Tag Archives: society

We Need A Little Christmas


All over the world decorations have gone up, trees have been lit, and markets selling ornaments, toys, treats and drinks have opened up for the season.


What does that all mean? Are they just lights? Toys? And a bunch of parties that guarantee that, alongside Halloween and Thanksgiving, we all put on weight for the winter?


For those who truly believe (Christians that is), the holiday has a deep spiritual meaning, as it commemorates the birth of Christ. However, the picture gets a little bit murkier. The holiday has a secular component to it that is embraced by many non-believers. Caught up in that secular component, some Christians lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday.

There are also some external factors that can sometimes make it hard to enjoy the holiday season. The pressures of life in the modern world have the potential to suck the fun out of any season. Year-end deadlines at the office, combined with the pressure to buy the right gifts and get family events organized, produce a season of stress for far too many people.

The true spirit of the holiday can vary quite a bit from person to person, and from year to year. Many are familiar with the story of Ebineezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a lonely businessman who resents the day as an unnecessary interruption in his business. There are also more subtle examples of people who see the holiday as just something “to get through”.

I have fallen into that trap in past years. There have been years for me when I resented what I saw as an ill-advised obligation to buy gifts and an unwelcome interruption in my young adult life, with the people I usually hang out with not being around to do the usual stuff I like doing.

This year feels different. Whereas, the past few years, I don’t recall thinking or hearing much about the holiday until mid-December. This year, there is this anticipation, both within me and in the people I am around, that started long before Thanksgiving.


Perhaps it is a reflection of where we are as a society in 2017. There are a lot of problems we have; loneliness, difficulty finding fulfillment, all the forces that are driving us apart, etc. Many know that we are not completely blameless in creating these problems, and that we can make a conscious effort at creating a better society. Yet, the world of appears to be finishing up 2017 in nearly the exact same state as it began the year. It is possible to argue that things actually got worse.

What I am excited about, and what I feel like the people around me are excited about, is not the toys, the lights, and the drunkenness. It is not even the snow, which, here in Colorado, really hasn’t happened yet.


It is the true meaning of the holiday which applies to both its religious and secular traditions. It is taking time away from the grind of every day life. It is being in the presence of family and close friends. It is comfort. It is rest. It is taking time to stop trying to earn, learn, advance, and achieve, and just play, laugh, and smile.

That is what the trees, the lights, the decorations and the toys symbolize to me. That is what we, as a culture need now, and we likely need it more than we did in years past. It is why I started anticipating the holiday weeks earlier than in recent years, and it is this component of the holiday that is my top priority for the remainder of 2017!

Ideas I Am Not Giving Up On

Ideas are powerful!  They can outlive the people, and even the places and things originally associated with them.  Rome was all but destroyed in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.  The people that created Rome, and the representative republic which governed Rome for the first five centuries were long gone.  Yet, these ideas made a resurgence in the 18th Century, when the founders of a new country called the United States of America created a representative republic in a new land far away.  The writings of ancient Roman authors, from those that formed the Republic after overthrowing a King of their own, to those that later tried to defend the Republican form of government from power hungry politicians, are said to have provided inspiration for the country’s founders.


For all intensive purposes, Rome was a place that no longer existed.  Yet, ideas that originated from this place had found their way to a land that Romans had no idea even existed, at a time over two thousand years later!  Over the next Century, these ideas would proliferate, inspiring additional revolutions all over the world, and even counter-revolutions.  Roughly a century later, that idea would actually find its way back to the very place it originated, when Rome, now part of a nation called Italy, would adapt a roughly similar form of Government.

It is for this reason people are often more threatened by ideas than they are by specific people.  Today, when those of us look at someone like Osama Bin Laden, or any specific leader of ISIS, what we are looking at, and what we are threatened by goes way beyond a specific individual.  Even Bin Laden, long the subject of ire for many, needed the aid or cooperation of many other individuals to successfully carry out the attacks he carried out.  Simply put, for many of us in the United States, he became the face of an idea, and one that we largely found repulsive.


