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Birthday or Not, Bob Dylan is Timeless

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Yesterday Robert Allen Zimmerman stepped into his eighth decade of life.  Seems to me that writing anything about Dylan is almost an insult… as the man’s complexity and mystery defies any verbal description that might be adequate . Throughout his career he has played the roles of bona-fide shapeshifter, wordsmith, imp, and reluctant icon.  In spite of journalists’ attempts to pigeonhole him, categorize him, unintentionally foist labels and attributes upon him, he – like no one else graced with celebrity – has proven the master at outrunning everyone through sheer wit, and has notably avoided the same tragic demise as his peer John Lennon. His voice was no less influential than John’s (perhaps to his chagrin) and in spite of his power, learned how to slink into the shadows and become invisible. This is no accident. He’s basically a glorious version of the Road Runner. Sometimes the Wile E. Coyote he escapes is the parasitic journalist, sometimes it’s the “fans” who try to take a piece of his soul without asking.

Beyond the dexterity with which he has always dealt with the media, he is a Poet of the highest order, a consummate songwriter and lyricist, and is the owner of a singing voice which comforted many and seemed to capture, uncannily, the expansive American frontier, the peace movement, the civil rights movement and the genesis of the blues all at the same time.  Who else can do that? If he doesn’t want to fly straight onto our radar, he won’t. He’ll fly below, he’ll play mental jiu-jitsu and he’ll defy any and all attempts others make to own him; all while being seared into the consciousness of the American songbook.

Just as the most powerful moments often halt one into speechlessness, an homage to Bob Dylan in words seems almost silly. The man is beyond description and protects who he is indefatigably and with – not a shroud – but a veritable fortress of mystery.  Bob Dylan is equal parts genius, poet, rebel and sage.  Commemorate the day by stretching your personal catalogue beyond “Like a Rolling Stone” or  “Blowin’ in the Wind”. My personal favourites are “My Back Pages”, “Ballad in Plain D”, “Desolation Row”, “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.”  Great songwriters don’t (or can’t) just write five masterpieces, which makes it a task to whittle down to single digits. Someone once asked Bob Dylan about his songwriting process and he quickly explained, “Oh, I don’t write the songs, I just tune into them.”  Beyond the songs he believes already existed, treat yourself to some beach reading or swim into the laser-like mind of a very right-brained and esoteric artist here.

Happy Birthday Bob!!

“I didn’t come out of a cereal box. ”
Bob Dylan
“The worth of things can’t be measured by what they cost but by what they cost you to get it, that if anything costs you your faith or your family, then the price is too high, and that there are some things that will never wear out.”
Bob Dylan (Chronicles: Volume One)
“People disagreeing everywhere you look makes you wanna stop and read a book. ”
Bob Dylan
“You can never be wise and be in love at the same time.”
Bob Dylan
“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Bob Dylan
“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”
Bob Dylan
“I think women rule the world and that no man has ever done anything that a woman either hasn’t allowed him to do or encouraged him to do.”
Bob Dylan
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
Bob Dylan
“Play it fuckin’ loud!”
Bob Dylan
“A poem is a naked person… Some people say that I am a poet.”
Bob Dylan

Passages of Great Men: Martin Luther King Jr.

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Martin Luther King Jr., social activist and proponent of non-violence was the victim of violence which became a prelude to even more violence. It is ironic and unfortunate that Martin Luther King’s death on April 4th, 1968 brought riots and destruction throughout the US.  A man who fought so tirelessly for understanding and non-violence should have been allowed a memory untainted by riots, and blessed with peace; yet while he never condoned violence or riots, he sought to understand from where it sprang as he taught that “riots are the language of the unheard.”

