The Best Gift I Can Give

During the Christmas season, I am generally a scrooge. Not surprisingly, I loathe shopping malls where the almighty god of commercialization is most worshipped. This past weekend, I was at a mall in Metro-Detroit – a suburban sprawl which requires a 30-minute commute to seemingly every destination. This mall was packed to the gills, and I felt like a human bumper cart weaving in and out of overpriced clothing stores. Me being me, I ranted to Christina the whole time about how stupid it all was and how I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over. My wife is the opposite of my curmudgeon self; her ideal world would probably be the one located inside a snowflake where celebrations occur for maxed-out credit cards – Whoville. After a few grumpy rants, Christina started to deter my negativity with every woman’s rationalization for the holidays…

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Me – “What is the point of buying all these gifts that no one needs?! I can’t wait till the 26th.”

Christina – “MY LOVE (not said in a loving way) stop being an old man. Christmas is all about tradition and celebrating family.”

Me – “Why can’t we just celebrate family without all the gifts? It just makes us materialistic.”

Christina – “We have to give gifts because God gave us the gift of baby Jesus. That is why we need to stand in line for an hour at Pandora and buy a $100 charm. And if you don’t shut up I am going to buy some gifts at that new vegetarian make-up store that doesn’t believe in “sales.”

Me – “Alright, I’ll stop. Maybe we can find a “What Would Jesus Do” charm?”

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This conversation is a microcosm of the American Christmas experience. That is why I wanted to write this blog about the reason for the season. Jesus is indeed a forgotten figure during this time, and I thought it would be fun to juxtapose some of His philosophy with the philosophy in my most recent classic The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Prince is a how-to guide to being a powerful and successful monarch during the 1500’s. Although the book is old, it has many sad truths about how politicians can climb the career ladder – the term “Machiavellian” is defined as…

cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

Essentially, Machiavelli makes the point that a Prince needs to be ready at any time for battle…

“A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study; but war and its organisation and disciplice, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands…”

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 A key component in the battle of politics is to know when to be good and when to be evil…

“Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

This advice sadly has a lot of relevance today for politicians and government officials. Put in another way, one must appear in public as an angel and in private as a demon – sounds like a House of Cards episode.

The advice of the Earthly Prince must be juxtaposed with the Heavenly Prince of Jesus. Jesus said that…

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:27-30
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Humility and generosity should be the most common tools of today’s leaders. Aggression, deceit, and pride all help individuals reach temporary power – shortsightedly killing the goose to get the golden egg. Leadership depends on relationships and relationships depend on some degree of love.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
So this Christmas let’s give each other the gift of mercy. Let’s be more patient with each other. Let’s be more empathetic with each other. Let’s be more honest with each other. The material gifts on the 25th will eventually fade away, but the rewards of virtue will make you feel like royalty throughout the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas Everyone

To Love, you must Hate?

Being Valentine’s Day this Tuesday, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. What would best represent love on Valentine’s Day? Flowers? Chocolates? Cards? Sex? Butterfly kisses? Snuggles? Deep conversations? Hate? That last one seems out of place but hear me out. Can hate and love exist together at the same time? Do hate and love secretly have a twisted marriage together? Can love exist without hate? I find it interesting that our culture is so fond of using the word love but strays away from the word hate. A conversation may go something like this.

-“I love Katy Perry, she is the best singer in the world!”

-“I hate Katy Perry, she wants to kiss a girl and I don’t like it!”

-“You don’t even know her how can you ‘hate’ her?”

-“Alright…I extremely dislike Katy Perry and her stupid eyelash commercials.”

“Hate” is such a strong word but “love” isn’t? It makes sense that we shy away from hate because from a young age we are taught examples of nasty people that embody the word like Hitler, John Wayne Gacy, and Mark Cuban. With age came a deeper understanding of the word and its usage expanded. Saying, “I hate the fur industry,” or “I hate McDonald’s” became a normal conversation piece. But there still existed that taboo of associating hatred with a specific person. I think there is a major problem with this. Does our vernacular keep us from truly understanding love? Let me put it another way. Does avoiding the “hate” word keep us from the “love” word?

Let me posit a philosophical question. Can two perfect people love each other in a perfect world? Let’s first define what love truly represents. Love is not a feeling but is an action. One can feel emotion as a result of love but love does not propagate out of thin air. For example, if I give flowers to Christina it is an “act” of love; she subsequently feels happy emotions but those emotions are not love – solely the result of love. So let’s go back to my question about the perfect people in the perfect world. One perfect dude gives perfect flowers to his perfect wife. Is this an “act” of love? If the woman feels happy as a result of the flowers how does she differentiate that feeling from any other feeling – since she is perfect in a perfect world?  Would she feel anything different than her normal perfect state? It is an interesting scenario that is obviously impossible. My point is to make you think about contrast. Without actions that are opposite in nature there is no discernible difference in various stimuli. Imagine staring at a blue sky with blue clouds – there is no recognition of either.

