The Modern Progressive: Striving to Make Big Things Happen

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There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.  ~Ronald Reagan 

In the constant partisan bickering that is the constant focus of the 24-hour news networks, what actually defines the two sides of the arguments gets lost. Instead, we either get a partisan-dominated view that appeals to a certain audience (I’m looking at you Fox News) or a an attempt to avoid all controversy and give credence to all ideas, even if they are blatantly false. It’s no secret I hold to a certain set of ideals ( I’m still dealing with criticism over a blog post I did comparing Republicans to the Sith). However, I like to think that coming from a background where I was free to make my own judgments on what ideology best fit my world view has given me a certain level of understanding of what motivates both sides and why I believe progressivism is a worthwhile movement.

Before I get into the nuts of bolts of why I believe progressive, liberal policymaking is good for this country I feel I should say a few things about conservatism. First, and foremost, conservative thought is not an inherently evil set of ideals bent on destroying the world. I hate to use the trite car analogy, but if the world was a car conservatism would serve as the brake. And we all need to use brakes from time to time (some more than others). Does that mean we should ride the brakes and prevent any kind of giant, monumental change? No. In fact, when entrenched conservative interests resist all change government ceases to be an effective vehicle for positive policy.

Positive change. The number one reason progressives exist. We look to make the world better by spending money on massive projects. Whether it be massive infrastructure projects to stimulate economic growth and bring our roads and sewer systems into the next century or investment in research and development that will allow us to move to a fuel and energy source that stops polluting our environment and slows down the inevitable march towards catastrophic climate change. We look to make big things happen above all else. Of course, this can lead to trouble if the consequences of this change have not been weighed or the opposition to such an act has not been properly considered.

Not only is progressivism about creating large, grandiose developments, it’s also about ensuring everyone is treated equal. Take the recent marriage equality victory in Minnesota. This is a cause that was championed by the political left, not out of some hidden agenda to undermine tradition, but to move society forward so that all people are allowed the same legal rights. In this fight, we saw that sometimes progressive thought is not just limited to those on the left, but can find champions on the other side of the aisle as well. Moving forward, even if when it’s not the politically expedient thing to do, embodies the core of this ideology.

Does this mean we all need to be progressive? Probably not. Any situation where there is only one point of view presented is wrought with the opportunity for stagnation. The conservative counter point is vital to vetting the big ideas presented by the progressive movement. However, this does not mean the currently situation in Washington and around the United States is acceptable. Opposition for the sake of discrediting someone you disagree with is irresponsible. As is looking to starve the government to a point where it only able to perform the most basic of public services. This is where I believe modern republicans have lost their way. We need to focus on proposing bold solutions to the real challenges humanity faces and stop looking to the next election cycle.

Reflecting on 2012

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“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” ~Robert Frost

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Partly, because the holidays are meant for laziness. And partly because of the dreaded creature of the black lagoon: writers block. It happens to the best of writers and I can safely say I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. Besides, posting weekly without a break inevitably leads to repetition and before you know it one ends up writing the same story about how extremist Republicans are out to destroy the world and its up to the forces of logic and reason to stop them. Is the point to this reflective rambling? Not sure, but I suppose now is as good as time as any to throw in a quick segue about how taking time off from blogging should lead to plenty of topics to write about (for next couple of weeks anyway). So without a further ado, time to recap some important lessons (political and otherwise) I took away from 2012.

Despite all beliefs to the contrary the world is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. While 2012 brought plenty of calamities, (Hurricane Sandy, a rash of mass shootings, and mass animal suicides to name a few) last time I checked we are all still here. There were plenty of changes of course. The revolutions of the Arab Spring continuing in nations like Syria has led many to question the stability of the region. Climate change is definitely having its effect as 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history. And perhaps most importantly of all, George Lucas sold the legendary Star Wars property to Disney ensuring the force will be with us well into the future. Despite all of this, the fabled end of the world predicted by the misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar did not materialize. Also, there are no zombies shambling around so that apocalypse has probably been staved off for at least another year or so (Though with this year’s flu season, I’m not convinced it’s too far off). Moral of the story? As long as you are still alive the world hasn’t ended. And if you’re not alive, than you probably aren’t really worried about it anyways.

Tell yourself a lie enough times and you start to believe it. Defining truth is tricky business. There are so few definitive truths out there. Even the one’s that do exist can be questioned and argued against convincingly (For example, death and taxes may be certain, but there are still plenty of people who would tell you taxes are criminal and would like them eliminated and death is only certain until we find a technological solution for it). So it probably should have come as no surprise that telling ourselves lies more in line with what we want to see happen can easily become our version of the truth.  This was no more prevalent than during the 2012 presidential election. Despite the facts predicting a solid, albeit narrow reelection for President Obama, many of the talking heads on the other side of the debate refused to believe it. Some going as far as to claim a landslide victory for Mitt Romney. While others continued to deny the results of the election after every major news outlet had called it in favor of Mr. Obama. Sadly, as our ability to pick and choose what information we consume increases we are able to ignore everything but what we want to hear. Which leads to a culture where we can convince ourselves to believe anything, no matter how crazy it may be.