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is what MLK did for the downtrodden and unheard: gave them a voice.  It is often said that the measure of a truly spiritually-minded person is not in the good works they do, but in how vigorously they seek out and fight against evil (not only in others, but also in themselves.)  Unfortunately, the more we speak and express, the higher the likelihood and risk that someone will disagree with us, criticize, take offense, or worst-case scenario, develop a deep-seated hatred or envy for that which we stand.  To be sure, the only safe way to never have detractors is to never speak.  Cowards have few enemies, but there is much to be admired in a man who will stop at nothing to fight injustice; even when it means sacrificing his own.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. was building up momentum and planting seeds of hope to vitalize the civil rights movement, darkness followed to try to extinguish his message, the name of his assassin not worth mentioning.  He was aware of numerous death threats and did not expect to live.   To inspire and imbue a people with a feeling of peaceful justice, hope and significance after an absurdly long history of humiliation and degradation is a tragically heroic life fully-lived, albeit cut unjustly short.

Favorite MLK quotes below:

“No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

“Men for years have been talking about war and peace.  But now, no longer can they just talk about it.  It’s no longer the choice between violence and non-violence in this world.  It’s non-violence or non-existence.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Reminds me of a saying from an ancient sage who said:  “It’s not how much you love someone when you love them that matters, but how much you love them when you hate them.”

“There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom.  It is worth paying for; it is worth going to jail for.  I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self-respect.”

He died the next day.  Interestingly, Abe Lincoln, John Lennon and Martin Luther King Jr., all either prophesied their deaths or subconsciously knew they were going to die shortly beforehand having either spoken or dreamt about it.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m  not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will; and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you, but I want you to know, tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.  I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.  This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

“We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“Through our scientific genius, we have made this world a neighbourhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood.  In a real sense we must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.”

“I believe that the day will come when all God’s children from bass black to treble white will be significant on the constitution’s keyboard.”  (San Francisco, 1956)

“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression; and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.  The shirtless and the barefoot people of the land are raising up like never before.”

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality & freedom for their spirits.  I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.”

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. “

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. “

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Passages of Great Men: Elvis Presley

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My cousin commented earlier this week about me being psychic.  Well I’m beginning to think she’s right; as I sat down at the computer in the wee hours of the morning I decided Elvis must be the next in the series.  Imagine my surprise when, as I was looking for articles online, I discovered today, January 8th, is his birthday – what would have been his 75th birthday.  As Freud said, “There are no coincidences.” So the homage is fitting.  Let this confirm his presence on the list if for no other reason.  And let’s not even start comparing Bernstein, to Lincoln, to Presley.  Can’t be done, nor should it. 

The music of Elvis illustrated what may have likely been the worst fear of those in the South during Lincoln’s time, and that fear was that blacks and whites were coming together.  As Elvis shot on the scene like a comet he brought huge controversy with him.  And with that controversy he broke barriers.  I once read somewhere that controversy was G-d’s way of making others pay attention to someone or hear a message.  Elvis took one handful blues, one handful of country “hillbilly”, some black and white gospel music, added a dash of hip swivelling (which during that time was seen as blatant and overt sexuality which must be Feared) and then let the masses stir and stew while the young people danced and grabbed their ticket to freedom and independence: Rock ‘n roll. 

Much like the “John Wilkes Booth’s” of Lincoln’s story, there were  those around Elvis – vociferous ne’er-do-wells – who dug their heels into the ground when changes were occurring across the landscape and went on a full-frontal attack.  The culture wars prior to the birthing of the civil rights movement in the 60’s were boiling strong.  It is sometimes shocking and scary to remember that it was really only yesterday that segregation and sublimation of other races was widely deemed a legitimate practice by the powers that be.

“Everything is tied together with the Brown decision, public school, desegregation, rock and roll music, Elvis Presley. I think that illustrates the fear in the South that blacks and whites are going to come together,” —Michael Bertrand, Ph.D., Professor, Tennessee State University.

“Without meaning to, and really without understanding it, he’s a point of conflict because it’s not just the mingling of blues and rock, it’s also his reliance on a music that is in the minds of some really sinful,” — John Seigenthaler, the retired founding editorial director of USA Today, who covered Elvis as a young reporter for The Tennessean.

