Active Listening: An Underrated Superpower

Active listening is probably the conversational skill Millennials are the most sorely lacking in. Somewhere along the way, we stopped listening, stopped caring about listening, and thus stopped knowing how to listen. There is nothing that will help your small talk more than active listening.

 

When we truly listen—making appropriate eye contact—the other person feels at ease in the conversation. They feel you actually care what they have to say. Think back to the last time you were talking to someone who clearly did not care what you had to say and was just waiting for their turn to talk. They may even have interrupted you to insert their thought. That’s not a conversation both of you enjoy; it’s one-sided.

 

Learning the importance of listening involves some humility. It involves thinking more highly of the other person and what they have to say than you would otherwise. Even if they are saying something completely inane that they have said a thousand times before, try to listen as though at any moment they may say something life changing. They’re saying what they’re saying for a reason; if it’s an enigma to you, asking questions to figure out why it’s important to them.

 

The secret to effective listening is concentration. At first, it will take enormous concentration to become a better listener in conversation. Over time, though, it will develop into a habit. If it helps, think of your attention as a laser beam. A giant, red laser beam, like when Cyclops from X-Men takes off his visor. Like your attention, the laser has to be controlled, or it’s all over the place. You need to focus it on the person who is talking to you. Always, always focus on that person, and try to ignore everything else going on.

 

When I was learning how to be better at conversation, I would observe how the average person reacts when interrupted by an external stimulus. Sometimes I would see it coming and watch with anticipation. For example, Person A is involved in a conversation and, unbeknownst to them, one of their buddies, Person B, shows up. Person B walks over and says hi, and I observe how surprised Person A is to see them. What they say, their tone, their volume, and their gesturing. Nowadays, most of the time I’m the “Person A” being interrupted by the external stimulus. The difference between the two comes down to one thing: Concentration. Nowadays, after learning this lesson, instead of observing others, I generally don’t care what everyone else is doing because I’m focused on the person I’m talking to. In fact, I might even react with slight annoyance if interrupted by something or someone, depending on who or what it is. Guess what? That’s what everyone else has doing all along.

 

The Importance of Eye Contact

Eye contact is trickier than listening, I will admit. It’s usually not hard to make eye contact with a close friend or family member, because you are usually relaxed around that person. After all, important signals are sent through the eyes, and you don’t want to miss them. However, with people you are not as comfortable around, it’s harder.

 

Concentration is also the key to improving eye contact. However, don’t think of it in the laser beam way. Think of it as being so absorbed with the conversation that you are dying to know the next thing they have to say. In fact, even if it’s a conversation you hate, it may still be in your best interest to do this because they may say something that gives you an out. Crude, but true. But back to most conversations, which you (hopefully) don’t hate, you will find yourself staring full-force into their eyes, yet not in a creepy way. The kind of staring into their eyes that I am talking about is essentially mining them for conversation. They will keep talking and eventually say something that spurs a response from you. When responding, you’ll keep staring into their eyes because you’re trying to communicate at full blast what you want to say as efficiently as possible, and using eye contact in combination with all other verbal and non-verbal methods is the most efficient way to do this.

 

Additionally, a key element is to clear your mind while you listen and don’t spend any time thinking of what you are going to say next. Turn your mind into a blank slate that has no thoughts. When you have this blank-slate approach, you are fully present with that person, and they can tell you’re actively listening, including eye contact. Don’t worry, when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll be able to think of what to say in response or you’ll simply stream-of-consciousness something and it’ll most likely work out just as well. Trust the process and don’t think ahead of what to say while you should be listening. I can’t emphasize this point enough.

 

If all else fails, and you simply cannot make yourself maintain eye contact with the other person, cut your losses and look down the entire conversation, as long as you are actively listening and using fillers (more on that below). This is actually pretty effective in networking conversations because it is often so loud at networking happy hours and events that it looks like you’re simply trying to have your ear face them to hear better. However, the goal is to work your way up to being comfortable maintaining eye contact with anyone.

 

Conversational Fillers

Conversational fillers are the small phrases and sounds of acknowledgment peppered throughout a conversation that let the other person know you’re still paying attention. Examples include, “Uh-huh,” “mm-hmm,” “right,” “OK,” and others. Most people use these; you should too. The great thing about them is that active listening—intense concentration on what the other person is saying—will cause you to automatically know when a filler is needed. You will have a gut feeling, and at first you may consciously need to think to yourself, “There’s that feeling…quick, say ‘uh-huh’!” But as you improve, it will become habit and you won’t have to think about it. You will just use a filler reflexively.

 

A word of advice: Alternate your fillers every couple of uses. Don’t use “uh-huh” six times in a row, or you will sound like a robot. Throw in some other fillers. When you are on the receiving end of fillers—for example, telling a story—notice how good you feel when the other person periodically uses a filler. It tells you they’re still interested in what you have to say. If they don’t use them, you feel like they’re not really listening. These are the same reactions people will have toward you depending on whether or not you use fillers.

 

Below is a fictitious example of how to use fillers:

PETE: So the other day I was in the checkout line at Whole Foods and this guy behind me starts talking about how he had someone come out to look at his roof…

ME: Uh-huh.

PETE: …and he said the guy gets there, sets up the ladder, climbs up onto the roof, and he’s barely up there for two minutes before he comes down and takes down the ladder…

ME: Uh-huh.

PETE: and he said the guy goes right up to him and says it’s going to cost almost twice what he quoted him earlier that same day to do the work. I mean, he didn’t literally say “twice”, but the amount he quoted was basically double what he originally said.

ME: Right.

PETE: So then he said they got into this huge argument and his wife came out and had to essentially break them up and the contractor cussed him out and he was totally shocked.

ME: Oh snap!

PETE: And that contractor had been recommended by a friend. Soooo he said it’s back to online reviews to find someone else for the roof.

ME: Ha ha ha…yup.

 

Whenever anyone tells a story, it’s pretty much inevitable that fillers can and should be used by someone in the audience. Maybe if it’s a group conversation and there is a total social butterfly present, you can sit back and let that person do all the fillers. But if you are the main audience, be sure to use fillers. Like I said, the more you practice, you will begin using them without realizing it.

 

So to review: Active listening is like a laser beam of concentration, so point it at the target; maintain eye contact by wiping your mind of thoughts and being a blank slate so you can hang on their every word; and use conversational fillers until they’re natural because they let the other person know you’re still listening.

How to Make Small Talk: Rules 1 & 2

This is the last installment in the 10 Rules of Small Talk series. I hope you have enjoyed these posts and found them helpful. I will posting more about small talk rules & tips in the future!

 

Rule #2: Keep it Light: Avoid Certain Topics when Making Small Talk

According to conventional wisdom, religion and politics are the two things you should never discuss in casual conversation (Charles Schultz added the Great Pumpkin to the list). This rule usually applies, but really it depends why you are there. People break this rule all the time, and it can be a painful, agonizing thing to behold, and even worse to have to directly respond to. I will cover how to get out of such situations in future posts, but here, I want to drive home the importance of this rule.

Think back to your own experience. When was the last time a conversation got unexpectedly serious? It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? It totally kills the energy. I can’t count how many conversations I was in in 2016 where the presidential election came up. I also can’t think of a bigger conversational minefield, and I would simply nod and use the “mm-hmm” and “uh-huh” conversational fillers, while being inwardly disappointed with the person for not being able to find a more creative and inclusive conversational topic. When the election came up, no matter which candidate the other person supported, the predictable litany of complaints about the opposing candidate would ensue. This kind of scenario wrecks any good conversation unless you get lucky and are talking to someone with similar political views. Conversations with strangers, however, are a big gamble with these topics, so the word to the wise is to not go there.

Now, as a Christian, I sometimes bring up my faith in a casual conversation with a stranger. We are expected to want to share the gospel message with others. However, it’s something that needs to be done with caution, consideration, and prayer, in order to maximize the effectiveness.