Widely believed narratives are not always true. Narratives, whether they be concocted by the media or created through historical context, tend to shape many aspects of our life. This is equally true in the political realm. While I first noticed this during the early months of the Obama campaign back in 2007, the debate over Voter Identification in Minnesota definitively drove the point home. All the experts, the polls and the media believed this fight was lost once the proposed amendment was added to the ballot. Voter ID was such common sense that it would likely pass with little effort. However, as history ultimately showed all it took was education on the realities behind the bill to break that support down and send the poorly worded amendment to the showers. So while we probably shouldn’t completely ignore the preconceived notions held about a situation, its important we do not allow them to discourage us from taking action. So basically, what I’m saying is don’t count out the new Star Wars movie yet,  it might just surprise us.

While there are plenty of other lessons I’m sure one can take from the anti-climatic year 2012 turned out to be, these we’re a few that stuck out in my mind. They may have been peppered with plenty of biased political observations and random asides, but with any luck there are some nuggets of wisdom hidden within that can help prepare for an equally non-earth shattering 2013.  Will I learn greater lessons in the coming years? Maybe. Will writers block prevent me from recounting them? Probably. Either way, I’ll probably keep polluting the web with this nonsense until a zombie or other world calamity extinguishes my existential ramblings once and for all.

Door Number Twenty: Clean Living

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“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
~George Benard Shaw

From an early age most of us are taught the importance of cleaning up ourselves. Whether it be the countless pleas to clean our rooms as children or the simple hygienic act of brushing one’s teeth cleanliness is a virtue emphasized by our society. Unfortunately, as we get older and find ourselves in a position where accountability falls solely on our shoulders, it is easy to allow many elements of our life to become messy and disorganized. However its important we don’t allow the dirt in our lives to devolve to a point where our surrounding begin to resemble the trash compactor on the Death Star. And if that imagery isnot convincing there are a many other benefits to maintain a clean life style.

A clean environment helps promote clarity of mind. When one’s external surroundings are messy and out-of-order it leads to a cluttered mind. Take any modern office place. They are kept clean and well-organized to promote clear thinking. In addition one has to think legendary victories like that of the Races of Man and Elves over the forces of Mordor were helped in part due to their flawless superiority in this area. And if the champions of Middle Earth think it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth investing some time into.

Cleanliness promotes self-confidence. Good hygiene is paramount to maintaining one’s self-esteem. When you look and smell better, you feel better. Furthermore, when one’s living and workplaces are maintained and kept at an optimal level of order its easier to justify hosting social events. which in turn increases your standing among others. Another notable boost to one’s confidence. Besides, would James Bond have been as nearly as effective of a 00 agent had he not maintained an immaculate image? Of course not, that award-winning confidence would have been replaced with an awkwardness more akin to James Joyce than James Bond.

Being clean is good for your health. Probably not the most revolutionary benefit of keeping clean, but arguably one of the most important. Take food preparation. Food prepared in unclean environment can lead to a number of food-borne illnesses. Furthermore, when one operates in a cluttered environment merely walking from one place to another can be hazardous to one’s well-being. Don’t believe me, just ask Lord Blackwood. So while sometimes cleaning seems like a chore, your life could depend on it.

The values of cleanliness in one’s life not only keeps the mind clear, but also promotes self-confidence and good health. While most of us probably maintain a base level of organization in our lives, by placing more focus on it, we should be able to enjoy the full extent of these benefits. In addition, by practicing this door in our individual lives we contribute to a brighter, more appealing society. Leading us away from the dystopian future of Wall-E and towards the more ideal future chronicled in the inspirational speeches of Barack Obama and the Star Trek universe.

Big Change is a Work in Progress

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“Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.” ~Dean Acheson

Many of the most passionate people are also the least patient. Who can blame them? History paints a picture of big moments. Where a single act spurred an avalanche of change. An entire country created by the acts of a tireless general. An entire civil rights movement spurred by the defiance of one brave woman.  Example after example of monumental change, by one individual at a key moment in history. Upon closer inspection however,  for real change to occur one must recognize that it is not the dramatic acts of valor that lead to success, but a series of well-planned, coordinated actions that occur over the course of months, years, or sometimes even decades.