In essence, Elvis and his music represented an evolution, most of which was a natural progression to a long pent-up and repressed society.  This evolution had to happen.  Why should this change not come through music?  When something is repressed it always comes out eventually, but in perverted form.  The fear of the elders was that the youth was going to become cocky, slick, leather-clad, free and sexually permissive, like they felt the King was selling.  Maybe this evolution was necessary.  Regardless of the unflinching efforts of elders and Ed Sullivan himself, they were forgetting one fact: if one is vehemently told not to do something as a youth, the natural inclination is to do it.  If parents could get a stronger grasp on reverse psychology, their efforts to control and direct might be more effective.  That said, shouldn’t the youth be leading the direction and not the parents?  The progression of a generation is just that, progress… and that evolution should be honored.  For every time the older generation complains of the youth showing disrespect, having no manners or being condemned as interminable sinners and blemishes on society, it begs the question:  To what extent have adults shown their children disrespect as human beings and independent souls – and does not this disrespect, by universal law, always come back in some way, shape or form?

Adults may stick tight to traditions and attempt to infantilize youth, but social and cultural change, often ushered in by youth is not only inevitable but necessary.  To the youth, Elvis was being painted as the Devil Incarnate which of course only encouraged teenagers as they clandestinely listened to Elvis in basements on their little AM radios, surely condemned to hell.  Not!

Here is something frightening to watch.  If we pay attention, this kind of thing still happens today, even if in different forms.  In the video below, Elvis basically stood and sang, tapping his feet repressing his urge to unleash the dynamite that he typically brought to the stage.  At this performance he was forbidden to engage in “illegal” hip movements. It appears that some people, somewhere get upset when other people somewhere else are having fun.

Speechless is all I can say.

Without turning this into a biopic, the turning point in his life and what began his own demise and self-destruction was the death of his mother who he adored and depended on for moral support and advice.  Adding to the pressure of his divorce from Priscilla, he was never really the same after this period a part of him dying and checking out. 

“This is the end of rock ‘n’ roll.”  — Bob Moore Merlis, Warner Bros.exec

“The void he will leave is impossible to gauge.” — Pat Boone, an early rival of Presley’s

“The King is dead, but rock ‘n’ roll will never die. Long live the King.” — John Lennon, former Beatle

“His music was the only thing exclusively ours. His wasn’t my and mom and dad’s music. His voice was a total miracle in the music business.” — Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys

The youth of the 50’s and 60’s have deified Elvis since he came on the scene as a revolutionary; his passing seeming only to further elevate him as a rock and roll deity.  Graceland gets over half a million visitors every year and as reflected in the urban legend and myth that the King is still walking among us, there are still some who are unwilling to accept his passage.  For many, the possibility that he might come back to life, was their only solace. The preponderance of Elvis sightings and unwillingness to let go of such mirages is evidence alone of how much so many loved him.  Regardless of what people see or don’t see in order to sell papers, his spirit, at least, is still very much here – alive and well.

Passages of Great Men: Abraham Lincoln

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In reviewing the indelible effects of certain men on history it’s also important we don’t get too caught up in comparison.  Each of us has a divine purpose for being here and is not of any greater or lesser importance.  The word “great” may seem to be such a comparison, but I define it thusly: greatness lies not just in what one has accomplished, what one has shared, what one has given, but in what one has overcome. 

Abraham Lincoln was a soul intent on obliterating the civil injustices of his time, insofar as he could affect change, and to bust systems that were not serving the greater good.  His influence at a pivotal point in American history still permeates today.  Many men in the past 150 years have been instrumental in shattering glass ceilings and re-imagining what is possible as Lincoln did; many of those same men would not have been able to accomplish what they have without Lincoln’s shoulders to stand upon.  Although Lincoln was an unwavering abolitionist, the actual ending of slavery was the result of the 2 million soldiers in the Union army who brought the Confederacy to its knees, slave rebels in the South, and freed slaves in the north who agitated the cause.  In fact, any man who was ever repulsed by the injustice and degradation of his fellow man and had the bravery to stand up for it, especially when doing so was unpopular, can stand alongside Lincoln and take credit. To be sure, there would be no Martin Luther King Jr. if there was no Lincoln, and no President Barack Obama had all those who came before him  not paved the way to eradicate human inequality.

