital status, or sexual orientation. Sexist, patriarchal, and/or sexually hostile attitudes are growing because men and women acquiesce to these attitudes and dismiss derogatory comments and behavior to “locker room talk” or machismo culture.

Cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior in the use of violence. They perpetuate the problem. The traditional beliefs that men have a right to control or discipline women through physical means makes women vulnerable to violence by intimate partners and places girls at risk of sexual abuse. The “tradition” of not interfering in matters between family members that occur in private, leads to reluctance for government, the criminal justice system, and other systems to respond to domestic violence, even after it becomes a crime. In many cultures, admission of abuse is to acknowledge the ugly side of one’s humanity, therefore the problem is denied and swept under the rug. One of the biggest challenges today is getting domestic violence laws implemented, such as making sure that women are able to go to the police to report violence, to have the support of their churches, or have access to shelters for protection. Clergy and secular counselors are trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the abuse; police officers do not provide support to women and treat domestic violence as a domestic “dispute” rather than a crime and discourage the victim from pressing charges; prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers; the abuser is quickly discharged only to return and repeat the assault/crime.

Legislation is a key tool in changing behavior and perceptions of cultural and social norms. Laws and policies that make violent behavior an offence send a message to society that it is not acceptable. While nearly all countries have laws that criminalize most forms of homicide, only some countries have laws in place to protect women from intimate partner violence. However, even when laws exist, this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards and recommendations or implemented. There is much abuse in the system. Hollywood, New York, Washington are prime examples!  Much progress is still needed and especially in countries such as Algeria, Armenia, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Haiti, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen to name a few that DO NOT HAVE laws in place to identify and criminalize offenders, the solution is to change the mindset of “traditions” of patriarchal culture.

MEN, unless you are willing to see DV and abuse for what it is–a crime and violation of human rights—you put your own mother, sisters and daughters at risk. Do not normalize sexualized violence. Notice it. Be outraged. Share your outrage with others. Do not hide behind closed doors, remain silent, or turn your backs and say “it’s not my problem,” and allow for the abuse and violence to escalate. Become more educated. Like all good prevention, fathers and mothers, teach your sons—not only your daughters—by example that violence, abuse and harassment are unacceptable under any given condition. Education should go beyond what girls can do to prevent being victims, to the attitudes that boys have about women and about masculinity, and the actions that men can take to promote mutual respect and egalitarianism. Teach your boys at home and at school. Athletic coaches, start delivering programs designed to engage young men in questioning and challenging harmful gender norms with the goal of reducing sexual violence and dating/relationship abuse.

MEN, your influence in the global push to stop gender-based violence cannot be underestimated. Step forward. Transform the problem into becoming the solution.   Join forces with women to end violence against women. Break the wall of silence and taboo still surrounding violence against women and the sheer magnitude of this most widespread of human rights issues and become the solution to the problem.

MEN and Women must prioritize ending violence against women in laws, policies, and funding at every level until every woman is safe at home, at school, and at work. There is no amount of justice that can restore the lost lives of countless victims of domestic violence locally and in other countries including Armenia, but we can honor their memory by collaborating to end domestic violence in our communities so that no other family or culture will ever bear this kind of pain.

MEN, it’s time to step forward and earn your purple ribbons. Stand up, speak out, and act. 

 

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Guns, Endemic to America

Number 1 in gun ownership and mass shootings

How many people must be killed to bring about reasonable gun controls in the US? So routine are shootings—homicidal, suicidal, accidental—that only mass shootings like Las Vegas, or Orlando, or San Bernardino, or Newtown, or Aurora, or Blacksburg, or Columbine (to name a few) attract national attention. All these are far from a complete list of the people killed or injured in gun violence in the United States. We cry about it, tut-tut about it, shake our heads, mourn the senseless deaths, send out thoughts and prayers, express sympathies for the families, speculate over what drove the accused evil gunman/men, and then before long, we move on. WE DO NOTHING ABOUT IT.

The United States loses far more people to gun violence than almost any other country, and there is only one reason: the easy availability of guns. Based on a United Nations Report on Drug and Crime recently published, US civilian gun ownership is the highest worldwide. Gun ownership makes it simple and easy as ready, aim, fire, and with the loose gun laws, everyone becomes vulnerable. Guns make domestic violence situations 12 times more likely to result in violent assault leading to death. Guns contribute to 49% of suicides, and the nation averages 87 gun deaths each day as a function of gun violence. Gun related violence is endemic in the United States.