Whoever came up with the rule about religion and politics did not pick those topics because of the topics themselves. They picked them because the topics have a way of turning a conversation unexpectedly serious and even negative. People have widely varying and often emotional views on such subjects. So, keep it light so that the other person feels no negative emotions and will want to keep talking to you. Even if you’re just trying to fill a short period of time with something other than awkward silence, you don’t want to leave the other person with a bad impression. You might run into them again.

Going back to our example of being in the dentist office from the earlier post, if instead of saying you were there for an annual cleaning and then asking the other person what they were there for, if you instead started going on and on about your recent root canal and how painful it was, you have turned the conversation negative and it will wither. People don’t want to hear someone else complain. One rule people often teach about dating is to avoid saying anything negative. That generally applies here too, unless you are commiserating with the other person. That can be the right response at times, but most conversations should stay light.

 

Rule #1: Improving Will Take Effort at First but Will Become Easier

At first, it will take conscious effort and concentration to improve your small talk skills. However, I promise it will get easier. You may even end up enjoying it, if nothing else than for the challenge. Sometimes when someone starts making small talk with me, I realize that the conversational chess match has begun. If this is how you have to think of small talk in order to get comfortable with it until it feels more natural, so be it. It can be fun to see how long you can make it before one of you makes the first social blunder and breaks “the rules” of small talk. In the end, however, what matters is that both of you come away with a positive social experience, although the best conversations are those in which no one breaks the rules.

 

Anyone can get better at small talk. Not everyone can realistically get better at a given skill, sport, trade, or craft. It may be due to time constraints, physical reasons, or other factors. However, the opportunities for small talk are around us constantly, and it’s a skill we will need for the rest of our lives. Decide to embrace small talk, armed with these rules, which have given you the initial strategies, techniques, and mindset shifts you need to get started. We are, by design, social creatures, so it’s only natural to be able to carry on a conversation with a stranger. We usually aren’t taught how to do it, though—we are just expected to learn by example. I devised these rules for anyone who needs help beyond that. Again, I emphasize that this is something anyone can do and get good at.

The Singapore Example and the Limits of Multiculturalism in America

“In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their [the British] system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore 1959-1990

 

The tiny island nation of Singapore, located between Malaysia and Indonesia, consistently ranks among the top 10 countries in development and economic strength, even beating out the US in some measurements. In less than 50 years, Singapore transformed from a third-world British colony and World War II conquest of Imperial Japan to a glistening, highly-developed economic giant. Singapore is one of the “Four Asian Tigers,” powerhouse Asian economies also including Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Singapore’s astonishing success has been the subject of many a book and white paper.

 

Lee Kuan Yew was independent Singapore’s first prime minister. He governed for three decades, and occupied various governmental and political positions afterward until his death in 2015. He governed in perpetual fear of the collapse of the society he had built, and believed to his death that his People’s Action Party (PAP), which still governs Singapore as a virtually one-party state, needed to rigidly maintain power and often suspend democratic norms in order to keep the society together. Lee was often condemned for autocratic rule and even human rights and press abuses.

 

What was it that Lee feared so much, causing him to govern this way? Identity politics.

 

In 1963, Singapore, still loosely under British control, merged with Malaysia due to strong ties between the two nations and the hope of economic benefits. However, the first year of the new union was marred by conflicts between Malaysia’s (the name of combined Malaysia and Singapore) dominant political party, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and Singapore’s PAP party, as well as deadly race rioting between Singapore’s Malay and Chinese populations. The central position of Malaysia’s prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and his party was the need to fight for the rights of ethnic Malays, including those in Singapore. In fact, from the outset of the union there was considerable concern that the inclusion of the Singaporean Chinese population would alter the ethnic proportions of the voting base upon which UMNO depended to maintain dominance. Lee Kuan Yew’s consistent theme, on the other hand, was that the new Malaysia needed enforced racial equality in order to survive. Lee held a meeting with prominent Singaporean Malay organizations and leaders to assure them they would not be discriminated against, but throughout 1964 Malaysia’s PM and UMNO politicos made multiple incendiary moves and statements that increased suspicion among Singaporean Malays toward the Singaporean Chinese population. Two sets of deadly race riots broke out in Singapore that year, and negotiations between UMNO and PAP on various issues were making little progress.

 

In 1965, less than two years after unification, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that Singapore needed to separate from Malaysia to avoid further conflicts. Negotiations to achieve this went on in secrecy between the two sides, with Lee Kuan Yew and other Singaporean officials negotiating with the Malaysian government after it was made clear there was no way Singapore would be allowed to remain in Malaysia. The move to separate Singapore from Malaysia required an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution in the Malaysian Parliament, and PM Abdul Rahman introduced a resolution on August 9, 1965, which was passed by a vote of 126-0. That day, Singapore became independent and Lee Kuan Yew gave an emotional speech explaining the break-up to the people of Singapore.

 

This is the only incident in modern history that I know of in which one country has been voted out of another against its wishes. While there were economic and political issues at play, it is inescapably clear the racial conflict was a linchpin in the desire of Malaysian leaders to expel Singapore. It was negotiated and communicated in ways that made it look like something other than an expulsion, but for all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it was since Singapore didn’t want to separate. The entire episode profoundly affected Lee Kuan Yew’s political philosophy and only further strengthened his belief that Singapore could not last as a multiracial society if identity politics were allowed. Being Chinese himself, he walked the talk by making English the official language of Singapore (to this day), not Chinese which was the language of the Chinese majority (although English was actually his first language). This move earned him many critics, but he believed that giving a clear demographic advantage to one group would eventually tear the country apart.

 

There were additional race riots in 1969, but over the next several decades Singapore grew into a peaceful and stable economic titan. The People’s Action Party maintained a veritable stranglehold on national politics, as it does to this day. However, Lee Kuan Yew’s quasi-autocratic methods and the PAP’s dominance are not the reason I write this essay.

 

Multiculturalism has probably never been a more hot-button issue in America than it is right now, and I don’t see it getting better any time soon. Lee Kuan Yew’s quote about people voting based on race and religion in a multiracial society has nary proven truer than in America today. Even the most novice student of politics understands which groups vote for which political parties, sometimes in staggeringly high proportions. Blacks and Hispanics vote heavily for the Democratic Party. Most whites vote Republican, although by a lesser volume. Even different Christian denominations tend to vote for different parties. Non-Hispanic immigrants are believed (the data is difficult to decode) to vote Democrat. Asians generally vote Democrat, although there is a growing trend among Indian Americans of voting Republican.

 

Democrats have aggressively courted the immigrant vote over the years, especially in the 2016 and now 2018 election cycles. The word “xenophobia” was practically unknown to the public until Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton popularized it to mean irrational fear of immigrants, using it to galvanize the Hispanic segment of the Democratic voting base. The Democrats have carefully constructed a constellation of various ethnic groups in order to counter the steadfast strength of conservative white voters. Never before the 2016 election have the charges of racism and other, similar forms of acrimony flown so freely across the airwaves, including Hillary essentially calling Donald Trump a racist during a presidential debate televised around the world when she condemned his “racist lie” that Obama wasn’t born in the US.

 

The Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauled the American immigration system by removing restrictions on national origin which had basically preferred European immigrants beforehand (think waves of German immigrants in the early 1900s). This change occurred during the height of the Civil Rights Movement era and was viewed as further dispelling racism in society. Although Senator Ted Kennedy assured the public that the bill would not substantially alter national demographics, that is what ended up happening.

 

But this essay is not about the past, it is about the future. Given the demographic changes in the US over the past 50 years and the ever-increasing tension in our society regarding race, immigration, and even religion, we must step back and look at the course we are on. How much worse will the tensions get? Is there a breaking point, and if so when is it? We’ve already seen race riots—those are nothing new. But could there be something more drastic ahead?