Every era brings with it weeds of injustice to uproot in some area of society.  Those charged with the task of leading people to release the old and welcome the new often bear enormous burdens, sometimes even untimely death.  These visionaries see possibilities yet unmanifested that many deem impossible.  It is the visionaries – who are often backed only by their strong conviction, fortitude and courage – who break new ground and often become martyrs for a cause.  They are often ahead of their time which is why it seems so many across history’s timeline have been taken out by people who are not able to understand, who are not ready and who are not open to inevitable changes in society. 

As such, these men can be viewed as disruptive forces to those who are uncomfortable with anything beyond the status quo. I am a believer in a driving force that compels us forward towards our destinies. What to make of the iron-clad perseverance that led Abraham Lincoln into a position where he could effect real change? 

Here is the path he followed:

1816 – His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.

1818 – His mother died.

1831 – Failed in business.

1832 – Ran for state legislature – lost.

l832 – Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.

1833 – Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.

1834 – Ran for state legislature again – won.

1835 Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.

1836 – Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.

1838 – Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.

1840 – Sought to become elector – defeated.

1843 – Ran for Congress – lost.

1846 – Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.

1848 – Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.

1849 – Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.

1854 – Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.

1856 – Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – get less than 100 votes.

1858 – Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.

1860 – Elected president of the United States.

One would be hard-pressed to observe the path Lincoln took to the White House, as he slammed into one door and obstacle after another, and not come to the conclusion there was some type of vision or grander purpose burning in him that simply refused to go out and whose nature almost had a life of its own. 

What about the events leading up to his death?  His last public speech was the Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865.  Imagine if you can the end of an extremely gory war; one rare time in history where our weaponry technology far exceeded medical technology – this meant amputations were commonplace and procedures “rudimentary” at best – ouch!  This had been the end of a long war extremely divisive and traumatic to a young country.  It was in this last speech, that he spoke for the first time publicly of his belief that blacks should be able to vote:

Journalist Noah Brooks, an eyewitness to the speech, said that as Lincoln advanced from his seat, “a roar of applause shook the air, and, again and again repeated, finally died away on the outer fringe of the throng, like a sweeping wave upon the shore. Just at that moment the sun, which had been obscured all day, burst forth in its unclouded meridian splendor, and flooded the spectacle with glory and with light.” Brooks said Lincoln told him the next day, “Did you notice that sunburst? It made my heart jump.”

According to Brooks, the audience received the speech in “profound silence,” although some passages provoked cheers and applause. “Looking down into the faces of the people, illuminated by the bright rays of the sun, one could see moist eyes and even tearful faces.

In the background of the play (no pun intended), Lincoln’s comment had incensed John Wilkes Booth, a member of the audience, who vowed, “That is the last speech he will make.” A white supremacist and Confederate activist, Booth made good on his threat three days later.  What is even more jolting is that Lincoln had a prophetic dream about his death a few days before the assassination which left him quite disturbed:

Three days prior to his assassination, Abraham Lincoln related a dream he had to his wife and a few friends. According to Ward Hill Lamon, one of the friends who was present for the conversation, the president said:

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible.

I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’

Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

There were starts and stops for the Lincolns around attending the play which would be a fatal event, but his fate was sealed.  Perhaps after his long arduous road to fulfilling his purpose, his soul was finished here and it was time for him to go.  The footprint he left here was enormous.  Ulysses S. Grant called him, “incontestably the greatest man I’ve ever known.”   Lincoln was kind, compassionate, almost unerringly wise as he was known to measure the effects of his speech at all times with gravity.  He rose to the top through sheer ambition and hard work having had less than twelve months of schooling  on the frontier in his youth.  He was largely self-educated and became a lawyer without even going to college. Even today, the general consensus among professors, attorneys, historians, authors, and elected officials is that he remains the greatest president in our history.  His words more than many American leaders are oft-quoted and are the cells that make up his character:

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure.
Abraham Lincoln

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
Abraham Lincoln

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.
Abraham Lincoln

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.
Abraham Lincoln

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
Abraham Lincoln

Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
Abraham Lincoln

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Abraham Lincoln

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Abraham Lincoln

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
Abraham Lincoln

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.
Abraham Lincoln

I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
Abraham Lincoln

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.
Abraham Lincoln

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
Abraham Lincoln

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
Abraham Lincoln

No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.
Abraham Lincoln

Needless to say his life was one not wasted as he taught and led by example. His funeral alone, a shattering event after an already traumatic severing of the country was a deeply felt, final casualty of the war.  His funeral procession was a 14-day event covering 1,700 miles making stops in every city as millions paid their respects to a fallen hero.  

