Posts Tagged ‘Buddy Wakefield’

Can you imagine what the world would look like without war? We all say we want peace but none of us have ever really even experienced it; so how do we know what we’re talking about? There has never been a time in history of true peace, at least since humans showed up. In the animal kingdom there is death but only in circumstances where survival is at stake. It’s natural that at some point a “me or you” situation may arise, but only out of necessity like hunger or immediate bodily harm. The only instances even resembling temporary peace we people have ever experienced have been peace through superior firepower, which is no different than beating a child into submission and declaring them well-behaved. At some point it becomes necessary to take a leap of faith and just imagine it – or try at least.

John Lennon put his own version of peace into words and was killed for it, just like Martin Luther King Jr. Take a second and let that sink in. It’s common knowledge that advocators of real peace are often killed for doing so, but consider just how paradoxical that is, and just how powerful of an effect that knowledge has on our minds. Of course people think war is inevitable, we’ve been at war our whole lives. We don’t know anything else. But just because we’ve never seen another world, that doesn’t mean it can’t exist. And it’s important to understand that the first step toward addressing any issue is to become aware of the words that we use to do so. To say a world without war can’t exist admits defeat before the possibility of debate even starts. In sales school I became hyperaware of “self-talk.” “Self-talk” is what happens when you are alone with yourself. That voice in your head? It’s your mind expressing itself in symbols you can understand. But those symbols aren’t random, and nor are they originate externally. Except in cases of severe mental illness, you choose the words you speak to yourself. So in English, when it comes to speaking to yourself about ability, there are five levels: “I can’t,” “I can,” “I will,” “I am,” and “it is.” I can’t do it. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it. It is happening. The same applies for every type of speech about any subject. Addressing issues is first and foremost dependent on the words we are using to do so. In the timeless words of Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

War is orchestrated and executed. Pun intended. George Carlin, the late great comedian known for his vulgarity and ruthlessness had a dream too. His was simple but profound and like much of his material, focused on the words we use; he wanted to switch the acceptability levels of the words “fuck” and “kill.” One represents the most intimate and natural of acts but is widely shunned, while the other represents the essence of destruction and is plastered all over the evening news. Coincidence? I think not. As John Lennon believed, to strip away our socially constructed barriers and “stop inviting walls into wide open spaces” would finally bring the world together as one, but as it stands far too many have far too much invested in the opposite. From defence contractors to privatized prisons to newspapers that pay more for photos of war than of love, our world is made up of people and institutions that profit from establishing enemies and maintaining boundaries, not cooperating and dissolving them. But who knows, maybe one day we’ll stop cutting off each others’ heads over invisible friends, or dumping our trash into the oceans, or using power to make ourselves wealthy, or blowing up mountains instead of investing in renewable resources, or stepping over homeless people while foreclosed homes sit empty, or locking drug addicts up in cages, or shooting people for talking about fucking love.

Maybe the aliens will have to land for us to see each other as comrades, but maybe we can reach this conclusion on our own. I like to think there are enough candle-carriers out there to light up the darkness. And you may say I’m a dreamer, but hey, I’m not the only one.

Onward and upward.

Z

Advertisements

So a couple weeks ago I wrote about awareness.  I focused primarily on situational, or external awareness, as it were.  This week I am going to continue a thought on awareness, however this time I am going to turn my focus inward, to internal or personal awareness.  As always I would love to hear your thoughts.  Let’s see where this takes us…

Who are you?  What do you want?  Where are you headed?  Where do you come from?  How about your friends, siblings, parents, or your parents’ parents?  The human mind attributes meaning to patterns.  Those patterns we recognize as significant color the lens each of us uses to see the world around us.  We categorize and label everything we see into one set or another in order to comprehend the innumerable amount of stimuli we come across, and of course as with everything, this begins with ourselves.

I am Zach.  At least, “Zach,” is the particular symbol I choose at the moment to represent the idea I have in my head of myself.  This means I have spent at least some dime differentiating what I perceive and interact with from whatever generates this voice that ponders these weird-ass questions and have reached the conclusion that there is, in fact, a difference.  Exactly where the line is drawn is up for debate, but I have decided that there is a me that is different from you or that and my name is Zach.  Welcome, by the way.

Once I created that folder, I immediately filled it with all sorts of wonderful people, stories, and places that resonated with my frequency in order to figure and formulate my perceptions.  My memories and my perceptions of course now bounce around together constantly, lubricating my imagination and birthing my dreams.

So that’s me on a skeletal level, and it is important to understand yourself in relation to yourself.  However, it is another task entirely to consider yourself in relation to those around you.  After all, it’s the meat that makes the real differences between us.  There are numerous factors we commonly use to categorize ourselves in relation to each other: gender, race, religion, nationality, spoken language, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status to name a few.  If we have any hope of working with each other then it is not only important for us to understand ourselves in our terms, but to do so in relation to the people with whom we interact.  This brings me to Bamako.