It is extremely irresponsible to use the 2nd Amendment as argument against tighter gun control measures when the ready availability of guns leaves little space between murderous impulses and actions that result in death. This isn’t about the 2nd Amendment. It is about doing something to lessen the prevalence of gun violence in the nation. Society is paying a high price for the failure of government and lobbyists to take the necessary measures to protect people from gun violence. We have seat belt laws, helmet laws, driving under the influence laws, murder laws, theft laws, crime laws, and while none of these eliminate possible fatalities, they DO LESSEN THE PREVALENCE of fatalities. WE NEED TIGHTER GUN LAWS. It is irresponsible to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists – both domestic and foreign. Why should any civilian anywhere be able to acquire an assault rifle or other high-powered weapon/s designed to kill throngs of people? How many more mass killings will it take before the United States adopts robust gun regulation?

The raw data of mass shootings* listed below speak for themselves.
*Note: A mass shooting involves four or more people injured or killed in a single event at the same time and location. (Source: Gun Violence Archive).

October 1, 2017: 59 killed, nearly 500 injured: Las Vegas, NV
June 5, 2017: 5 killed: Orange County, FL
Jan. 6, 2017: 5 killed, 6 injured: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Sept. 23, 2016: 5 killed: Burlington, WA
June 14, 2017: 3 killed: San Francisco, CA
June 12, 2016: 49 killed, 58 injured in Orlando, FL
Dec. 2, 2015: 14 killed, 22 injured: San Bernardino, CA
Nov. 29, 2015: 3 killed, 9 injured: Colorado Springs, CO
Oct. 1, 2015: 9 killed, 9 injured: Roseburg, OR
July 16, 2015: 5 killed, 3 injured: Chattanooga, TN
June 18, 2015: 9 killed: Charleston, S.C.
May 23, 2014: 6 killed, 7 injured: Isla Vista, CA
April 2, 2014: 3 killed; 16 injured: Ft. Hood, TX
Sept. 16, 2013: 12 killed, 3 injured: Washington, D.C.
June 7, 2013: 5 killed: Santa Monica, CA
Dec. 14, 2012: 27 killed, one injured: Newtown, CT
Oct. 21, 2012: 3 killed, 4 injured: Brookfield, WI
Sept. 28, 2012: 6 killed, 2 injured: Minneapolis, MN
Aug. 5, 2012: 6 killed, 3 injured: Oak Creek, WI
July 20, 2012: 12 killed, 58 injured: Aurora, CO
April 2, 2012: 7 killed, 3 injured: Oakland, CA
Oct. 12, 2011: 8 killed, 1 injured: Seal Beach, CA
Jan. 8, 2011: 6 killed, 11 injured: Tucson, AZ
Aug. 3, 2010: 8 killed, 2 injured: Manchester, CT
Feb. 12, 2010: 3 killed, 3 injured: Huntsville, AL
Nov. 5, 2009: 13 killed, 32 injured: Ft. Hood, TX
April 3, 2009: 13 killed, 4 injured: Binghamton, NY
Feb. 14, 2008: 5 killed, 16 injured: DeKalb, IL
Dec. 5, 2007: 8 killed, 4 injured: Omaha, NE
April 16, 2007: 32 killed, 17 injured: Blacksburg, VA
Feb. 12, 2007: 5 killed, 4 injured: Salt Lake City, UT
Oct. 2, 2006: 5 killed, 5 injured: Nickel Mines, PA
Jan. 30, 2006: 6 killed: Goleta, CA
March 21, 2005: 9 killed, 7 injured: Red Lake Indian Reservation, MN
July 8, 2003: 5 killed, 9 injured: Meridian, MS
Oct. 28, 2002: 3 killed: Tucson, AZ
March 5, 2001: 2 killed, 13 injured: Santee, CA
Dec. 26, 2000: 7 killed: Wakefield, MA.
Nov. 2, 1999: 7 killed: Honolulu, HI
Sept. 15, 1999: 7 killed, 7 injured: Fort Worth, TX
July 29, 1999: 9 killed, 12 injured: Atlanta, GA
April 20, 1999: 13 killed, 24 injured: Columbine, CO
March 24, 1998: 5 killed, 10 injured: Jonesboro, AR
Dec. 7, 1993: 6 killed, 19 injured: Garden City, NY
July 1, 1993: 8 killed, 6 injured: San Francisco, CA
May 1, 1992: 4 killed, 10 injured: Olive Hurst, CA
Nov. 1, 1991: 4 killed, 2 injured: Iowa City, IA
Oct. 16, 1991: 22 killed, 20 injured: Killeen, TX
June 18, 1990: 10 killed, 4 injured: Jacksonville, FL
Jan. 17, 1989: 5 killed, 29 injured: Stockton, CA
Aug. 20, 1986: 14 killed, 6 injured: Edmond, OK
July 18, 1984: 21 killed, 19 injured: San Ysidro, CA

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Ants Do It, Birds Do It

I found this thought among my collection of writings. I still stand by it.