We all have ideas.  Even those of us that do not consider ourselves creative, or inventive people, have ideas.  It doesn’t have to be world changing like the invention of the computer.  Maybe it is something as simple as the idea that it would be nice to have a train line or an additional road built to alleviate traffic.  Or maybe it is the idea that animals should not be mistreated by their owners.  Either way, as long as one understands the idea, why they feel the way they do about it, and has enthusiasm for it, the idea is worth pursuing and standing up for.

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I have a ton of ideas, and many do relate to how I feel the world should work.  Lately I have been hearing all the time that some people see the world as it, while others see the world as it could be.  I would consider myself firmly in the later group.  I commonly see some aspects of our society, and how it works, and think to myself (and sometimes say it to people around me) “we can do better”.  After discussion, I will often hear from others what has come to be my least favorite sentence of all time: “It is what it is”.  This is because, in many cases, I really see no reason it has to be that way.  Some people see this as the mark of someone who refuses to mature beyond a state of artificially prolonged adolescence.  However, I see it as refusing to give up on me, and what makes me unique.

I see an entire generation of people pursuing college education, and, more and more, post-graduate degrees, in interesting intellectually stimulating subjects just to join the workforce and be asked to perform menial, repetitive job duties and have their ideas rejected due to their low standing on the corporate totem poll.  We can do better to nurture and develop these promising young minds.

I see people not being true to themselves, in their actions, their behaviors, and attitudes.  We encourage one another to conform, to act like everyone else, and to live life according to a script written by and for a culture that no longer exists because many fear change and the potential loss of status associated with it.  But each person’s individual and unique way of doing things is part of what makes this world an interesting place.  We can be better about encouraging people to be true to themselves, and not being threatened by their unique way of life.

I see countless missed opportunities in the lives of countless people based on adherence to rigid rules and policies that do not make sense.  This is where fear takes it’s greatest toll on society.  Many take comfort in rules and structure.  However, why should someone who has completed their work, and has no other obligations (meetings and such) be sitting in their cubicle at 2:30 on a warm, sunny afternoon?  And, why should one person making a mistake with something lead to a law or ordinance preventing everyone from taking part in this activity?  We can stop taking comfort in rules, and start taking advantage of all the beautiful opportunities this world provides us.

And, I see people who have failed to make deep and meaningful connections with other human beings.  Many go through their lives feeling like they do not have the support system needed to get through the rough patches of their lives.  This is because we live in a society that does not place a high value on building social capital.  Many of us spend our days in work and social settings where we do not feel comfortable expressing our emotions and showing one another who we really are.  You cannot develop a meaningful friendship with someone that does not even know who you really are.  As is the case with the other ideas listed, we can do better on this one as well.

Periodically, I am pressured to give up on these ideas.  I admit nobody has ever specifically told me something like “don’t be who you are”.  But, I definitely feel it.  “You need to act more professionally”.  “Fireball: What are you?  Still 22.”  “Grow up, be a man.”  “You can’t just….”  These types of statements, and many more, come based on the idea that there are certain expectations of me that I do not believe need to exist.

There are even some that have given me sincere advice that I need to stop worrying about these overly philosophical issues.  After all, there are actual reasons for all of the things that frustrate me, and those that defend the current way we do things in this world probably have some valid points.  But, while sometimes I do experience frustration and rejection by acting the way I do, the alternative sounds way more depressing to me in the long run.  The alternative, to me, is giving up on who I am.

I would rather encourage people to pursue their intellectual ideas, even if occasionally their bosses come down on me.

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I would rather continue to show people who I really am, and continue to enjoy the activities that bring me happiness, even if I am periodically given negative feedback by judgmental people.


I would rather take advantage of all of the great things this world has to offer, all of the wonderful places to visit, interesting ideas to pursue, and experiences to enjoy, even if that periodically earns me “reprimand”.


And, I would rather occasionally get burned by someone who uses information about me for their own selfish ambitions than cease showing people who I truly am.