 

I’m of the belief that race matters way less than people think. Race is just the ways that some human bodies are different than others, but all are human bodies. Race obviously is most noticeable in the way someone looks as compared to someone else, but this is a surface level characteristic. What really matters is culture, and that’s why I titled this essay with “the Limits of Multiculturalism in America,” not “the Limits of Multiracialism in America.” Our policies toward multiculturalism are what will determine our national future probably more than anything else. Currently, we are doing an abysmal job of assimilating new immigrants. In fact, until this process is righted and strengthened, we should greatly reduce immigration because we’re accepting immigrants faster than we can assimilate them. Sure, we have a citizenship test, but that is laughably insufficient for assimilation. Since we have been doing such a poor job, we have become what some describe as a “tossed salad” instead the traditional metaphor of a “melting pot.” But unless you’re in an international airport, putting multiple distinct cultures with little to nothing in common next to each other tends to bring rivalries.

 

I say all this not because I dislike immigrants. It’s normal for a country to have an immigration policy, and every country has at least some immigration (beyond tourism). I’m pretty sure even North Korea has Chinese guest workers (could be wrong). But our system is out of control and we have no good method of assimilation. No other country except the currently beleaguered countries of Western Europe approach immigration this way. Other countries expect you to assimilate—to “become similar” to the population. Obviously you cannot racially assimilate, which is why this is not a racial issue. But you can culturally assimilate, and in other countries you are expected to do so. You are viewed as a guest in other countries, with a highly limited ability to make claims on your host country until you’re a citizen.

 

The Democrats have known for years that they are struggling to keep the white vote. There are multiple reasons for this, but one factor is the falling white birth rate. The Democrats know that the next generation will have fewer whites in proportion to other ethnicities, particularly Hispanic Americans. The black population has remained about the same proportion for years, and Asians, while a fast-growing population due to immigration, are still too small of a constituency for the Democrats to make much of a national appeal to. Their sights are firmly set on the Hispanic vote as the key to electoral dominance, which is why the Democrats fight any attempts to reduce either legal or illegal immigration. Additionally, most immigrants to America come from political traditions similar to the big-government policies espoused by the Democrats, which is another way they court the immigrant vote. The minimal-government model of our Constitution is a rare animal indeed, and were it strictly enforced there would be less draw for immigration because the government would be much smaller and could provide far fewer social services.

 

So where does all this lead? What I’m concerned about as a very real possibility is a future break-up of America along ethno-cultural lines. If, for example, the Mexican-American population becomes the majority in California, then California’s politicians could simply focus (openly) on appealing to Mexican-American concerns. Just like Malaysia’s UMNO party focused only on Malay issues, Democrats only need to pick the largest group and pander to them to stay in power.

 

Additionally, as long as the Democrats successfully conflate Trump’s tough stance on immigration with racism against Mexicans and others of Central American descent, he cannot effectively make an appeal, as Lee Kuan Yew did, for a multiracial society in which no race is given priority over another. Trump repeatedly emphasizes in his speeches that we are all Americans, not whatever the color of our skin is. He is right, and America’s experiment as a multiracial society can succeed, but only if we stop being such a multicultural one. Do I think Trump has some racist beliefs? He might. But what matters is how he governs, not what his inner beliefs are. The vision of America that he enunciates is one not of a country of “hyphenated Americans” but of all one people, known simply as Americans, no hyphens needed.

 

But imagine any one of the following scenarios. In the future, California secedes as a majority Mexican-American state that wants self-determination in accordance with its ethnic identity. I’m a big believer in self-determination and the right to secede, but although I wouldn’t miss uber-liberal California, I don’t want America to break up. Or if not California, maybe the same thing happens with Texas or a section of it. Perhaps California or part of Texas joins with Mexico, like Singapore joined with Malaysia. Or what if, a few decades from now, today’s minorities are large enough to create a permanent voting majority and dominate Congress? If they dominated Congress, could they vote out “white” parts of the country that resisted ethnic transformation out of the US, just as Malaysia expelled Singapore? Or what if the poor white regions like the Appalachian states were deemed a “drag” on the national economy while simultaneously accused of incurable racism? Or if they resisted affirmative action policies, which was another bone of contention between Malaysia and Singapore?

 

A staple of American consciousness is the belief that “it can’t happen here,” but to me, these scenarios are not as far-fetched as they sound. The Democrats are examples of politicians who will say or propose virtually anything to maintain power. They will always “go there,” wherever “there” is, if they think they’ll come out on top on Election Day. This is a sad state of affairs, because national preservation through a unifying culture, something even a country as tiny as Singapore knows is necessary for survival as a political unit, should always trump identity politics. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t care about healing old wounds; they’re only interested in winning, even if it means ripping off bandages (sometimes while calling it “healing”).

 

I write a lot about the need to not get upset about politics. I am not writing this essay to stir emotion. When I first read about Singapore’s history and how they were expelled from Malaysia because of, among other factors, racial tensions and bloodshed, I thought I might be seeing a future break-up scenario for America. I wanted to share this because too many people in politics today don’t have a long-term view with regards to immigration and culture, and don’t focus on what all other countries know—that a divided populace means a divided country, and sometimes that division becomes literal.

 

And if you were offended by this essay, I suggest reading the previous one about how to free your mind from political correctness.

 

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” – Lee Kuan Yew

 

Sources for Singapore history: Wikipedia and the National Library of Singapore website

3 Ways to Free Your Mind from Political Correctness

“If you want to know who rules over you, find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” – Voltaire

 

Political correctness is a fancy term for censorship of thoughts and words in the name of not offending liberals. It is such a powerful force that it has morphed from censorship by society to self-censorship. Those imprisoned by political correctness police their own thoughts, not because their thoughts are necessarily evil or sinful, but because they breach political correctness. What is self-censorship of political viewpoints if not a perfect control strategy?

 

Most conservatives and even some independents readily bemoan political correctness in our society. However, few people if any talk about how to free your mind from it, other than by being unafraid to offend people. For more pensive types (like myself), this is not a good enough solution because we keep most of our thoughts to ourselves anyway merely as a function of our personality. However, the same arguments over politically incorrect ideas can then take place in our mind. So what’s needed, and what I offer here, is a way to excise political correctness from our minds.

 

In general, politicians sail with the wind. They know how hard it is to change the direction of the wind, so most don’t try. Instead, they become the embodiment of our views, prodding us along the way to make sure we show up to the polls. One of the key factors underpinning our two-party system is the basic divisibility of Americans into two sides on Election Day. For rising politicians, who themselves nearly always align with one of the two sides, there is no concern that their views might make them an outcast in their career. All they have to do is pick the side they agree with, and there will be a fertile field of voters waiting. Sure, there are the independent voters, which are more costly for politicians to win over, but on Election Day the vast majority of independent voters vote either Democrat or Republican. The only difference is the fact that they might vote for the other party next time.

 

Political correctness is a comprehensive, multi-pronged climate of social censure developed over decades by liberal ideologues in their “long march through the institutions” of society. Conservatives and independents are the target, and while I said we now police our own thoughts, some top-level action is still needed by politicians to keep the political correctness regime humming by capitalizing on offenses. There is a cycle of political outrage that occurs at calculated moments when someone on the conservative side, or perhaps some hapless individual who has no interest in politics, says or does something that could be offensive to any particular group that liberals claim to represent. The politicos on the liberal side have learned when a reaction would be overblown, and when they can ride existing momentum (sail with the wind) and successfully kick off the cycle. Most of the time, they are quite effective at striking at the right moment. The end goal of the political outrage cycle is to get the target to recant of his or her misdeed and to dampen the will among the public to do, say, or most importantly, accept, anything similar. As Saul Alinksy taught his leftist disciples, expose the target, freeze them in place, and make an example of them.