I am a Caucasion-American male living in a big, (appropriately) white, walled-in house in Bamako, a city where reproductive rights barely exist and no one picks the trash up off the streets.  I live with my father, who spends cocktail hour at the embassy with ambassadors, WHO executives and the like.  As for my position in relation to the people of this city, it is safe to say that I am quite privileged.  My father alone employs several local men for what seems like nothing to me but is actually closer to twice the average pay for such positions.  Not only do I have a woodgrain toilet seat, but I have a toilet.  Not only do I have a gate and a wall, but I have a house with air-conditioning and refrigerated food worth taking at all.  I can’t avoid how well-off I am, and denying it would offer no service to anyone, but I can use what I’ve got to ease the lives of those who don’t have as much.

There are many ways to use one’s resources for good, but the first step is to try and understand just how much you do have in comparison to just how little is available to others.  Every morning I get to wake up in a bed, inside, and take an anti-malarial pill that (hopefully) keeps each of these mosquito bites from becoming more than that.  Once I’ve taken my magic pill I get to eat a hot meal cooked with clean, bottled water.  In addition, if I were to walk down the street at night, I would be targeted by thieves due to my skin color, but left alone by sexual predators due to my gender.  Meanwhile, others all around the globe have so little that clean water is a myth and disease is a way of life.  No one person can totally solve any problem really worth solving, but if we can all get in where we fit in then together progress can be made.

As far as I am concerned this means it is up to me to pay attention to those less fortunate than myself and actually learn their stories.  All any of us can ever do is work from where we are, with what we’ve got, for what we want.  Not only am I a sucker for a good story, but I have always had an fairly good memory when it comes to the recitation of stories.  So what do I want?  Stories.  Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.

This is the reason I want to teach English to those who are interested.  This is also the reason that I plan to learn both French and Bambara, the local language.  Language defines our capacity to communicate, and communication is the key to teamwork.  I went to the market earlier in the week with Edmond, our chef, and Mahamadou, our driver so Edmond could pick up some food for the week.  It was an amazing experience and I plan to go with them again often when I can.  First we went to the supermarket so I could make a booze run and Edmond could pick up a few items there.  For the real food, however, like all our meats and fresh vegetables, Edmond needed to shop around some in the street marketplace.  The market we went to was a crowded intersection with small, one-room shops lining either side of each road.  Because this was my first time and I still did not know much French or any Bambara, I waited with Mahamadou at one of his friend’s paint shop on one of the corners.  With the SUV parked right there on the street in front of an ocean of mopeds we sat, relaxed, and people-watched with some friends of his for an hour or so.  The language barrier kept any conversation involving me fairly basic, but their fascination with my tattoos sparked a lesson on colors in Bambara.  Those guys were a warm, welcoming bunch with big smiles on their faces.  Even though I have access to many more resource than these guys,  they still offered me a seat with them and lit up my day with their smiling faces.  I hope to see them all again soon.  The unfortunate truth in most situations is that those in positions of privilege hardly mingle with those around them.  Instead, often times people use what money they have to do just the opposite and separate themselves from those with less.  Having worked in the service industry myself for some time I know what it is to be ignored by those who think themselves better than me, so as I learn more about the languages here I plan to learn as much as I can about everyone I meet here.  It’s sad how unusual this mindset may turn out to be.

Life is hard for everyone, but we can each do a little to ease the suffering of those around us by simply listening to what they have to say and caring about their well-being.  For now, for me, that means my job is to immerse myself with French lessons, French newspapers, French movies, and French-speakers until I can confidently begin to relay the endless stories I learn here back to you, the fine people of the internet.  Even before then, however, even a smile and a wave can completely change someone’s day.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Time for me to get some sleep so I’m useful again.  Thanks for reading, and of course feel free to tell me your comments, questions and concerns.  If you’ve got a couple more minutes, attached is a fantastic poem about who we are.  I hope you enjoy.  Have a fantastic week everyone.  Au revoir!

Onward and upward,

-Z

So here I am, once again sitting on a piece of flying metal 40,000 feet above the Atlantic.  This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in such a place, but this time there is a marked difference than every other.  This time, there is no return flight.  This much is still sinking in, and I’m sure will be for a while. I am excited beyond words for what lies ahead.  To get into how I feel would take way more effort and words than anybody has time for, so in a word I’ll say I am overwhelmed.  I’ve decided to focus on the present, and simply try to be aware of this moment as much and for as long as possible in order to keep my head on my shoulders at the moment.  The exception being this post of course. However, in order to appreciate the present we must first, of course, begin with the past.  Warning: this might be a long one.