Essentially, I would rather get rejected as myself than be accepted by pretending to be somebody else.

We are all people of value, in our own unique way.  And, for any one of us, if we go out there in this world, and find a way to be the best version of ourselves, but still ourselves, we will naturally find people who like it, and people who see us as valuable individuals.  We all long for acceptance, but in order to be accepted in a true meaningful way, we need to overcome the fear of rejection, and stand up for our ideas.

Disconnect and Reconnect


2015 is quite a strange time.  I wholeheartedly believe that one day we will look back upon this particular era of human history as one of major transition; for better or for worse.  It was around twenty years ago that households across America were suddenly all gaining access to the internet.  It was around ten years ago that social media started ramping up the roles it played in each of our lives, and a few years later, many people across the country started getting “smart phones” with data plans that provide us with nearly constant access to the internet.  Living in Colorado, it is easy for me to travel to places without an internet connection (although I am sure there are people working on that right now).  However, I imagine that many people in large metro areas, particularly on the East Coast, may go years without traveling to a place that is truly “disconnected”.


It takes a while for society to really process changes as major as this one.  For the first few years, following the proliferation of social media and smart phones across the country, it genuinely felt as if I was the only person who was concerned about the potential downsides of this sudden cultural transformation.  It wasn’t until a few years later that people started sounding the alarm about topics such as cyberbullying, echo chambers, loss of depth in our conversations, the impact it could have on our friendships, phoniness, and the constant exposure to new information leading to a culture of constant distraction.  Having moved from Chicago to Colorado in 2012, I cannot pinpoint the exact time when we as a society actually started addressing this issue.  I recognize that I moved from a major city to a place that naturally attracts people that would share my views on this subject.

I am a firm believer is a concept known as “Natural Law“.  This philosophy states that there are certain universal truths that apply regardless of setting.  By contrast, Moral Relativists believe that what is right and wrong in always relative to the time, place, and circumstance.  Over the past couple of years, much has been written, in books, on the internet, about the importance of taking time to “disconnect”.  Most of these article remind us of the need to, from time to time, turn off our televisions, computers, smart phones, etc. and spend some time with ourselves.  But, this was true even before we had smart phones and social media.  Long before social media, Bill Gates would periodically go into complete seclusion for a week at a time.  He would refer to these excursions as “think week”s, and use them to develop key ideas.

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When I arrived at Turquoise Lake, a mere five miles outside of Leadville, Colorado, what I saw was a perfect place to put this advice into practice.  Simply put, it is quiet, but also very scenic.  I came to the lake not knowing what to expect.  I knew it was a Tuesday, and in the middle of October, and therefore would not likely be crowded.  But, with the exception of a storm headed into the area by later in the afternoon, the place was quite tranquil.  It is the kind of place people envision when they think about a quiet country mountain getaway.

I decided I would take five minutes, and force myself to do nothing- absolutely nothing!  I would not pick up a rock and start throwing it.  I would not walk down to the lake.  And I certainly would not even touch my iPhone, which was in my pocket at the time.  For five whole minutes, all I did was stare at the Lake, the trees, and the mountains in the backdrop.


At the end of these five minutes, I picked up a rock, and wrote the following message.  Along with this overarching theme, a series of other ideas flew into my head.  For, in life, we all do things that makes us feel alive.  Unfortunately, we also have times in our lives when we simply don’t feel alive.  Choosing to live means something different for every person.  We all have our own individual passions and priorities.  But, one thing we all must do, in order to be true to ourselves, is overcome the fear of leaving our comfort zones.

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As I watched the storm roll in, I realized that, for many, the first step towards overcoming this fear, and expanding our comfort zones, is exactly what I just did.  In our current culture, with TVs in every house, iPhones with music and games, and distractions everywhere, being completely still, completely silent, and without some external stimulation to occupy our minds is well outside the comfort zone for most people.