This brings me to my point. Without hate there is no love. Without the opposite of love, we cannot understand what love truly represents. The exchange of flowers only means something because we subconsciously understand that hate exists; think instead that I handed Christina a bouquet of snakes that immediately bite her. Can I truly love Christina without hating her? I think the answer is no. We must hate to love. What better example of this then a couple who has been married for 20 years. They know each other’s quirks, pet peeves, and trigger points. They have fought, disagreed, and bickered thousands of times. They both have things that they can’t stand about each other. Those things or events are times of hatred; it may be a mini hatred but it is hatred nonetheless. Without those fun-size hates there would never be the meaningful acts of love: a soft hug after a tearful fight, a difficult compliment that kills pride, a somber admittance of wrong doing. We hate the ones we love. I appreciate Christina because of all her imperfections that drive me crazy. So why is this important to recognize? Because so many times in life we want everything perfect. We always want our relationship to be perfect. We want to live in a romantic comedy. We are afraid of the bad. But do not fret. Those times of despair, hate, and discontent are the times that make our love the strongest. Appreciate the hate because it is the fuel for the fire of love on this Valentine’s Day.

Why I don’t like Mother’s Day

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Am I a bad son for not liking Mother’s Day? I love my Mom and appreciate all the sacrifices she has taken in raising me. I also enjoy treating her to food, cards, and flowers because she deserves all the recognition in the world. The problem is, I don’t like the obligatory “Mother’s Day” celebration because it doesn’t seem natural. Yesterday, I went to the store to buy my Mom a card and there was an actual line of people waiting to pick out a overpriced piece of paper. Were these patient customers really waiting to buy this card out of an act of love or an act of cultural obligation? A similar holiday that I dislike is Valentine’s Day. Is it really romantic to buy flowers for someone because you have to? My point is that showing love and affection on these days seems more like a routine then a actual portrayal of appreciation. Of course this sounds like blasphemy to most but hear me out. I think Mother’s Day should be a random day of the year. Why a random day? Two reasons, the first being that it shows your Mom that she was on your mind. Secondly, the time and money that you spent for her is by your own choosing-not because it is was a prescribed day on a calendar. I have an even more radical idea. Mother’s Day should be on your birthday. Why do we celebrate our birthdays when we did absolutely nothing but bring extreme amounts of pain to our mothers? Every mom suffered to some degree on that day and we should really celebrate their heroic effort to remove a human being from their body. No one deserves birthday cake more than a woman who had to push a human head through a tiny hole. So this Mother’s Day say “I Love You to your Mom” but remember that random acts of kindness throughout the year mean so much more. Pick a day out the blue, make a homemade card, and take your Mom out to get pancakes-she may remember that more than any previous Mother’s Day. To really make a memory, buy her a cake on your birthday and thank her for all the things she had to go through to become your beloved Mom.

-I love you Mom and I will say that today and everyday.

Beyond Intelligence

Are your kids smart or do they ride the short bus? I know that a lot of parents obsess over their children’s intelligence and get orgasms if they score in the 95th percentile on college entrance exams. If you have read some of my previous posts you may have a good understanding of my disdain for the modern-day school system. I am always curious of ways to better educate people so I picked up Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. Now, I wouldn’t recommend this book because it is poorly written and drove me crazy the entire time I was reading it. The authors reminded me of the girls in my old high school who always wrote more then they needed just to appear smarter (they also carried 5000 pencils in a special bag and would never lend me one). So how can you raise a productive-intelligent child? Well let’s throw out the idea that intelligence can be accurately measured by any one test or standard? There are actually nine major intelligence categories and it is almost impossible to find someone who scores high in all of them: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic, and existential. IQ tests only really look at the linguistic and logical-mathematical dimensions of intelligence. So the next time that one friend starts bragging about his high IQ you should punch him in the nuts and tell him that you have a 180 point IQ in the dimensions of spatial and bodily-kinesthetics.

If you or your kids suck at tests then don’t fret because tests are designed to look an infinitesimal fraction of what you know through a medium that may not be your preferred method of expression. For example, Annie is very creative and loves to draw pictures of Pokémon. Well, Annie doesn’t like taking tests and fails to see the point…she always gets poor scores and she feels crappy about herself afterwards. Guess what? Tests are only good at identifying kids who are good at tests. That’s it! The sad fact of this is that good test takers are many times put in accelerated programs while the other different “IQ” folks are left behind. This tracts people into thinking they are smart, mediocre, or stupid. The main point I took from this book is that you shouldn’t say your kid are stupid or smart. You should push them academically through avenues that they are interested in. If Annie loves drawing be creative and incorporate that love into artistic lessons on geometry, geography, geology, genetics, etc. The key here is that children, adolescents, and adults should always pursue their curiosity. Curiosity is the spring well of learning and is really one of the key elements to what makes us human. This quote from Albert Einstein says it well, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” Curiosity is what fuels my passion for reading non-fiction and traveling to new places. Don’t worry about test scores or intelligence; rather focus on learning for the sake of scratching the curiosity itch. Go out, encourage, love each other’s differences, stay positive, and appreciate that you are a uniquely-intelligent-wonderful human being.