 

Remember that I wrote before that no one can control you—you are in control of yourself. So how does the average person take back control of their thoughts from political correctness? How can we live free of the politically correct mind-prison?

 

I offer three steps. These steps require no external action. They are all done in your mind, because that’s where the illusion of control lives.

 

Step 1: Care about politics less. I’ve written about this in my past posts. A person who doesn’t care about politics at all has little concern for political correctness. They will still have some, because even they can sense the winds of the environment around them, but they’re far more independent of the constraints of the Left than someone who, say, reads politics every day. The latter, who is familiar with the ever-increasing demands of the Left, will, if not careful, experience a psychosis caused by their fear of liberal condemnation clashing with their die-hard commitment to their own beliefs. The key to avoiding or curing this psychosis is to care about politics less. Then you can keep your commitment to your beliefs (although it will feel a little less die-hard because you’re investing time and energy elsewhere), and the fear of punishment is greatly reduced. The less immersed you are in politics, the less of the shenanigans and demands of the Left you will be aware of, and the less punishment you will fear.

 

“But,” you say, “liberal policies may destroy America whether I’m paying attention or not!” Actually, political doomsday scenarios are less likely than you think (take it from someone who intensely researched this during my journey into amateur prepping, which I wrote about). Politics affect your life in very few ways besides by taxes and…by people talking at you about politics. Most of our problems in America are cultural, not political. As I said, politicians sail with the wind. They are mostly a mirror of us and the culture we have created. If you really want to change politics, the best way—and the hardest—is to change the culture.

 

Maybe you have voted Republican your whole life. If you take a few steps back from politics, as Step #1 prescribes, you can still vote Republican every cycle if you want to. But how much value is there in being emotionally invested in politics in between elections? I myself follow politics fairly regularly because it interests me, but I have learned where the boundaries are and what the signs are that I’m spending too much time and energy on it. Plus, like I wrote about in one of my previous posts, “staying informed” does not actually do anything to further your political ideas; it just gives the illusion of doing something. If you really want to make a difference in a specific political race, you should vote, volunteer, or give money.

 

Step 2: Don’t fall for duality. This is a big one, and it’s similar to my previous post about how political parties exploit our emotions on social media. By “duality” I mean the constant animus that accompanies the liberal/conservative “us vs. them” paradigm. This animus becomes reflexive and can even cause a person to compromise their beliefs in support of a political end. For example, if you watch President Trump’s rallies, he can say practically anything to the crowd while on stage and very seldom does anyone who isn’t a protestor boo him. The attendees generally just go along with whatever he says, even cheering it, even when it’s something they probably don’t fully agree with. Yet because it’s Trump that said it, they support it. Trump is “their side”, and everyone not allied with Trump is therefore the enemy. This is duality in action, and of course liberals are guilty of it as well, whether with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or whomever. The weird thing about it is that no one is making these people embrace this duality; they do it to themselves. While I generally have supported Trump pretty strongly, I have no problem saying that he has said and done things at times that I disagreed with, even policy decisions. Someone who is absorbed in duality will never admit something like that unless strongly pressed.

 

Also, when absorbed in duality, you will experience elevated stress in the form of anger toward that other side that there is really no constructive way to express other than by voting, volunteering, or giving money. Posting on social media is the guilty pleasure of political “dualists” because it’s easy. However, it causes stress for others, causes arguments, and doesn’t really relieve even their own stress. Does someone who angrily posts something political on social media suddenly become freed of their anger? Of course not. They just released some of the pressure, but it will build up again. You can never be free of political correctness without letting go of the “us vs. them” mindset, because in the back of your mind you will always be aware of the outrages and potential outrages of liberals regarding something you said, did, or thought. Free yourself of this! I’m not saying to stop being a conservative, nor am I saying to never express your opinion on social media; I’m only saying that to be free, you have to get outside of the “us vs. them” mentality (which will also improve your social media experience). After all, most people aren’t very political—they just get more political during election season. In fact, those who work in politics know that a lot of voters don’t even make up their mind until Election Day, regardless of the ads and yard signs they have been seeing for months.

 

Step 3: The past doesn’t matter. This speaks to one of the deadliest weapons in the political correctness arsenal. Getting this one right won’t help if you can’t complete Steps 1 & 2, but I strongly recommend this third step in order to complete the picture.

 

The left-wing position on many issues revolves around historical injustices, whether real, exaggerated, or perceived. You must train yourself to think: “I didn’t do it, so I’m not the problem.” This is probably the default mindset of most people around the world, but in America, if you’re a conservative, then in the Punnet square of race/religion/gender, you probably fall into an “oppressor category” according to hardcore liberals. Someone, somewhere, who shared your race, religion, or gender wronged people of another race, religion, or gender. Do you know who the person who committed that wrong was? Of course you don’t! That’s why it doesn’t matter. You can’t be guilty by association over someone you aren’t associated with.

 

So if it’s so obvious, why does this favorite political correctness tactic work? Well, I will never accuse hardcore liberals of not being smart. They use our textbooks in school to indoctrinate us as kids that white people and Christians have perpetrated the worst crimes in Western history. The insinuation is that these groups can’t be trusted not to do so again if given the chance. This is, of course, a completely one-sided and imbalanced view of history, not to mention it passes judgment on entire groups of people (something liberals are supposed to abhor), but it explains why so many in my own generation, the Millennials, are so politically correct. We’ve been brainwashed with this nonsense since grade school, before our critical thinking capabilities were developed enough to question it. In other words, we were young and impressionable, and liberals figured out how to strike while the iron was hot.

 

If you’re in one of the “oppressor” demographics, you’re trained by the liberal triad of academia, media, and usually government, to believe that anyone outside your oppressor demographic is automatically right about everything. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. No one is always right. The foundation of this false belief lies in, like I said, grade school indoctrination that your demographic is guilty of crimes against humanity. Either that, or if you’re a conservative who is outside the “oppressor” demographics, you’re nothing more than their lackey by supporting conservatism. All of this is nothing but a psychological manipulation tool devised by left-wing zealots in academia, which is where the research that goes into our textbooks comes from. Liberal-dominated school boards and Department of Education officials (I think state level is where textbooks are decided) have no problem adopting such imbalanced curricula because it serves their ideological purpose for society. These are people who have nothing better to do with their lives.

 

When I say the past doesn’t matter, I’m not saying to be ignorant of history. If you were ignorant of history, you would have no understanding that some topics are sensitive for some people, and to be insensitive or careless is usually unkind. But avoiding carelessness is not the same thing as thought-policing and speech-censoring, which is the standard hardcore liberals expect you to conform to.

 

So remember, in politics, the past doesn’t matter and you aren’t the problem. We don’t drag our own past around with us every day, so why would we drag around someone else’s past? You’re not guilty by association, and you can let such charges roll off your shoulders because they don’t apply. It’s all a trick designed to manipulate the electorate. You are responsible only for the choices you make, not for the choices someone else made.

 

I hope these techniques have helped you begin the journey of freedom from politically correct mind-control. It will take time, especially the younger you are and the more indoctrination you have suffered. But keep at it, because the stress and mental health benefits are worth it. Rise above, think freely, and don’t be a cog in the politically correct machine.

A Paradox in Matthew 24:34: Proof that Jesus is the Son of God?

One of the verses in the New Testament that skeptics of Christianity try to use against the Bible is Matthew 24:34. It says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (NKJV). This verse is part of Jesus’ predictions of the future, which take up most of Matthew 24. His predictions are obviously at least partially fulfilled in the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD and subsequent destruction of the Jewish Temple. However, Jesus seemingly predicts he will return right after this takes place. Since he says that “this generation will by no means pass away,” presumably referring to the cohort of people alive at the same time as himself, how can this be accurate since Christ obviously has not returned to earth to establish his kingdom yet?