“The advancement of humans individually and collectively lies not in perpetuating or fighting about differences, but in universal respect, cooperation void of egoism, and a willingness to learn objectively. We fight each other over borders, over doctrines that all strive for peace, over commodities both natural and imaginary; we bicker selfishly over leadership and chairs of hierarchy. Our egocentricity, our megalomania, is distancing ourselves instead of bridging the gaps everywhere. We know how to reach out to our fellow humans in times of crises (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires) tearing down borders and walls built within us by separatist elite ideas. Why then, can we not continue to live without walls and stay connected to the essence of our humanity…to continue to be rooted in humility and selflessness? The selflessness that helps another to survive, to climb and to achieve with the same rights as you or I as part of a chorus of 7.5 billion beating hearts. At times I cannot think of myself as an American, a Caucasian, an Armenian, a Christian, or even as a woman. I am a person among people, and people can achieve the impossible by setting aside egoism, working together as one colony, as one flock.”

I woke up to an impressive form of large, irregularly shaped black mass of ants on my white countertop. They were busy at work having found a few crumbs of apple pie crust left after a late night of friendly entertaining among friends. I followed the trail all the way down the kitchen counter, circled the off-center island, along the long galley, into the dining room and out onto the back patio to find their source. I set to work ridding my home of these little insects that were stocking up for the winter. Undesirable as they are, I admire their collaborative skills. Ants are a shining example of collusion in action. They carry tiny specks of dirt underground to form complex tunnels and living systems, tackle prey as a team, and help each other carry leaves and food back to their colony to use as mulch for raising fungus, which they eat to survive. These tiny creatures carry loads heavier than their body mass and work in unison as a team, understanding that strength lies in collectivity. They work harder than many species just to get through each day, and they do it as a team. No one gets left behind, and no one carries all the weight while others just sit on the sidelines. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we humans could work together as ants do to coexist instead of competing with each other for resources?

There was an unusually cold breeze that morning. It reminded me that Autumn was just around the corner. In a few weeks I’d be fortunate to see the most impressive form of large, irregularly shaped black masses (flocks) of birds in the sky, dancing their way in flight to migrate north and south. Birds that swarm in a murmuration seem to be connected together. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice, and in a dense group, the space between them may only be a bit more than their body length, yet they can make astonishingly sharp turns conducted entirely in unison. Even pelicans, ducks, geese (and many other) that fly in V formation do so as a team. They form the V to take advantage of the wind from the bird in front of them giving that extra lift that saves energy to those behind. Interestingly, all birds in the V contribute to the leadership (which provides the first wind) almost equally as they rotate leadership relieving each other with grace and ease. Followers become the leaders and leaders become followers. There is a selfless act of altruism among them, being able to set aside differences for the mutual benefit of the flock. What an incredible skill to help each other out regardless of their social hierarchy in the flock. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work together with such altruism among our own multitudes?

People, our strength lies in acceptance, unity, and in the ability to work together harmoniously on teams, sharing common values of helping each other to arrive at our destinations quicker, easier, lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of one another. Ants do it. Birds do it. Why can’t we who know how to love do it?

 

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Wish and Pray

As summer draws to a close and I know that those “lazy, hazy,” out of the ordinary days must end, I look across the glossy tanned bodies of eclectic people in their “itsy bitsy teeny weeny” sometimes non-existent bikinis, to the stretch of sandy beach and beyond, to the sea….the blue, the green, the brown and grey of it; the crashing, the calm, the choppiness, the smooth and the roll of it….and I wish that summer would never end.

“I wish summer wouldn’t end,” I overheard my grandchildren speaking. Which got me thinking again.

Sometimes I drift into the quiet of my mind and I hear my heart urgently longing for something. Sometimes it’s wishful thinking knowing I have no control over whether I’m going to get it and sometimes its earnest, honest asking which becomes prayer. What makes one thought a wish, an expression of a person’s will or hope, and what makes a different kind of thought into prayer?

Whether big or small, frivolous or grave, we all have “wishes” that we’ve uttered quietly or loudly and that weigh on our hearts depending on our circumstances. We wish for good health, a cure, better living conditions, a promotion, the perfect house, the perfect mate, a job, success in exams, the moment to never end, a good night’s rest, an end to violence, an invitation to the prom, a visit from an offspring, a phone call…all valid desires that consume us with the outcome. But when does a desire for a definite outcome turn into prayer?