 

Although the death of Lincoln shook a nation to the core there is much to be learned from his life and how we still react to events today.  How would some of our choices (or lack thereof and inaction) stand up to the essence of that which he believed? I found a site that published 57 transcripts of sermons given around the time after his death.  During the mid to late 19th century sermons were not only the center of social gatherings but were the impetus for argument, dissection and social reaction as groups formed their identities.  To stick a thermometer in and get a temperature of the time helps to shed light on the fact that this was no ordinary man who touched down; although he may have been perceived as ordinary and common by himself and others, his purpose and character was quite extraordinary. 

He has been compared to Abraham, Moses and Washington as another in the company of great martyrs.  If one must compare him to great men of the past to legitimize his path so be it.  The point is this: even if he feared and prophesied his own death, he ended up – directly or indirectly – dying for his fierce beliefs and as such, died a hero for the ages.

Opinions That Offend

Should freedom of speech have self-imposed boundaries?  Especially when airing opinions cause distance and sometimes alienation in relationships? I’ve been thinking recently about the consequences of posting on a public forum and unabashedly sharing such opinions.  As Abe Lincoln knew, some of them popular to some, but not all; some of them repellent or offensive to some, but not all.  An opinion is nothing more than a personal belief.  As such, it vexes me why stating one’s opinion could ever offend another person.  I suppose opinions run the whole gamut of casual musings to utter vehemency and benign remarks about a group or person to truly malicious ones.  For practical purposes, let’s say one is just stating a belief which this person clearly believes in to the nth degree.  Perhaps an opinion stated with such surity  seems like an insult to anyone who would disagree and have similar depth of belief in their opinion.  This is where we start treading into a dangerous briar patch though.   The only reason I can imagine someone being offended over someone else’s opinion would be that a) either he felt the person was stating their opinion as fact or b) he felt that his opinions, after invested in and developed as a result of years of experience and research, were actually facts.  This is where we get into trouble, intolerance and separation.  Suddenly, we are holding our ‘opinions’ aloft as the Gospel and by choosing to be offended by others, we are in essence saying that there is no room for them.  We have already found the Holy Grail of truth and any others who disagree are clearly “misguided” or “confused.” 

Anger and defiance over someone’s opinion (usually equally as strong), when it does not match with our own is nothing short of intolerance and arrogance.  How can we get to a place where we agree to disagree?  Whatever happened to those days of true and gallant civility? Why does disagreeing with a person have to call into question their very validity and perspective as an individual human being?  Do we really believe that only 5%, 10% or even 80% have a monopoly on all of the ‘correct’ opinions or beliefs.  Opinions are not facts; to blur this line and begin to impose them on others with fervor or to take offense at a statement of opposing belief is ludicrous. 

Let’s look at the definition of freedom up close:

freedom
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint:
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc
4. ease or facility of movement or action: to enjoy the freedom of living in the country.
5. Philosophy. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.