 

Critics of Christianity love to rub Christians’ noses in this apparent contradiction. Even the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis expressed dismay regarding this passage. When tackling this passage recently, however, something dawned on me that actually proves it is not possible for Jesus to have meant the existing cohort of people when he used the phrase “this generation.”

 

Jesus used the phrase “this generation” quite often, actually. A survey of such passages will show it could be interpreted in a few different ways, and many Christian apologists will offer these potential interpretations as a defense against the charge stated above. Perhaps they are right. However, I want to take the question to the next level by explaining what I believe is a historical paradox that prevents this verse from being a problem for Christianity.

 

We know from history that in 70 AD, the Romans marched on Jerusalem under General Titus, destroyed the temple, and laid waste to the city. This was in response to a Jewish revolt that began in 66 AD. The beginning of Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24 reads:

 

“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and his disciples came up to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ ” (vv. 1-2) His disciples approach him later and ask how they would know when his prediction was about to occur. He gives them a list of signs, such as false prophets, wars, natural disasters, and persecution. Starting in verse 15, he describes the Roman army entering the temple, and how people should flee the city at that time. There is also another version of this discourse in Luke 21 that names Jerusalem by name, so there is no doubt as to the location of these events.

 

After this, the discourse gets more interesting. Starting in verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (vv. 29-31) Only a few verses later is the quote with “this generation.”

 

So, a cursory reading of the entire passage seems to put events in the following sequence:

  1. Natural disasters and false prophets
  2. Persecution
  3. Destruction of the temple
  4. Signs in the heavens
  5. The Second Coming

Events 1-3 were clearly fulfilled in the events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But what about events 4 and 5? Perhaps there was an eclipse and/or a meteor shower. The way it’s described, to me, make it seem more extraordinary than that. But even if event 4 was fulfilled then as well, we are still left with the Second Coming. If Jesus had returned in 70 AD, the world would be a vastly different place.

 

Jesus accurately predicted that the temple would be destroyed. However, at first blush it seems he inaccurately predicted that he would also return at that time. If Jesus is God, as Christians believe, and is therefore all-knowing, how could he have been wrong? Some commentators point to Mark 13:32, another version of the discourse, which says that neither the angels of heaven nor the Son himself knows when the end will come—only the Father knows. These commentators thus say that Jesus made a mistake because he didn’t actually know when he would return. I can see how it could be interpreted this way, but it doesn’t convince me.

 

Enter the paradox. We have established that Jesus accurately predicted that the temple would be destroyed. We can assert that he actually made this prediction because those who wrote it down would not have added in the language about his return after the temple was destroyed since he obviously had not returned. It would be like me writing that I would become president after 9/11, when 9/11 has already happened and I’m obviously not president. So, this tells us that the gospel writers did not simply make it up after the destruction of the temple, because there would be no reason to claim that something as noticeable as Jesus’ return (accompanied by heavenly signs and described as visible like lightning in verse 27) had happened when it clearly hadn’t. Yet, we can also assert that the gospel writers didn’t make up the prediction of Christ’s return before the temple was destroyed, thus turning out to be right about the temple but wrong about the Second Coming, because no one except the Son of God could have known that the temple was going to be destroyed in the first place. The gospel writers also couldn’t have made it up while the events were unfolding, because a) Matthew, Mark, and Luke all three wrote about it, with variations in wording (proving they didn’t just copy each other), which would have required a lot of collaboration in a very turbulent time, b) word traveled much more slowly back then, and it’s very likely that by the time they had heard that the temple had been destroyed, it would be too late to convincingly write about the signs in the heavens and the Second Coming, and c) there is no discernible motive to even try. Christianity was already on its meteoric rise in Palestine by this time, so there would have been no need to put on a gimmick to gain more followers, especially a gimmick that would have only landed attention for a year or less before being totally discredited.

 

This leads us to the conclusion that Jesus predicted both that the temple would be destroyed and that he would return to gather his followers. How can both be true when they are right next to each other in the same passage and one has clearly taken place and the other hasn’t? My belief is that another version the events of 70 AD is going to occur in the future, and that Jesus will return when this happens. I don’t claim to be an expert or to know for sure, but this is the only conclusion that makes sense in light of the paradox I just described.

 

There are numerous events in the Bible that are an archetype for second, similar event, which shows that my idea has precedent. Some examples are:

  • Adam and Eve – Jesus is called the “last Adam” because through his atoning sacrifice to remove our sins, he is undoing Adam and Eve’s sin.
  • Noah’s Flood – Jesus himself quotes this event in Luke 17, as part of a discourse which some believe (myself included) is connected to the other temple discourse in Luke 21. “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will also be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:26, 27)
  • Noah’s Flood is also reckoned by Peter to be an “antitype” of baptism in that as Noah was delivered through water, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism…” (1 Peter 3:18-21). Peter also compares the future destruction of this world by fire to the previous destruction of the world by water (2 Peter 3:5-7).
  • Sodom and Gomorrah – also in Luke 17, Jesus likens his return to the sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.” (13:28, 29).
  • Hebrews 7 explains how Jesus is the fulfillment of passages in the Old Testament that speak of Melchizedek, an ancient priest/king.

And there are plenty of other examples. The point being, it is completely feasible based on other examples in the Bible that the same event can be fulfilled at two different times, which is my belief about the Matthew 24 discourse. Of course, there is no existing Jewish Temple today, just the ruins of the one destroyed in 70 AD, and so people who view this as I do believe that the temple must be rebuilt in order for it to be destroyed again and for Christ to return. That gets into more complicated eschatology, but that would derail us.

 

My focus here is showing that it’s impossible that Jesus meant the people who were living on the earth at the same time he was when he said “this generation” in Matthew 24:34, because he could not have been right about his prediction that the temple was destroyed while also wrongly predicting he would return immediately afterward (unless you believe the interpretation of Mark 13:32 mentioned earlier, which I will show is immaterial). To review:

  • The gospel writers must not have fabricated the prediction of Christ’s return before the temple was destroyed, because no one (except Jesus) could have known that the temple was going to be destroyed in the first place.
  • The gospel writers also couldn’t have made it up while the events were unfolding, because:
    • Matthew, Mark, and Luke would all three have had to pull off an extremely difficult collaboration—not to mention destroying their reputations once proven false.
    • It’s very likely that by the time the gospel writers heard that the temple had been destroyed, it would have been simply too late to convincingly write about an imminent Second Coming tied to the siege of Jerusalem.
    • There is no discernible motive to even try—Christianity was so successful by then that there was no need for such gimmicks, especially one that would be so short-lived.
  • Jesus himself must have actually made his temple prediction, and not the gospel writers, because they would not have written that he had returned after the events of 70 AD when he had obviously not returned.

Therefore Jesus’ predictions could not have been fabricated by the gospel writers. In my view he was simultaneously describing the events of 70 AD and an as-yet-unfulfilled similar event.

 

Here is the implication: Skeptics like to say that Jesus not returning after the temple was destroyed is proof that the Bible is fallible, and therefore not the Word of God to be followed. However, I just showed how it’s impossible for anyone other than Christ himself to have predicted the destruction of the temple because of the paradox caused by the prophecy of his return located right after it in the same passage. The skeptics aren’t saying that Jesus is God, but that in the vein of Mark 13:32 he simply made an error; they are saying that Jesus was not God and therefore we don’t need to follow him. But even if Mark 13:32 is correctly interpreted by saying Jesus was wrong about his Second Coming being in 70 AD, it doesn’t mean that Jesus is not God, it’s just one way of interpreting what that verse says. If Jesus can predict the future, he can’t be prescient while also wrong about his Second Coming except under the possible allowance of Mark 13:32, which is not a dynamic offered anywhere but in the Bible. Outside of that, it is illogical for someone to be able to predict some of the future but not all of it. You either know the future or you don’t. So, this paradox shifts the onus back onto the skeptics by proving that because Jesus accurately predicted the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, he “can’t not” be prescient enough to be the Son of God.

