Showing posts with label Life experiences. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life experiences. Show all posts

Friday, October 21, 2011

True Altruism

In book one of my W.A.R.M. Front series the heroine and the hero share a very interesting if not integral belief.  That belief is in altruism.  Whenever I write books I like to talk about things that are near and dear to my heart.  In very many ways I doubt anything is as near or dear to me as altruism. 

Growing up my family depended very much on the kindness of strangers.  I remember at least 2 Christmases very clearly that would've been awful if the local church had not been kind enough to give us a Christmas dinner and toys for my brother and me.  I wonder about how different my childhood would've been if these services had not been available and how I would be a different person now from those experiences.  And I wonder how the general public feels about charity and altruism.  Even more so I wonder if those who have been fortunate enough either through recognition of hard work or by virtue of luck to be highly financially successful in this life understand what sharing this does for their soul.  Not just giving money to the Red Cross once a year, but actually getting their hands dirty and watching a life transform.  

For those who have lost their way and lost meaning in their own lives, it is restored through finding meaning in another’s life. Altruism is in many ways the most selfish act I know and all the more lovely for it.  It is a process of healing another that brings the healing to the healer. By opening the most nurturing and cradling parts of yourself to others you give that part of you what it really needs, air to breathe.   By burying it in yourself you are only suffocating it, depriving it of sunlight, food, and water.  The things it needs to grow.

This comes on the heels of reading something yesterday that literally made me cry.  I've always been a fan of the music of Bon Jovi. Well now I'm a fan of the man Jon Bon Jovi because of this wonderful contribution he has made to his hometown.  In a nutshell he and his wife have a foundation that gives back to their community. This is something that I believe is an absolute must if you have any amount of great success, and is a must in smaller quantities even if you don't. 

Their latest endeavor is a revamping of the 'soup kitchen' concept.  Historically the soup kitchen is a necessary thing that brings with it a multitude of soul destroying poisons.  However this version includes something that I believe people forget to give to those in need. Dignity. This is a pay as you can restaurant that gives a healthy meal in a clean well received environment.

The full story can be found here: Soul Kitchen, Jon Bon Jovi

I can't wait for the next trip I take to the area so I can eat a meal there and leave $100 on the table.

I know it stands to reason that if you are this down on your luck, beggars can't be choosy.  But this is in essence the problem.  Beggars should be choosy.  It is this sense of self-worth that propels a person to make the necessary changes in their life to actually start a positive shift in their existence.

I remember being ashamed of my upbringing when I was younger.  I never had the best toys on the market, was lucky to have the toys I did have.  My mother always made sure that we had clean clothes, food, and a roof over our head no matter what she had to do to accomplish this.  If it meant swallowing her pride and asking for aide then so be it.  Her children were worth it.  However as a young child all I had was a perpetual sense of not being 'good enough' to have things other children had.  And my mother's income or lack thereof became a definer for people as to what I could or could not accomplish.

I remember being accepted to my high school and then told in so many words that children from my socio-economic background usually didn't last long because they felt like outcasts from other students who sometimes had very privileged backgrounds.  They could afford the things I could not.  Being a visual artist is very expensive business and somehow my mother made sure that even if I couldn't have the best supplies, I could create art. She didn't let me feel guilty about costing the family so much money because she saw this for what it was; dignity for me.  And she knew that I very much needed to have that if I was ever going to achieve anything.

As the first high school graduate, first college degree holder, and soon to be the first graduate degree holder in my family I can look back and see how unattainable these goals would've been if I didn't have my dignity to see it out. What people from other backgrounds don't understand is the sense of helplessness someone who is deeply impoverished has.  When you are in poverty your living conditions and standards are much lower than that of people in the middle class.  You juggle bills, paying them by importance as opposed to paying them because they are due.  You never have enough money to pay all of your bills and trying to live below the means necessary to account for the amount of money you make leads to consequences like not being able to buy the proper clothes for the job you work. Not being able to secure transportation to it, or not being able to eat enough to have the energy to work. And all the while everyone around you blames you for your inability to be better, to be more.  The United States poverty lines are just a bad joke that accounts for an economy that was thriving over 3 decades ago without truly accounting for inflation, technology, and the changing standards of basic human needs.