This is especially true in our professional lives. An average day in the life of a professional involves a number of seemingly insignificant activities and tasks. Be it the creation of pesky training programs to for future advocates of a non-profits work on a cause or the meticulous work of stripping rust and old paint from a bridge needing a face lift, there are a number of activities that while may seem unimportant at the time, are vital to making any last change. The training program is a necessary element to build the groundswell needed to make progress on any issue based advocacy. In order to improve the integrity of the bridge it is vitally important the rust and old paint be removed so that a new layer of protection can be applied. These outcomes are helpful to remember when works seems to be going nowhere.

As many of us are discouraged by the incremental steps it takes to succeed at work, it’s no wonder there is so much impatience in our political discourse. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he inherited the worst economy in decades. Yet after only a couple of years there were many individuals claiming his presidency had failed. This was despite the steady progress the economy was beginning to make, the gains in healthcare accessibility not thought possible in the 8 years prior, and the elimination of the highly discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy. Fortunately, enough people were willing to give him a chance in 2012 despite this impatience. The biggest problem with the public policy debate however, has less to do with the support of our politicians and more to do with the impatience of the populace to see lasting change.

Something it would be beneficial for people to realize, especially for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum, is political victory and progress takes baby steps. For example, when Social Security was first imagined and passed under Franklin D. Roosevelt it was a shade of what it is today. Furthermore, it was not the most popular of proposals. Thanks to the work of many individuals working together throughout history is has become a program many seniors and other disadvantaged groups rely on to live better, longer lives. The same can be said about today’s policy objectives. Be it expanding healthcare access for all, or moving our country to a sustainable, secure energy future. It important that we allow our elected officials and leaders the time to make these changes and continue to do our part to make these changes possible. One action at a time.

No matter what aspect of life you are looking to make progress in, whether it be your more localized professional life or the larger societal picture, recognizing the slow and steady, incremental nature of life is key. These steps are filled with details and careful planning that many of us forget about when we get fired up and ready to go. Even the most epic of plots involve numerous unexciting elements (e.g. the construction of a lightsaber or a massive orc army). While not every action will inevitably lead to something greater, there is always the possibility. Therefore, we must not allow our impatience to get the best of us, but rather put our energy into building to the great moments that history will ultimately remember.

 

Door Number Nineteen: Reflection

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~Confucius

Our lives are a flurry of non-stop activity. Even in our most inactive states our minds tend to run to and fro. Always looking to the future and what may be waiting around the next corner. Like a young Skywalker we look towards the horizon rarely taking the time to gain a fuller perspective. Affording us little time and focus to analyze past actions and thoughts. However, dedicating a bit of time to reflection provides a number of benefits to our lives.

By reflecting on past actions we are better equipped to deal with future problems.  Life is very similar to history in that it tends to repeat it self. Many of the challenges and conflicts we face are merely a retread of the past. We make the same mistakes, because we fail to analyze the reason these obstacles arise. It’s why the world continues to fight the same wars on different battlefields and why many of us are doomed to a cycle that leads us down the same path over and over again. However, by taking the time each day to reflect on our actions, thoughts and their consequences we can break the cycle.

We can only know where we are going if we understand where we have been. As I previously mentioned, a great deal of our energy is spent planning for the future. However, attempting to determine where we want to be tomorrow is quite difficult if we do not have a better handle on why we want to be there. A feat that is quite impossible if we fail to take the time and think about what we have done and continue to do. It’s why the greatest leaders throughout history have been informed by their past and why reflection on our actions is necessary. Once we have this perspective, only then can we effectively plan for tomorrow.

Good reflection leads to a greater peace of mind. With so many distractions, mental maladies, and other stressful weights pressing down upon us it is vital we find a way to calm our minds. Fortunately, one of the greatest benefits of reflection is it enables us to sort out much of the busyness in our life. Rather, than let the immense totality of it all overwhelm us, it allows one to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This simplification of things contributes to an overall sense of calm otherwise found lacking.

Reflection improves our lives by better equipping us for the future, helping us understand the past and creating a greater peace of mind. While the benefits of realizing this door in our lives may seem like common sense finding the time and focus to dedicate to reflection is less simple. One must consciously and deliberately make time each day to think back on the events and thoughts of the day taking extra care to recognize the trends and patterns inherent in one’s life. Only then will the reasons for reflection fully reveal themselves.

Door Number Eighteen: Celebrate

“And, yes, no doubt to others, our ways seem quaint, but, today of all days, it is bought home: It is no bad thing to celebrate the simple life.” ~ Bilbo Baggins

We all take part in celebrations of some kind throughout our lives. Whether it be a birthday, an anniversary, or a holiday it is important we celebrate. It’s easy to forget the importance of celebration amidst a life often focused on buckling down and getting to work. We get so caught up preparing and planning for the future we forget to recognize and appreciate those moments in life when we need to stop working for a while and instead enjoy the leisure and excitement that comes with celebrating. While at first glance it may not seem as important as many of the other doors we travel through, upon further inspection its become clear there are many reasons to incorporate this door into the hall of our lives.