 

And as Son of God, he predicted that he will return, and we had better have put our full faith in him unto salvation when he does return.

 

How to Make Small Talk: Rules 3-5

Continuing my series on the 10 Rules of Small Talk, explaining the fundamentals of what small talk is and how to do it well, here are rules 3-5!

 

Rule #5: Small Talk Can Help You Acquire Important Knowledge

Your conversations with random people can be a great source of information. In fact, sometimes you should strategically seek out such conversations. That is one of the main purposes of networking events, but the principle applies elsewhere as well. If you want to know what people think about something that is of immediate interest to both you and them, ask them. You don’t even need to start off with a greeting if you ask you question skillfully. For example, say you are not up on the weather and you look out the window and see dark clouds, and you already know it’s cold outside. If it snows, you could have a bear of a commute home, so you ask a coworker, “Think it’ll snow?” She then says, “Well, I heard on the radio that…” Voila, free knowledge. That is a relatively low-reward example, but the idea scales.

The other side of this is that it’s often impossible to know what knowledge a conversation might yield, especially a group conversation. Maybe you will hear about an interesting commercial development on the other side of town. Maybe they are putting a new chain restaurant that you love, or a fun attraction. You might not have otherwise known for months until you happened to drive through that part of town. Maybe you will get a good stock tip, if you trade stocks. Maybe you will hear about a great new book that intrigues you (“word of mouth” marketing).

Maybe you will hear an interesting tidbit that you can repeat in future conversations. Maybe you will learn something new about a mutual friend, such as the fact that he has a pickup truck and you’ve been looking for someone to haul something. Maybe you will learn that a mutual friend is good at a skill or craft that you would like to either pay them for or ask them to teach you. Maybe you’re in a band and looking for a drummer, and you hear that a mutual friend plays drums. Maybe the mutual friend just bought something you are thinking of buying, and hates it. Then you know you should go talk to them and get the scoop.

While you never know what you can learn, if you approach conversations optimistically, and therefore fully engage, you might learn something that could enhance your life, aside from the social fulfillment that the conversation provides.

 

Rule #4: Small Talk has Numerous Social Uses Other than Conversing with the Other Person

The worst position you can be in at a party or networking event is to be—repeat this with me—by yourself. True, if you are staring at your phone while by yourself, you might look important, like maybe your job needs something and they emailed you. But if you stand there long enough, people will figure out that you are on social media because you are too shy to talk to anyone, and they will think you are lame. That’s the hard truth.

So you see that small talk with a random stranger is always better than standing or sitting around doing nothing, or on your phone, or making proverbial trips to the punch bowl. I know it’s not easy to talk to random strangers, but unless it is at a socially acceptable point for you to leave, you have to if you don’t know anyone there or if all your friends are busy. Plus, you should be wanting to challenge yourself to get something out of the party or event, even if it is merely brownie points with your significant other who dragged you there. Or perhaps the chance to build confidence with someone of the opposite sex if you don’t have a significant other! A great conversation starter is to ask someone how they know the person who invited you to the party.

Another use for small talk is if you are trying to avoid someone who is at the same party or event. Maybe it’s that friend who talks your ear off every time they get the chance. If you are tied up in a conversation with someone else, they can’t get you. Maybe there is someone who likes you and is stalking you, whom you do not like in return. Again, being tied up in a conversation can keep them away.

If you are at a party, you are on your own leisure time and yeah, if you really want to, you can burn some social capital by looking like a loner and not talking to anyone. I don’t advise it, but if you really wanted to, you could. However, if you are at a networking event, doing this is basically insta-death because everyone is forming impressions about everyone around them at all times. It only takes one social faux pas to show that you are not all you are cracked up to be in that suit. That’s a lot of pressure, but you should go into networking events knowing that that is how the game is played. It’s all about fulfilling social expectations and impressing everyone. Why do you think everyone hates networking events (although they love the free booze)? People don’t go to networking events for fun; they only go to them because it is in their self-interest to go. If you get good at small talk though, you can ace networking events because no social obstacle will stump you.

 

Rule #3: Look for the Perfect Thing to Say Until It Becomes Habit

At first, like I said in rule #8, your small talk may seem mechanical while you improve, but there are ways to handle it. And like in rules 10 and 9, there is a small pool of “right things” you can choose from when choosing how to reply in a conversation. The goal is to become so well-accustomed to picking something from the pool of “right things” that it becomes habit. Trust me, you will develop an intuition for what is a right thing and what isn’t, and your right choices will be reinforced over time. In addition, you will repeat many of the same things in different conversations with different people, which is an underestimated but very useful tactic. You will learn what kinds of responses would be too far removed from what you are replying to and avoid using those responses. You will learn what things you can say that almost always work as quick & easy “comebacks” that keep the conversation energized. The more you execute these behaviors, they more they will become automatic, the less lag time you will have thinking of what to say, and the easier small talk will become.

I said “perfect thing” in the title of this rule. This is not the same thing as the pool of “right things”. The goal is to become so good at replying with a right thing that is consistently feels perfect, which is a great feeling. You will leave conversations thinking to yourself, “Man, that was a well-executed conversation,” or some variation thereof.

 

Stay turned for rules 1 & 2!

Iceland: Petri Dish of European Secularism

In the northwest corner of Europe lies the small island nation of Iceland. Its flag, similar to other Scandinavian flags, bears a giant cross, and the country has an official church called the Church of Iceland. Don’t be fooled, though—Iceland is one of the most irreligious, secular nations in the world.

 

By now the world is used to secularism as a feature of European life. It is most prominent in Western and Central Europe, where it has essentially been chosen as the way to go by the population, but it’s also heavily present in Eastern Europe owing mostly to the decades-long grip of atheistic communism. Having lived through the brutal repression of religion during the Cold War, Eastern Europe is actually seeing somewhat of a religious revival, mostly of Orthodox Christianity. However, the decline of religious life in Central and Western Europe, especially in countries like the UK, Germany, and Sweden, shows no sign of reversing. Christianity is being slowly replaced by Islam in many areas of the above-mentioned countries, and others. While Iceland is no exception to the trend of secularism, there is one big difference that separates Icelandic secularism from that of the Continent.

 

Iceland has a population of only about 351,000 people. It’s also among the nations at the very bottom of the list of European countries that have taken asylum seekers or migrants from the Middle East. While there is some immigration in Iceland, it’s mostly from other European countries like Poland. This is a key difference between Iceland and countries like Germany, France, and the UK, which have taken record numbers of Muslim immigrants. A quick scroll through European headlines since 2015 easily reveals the chaos from terrorism and issues of non-assimilation that those countries have brought upon themselves.

 

Iceland, however, does not have this problem. Muslim immigration is so low there that there is practically no risk of terrorism. To me, there appears to be a very strong relationship between the de-Christianization of continental Europe and the importation of Islam. Viewed as two ends of a spectrum, we would see Europe (Central & Western specifically) heading toward the Islamic end of the spectrum. The midpoint where Europe is both the most secular and the least Islamic is the last glimpse we get of the effects of European secularism. Now, the picture is muddied by the growth of Islam, and we no longer see how pure European secularism plays out in the long run, beyond a desire for massive immigration into a culture that has no will to sustain itself.

 

With Iceland, however, since there is such low immigration from the Middle East, we will (unless immigration increases) actually get to see European secularism reach a non-Islamic endpoint. We will finally get to see how well the European secularist system really works. I for one am not optimistic. One noticeable characteristic of Iceland, other than its heavy secularism, is the high illegitimacy rate, which is the highest of any European country. It sounds strange, but it’s true. In 2014, 70% of births in Iceland were outside of wedlock. Americans are used to hearing numbers like that only in our inner cities like Baltimore or New York. But no, this is Iceland, a world apart, dotted with its picturesque seaside houses.