The issue is when another bill collector has called you a deadbeat, your boss is too cheap to give you a raise implying that your work effort is not worth this level of finance, and you don't know how you're going to feed yourself or your children tonight, you start to believe some unfortunate things about yourself.  When you work yourself to the bone with multiple jobs, no health insurance, living paycheck to paycheck and another financial burden presents itself as an emergency; you are willing to do almost anything to free yourself from the panic, the horror, and the rage this gives you.  The last thing on your mind is your dignity, because if it will make you feel like you are accomplishing something to sell it off, you most likely will, and very few people in similar situations would blame you for it.

While some may say all you have is your pride, you must realize that people in truly tragic situations don't have that any more.  Pride proved to be too expensive in the face of hunger. And dignity isn't allowed to be a thought if you want to maintain shelter. There are those miracle stories.  Those people who despite the odds managed to maintain both and succeed.  However they are the minority not the majority.  Self-worth is a commodity in our world that has had a definite price tag placed on it.  It is now a beast that involves status, income, and has little to do with moral values and community building. Dignity has always been this nearly indefinable mix of human frailty and strength.  It can be used to break you and to lift you high.  Sometimes within the same breath.

I build this case to state this. The humility it takes for a person who is very successful to look at someone less fortunate, and offer a hand as opposed to a handout is immense, and should be treasured for the miracle that it is. The difference is in the old Chinese fish metaphor, give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him how to fish. . . you know how it goes.  This is the act of showing someone through the care you have taken to prepare something for them, their worth to you as a human being.  And when someone can't manage to build self-worth and dignity for themselves, it is the job of others to show them how it's done through our own actions. The world is our community if we don’t care enough to take care of it, who else will? No matter how isolated we try to make ourselves, no one is here alone and if you are in a position to help others, you must understand this and help.

I give men who have Superman tattoos a hard time.  It’s because usually they are self-involved delusional braggarts that have placed on this false persona to fulfill some missing need within themselves.  My issue is that Superman is a hero and saves lives.  If you aren’t doing something similar you haven’t earned his colors.  Jon Bon Jovi is earning those colors.

I hope acts of true altruism become an epidemic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Celebrity Crisis

I feel like I need to start this blog with a disclaimer because I'm going to talk about things that need to be clearly identified as not belonging to each other.  They are the differences between confidence and self-absorption. I am all about confidence.  Everyone should have it and everyone should display it.  I've been told I'm in fact much too modest.  Trust me I do this on purpose because the megalomaniacal beast that I hold at bay daily is no cake walk I assure you.  I try to channel that through my characters.  Let them be larger than life and I can just be me. 

I suppose I find myself wondering about the state of wealth and celebrity.  The wealthy are pretty obscure.  Very few people even know the names of the wealthiest people in the world.  They couldn't pick them out in a crowd, and can't easily identify their names in print or vocalized.  However celebrity is all the rage.  People can identify a celebrity without even trying, thus they become the image that is often associated with the wealthy.  Even pop cultural anarchists like myself can tell you a few basic tenets of modern pop culturalization. 

The best way to get press is to get caught doing something amoral by 'good' American citizen standards.  As an entertainer it is nearly impossible to not eventually do something that other people disapprove of.  Never underestimate the ability of people to do two things, misunderstand, and then judge what they never understood. The irony is that the best way to keep fame is to then somehow transcend what got people's attention in the first place. Which I believe is that crucial step between confidence and self-absorption. It’s 'I got away with it' syndrome.  It leads to a life of 'getting away with it' and expecting to always do so.  This is when the first inkling of "I'm better than you starts" to really cement itself.

Remember this story? I do!
Self-absorption starts with that one basic idea.  I am better than you.  Every case of it stems from that one primary thought. I've had brief brushes with celebrity and I hated it.  I hated it because this entity of celebrity can somehow prevent and hinder the ability of making true connections. My life has no meaning without true connections to other people.  It was hard for me to tell the difference between the truth as it was, and the truth as it was being presented as.  The biggest favor I ever did for myself was to discover the difference.  From time to time I still slip up.  But with less people involved in the process to snow me over for their own gain, it’s easier than it could've been.