The difference in a wish and a prayer is in who receives it. Prayer is communication, and communication needs a sender and a receiver. And when there is a sender and a receiver it becomes a conversation. A conversation implies a relationship. A relationship involves trust. A wish, on the other hand, is just wanting something to come true without becoming personally involved. I cannot will something to happen without taking concrete action myself. To turn a wish into a prayer requires me to communicate. It requires conversation with a being who understands me; who makes me feel safe to share myself honestly —about my dreams, my hopes, weaknesses and failures, without trust being broken or having to fear that my words will be used against me later on. It becomes the kind of conversation that satisfies and a relationship that gratifies.

Simply put, prayer is a matter of asking for help from a person whom I trust and who is in a position to take action. If I were to ask my friend Mary to pick up my children from school, I am trusting her and in a sense I am praying for her to do so. And when I ask God to help me through some hardship, or to bless a couple, or to help another through hardship, I’m not simply wishing that outcome; I’m asking someone in a position to do something. And as one who puts her trust in God, that someone is the Divine.

Prayer requires sincerity towards myself, towards others and towards the Divine. It is an attitude turned to hope and the future. I believe in hope not because it makes hard things easier, but because it has the unique ability to make impossible things reality. No other emotion or form of motivation has the power to change the world than the indescribable drive that comes from completely immersing oneself in the hope and trust for a better tomorrow. It has limitless power because it is not derived from tangible or measurable substance. Hope can make the weak strong, the poor rich, and the lonely loved.

Not everyone prays, but just about everyone wishes and wants, all desiring the outcome of some circumstances and dreading others. Those who put their trust in the Divine somehow react to the circumstance (whether frivolous or grave) with gratitude, and turn that gratefulness, and that wanting and willing, into prayer. For those who really pray know that it’s not just about getting what we want. It’s about a relationship of growing in the deep knowledge and infinite love of an ever present divine being. You can’t just wish for that.

Secretly, I hope, and will, and wish, that as I write this, my readers will identify with my words. Words born of moments. Moments that take me back to days when I would wish upon a shooting star in the clear night skies of summers past.  Moments of wishful thinking that today I shed light on something true about the experience of praying, and hoping, and wishing, and willing.

“What do you wish for ‘Meema’?” asked my grandchildren. “I too wish for summer to never end,” I said as we ran toward the waters of the sea shouting “last one in will have to shower me with kisses!”

Prayer: a practice of communicating with one’s god.
Wish: a desire, hope, or longing for something or for something to happen.

 

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Dutiful Freedom

“Why can’t I have freedom to do what I want?” complained my eight-year-old grandson when he was asked to perform a task given him. “There are too many rules and duties,” he whined further.

One of my goddaughters at age 16 complained and said she couldn’t wait to go to college in order to have freedom from the restrictions imposed on her by well-meaning parents. “I want to be free from duties; free from beliefs and our culture,” she whined.

Little do the children of today know that there is no pure and perfect freedom. They will grow to realize that in order for them to pursue “freely” what they want in life, they will have to make choices that come with a set of rules and limitations and consequences to their actions. They will learn that the definition of a free society is not where people are free to do what they wish, but it is one in which they freely choose to surrender certain behaviors in exchange for the benefits of living within that society.They will learn that freedom requires sacrifice. It requires an understanding that certain rules are necessary to create a society in which people of different skills and ideas work together in a mutually beneficial exchange. They will have to become citizens who will find a way to balance or reconcile their civic duties with the personal yearnings of their spirit.

When we are children, our parents impose our schedule, duties and the rules we must live by. Our possible choices are limited, and our beliefs and goals often come with a cultural inclination from parents and family members. As children, we often lack self-mastery; we have poor impulse-control and we are required to take ownership of our actions. Then one day, we turn 18, graduate from high school, and perhaps leave home and go off to college, ridding ourselves (or so we think) of the cultural rules. We are pretty much free to do anything we’d like except violate societal rules and the law. We can party all night, sleep in and be free from well meaning rules. We may fail, stumble and fall, and we learn further that our actions have consequences. We learn quickly that freedom to do what we want doesn’t mean we’re free from the repercussions of those choices. We choose our actions, and with those, for better or worse, we must take ownership and responsibility for our freedom to choose. Today’s children will soon learn that the really important kind of freedom involves developing an understanding of how one thinks, being able to speak one’s mind, to be fearless, to be tolerant and to be conscious of the needs of others. It requires attention and awareness and discipline, and being able to care truly about other people (society) and to sacrifice for them over and over in countless petty, unappealing ways, every day, while achieving their goals.