 

From what I’ve read in research put out by the International Organization for the Family, there is basically no stigma at all left for having a child out of wedlock. And this is not a brand new phenomenon; in 1980 Iceland’s illegitimacy rate was 40%, which was at the time still extremely high.  It seems as though that 1980s generation took to heart what it saw at home and perpetuated it.

 

The question is, how far will this go? What happens if the illegitimacy rate reaches 90%? There are countless studies showing the importance of the stability of a married man and woman raising their kids together. Take that stability out of the picture and what happens? We’ve certainly seen how it contributes to gang participation and crime in our inner cities. But so far Iceland doesn’t seem to have issues like that on any noticeable scale. How long will it take for the generational effects of not having married parents kick in in Iceland, and what will it look like?

 

Iceland’s illegitimacy rate and its effects on the next generation is probably the foremost social trend to watch, with dwindling religiosity coming in second, in the small island nation. There, in this snowy petri dish, noticeably absent of Islamic influence, we will finally get to see how European secularism really ends up.

No One Makes You Do Anything…You Make Yourself

One of the hallmarks of a stressful life is the feeling of not being in control. Whether relating to job, finances, relationships, or even world events, feeling controlled instead of feeling in control causes a sense of powerlessness that drags down a person. Those who feel in control of their lives have far less stress than those who feel they are not in control.

 

What most people don’t stop to think about is that no one actually makes you do anything. You make choices that help you achieve your desired goals, even if they are subconscious goals. There is no one walking around dragging you by the hand from task to task, forcing you to complete certain actions. You make the decisions you make based on the options you are aware of and their known consequences.

 

Even God himself doesn’t control us, if you think about it. God gave us free will, and lets us use our free will to choose whether we will love him or not. We can either follow his son Jesus or we can choose not to. We can choose to do what is right or we can choose to sin. We aren’t robots who have no choice but to love God. If God forced us to love him, it wouldn’t be real love.

 

Now, there are a few times in the Bible where God essentially took control of someone through the Holy Spirit, but those examples are pretty rare. For the overwhelming majority of our life experiences, he does not force us to do anything. Also, there is demonic possession, but that’s something that can only occur because God allows it. Ultimately, Satan and his demons are defeated by Christ and know they are destined for hell. Until judgment, though, they are just trying to take as many human beings down with them as they can.

 

There’s also hypnosis, which I’m sure most of us have seen in action, but as far as I know it’s only possible because a person has agreed to let themselves be hypnotized.

 

So generally, not even God himself controls us or allows other powers to control us. So if not even God himself controls us, why do we feel like other people control us? God has given us control of ourselves—another word for that is self-control. Ordinarily that term is applied only to the choice to abstain from something, but logically, it applies just as much to the things we might choose to do if we didn’t feel controlled.

 

I saw a video on YouTube recently where someone had written in and asked how to stop being a “wage slave.” The response of the producer of the video was that no one is making you be at your job…but yourself (4:21). This guy seems kinda out there and I haven’t watched any of this other videos, but I wanted to give him credit for what he said.

 

Let’s analyze his statement. Our first reaction is to think, but if I don’t go to work, I’ll get fired. That’s probably true. But that doesn’t mean your boss is next to your bed every morning, dragging you out of bed so you can go to work. Okay, but I have bills to pay. That is also true, but the electric company or bank isn’t sending people to your house to cart you off to work. In reality, you are making choices because the consequences of doing things differently are unacceptable.

 

Why is this important? Because until you feel agency in your life, your stress level will be higher, toxifying you with unnecessary stress, and you will not have the vision to see other options in life. For example, if you believe you have no choice but to go to the same job you don’t like every day, why would you ever think of finding another job? Most of us understand that you do have a choice in where you work, and that’s why we look for other jobs. But to take the logic further, we all have the choice of whether to work at all. We must accept the consequences of getting fired and the electricity getting shut off, sure. But once you realize you could stop working any time you want to—although odds are you shouldn’t—your stress level decreases because you no longer feel controlled by your boss, or your landlord, or the bank, or the utility company. You have simply opted for one set of consequences (getting paid) over another (going broke and getting evicted). But it is your choice, not anyone else’s. You have just as much free will as your boss does.

 

How many times have you heard someone described as a “controlling” person? “He/she is so controlling…” Actually, that’s not true because that person can’t control anyone. They can persuade, but the person being persuaded makes a choice to accept the authoritativeness of the person doing the persuading. In other words, the person being attacked by the “controlling” person has chosen one set of consequences—appeasing that person—over the consequences of defying them.

 

One of my favorite books is Don’t Let Them Psyche You Out by Dr. George Zgourides. There is a great chapter on the utility of silence—non-responsiveness—when dealing with difficult people. His basic point is that you are not required to respond to anyone, and that there is an unwritten social rule that if someone says something to you, you have to respond, but actually you don’t have to. That rule is really just a courtesy, not an actual rule. You choose to accept the consequences of not responding, which can sometimes be a socially unacceptable option, but most people take for granted that they must respond every single time and therefore miss out on the times when silence is truly the wisest option. This is just an example of how control by others is an illusion.

 

If you don’t feel in control of your life, you will never be happy, no matter how successful you are. If you feel controlled, your success is not up to you, it’s up to your controller(s). You must do everything you are doing because they control you, and you have no choice in the matter. Living without a choice is not living though, something we can clearly see by the most basic fact that God gives each of free will. The most important question in the universe is whether or not we have decided to believe in his Son Jesus. If in the most important question of all time, God gives us a choice, how much more do we have free choice in every other aspect of life?

 

So, take responsibility for yourself and realize that the control by others that you feel is an illusion. Dispel the illusion with the truth. The title of this website says to not be a cog. A cog has no choice but to turn in the machine. You aren’t that cog—you can turn if you want to, or not turn if you don’t want to. But either way, you are in control.

The Consequences of Maryland’s Career Obsession

“Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:6

 

“The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.” Eccl. 5:12

 

“Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Proverbs 23:4-5

 

Americans are known to be a hard-working, industrious people. Our productivity ranks ahead of the vast majority of countries in the world. We have the highest GDP and we are truly the engine of the global economy.

 

But all this comes with downsides, and I write this essay is to help us consider these downsides and think outside the box on how and why we actually overwork, meaning to work harder than is necessary. In some parts of the country, like Maryland, people pride themselves on how hard they work and how late they work. Working hard is, in and of itself, a badge of honor in Maryland. It doesn’t matter what you were working on as long as you worked hard. Career is everything in Maryland, so working hard is a way of standing out in a competitive talent marketplace.

 

For native central Marylanders, the typical life script goes something like this: You are born into an upper middle class family to two degree-holding parents who work. In fact, they both have to work in order to afford to live in the best school district. You go through school alongside the children of other upper middle class families, and then you go to an expensive college like University of Maryland, during which you have a (probably unpaid) internship at a government contractor/consulting firm because your parents paid for at least some of your college, meaning you didn’t have to work for the period of time of your internship. You graduate from college and either start working right away at the place where you interned, or somewhere similar, especially if it’s somewhere your parents or friends have contacts.

 

Now that you’re working full time, your next hurdle is to buy a house. If your work is close enough to your hometown, you might even live with your parents for the first several years of your career to save up money. I saw this all the time in Maryland. Once you are established and making enough money to afford rent or a mortgage, you get your own place. Now, if you didn’t already meet someone in college, you’re ready for a serious relationship. You’re about 26 by this time. You date off and on for a few years and get married around 30-32. You wait a couple years and have a kid, finally fulfilling anxious parental expectations. Both of you are working and will continue to work, daycare bills notwithstanding. This is of course assuming you actually choose to have one or more kids, in which case the cycle begins anew. You might just get one or more dogs instead, which is not uncommon. Having dogs will then let you fulfill your care-giving instincts without having the responsibilities of a child.