The only aspect of celebrity that I didn't mind was the idea that financial woes would cease for myself and those I loved. However at what point does your financial success when combined with the specter of celebrity make you not see anything beyond yourself.  To be successful in any industry a certain level of personal choice and compliance has to be given up.  To be successful in a performance based industry this is multiplied by 10 because usually you aren't talking about just a job.  You are talking about doing something you are passionately in love with to a degree that it is a part of you.  You need it to exist more than you need breath. Sometimes that peak is very far away. So far in fact that people have to convince themselves beyond what is actually true to reach it.  Which means you have to negate reality as it is and replace it with one of your own (shameless Mythbusters steal).

So I test drove it.  This new reality for me was dark. It was filled with pitfalls and attacks.  An unending landscape of fire pits and terrifying creatures ready to snap your head off for fun.  I explore this idea more in a romance I'm writing featuring a Hollywood movie producer and a grassroots painter. It explores how alike they are yet how their choices made them seem so different from each other. Working on this again made me think about my own peccadilloes with fame, celebrity, and the price that I thought was too high to pay for the promise of money, glory, and popularity.

I've never thought well of celebrities or people who needed and wanted fame.  That is my prejudice developed from people I've met and known in my past in addition to my disgust at the assumption they made that I was in fact just like them. I made assumptions about them based on my value system.  As unfair as that is, I do it because I realize they have done the same. The truth is I am just like them, we all are.  Some of us just channel it differently. But the core that makes someone choose to pursue fame and choose not to are basically identical.  The need to associate, develop, and ultimately belong to something. Always trying to find the formula to a happy fulfilling life. We just make different choices as to how to fulfill our core.

Celebrity Weddings
There were things that I attached to celebrity and fame because the actions others encouraged me to propagate in order to achieve it left very obvious victims. I never wanted to believe it was okay to look down on people.  I never wanted to think that some people just deserve less because I was able to achieve something considered 'more'.  I never wanted to be able to justify making ridiculous amounts of money and not starting a charity.  I never wanted my need to express my talent to mean more than human decency, kindness, and empathy.

The point is I never wanted to be able to ignore another person because I thought I was better than them.  I always think about the people who I know now that I most likely would not have met had I chosen a different path and what a grave loss that would be in my life.  Most importantly I never wanted to wrap myself in that cynical cocoon I was developing that didn't even allow grace in.  I wanted to remain human enough to understand the importance of humility. To ultimately keep the magic of meeting special people that the world for whatever reason ignores.  That feeling of discovering this perfect meadow that has somehow remained untainted by the filth of the world.

Yes this is that car
When I see that some rapper has blown $370,000 to destroy a car in a music video I cringe at what I could've become.  When a musician refuses to do a charity concert because they aren't getting paid I wonder why do they need more money.  They already have more than they need to live well. When I see music, art, dance leaving schools and very few of the people who benefitted from these programs care enough to do something about it, I wonder how can they claim to love what they do if they don't care enough to make sure that it always exists.  You can hear it in everything they do. I am better than you. And all I can think is I no longer care about anything you do.

Why does celebrity lead to this 'us versus them' mentality no matter what type of fame it is? This 'I as a celebrity cannot be bothered by you a regular person' nonsense.  I've meet people that aren't like that, but the majority abide by and prefer this separation that is in essence contributing to the class war that the wealthy is waging.  The extremely wealthy are using celebrity as their front line fodder. Celebrities bear the brunt of the criticisms for overt wealth and wealth flaunting practices. If celebrities would take a moment, and just be with 'regular' people they would be moved to discuss their plight and be less villianized.  But in this country our celebrities are sometimes even worse than our politicians.  Because for entertainment careers being a savvy politician is necessary for success.

Love word clouds
The question I could never answer, and was too afraid of losing myself to confront was this.  Is it even possible to retain any empathy, compassion, or reality when fame is your reality?  What would lead a character who is being victimized by his own fame into understanding the plight of a person on the other end of life?  In this case I choose magic.  A witch to be exact.  I wonder how their story will end?  Coming soon. . . .

Confidence courtesy of:

Word Cloud courtesy of:

Celebrity Weddings courtesy of:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Stereotype Tree

Multicultural image
I think the importance of stereotypes and their existence become greatly undervalued.  If you ask someone why a stereotype is bad your general response would be something along the lines of 'Well it isn't polite, or nice."  Which of course opens the doorway of using them when you intentionally want to be mean or seen as bad.  It becomes a matter of opinion on civility instead of a matter of fact in regards to inequality systems.  Make no mistake about it; stereotypes have very little to do with civility and a whole lot more to do with the maintaining of inequality systems.

