Monday, February 23, 2015

The Power of Words

There is an old Yiddish lullaby that tells of a Rabbi teaching youngsters the alphabet. With classical Jewish tradition the Rabbi leaves the children with these final words, "When you grow up, you will come to understand how much pain and how many tears these letters contain. And joy. And majesty."

A little intense for a group of youths, but truer words have never been spoken. The power and gravity of our words goes further than we can ever imagine.  Our lives are made up entirely of letters, words, sentences, pages, and locutions; so we might as well make an effort to use these words for the bettering of society, for an enrichment of our own lives.  The sentences we utter and the words we choose to use can have glorious ripples or awful repercussions. The tragedy lies in our ignorance. Most of the time we will not outwardly see the happiness or the dread our letters form. But pause for a moment and think of the last genuine compliment you received, how did it make you feel? Was it that hard for someone to notice something about you, and then articulate it to you? No. It was easy, but it likely made us feel very good, and perhaps even imbued upon us a desire to treat another with similar kindness.

One way to take advantage of the beauty and grandeur of the English language is to rid your proverbial cup of words of the bitter dregs. Too often our everyday speech is made up almost entirely of tired phrases, overused sentences, obvious clich├ęs, pointless platitudes and trite statements void of any real meaning. Excising certain words (or at least limiting the usage of ) like “cool,” legit,” “nice,” “okay,” “whatever,” will leave you with no other choice but to use new adjectives, and think a little more about what exits your mouth.

What else can we do? Just using a niftier set of words will not ensure us a life void of verbal retardation. We must also seek to eliminate negative phraseology from our vernacular. It is so important to reject the use of hurtful words, to do away with self-deprecation, and to infuse our vocabulary with positivity and optimism. The finest and simplest way to do this is through a wonderful concept, made popular by the author Tony Robbins called transformational vocabulary. A true beacon of positive energy, Mr. Robbins explains the importance of altering our habits in speech,

“Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. Transformational Vocabulary is about how you can take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.”

So in essence, all we have to do to have a better life is articulate things differently. Instead of coming home and complaining to every ear possible that your boss is a sadistic moron that you hate, you should express your confusion and frustration. Instead of wining about a pesky cough, verbalize how you are actually feeling better than you were yesterday. This doesn’t mean you should lie, and tell everyone your boss is your best friend and that you have perfect health. But altering your attitude and paradigm of things through the spoken word has amazing power.

Another salient reminder to us about the power of words is understanding that words are action. So often we hear the term, “actions speak louder than words,” and in most cases this is accurate. But this is not to say that words in and of themselves are not actions. Sure it is important to make good on our promises and practice what we preach, but before any action takes place, words are usually uttered, whether out loud or to ourselves. So, it all starts with words, and let us remember that a spoken word, a scribbled word, or even a thought of word, is an action.

To me there is a direct correlation between words and kindness. Our words tend to either inforce kindness or detract from it. My hope is that my words can always lean towards the gravitational pull of generosity, kindness, and love. I think if we are going to speak, we have a responsibility to perpetuate kindness with the things we write and say. The ingenious cosmologist Carl Sagan described his belief in humanity’s responsibility to be kind as he reflected on our existence on earth, such a small corner of the universe. He stated with grand humility, “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.”

Let us use words to create a better planet.

 I will end this set of thoughts by quoting Elie Wiesel. He said, in reference to words, "For some part of every word is sacred; all words should lean toward the sacred."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reverse Karma

Call it justice, blessings, karma, cosmic fairness, or simply the laws of causality, but I believe in positive reactions to the good we do. I believe in a sort of benevolent chain reaction to the goodness we place around us, the kindness we show and the positivity we portray. I believe in  constant adherence to the Golden Rule. How else am I expected to be treated well, when I mistreat others? How will I hope to remain safe if I am reckless, be it in a car or in a relationship. I think the Golden Rule is a kind of implicit contract we sign upon deciding to be decent human beings.

So regardless of the dogma you adhere to, I think we can agree that the universe seems to have an almost magnetic energy to it. Bad attitudes yield poor results, happy people seem to make others happy, and those who are always helping others tend to always have things work out for them. Of course their are exceptions; terrible people that have endless riches, and evil humans that from a visual standpoint appear downright blessed. And there are the most wonderful and selfless people that can't seem to catch a break in life. There are those that live most generously, but will struggle until their dying breath.

I am not saying that divine blessings, or good karma always makes sense, or even that it follows certain immutable laws, all I am saying is that it exists. And with that belief, we can start to benefit from its power. But recently I have started to develop a new idea of what karma is, at least for me. The concept of karma states that intents and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual. In other words, if you do good, good will come your way. If you do bad, bad will come your way. But that is about as specific as it gets. Karma does not mean by doing some great thing you are deserving and guaranteed some prize. It is more ambiguous. And I think that is the point. We should do good, knowing good will come our way, in some form at some point, not so we will gain an immediate reward.

This is all good and lovely, but I would like to posit an alternative way in which karma, blessings from the Lord, or cosmic justice occurs. I think that sometimes a great thing will come our way before we have necessarily "done good." But God, or the universe, or whatever karmic force you believe in understands the intent of our heart, and knows that we are soon to do good, soon to retroactively deserve our karmic recompense, and so we are blessed before the deed.