Yesterday, when I was younger, freedom was not a notion I considered unless it was free time/play time where I could run the streets of my childhood home. I was dutiful. If my mother expected me to make the coffee after lunch, I made coffee. If it was expected of me to wash dishes, I washed dishes. If it was cleaning day, I helped clean house. If I brought in stray pets, I was expected to take care of them. I did what was expected of me, whether I wanted to or not.
However, being dutiful got me through childhood, then college. Dutiful accompanied me in balancing priorities while making life choices. Dutiful bound me to my roots. Dutiful impressed on me to care about children, the elderly, society and those around me. Today, freedom is a notion I understand as I dutifully serve the yearnings of my spirit. I am free to spend time with loved ones; help others, practice my faith, be fearless in the truth. I am free to be in a steady, unyielding relationship that works when we spend time together or apart. I am free to speak my mind, to make choices and dutifully take ownership of the consequences. Freedom also means wrapping my hands around a steaming mug of coffee while I watch waves lapping the shore. It means staying up late into the night to indulge my pleasures and still waking up early the following morning to perform duties. Freedom means putting words on paper for no other reason than because it makes my heart sing.
After all the whining and complaining, I’m blessed with the tools gifted to me by well meaning parents who got me there, to where I manage my freedom to serve the yearnings of my spirit.

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Graduation Season

It’s graduation season. It’s that time of year when social media is inundated with posts of proud parents celebrating one of the most rewarding moments of their lives as they watch their children walk across stages, receive certificates, diplomas and trophies for promotions, graduations and commencement exercises. And proud they should be, because the world into which today’s students graduate from elementary through college and universities is fundamentally different from the one in which many of us grew up. We’re increasingly living in a globalized society that has a whole new set of challenges and expectations. These are challenges that come by way of economics, science and technology, health, security from external threats, and an ever changing demographics. There are expectations that come by way of parents and commencement speakers telling the graduate what he/she must do to move on to the “next chapter” of life… “Chase your dreams, be bold, take risks, it’s ok to fail, be true to yourself and live your passion.” The message that each speaker is trying to convey to young minds is near universal: From here on, life’s lessons are not in classrooms and books of biology, history or math. Life’s true lessons are in the arena of experience.

At 93, my father was still an avid reader. He said that one’s education never ended even to one’s last breath on earth. He told me that while he practiced making a living with what he learned in college, he continually found greater joy in changing the shape of his education. He was passionately curious and kept an open mind with his eagerness to read, listen, watch and share. Dad was right. His education didn’t end with a college degree. In fact, dad never really left the classroom. Here’s what I learned from my father.

With every book or article you read, with every person you interact, with every situation in which you find yourself, you open possibilities that stretch the imagination beyond the expected. You discover a sense of awe, knowing that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers. A sense that we can stand right at the boundary between the known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.

There will always be a new lesson life has to teach you, if you’re willing to listen. Be conscious. Be aware. Think about who you are becoming at every corner or road you take. Do not lose sight of your North Star. What inspires you to live in the present based on your values? What makes you hold on when all else is pulling you under? Be patient. Reflect. Offer your soul the quiet it needs in a world where you are expected to seek happiness through your material self-worth. Expectations tend to make you rigid, narcissistic, and uncreative. Seek a life of integrity as the source of your personal worth. You will feed the opportunities and starve the problems in your life.

Seek joy rather than happiness. Happiness is boring. Happiness is when everything around you seems perfect and you must stand still so as to not change the situation or yourself. However, the one constant in life is change. Seek change and know joy in facing challenges and moving forward. Pay your debt to life through deeds of love and service. Give before it is asked. Take care of others. Before you pursue your own dreams, serve someone else’s dream because you will learn much and remain humble. You will have many signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, but there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of humanity. Become an apprentice. Help someone else climb the ladder before you do. You will become less egocentric when you reach that “AHA” moment, the moment of success.

Be bold. Question the status quo. What’s right today may not be right tomorrow. Take risks. Move out of your comfort zone and discover the world in new ways. Do not become victim to “failure.” Become the hero. Because failure is an opportunity to learn; it rewires the brain and gets the creative juices flowing. Root your life in justice, compassion and humility and listen to the voice of your heart’s knowledge even when nobody else is looking. The trophies you earn may lose their luster and the merits on paper may fade but the true measure of your award is to remain the humble student of life’s universal classroom.
Congratulations parents and students.

 

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