Celebration gives us a much-needed break. Life is busy. No matter what you choose to do there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Even on the weekends, when we are supposed to be able to take a break from the rigors of our professional lives it seems like the time slips away faster than we can come with ideas on how to enjoy it. That is why celebrating events like birthdays and holidays is so important. They offer us an excuse to forget about all the things we need to do and focus on the enjoyment of the current moment. Even if the reason for that celebration involves successfully watching all three Lord of the Rings Extended Editions in one sitting.

Celebration is an easy way to let the people in your life know how much you care about them. One of the most notable forms of celebration (as made apparent by my multiple mentions of it) is the birthday. It is the one day of the year when it is okay to be the center of attention. However, as you get older this day become less and less exciting. It is no longer the cake and present-filled affair it once was. Which is why it is even more important to celebrate the birthdays of the loved ones in your life. It lets them know, that no matter how old they get, or how much things in life change, they deserve a day where they are celebrated. Besides, any excuse for ice cream cake should be exploited at all costs.

Without celebration, life would be an anti-climatic march towards nothing. Hard work is a staple to a fulfilling life. However, if we simply work hard towards our goals and then just move on to the next task without acknowledging our accomplishment it is difficult to appreciate the sacrifice. When the Empire was taken down at the end of Return of the Jedi did the rebellion immediately begin the hard process of building a transitional government for the galaxy? No. They celebrated, because not only would that have required a multitude of boring follow-up movies no one would have watched, in order to truly appreciate the gravity of a moment, you have to celebrate it.

Celebration is an important door because it offers us a break, allows us to let our loved ones know how much we care about them, and makes life worth the struggle. We have a finite amount of time in this life and we should take every opportunity we can to enjoy it. Even if we don’t have the resources to throw a huge party every time there is an event worth celebrating, it is important we utilize the resources we do have to recognize and enjoy the excitement. For those having trouble coming up with things to celebrate about, fortunately there’s an election in a little over a week which, with any luck, will give you plenty to celebrate about.

Door Number Seventeen: Pushing Your Limits

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” ~Bruce Lee

Be it Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances after a comeback from cancer or Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL in record time there are plenty of examples of people in our society pushing themselves to the limit. It’s easy to go through life always playing it safe. Avoiding pushing one’s self too hard out due to a fear of failure or causing unneeded, self-imposed harm. However, it is important we are not too afraid to attempt to transcend these perceived limitations. By taking the opportunity to test ourselves and opening this door we improve the quality of our lives in a number of important ways.

Every successful attempt at pushing ourselves beyond our limits expands our potential. Anyone who has run a race knows the key is to push towards finishing at all costs. While you may start at a low distance like a 5K, over time stamina and confidence increases and before you know it you may be running a 10K, half-marathon, or even the fabled full marathon. The problem with holding back and staying in one’s comfort zone is it creates an insurmountable ceiling. When we take the risk and succeed, any perceived barrier is pushed back. We realize the bar is not as low as we set it giving us the opportunity to strive higher than ever thought possible.

Failing at reaching beyond our limits makes us more resilient. The obvious reality of pushing ourselves to the edge of the possible is there is a great potential for failure. This lack of success does not have to be a bad thing. Every time we attempt the impossible and fall short we become better at accepting failure. An acceptance that encourages us to continue forward even when it seems unlikely we will succeed. After all, it took losing an arm for Luke Skywalker to achieve the heights of Jedi mastery needed to defeat the Empire.

Pushing our limits not only improves the quality of our own lives but can serve as inspiration to those around us.  As is illustrated in the previous points, win or lose there is a great deal of personal gain from challenging our limits. What may be forgotten as we attempt to better ourselves is we have the potential to inspire others to similar success. From Luke Skywalker to Rudy, people have been drawn to stories of underdogs becoming more than their meager backgrounds would suggest. When others see us succeed at something once thought beyond our capabilities a sense anything is possible arises. By shooting for the moon, we empower others to do the same.

We must push ourselves to the limit not only to increase our potential through our successes, but to learn the resiliency gained from failure. In addition, by opening this door we have the potential to inspire others to do the same. While it is quite possible we will come up short or become too overwhelmed, its vital we try. And while we should accept our limitations, it is even more important we continue to believe we can overcome them. So while the wisdom of Yoda would dictate we must always do or do not , and that trying is just another word for failure, in this case we should ignore the wise little green muppet and continue our efforts at striving towards the impossible.