What strikes me the most: an exemption from external control, interference or regulation; also, an absence or release from ties or obligations the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.  Let’s apply this definition to speech and airing of one’s opinions.  In order to have true freedom of speech, one needs to feel free to air one’s beliefs and opinions without punishment or constraints from the outside.  This could be in the form of a withdrawal of friendship or love if you’re stating opinions that are not inalignment with theirs religiously, politically or morally.  To an extreme, one might also face constraints of a grave nature like a censored  internet if opinions and beliefs shared are not in alignment with the agenda of the governemental powers that be, physical threats or death.  As human beings, we like to pay lip service to freedom of speech and encourage people to do so, but after they speak we punish them in myriad ways if their beliefs are in disagreement with ours.  How can we make another person’s beliefs moot?  It is impossible.  Each individual soul has just as much right as anyone else to be on this planet.  We all have our individual lessons to learn and at different rates.  I do not believe that there are a select few who after much refinement, study or soul-searching have finally found all of the answers that have plagued man or even none of the answers.  We do have our experiences, our hearts and our beliefs – and no one can ever question or disparage those.  Punishment for expressing the ‘wrong’ opinions is oppression, pure and simple.  So the next time someone’s opinion pushes your button and you find yourself getting  self-righteous and defiant, let’s take a step back and pause, and remember that there is enough room for all opinions and beliefs without one cancelling another out.  Who knows, through exercising tolerance, we may even find ourselves loosening our grip on our own beliefs long enough to open our minds and hearts to truly listen and make room for others at the table.

Reagan Chutzpah, Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Reagan uttered one of the most oft-repeated lines of political speeches.  The controversy that prevailed behind the scenes at the conception of this speech was heated to say the least.  Although many liked to paint Reagan as a senile leader who would meekly defer to the powers that Berlin Freedombe, he was anything but.  He was a leader first and a politician second.  Politicians by their very nature are slaves to public opinion which grants them power, influence and fiscal benefit.  It is lost on few that most leaders go into politics for their own self-interest.  This is doubtless the reason modern-day politics has alienated so many.  People will tolerate feeling manipulated for only so long. The mark of a true leader is someone who is driven by principles for the higher good of all concerned and who doggedly fights any person, idea or thing which jeopardize those principles.

In this case, the jeopardy to freedom was the Berlin Wall, a symbol of communist tyranny.  Reagan would give the speech with the Wall as the backdrop and it needed to be no less than an adrenalin shot into the freedom movement.  The speech was drafted by a young White House speechwriter, Peter Robinson.  To refer to tearing down the wall was not a new idea by many, even by Reagan.  A year prior to the speech, Reagan had said, “I would like to see the wall come down today, and I call upon those responsible to dismantle it.”  The coup-de-grace was the insistence of an eye-to-eye staring down of the Soviet opponent in his speech.  Upon Robinson’s completion of the speech and Reagan’s subsequent approval, the power brokers began sweating bullets.  They tried everything in their arsenal to prevent Reagan from stating what obviously needed to be said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  They thought the line too provocative and defiant.  Well, I daresay, if there was ever a propitious time to be provocative and defiant this was one of them! How could he not mention Gorbachev by name with the wall behind him?  How could he not make such a forceful affirmation if he was to sincerely be vigilant against the evils of communism?  Were he not to be so resolute in his message it would have been a slap in the face to all of those suffering on the eastern side of the wall.  To those  in his inner circle, however, these were apparently not their primary concerns.  They were nervous to say the least and wanted him to play nice.  George Shultz was one of the louder voices in his circle and particularly insistent on eliminating anything in the speech that may insult or offend Gorbachev….like telling him to tear down the wall.

ReaganTrue leaders do not play it safe, period.  Especially, when required to step up to the plate and defend the side of the good.  There is a time and place for diplomacy, and even for politics.  This time was not one of them and Reagan knew it.  Reagan decided he liked the speech just as it was – much to the chagrin of his policy advisors – and that Gorbachev could handle it.  How might history have changed and the world be different today had leaders – at pivotal moments of history – listened to the people around them rather than to their own internal moral compass and principles in service to the good? A leader who looks to the people to make a monumental decision or makes his moves in accordance to which way the wind is blowing is not any kind of leader at all, but a follower.  The kind of man who would let his advisors talk him out of a speech in order to avoid a potential backlash or, God-forbid, an ebb in public opinion is no man to respect or trust in a leadership position.   A leader should be a fearless defender of the good and defiant in the face of evil, naysayers be damned; the minute a politician becomes passive or complacent when it comes to the jeopardy of human rights we are in big trouble.  Reagan employed chutzpah, not unilaterally or in service of drunk power, but when it furthered ideals in which he passionately believed.  Principles, chutzpah, fearlessness, but all in service to what was right:  these were the qualities that made Reagan a great leader.  Politicians are a dime a dozen, but great leaders are a rare breed indeed.  People called Reagan ‘The Great Communicator’.  Yes, he was that.  In no way did his capacity to communicate or his charisma dilute his message.  Reagan had chutzpah, and his chutzpah was sincerely on the side of the good. 