When I was younger, I – like most – was a huge space cadet.  My head was constantly in the clouds. I would frolic and prance and play all day, often leaving every last gadget and toy just about anywhere but where I had gotten it.  My life would have been in a state of constant chaos had it not been for my saint of a mother who ran that house like it was her kingdom, which it was.  My father worked for an international non-profit so he jumped around the world as often as most go to the movies.  Even when he was working at his office in DC, he would get up before us kids most days and come home after dinner most nights anyway, which meant mom ran the house.  It’s a classic storyline but everyday dad went to his office to work and mom got to work right there at home, and let me tell you – she was relentless.  Picking up toys, picking up laundry, picking up sticks, weeding, cooking, sweeping, washing clothes, washing dishes, washing windows, I’m pretty sure I saw her sweep the driveway once.  Of course she couldn’t keep the place spotless all the time – though I know that’s what she was aiming for – but damn if she didn’t try.  Now that’s not to say that she was the only one maintaining the house, but even when all our chores were done she would still be there, running around like a track star.  Once I found myself living in a single dorm in college I started to see why she was so seemingly obsessed with a spotless home.  My method was insane, not hers.  Although I hate to admit it, as I ran around the house ripping siding off of appliances to turn into air guitars and throwing them behind the couch, I spent the rest of my time looking for whatever it was I wanted to use next.  Now that I’m older I still lose things constantly, but thankfully my mother’s words still ring in my head whenever I am at a loss (probably because she still says them).  For every time she found something I was missing she would look at me with that cocked eyebrow, hand my toy back slowly and say, “next time, why don’t you try looking with your eyes open.”  She may have been teasing me all those years, but her advice couldn’t be applicable to everyday life.

Have you ever ended up at work and forgot the ride there?  Most people, and I am just as guilty as any, spend their days in a daze (pun intended).  We drag our feet to work as we daydream of sleep, then push off sleep for fear of work-induced nightmares.  The moments around us slip between our fingers while we check Facebook for event invites.  This didn’t start with Facebook or the internet though.  The danger only lies in how much easier it has become to lose touch with the only real thing we’ll ever know: the six inches in front of our face.

There are different levels of awareness.  Imagine driving a car.  Slowing down to a stoplight, you keep an eye out for anyone quickly switching lanes or stopping.  If you zone out and something catches you by surprise, it is easy to become a deer in the headlights.  However just by paying attention to your surroundings when everyone begins to slow down gives you that extra moment to hit the breaks or swerve to avoid an accident.  The same goes for walking on a dark road.  Simply being aware of any people around you could give you enough time to run or defend yourself instead of being caught in that surprised state.  Considering my current move to Mali where I will live in a big, wild, African city, this is what concerns me most.  I know I will have to keep my eyes and ears open to a degree I am unfamiliar with if I want to survive.  Threats are real.  Danger is out there.  There are still things that go bump in the night.  As a wise woman once told me, we all think things happen to somebody else but we are all somebody else to somebody else.

In the United States people are disillusioned by the distractions that come with living in a developed country.  We’ve got smooth roads, clean water, and standardized vaccinations that allow us as citizens to forget that outside our fences and ports, the brutality of nature still exists.  Death, disease, and destruction are all alive and well.  We hear about human rights violations like they are fairy tales because no country in their right mind would attack the U.S. on its own soil.  So when news reports surface about police brutality within our own borders, we blame the people, or claim the atrocities are isolated because no one wants to consider the ugly possibility that we might not always be the good guys.  The term “news” in the States has become synonymous with entertainment.  In fact, “news” stations hold not legal obligation to inform or educate their viewers at all.  Their only responsibilities are to entertain and generate profits.  To those for whom the life-threatening realities of everyday life have been taken care of, the true brutality of the world is nothing more than background noise at the dinner table.  This has always been a problem with those living in the castle, so-to-speak.  However it is one that is easily fixed by simply understanding your own place in the environment you find yourself.  Even if things seem fine where you are, remember those walls around you do not separate you from the world.  Only your mind can do that.

So take a second.  Stop inviting walls into wide open spaces, as the poet Buddy Wakefield would say, and be aware.  Be aware, not only of the world you live in, but the place you hold in that world.  Really open your eyes.  Where are you?  Who is around you?  Do they seem agitated?  What does the air smell like?  Where is the nearest toilet, or water source?  Might be the same place!  Come back to where you are.  Be here, now.  Be aware.  Try looking with your eyes open.  You never know what’s coming around the bend.

Until next time, onward and upward.
-Z

P.s. Food for thought:
http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/practical-guide-situational-awareness