I have a friend from High School who has A.D.D.  And, I do not mean it in that manner in which we over-diagnose A.D.D. in our modern society.  He was diagnosed long before they started diagnosing everyone, and seriously has nearly no attention span without medication.  One day, we thought it would be interesting to see how long he could do nothing for- absolutely nothing.  We all just sat in chairs doing nothing.  After a minute or so, we could obviously tell that this was a painful experience for him.

However, for those of us without this issue, when was the last time we actually did spend a whole minute (or five) doing absolutely nothing?  How often do we, while waiting in line, or waiting for a train, or waiting for our friend to show up at a bar, instinctively take out our smart phones, and distract ourselves with a game, an unnecessary email check, or social media?  Have we all gotten to the point where we cannot spend a minute inside our own brains?

For what I realized is that when we “disconnect”, we are not just disconnecting from the internet, and other distractions.  We are actually reconnecting- reconnecting with ourselves.  For most of our days, in 2015, for better or worse, we are fixated on an external stimulant.  Our minds dwell upon something someone else has chosen for us to think about.  It is only when we shut those outside distractions out that our minds are free to wander.  It is then that we form our own thoughts, on our own terms.  This is something I fear we may have lost in our modern culture.  At Turquoise Lake, I found it.

Bent’s Old Fort


The idea of racial unity, or more accurately the idea of two or more racial/national groups living side-by-side without conflict, and mutual respect for one another is not new.  It isn’t, as it feels like some people believe, something that mankind first came up with in the middle of the 20th century after finally sorting through the fallout from World War 2.  It is just an idea that has never really overcome other pressures.

In the early to mid 19th century, brothers William and Charles Bent, of Saint Louis Missouri, actually believed that it was possible.  Early in life, these brothers participated in a series of trade missions along the Santa Fe Trail.  As the Bent brothers encountered both Mexicans and Native Americans on these missions, over time they established good relations with both groups of people.  William Bent was even accepted into the Cheyenne tribe, and participated in negotiations on their behalf.  This included negotiations with other native tribes, as well as with the United States. The two brothers, along with Ceran St. Vrain established a trading fort in what is now Southeastern Colorado, along the Santa Fe trail.

For this reason, I decided to make the trip to Bent’s Old Fort, but I ran into one minor issue.  Apparently, I did not realize that Bent’s Old Fort is a National Historic Site, and therefore is closed due to the current government shutdown.

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So, I did the only sane thing.  I pulled my car off to the side of the road (the parking lot was also closed), and I snuck around the gate.  Heck, I didn’t have to pay the entry fee!

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The fort is reconstructed really well.  I should probably come here sometime when I could actually get inside the building.  And also when the bulls and horses that are kept there are contained rather than wondering around where I could have theoretically provoked them and wound up in trouble.  In fact, that is why I did not stay very long, and did not take any pictures of the animals and the trail.  I was, however, able to imagine what it was like for pioneers and traders to travel along this trail, and encounter this fort, the first building of any sort travelers along the trail would find for miles.  And, according to the information presented in the parking lot, which I did get to read, from 1833 (when it was built) through 1849, this place would have been bustling.  Surely, a welcome sight for travelers.


One question that often comes to mind when learning about Bent’s Fort, is why it was placed where it was, near La Junta, Colorado.  Currently, most of Colorado’s largest cities are a lot closer to the mountains, within 20 miles or so.  From the perspective of modern day Colorado, it appears illogical for this major trading post to be located over 60 miles east of Pueblo, the mountains, and all of the good fur and pine.   However, at the time Bent’s fort was built, 1833, it was built right on the border with Mexico.  For someone traveling west on the Santa Fe Trail, this fort marked the end of the portion of the trail in the United States.  After this, travelers would have entered Mexico, or, after 1836,  the Republic of Texas.

Unfortunately, both Bent brothers ended up on the wrong side of history despite their good intentions.  Actually, it was perhaps because of their good intentions.  Charles Bent, the older brother, was appointed the first territorial governor of New Mexico following the Mexican-American war.  The reading material outside the fort suggested that he was appointed to this position due to his good relations with the people there.  However, he was killed by the Native Americans in the Taos Revolt in 1847.