As Reagan taught us, we should never allow naysayers to weaken our commitment and resolve to championing those ideals we hold dear.  If anyone has the power to weaken principles or ideals, then those ideals have been built on sand and, by definition, must mean nothing.  If they meant something, one would fight for them tooth and nail. For have you ever heard of sitting down for ideals or beliefs in the face of dissent and consequence, real or imagined?  No.  To sit down is easy.  To stand up and defend is what is hard – and when it comes to true leadership, it’s the only thing that counts.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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I went to  a meeting this morning called ‘Firefighters & Friends’ thinking I was going to be surrounded by a legion of GQ firefighters.  Well, not exactly.  The ‘firefighters’ baited me to make the trip and I’m glad I went. 

Speaking at the meeting was a sweet 79 year old man who has been sober for a year and a half.  He told his tale from beginning to end, told of his grandparents coming from England for the Gold Rush, of his days in the Navy and of his dishonorable discharge when it became known that he was gay.  There were breaks in his voice as he recounted how he was psychologically tortured and mentally and physically abused upon admitting to one trusted ‘friend’ that he was gay.  rainbow-too

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my grandmother.  I was about 12 years old at the time.  Somehow the topic of homosexuals came up and she said, “Of course, there were gay men everywhere 40 years ago – no less than there are today.  The difference is, they just didn’t advertise it or talk about it.”  She seemed to be almost implying a ‘respectfulness’ in men keeping their sexual orientation to themselves.  I choose not to fault her for those views or attitudes because she was a product of her environment.  I like to call it benevolent prejudice.  It really got me thinking how far we’ve come and how blatantly destructive that dynamic and environment was for everyone involved.  Gays, straights, the whole societal umbrella, bore scars from self-denial and keeping their truth suppressed.  Since being gay was not societally accepted or openly tolerated, people kept quiet to keep up appearances that there was order (read: no dissension, contention or discomfort.)  This so-called order birthed endless chaos and destruction. Not discussing the big purple elephant in the middle of the room had dire repercussions.  Families were ruined because men feared the consequences of coming out.  None of them palatable:  physical safety, societal and familial alienation, psychological abuse, in some cases, death.  Fraudulent marriages abounded and were the blemishes and homewreckers of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and beyond.

Hopefully we learn from the chaos and unrest of every previous generation.  I believe that we are constantly refining the coal of the human condition into a diamond, but to do so we must be hyper-vigilant and aware of our foibles and mistakes and check ourselves ruthlessly.  Destruction is caused more than anything else by one value that we too often choose to abandon.  This is the value of simply minding our own @*&#^$@# business.  How hard is this?  It’s almost too obvious to even say out loud or put to paper, but it must need to be written if it still remains a problem.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

                                                         – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

That should be applied to politics, religion, sexual orientation and a whole host of other untouchables.  If we could take the following ideas, mix them up in the alchemical pot of virtue, then apply them, we might never have to give energy to such injustices again.    74J937CAHJ790LCARBVA39CALILODDCA63B8IDCA853EHRCAHZI3Y6CAPDYGB2CAAYCPNUCABXMY25CAI2BL7RCAERVUQ3CAY67P82CACAZML7CAZ32TZBCAFAK5JRCAP5HOZFCA32B39QCA1ID576

Shakespeare: To thine own self be true.

Hippocratic oath: Do no harm.

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you.

Thomas à Kempis: Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. 

Some may call me an idealist, but if you see a messy room there is no point in dwelling on the mess ad nauseum; the only sane reaction is to imagine it clean.  As such, it is impossible for the room to ever get clean unless it is first imagined that way.  That some can only see a messy room and don’t have the propensity to imagine it spotless – in all of its glory – is no reason to avoid picking up the mess.  Let someone shun the idealist after those without imagination are reaping the benefits of a clean room.