Inequality systems are an interesting thing.  In the current text I am reading "The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality" there is an analogy that is given by Marilyn Frye that I find to be very appropriate:

"Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires.” When the cage is observed so closely, it’s unclear why a bird—eager to escape—wouldn’t just fly around the wire. It’s necessary to step back and look at the entire cage. “It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which could be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the walls of a dungeon” (Ore, 2003)

The interesting aspect of inequality systems is that people have a tendency to deny their existence.  The common perceptions among average Americans are that if a certain sector of the population is not successful it is through their own lack of desire, initiative, and drive.  According to the most privileged Americans, the playing field is level.  This is just the idea that the inequality maintenance system needs to survive. This perception of falsified equality. Yet in language, media, and legislation inequality thrives, and has convinced some that the perceptions given are the truth of the tale. Stereotypes then become even more invasive than these other influences because stereotypes are what a person is involved with on a psychic level and it becomes condoned and supported by these things.  This causes an invalidated truth to take root and be accepted as a validated truth.

Stereotypes are formed because we as people need to isolate things; assemble patterns. That's what we do, and how we learn. Just in case no one has noticed, humanity is in a heap of trouble. We have compounding problems from our environment to our economy. The issue is that likeminded groups stick together. We form these pockets of humanity, and these pockets only like to allow other likeminded individuals in them. We all do it.  However, like minded individuals are what got us into this situation in the first place. Diversity is the only answer now. Different heads need to be thinking about our issues from different perspectives of thought. No individual group is going to come up with an adequate solution. They can't. The only people they bounce ideas off of are just like them, and they see things too similarly. If they had a viable answer we wouldn't be in such a quandary.

Stereotypes are the root of all perspective evil because they incorporate assumptions about a whole that is usually only applicable to a few. However with this assumption in place, the perspective of the person is set and fixed to find evidence of this assumption in everything. It's our ability to create patterns used against us. Even if the stereotype is obviously not true in a person, we are actively looking for it to the point that another unrelated aspect of them seems to reinforce the stereotype. It's us typecasting each other, building that pattern.

Amazing Tree
Stereotype Tree

Roots of stereotypes come from culture, life experiences, and media. These are the things that shape us that were in place before we are even conscious of what we are or who we are going to be. The surrounding infrastructure that facilitated your birth. We would all be different people had we been born in the early 1800s instead of now.

Culture is the thing your family instilled in you and your beliefs. This includes religion, location, racial identity, socioeconomic status, acceptable behaviors and rewarded ideas. These are all the factors that those before you put into place. My foundation was set by a mother who raised me to believe that as a general rule people considered 'white' would always look down on me, but this was should not be the case.  They are no different than us, but they will always act like they are. Already I have a cultural perspective that says this type of person is always going to look down on me, but they are foolish for it. There is no difference between them and me.  This colors all interactions I have with people that are considered 'white'.  Does this person disapprove of what I am doing because as a woman who is 'not white' I should not be doing this because it implies equality?

This is the first step, so try to really dig into this concept and formulate what was presented to you as far as ethnic, class, financial, gender, and sexuality based expectations.  What were these mostly unspoken rules of what your family and friends expected from you at the very beginning of your life?  What was fair and what was based solely on stereotypes and uninformed assumptions?

Life Experiences
With the example set by your culture you have a certain perspective of the world. You see it with lenses colored by your culture. Situations that would seem one way to one person is actually completely different for someone else. When I was accused of cheating on my aptitude test in elementary school the teacher probably noticed me looking around because I do, a lot, always have. I didn't look for answers. I was just looking at the other kids because I was new and trying to figure out my new environment. When the scores came in, she confronted my mother about this. I felt guilty because my understanding was ‘looking around was bad’. When my mother found out and the teacher tried to explain, my mother got angry just like she does when she complains about white people, and tells me that I won't be attending that school anymore. This reinforces the stereotype that my mother has ingrained in me. This is an example of a life experience that can be seen from that cultural perspective.  Now I have an instance where it can be perceived that a ‘white’ authority figure has in fact 'looked down' on me because of my 'non-white' status as she openly questioned whether I was capable of achieving this aptitude score.