The younger Bent brother, William, was persecuted by the other side.  During the Sand Creek Massacre, he was captured by General John Chivington after attempting to make peace between the U.S. and the Native tribes during the gold rush.  He was forced to lead Chivington and his troops to the Cheyenne campsite where he conducted the Sand Creek Massacre, killing hundreds of Native Americans.  William’s end was not nearly as dramatic as his brother’s, but his efforts failed to create peace between the U.S. and the Native Americans.

The story of the Bent family and their fort reminds us that it is important to judge everybody as an individual, and not paint every member of some group with one brush.  Throughout this time, there were definitely more white people like Chivington, who murdered natives despite their efforts to make peace, and also more white people like the Bents, who approached native tribes with deep respect for their culture, and attempted to share in the human experience with them.  There is more to who someone is than their racial identity.

Just in case the lines were not blurred enough in this whole story, John Chivington was a hard-core abolitionist.  He could not wait to free the black population and share our culture with them.  Yet, he viewed all Native Americans as savages that needed to be exterminated.  On the flip side, the Bent brothers owned slaves, and William would eventually support the cause of the confederacy.  So, there is a group of people out there who would potentially view Chivington in a more favorable light than Bent.

So, who is the good guy and who is the bad guy?  People like to simplify history, assign one side ad good the other as bad, and establish one or two themes.  This makes them feel like the have a good handle on the situation.  However, in reality, history is about as complicated as the human mind, and all of the many mechanisms that cause people to behave in the way that they do.  Some people may know more individual facts about history, but that does not necessarily mean they understand history better.  Some people view all facts through the lens of a preconditioned idea about the nature of the people involved, and cannot appreciate all of the facts.

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One amazing thing about traveling is that travel has this way of causing people to build upon their thoughts.  Sometimes it almost feels as if the world has found a way to set itself up in such a pattern that it creates certain themes in everybody’s lives, or at least each person’s individual trips.  After pondering these thoughts on the drive from La Junta back to the interstate, the drive home took me through two towns that recently made waves in our current political climate; Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

Last month, these two towns made news across the state as they surprising recalled two of Colorado’s state senators.  One of them was actually the leader in the senate!  The recall election was at least partially about the gun control debate, but other factors may have contributed.  Advocates on each side of the debate appeared, at least to me, to be motivated by ideological differences rather than some form of tribalism.

But is it all just ideology?  Have we really replaced racial issues with actual issues about how we view our government and society (which would be a positive change)?  Unfortunately, last year’s election results, and specifically the large difference in voting patterns by race indicates differently.  Race also still finds it’s way into may of the political debates we have in this country today.  I am not going to assign blame to either side on this one.  This is not a partisan political blog.  But, pondering the racial component to our politics, the self-segregated neighborhoods in Chicago and other places, the Indian Reservations and the like, makes me think that we are not really living side-by-side the way the Bents had envisioned.  The middle of the 20th century saw a major push towards that end, with Matrin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech articulating that goal in a manner that most can relate to.  But, there does still appear to be a disconnect.

Tribalism is an inevitable part of human nature.  But will our “tribes” always be dictated by our origins?  The internet now provides us access to nearly everybody around the world, and more and people are moving more frequently.  These factors may encourage our future “tribes” to be more determined on different grounds, such as worldview, or common interests.  But, would this be better?  Less disconnected?  Less violent?  Maybe the key is not how we determine our “tribes”, but having respect for other “tribes”, or at least letting them live the way they want to as long as they are not hurting you.  This is a tall task for the human race, but one that is theoretically possible.  All challenges can be met, like the one below, Pike’s Peak, which I got one last view of before it once again becomes snow packed tomorrow (which is fine, it looks better with the snow on it anyways).  A mountain whose peak was once unreachable, is not reached by People on foot, in their cars, and by the cog railway.