 

To a native Marylander, this life script must seem normal, and I imagine it’s the same for anyone living in New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area. However, not being from Maryland or any place like it, I see some glaring holes with the typical central Maryland life script that need to be pointed out. And by the way, even though I say central Maryland, it’s generally the aspiration of young people all over Maryland to move to central MD/DC area to go to the top colleges and get the high-paying jobs. At that point, they put down roots there, and their one or two kids will then join the central Maryland life script. Not to mention all the people coming from other parts of the country, and even other countries, for high-paying government and government contractor jobs. So what’s wrong with this script of a successful life?

 

The biggest problem with Maryland’s life script is that there is no room for error. You have to stay at the top of your game from ages zero to retirement or you will fall behind and never be back at the head of the pack like you’re supposed to be. Disciplinary problems in grade school? Repeated a grade? Family problems? Family moved around within the state and you lost touch with your childhood friends, whom you might have relied on later to help you get a job? Partied too hard your freshman year of college and never recovered? Moved somewhere else after college and came back but lost touch with your contacts? Health problems causing problems for your career?

 

These are all examples of things that could put you at a permanent disadvantage in the Maryland rat race. Because everyone idolizes the perfect life script, there is no real sympathy for people whom it doesn’t go perfectly for. It is expected that everything goes perfectly, and people are primarily interested in associating with people who have had that perfect life, because they know such people have the best chance of helping them climb the ladder. So, those who have fallen behind in one way or another are subconsciously viewed as some sort of “inferior human product” of human debris. There is no benefit to associating with such people, especially since the need to have a social life in Maryland is under-acknowledged. Everyone is so busy with work that they’ve become numb to the need for true, deep social interaction. Sure, you may go on a Saturday hike with some people you don’t know very well, and photos on Facebook show the world that yes, you have a social life. But if that’s the extent of things, you are socially unfulfilled. But in Maryland, people don’t admit to that, because having any kind of problems is seen as a weakness and a sign of an imperfect life script. The whole situation is one big pressure cooker, and many don’t survive very well.

 

You can look around and see the spoiled kids of dual-income suburban parents, acting out in their own ways like crazy-colored hair, piercings, tattoos, or all three. These kids think they’re rebelling, but they don’t question the system around them—the pressure cooker that is Maryland careerism—that has led them to act out this way. It’s like rebelling without rebelling. That’s how effective and self-reinforcing the whole thing is. If you were to complain about it, you’d likely be viewed as someone who “just can’t cut it” in career, or else you wouldn’t be complaining. But that’s the most effective brainwashing of all, if you think about it. So many people in Maryland have little inner life because career takes up so much time and energy—and that’s just in order to maintain a baseline level of existence. You don’t get anything extra for it. What a waste of time and energy!

 

I mentioned earlier how the main problem is lack of room for error. The second problem is the stress level. Marylanders undergo a level of stress that is simply not natural, between social pressures to be successful, neurotic expectations of upper middle class parents, relationship difficulties due to women who avoid men to focus on career (following the script), the soul-killing daily commute, and the hyper-competitive, antisocial mood of everyone around you. But if you let it get to you, if you slip up, you will fall behind and probably never catch up. It’s a double whammy, and most people in Maryland are somehow mollified into thinking this is a normal way to live. They let off steam by binge-watching Netflix, drinking, and complaining about politics on social media. What creativity might these people otherwise be providing to the world if they weren’t so busy being wage slaves?

 

In light of all this, what is normal, you ask? Well, all I can say is that most of the country doesn’t live the way Maryland does. For instance, take my home state of New Mexico. It’s often called the “Land of Mañana,” meaning land of tomorrow, as in, “don’t worry about it today, we can do it tomorrow.” People here understand that life is not about career. It is about family, relationships, experiences, and even faith, depending on who you talk to. Career is necessary, but it’s not an end unto itself. People here don’t just work hard for the sake of working hard.

 

Sure, New Mexico is one of poorest states, but the people here are way, way nicer and less judgmental than in Maryland. There is no “perfect life script” here that everyone is expected to follow like in Maryland. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone here. People make more time for social experiences because they don’t see other people as an inconvenience like Marylanders often do. In Maryland, hanging out with others is OK, but it must be on a strict schedule because they have to get up super early for their commute tomorrow. People’s schedules during the week are so jam-packed with commitments that there is no room for socialization on a weeknight, and weekends are the only option. That is a sign that your job controls you instead of you controlling your job.

 

I don’t say this to exalt New Mexico but to show that there are other options besides the way Marylanders live. Often, you cannot understand the flaws in something without seeing alternatives. The differences between the two states is a topic I plan to write more about, but my main message in this essay is this: Marylanders, think outside the box you’ve been raised in or transplanted into. Think for yourself, and take control of your happiness by simplifying your life. Don’t be a cog in the Maryland Perfect Life machine.

 

Oh, and there’s plenty of space out here in New Mexico.

3 Reasons Memorial Day is the Best Time to be in Maryland

Those of who get Memorial Day off love the annual three-day Memorial Day weekend. It’s the unofficial kick-off of summer, the weather is usually great, and it’s the perfect occasion to barbecue. In Maryland, Memorial Day is extra special though, for a few reasons. I have a lot to say in criticism of the Maryland Way of doing things, mostly that its people are generally overworked, overstressed, and too busy to make the place feel human. However, Memorial Day is the biggest ray of sunshine on the calendar in Maryland, and brings out the best in everyone. Here’s why:

 

1. The “Ahhhh” factor. In Maryland, Memorial Day is the foremost time of year when everyone kicks back and says “ahhhh.” It’s the one time of year when it’s all worth it: All the long hours, grinding commutes, rushing around everywhere every day in the densely populated DC-Baltimore corridor, working so hard for that next raise or promotion. It’s all worth it during the 3-day Memorial Day weekend as you fire up the grill at home and have friends over or head to Ocean City (assuming you can beat the yearly traffic). It’s the one time of year when Marylanders can sit back and rest on their achievements—and actually enjoy the things and the nice house they have worked so hard all year to have. Even if you don’t have a barbecue at your house, you can just go to a friend’s house.

 

2. The weather. Maryland is known by its unpredictable weather. The climate is humid subtropical, and it rains a lot and the temperature often changes rapidly and seemingly randomly. But generally, at the end of May, the weather is the perfect blend of the best of spring and the best of summer. It will be humid, to be sure, but not as humid as late summer. The weather is likely to be in the low 80s. Also, the full force of the mosquitoes has not begun yet, and allergy season is finally over.

 

3. Military appreciation. A very large proportion of the Maryland workforce has ties to the military, be it active duty, reserve, DoD civilians, or defense contractors, to say nothing of all the federal government contractors. There are multiple military installations, the most notable being Fort Meade, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and Andrews AFB, just across from DC. I would say Maryland has more ties to the military than most other US states. The heightened appreciation of our military is something a lot of Marylanders can related to more personally than other states that are not as connected to the military. It’s something Marylanders can agree on and share on Memorial Day weekend, almost like a cultural staple. It’s also cool knowing that the president will be participating in Memorial Day ceremonies in DC, only a few miles away. There’s a strong sense of patriotism in the air.

 

Maryland has a lot of other three-day weekends due to the federal holiday schedule, which an outsize portion of Maryland workers are affected by. There is also Columbus Day, President’s Day, MLK Day, and Labor Day, but only Memorial Day occurs during the a time of year when the weather is optimal to enjoy the extra time off, and Marylanders make it a point to do so. It’s the perfect confluence of the three factors above that make Memorial Day weekend represent Maryland at its best. I wish Maryland a relaxing and fun Memorial Day weekend this year, and may God bless our armed forces.