Media is a growing issue for stereotyping because it is so ingrained in our lives now. The messages that are being generated by advertisers and media outlets is shameful because the generation that was raised by television is now letting their children be raised by the internet. Should advertisers and content creators be more discriminating, yes, will they, no. They aren't trying to raise your kid right; they're trying to raise your kid to buy what they're selling. Question any and all media no matter what is being said and no matter who is saying it. All media can be traced to 6 corporations.  With that small amount of diversity, everything is being reported from a very limited and specific social perspective.

The trunk is what the roots feed, it's the person you are, and how you react and respond to others in day to day activities. The areas this effects are social, professional, and private aspects of you. In some situations this branches out to virtual versions of you. So think of it as the social you, for friends and group settings; the professional you for the sake of your career or livelihood, and the private you which are the aspects that only close personal people know or no one at all including you even understand. Then there is the advent of this virtual you. The person you project yourself as in cyberspace.

You choose to be in certain areas. Certain groups of people make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable. People create hives and groups based on affinity and relation. Usually these are dens of like-mindedness where ideas are identical and mirrored. These mirrored ideas reinforce stereotypes because they are never challenged.

While your job can create pockets of diversity, the understanding is that this is a ‘working you’, and not truly who you are. At work we respond sometimes as we must to fulfill the job expectations denying personal concerns. Most businesses are not expansive enough to need varying degrees of ability and talent with the exception of some high end performance and technology fields. Business autonomy sometimes makes it unnecessary for these different parts to fully interact. Working day to day while having certain stereotypes in mind causes you to see co-workers in a certain light as well. What is just playful banter can be misconstrued as an insult because of this. Stereotypes may be jarred a bit, but never disavowed because everyone is at work, and the actual face of who they are is not visible. Some fields are so devoid of diversity that even if people interacted with everyone they would see very little difference in ideologies. People who like to do certain work, or have to do certain jobs, have similar ideas and perspectives.

In the deep dark parts of ourselves we know what we truly believe. We believe what we've been shown through media, culture, and life experiences. Patterns develop that lead to who we are and manifest as the decisions and actions taken in our personal time. This is where stereotypes truly fester because our time can be spent in any way we would like. We guide ourselves inside of our own heads; this manifests in habits, likes and dislikes; our dreams. Our minds are our own, and they can either be cultivated or left barren.

The interesting thing about being virtual is the assumption that it creates anonymity. As a programmer I'm here to tell you it doesn’t. Web bots know you're IP address, with that they can find anything and everything they need to know about you. Just hope that no one wants to find you because it isn't difficult if you know how to look.

Online combines aspects of you and content creation. Media intermixes with self and amplifies self. In no other venue will you find more stereotypes being generated, accepted, and passed about freely as if they are actual facts than online. Then the issue becomes that a consensus has been formed, and together through another broader form of socialized communication, a body of evidence has been built and seems airtight. However if you apply all that came before this step, you can see why it works out like that. Now the stereotyped are accepting the labels, the typecasting, and are in fact living to make the stereotypes as real as possible, like some odd form of nihilistic approval seeking.

The result of the roots and the trunk are the branches. This is the active part that the person themselves take in creating the stereotype and regenerating it over and over again. This is the truth of what you believe in habits and nuances that are influencing other people, and reinforcing a certain perspective of an issue adjusting how you respond to them in the real world. You don't have to be a politician or someone in power for this to be effective. Just another person and it's done. This is where social expectations change the course of your actions when you are placed in stereotype forming or breaking situations. Here is when your need to act or fear of acting becomes a crucial determination of your true stance on the issue and ultimately your role.  This is where the company you keep sets an example. As human beings we are either reinforcing stereotypes or we are breaking them. There is no passive in-between.  Fence sitting is just the same as reinforcing them. People can ascertain your ability to accept others by the things you do, and the things you don't. Limitations, drawbacks, and misunderstandings are created by rating things in quality by untested assumptions. 

The idea is that these stereotypes should become leaves if you do a thorough analysis of your thoughts, ideas, and behaviors. They should grow, be tested, and fall away so that new ones can form, because unfortunately that is part of the human experience. There will always be stereotypes. It is the individual's choice if they would like to be a stereotype rock or a tree, always growing, always changing, always adapting.

Ore, Tracy E., ed. 2003. The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Multicultural image courtesy of