Maybe this is silliness, but the other night I couldn't help but feel a sort of reverse karma. I had had a wonderful encounter with an estranged acquaintance. We shared a delicious meal and connected on some very important topics. It was a small thing perhaps, but to me it felt like a huge blessing, an unexpected one at that. On the way home, smiling from what I considered good fortune, I saw a lady with her car broken down, and instinctively stopped. Turns out I know nothing about cars, but I was able to drive her home and out of the cold. It seemed reversed to me. I was blessed, and then I did good. But maybe God knew I would do good, He knew my intent, so he blessed me beforehand.

Maybe you don't believe in God. Maybe you just believe in solipsism. Or perhaps you are unsure, and just bank on their being some sort of order to things, some sort of karmic justice to it all. Whatever you believe, I don't think it is always so clear cut. Sometimes we will do good, and will not notice a return of goodness for years to come. Sometimes we will receive greatness in our lives, before we have really done anything to deserve it, but just know that goodness begets goodness. Kindness creates more kindness, and love equates to more love. The order and timing might be confusing. But as the very definition of karma states, it is not only our acts, but our intents that influence our future.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Sometimes you see two people hug. Maybe a father and a wayward son, maybe a grandmother and her new baby granddaughter, perhaps just two old college roommates, and for a fleeting moment you feel a surge of unplaced love, of longing, of brotherhood. Maybe that’s one of the secrets of the universe, a way of spreading humanity and kindness, through a witnessed hug. You can see the love, the cheeks touching, the smelling of hair, the back slaps, the jovial laughs, the quivering lips, and the aching hearts. It’s beautiful.
The other day I saw two friends hug. They obviously hadn't seen each other in a long time. Maybe it was months, but it could have been longer. All I saw was genuine love, pure excitement, and it made me smile. But I don’t know these two guys, and never will. So why was I moved? Why was I so briefly affected by this display of friendship? I don’t know. Maybe I needed to see it. Maybe I was having a bad day, or just a bad hour. The reality is I was moved because I witness in graceful brevity two people who cared about each other, and for the tiniest moment the earth froze for them. Nothing else mattered but their embrace, and their mutual feeling of acceptance.
I am not the kind of person that weeps upon seeing a vivid rainbow, and I do not tear up when I see a person helping a stranger. But a well-written movie, a penetrating song, a word, a hug (apparently), can elicit a peculiar liquid from my eyes.
Not all of us are huggers, but all of us are lovers. Whether we are extroverts or hermits, we need and yearn for love. We might not fancy a bear hug from a parent or even a side hug from an acquaintance, but we all need a little love sometimes. And sometimes that love comes in the form of a reminder. Somehow seeing two grown men in suites made me think of my father, of how much it means to hug him sometimes. Most of the time it is just ritual, part of the life of two semi affectionate people. But sometimes the days are too hard, and too many, and our shoulders collide and we hold on a little longer, silently telling each other that it will be okay, it will get better.   
I don’t know what has come over me. Sometimes I feel like I am going through manapause. I get these random waves of sentimentality. These waves are uninvited, unmanly, and a little nauseating to others I am sure. But better to be maudlin than to be course and emotionally impenetrable I suppose.

I will finish with words that hopefully encapsulate what I am trying to say. Okay it doesn't really encapsulate things necessarily, but it is cute and needs to be said. I thank Deb Caletti for the following reminder: “That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you are not so lovable.”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Are We The Privileged?

Why do we feel this great feeling of superiority in a gushing flow of arrogance and ignorance? Did we create this planet? Did we choose the ultimate cosmic order of things? How tiny we are compared to the endless armies of people that have inhabited this earth. Knowing nothing of another's struggle, or real predestined purpose, how can we so confidently dismiss someone, or some group of people as "lesser?"

These are questions that perhaps seem simple if not cliche and over asked. Yet as our quotidian lives pass by at an ever increasing rate, we forget to think. We forget to ponder on the futility of certain things. We forger that the universe does not wait around for our individual triumphs. The vast amount of extant galaxies are surely unaware of our victories and our misguided aspirations.

All around the world, in past and present scopes we see this air of obvious privilege and entitlement reining supreme. A pervasive psychology of a privileged people, versus a degenerate and rejected people. Of course like any form of hate or injustice, it is invented by man. The earth didn't commence with kings and peasants, the royal and the derelict; though it didn't take long for man to assume an elevated role, an assumed position of privilege above all others.

I guess at the root of this thought is kindness. Where is kindness? And where is true understanding? Where and when will we find our brother? In recent studies of how powerful and endless this universe is, I cannot think but how small we are, and how trifling most matters are, how inconsequential disagreements and grudges are. Maybe it is just me. Maybe it is just my eternal outlook. But what are we upset about? Why can't we move on? We are but a flick of dust in the eons of existence.

I am not suggesting that our plight is hopeless and of no grand importance. On the contrary, I am claiming that an understanding of the enormity of our earth, of our galaxy only intensifies our desires to do good, to help our fellow man, and to dismiss feelings of jealousy, hate, and maltreatment.

Perhaps this video will better explain what my tiny mind and rapid fingers are trying to articulate.