It’s Election Day. Go Vote.

Go. Fucking. Vote.

Need to know where you go to vote (assuming you’re registered)? Click here.

Not registered? There are 16 states plus the District of Columbia where you can register AND vote today. It’s important to note on the previous link that Maryland and North Carolina allow same-day registration and voting, but only on early voting. Hence not including them in my count.

The Truth Resists Simplicity

As a child, I frequently heard a specific refrain when there was food on my plate that I didn’t want to eat.

“Eat X food. Don’t you want to grow up to be big and strong?”

I was always baffled by that sentiment. Did I want to grow up to be big and strong? That seemed silly to me. I just wanted to be normal. Whatever that meant.

To my mom, growing up big and strong had a very physical skew to its meaning. Throughout most of middle and high school, I was a long distance runner. I didn’t crack 150 pounds until shortly before graduation, and only then because I had chosen not to do track my senior year. Every time I saw my mom, she complained that I looked emaciated, saying that I needed to gain weight if I wanted to stay healthy. The last time I saw my mom in person was around four years ago. At the time, I was near the largest I’ve ever been, coming in at around 240-250 pounds. My mom’s response? I only needed to put on a few more pounds to look “normal”1The irony to this is that my mom is five foot tall and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 pounds. I wasn’t terribly far from being three times her weight..

To my first stepmom, growing up big and strong meant learning how to be physical, both in life and sports. Choosing cross country over football wasn’t just a sign of weakness, it was damn near treasonous. If my stepbrothers were bullying me, it was my job to punch them back. No one was going to help me, nor were they going to care that said stepbrothers were ten and thirteen years older than me, respectively. Drink up the milk, young Tim. It’ll help you in a fight.

But why did I need to be big and strong? Why did it matter? Put simply, there’s evil in the world. If you can’t stand up for what you believe in — and what you believe in is what is right — why bother living?

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that understanding and standing up for what you believe in is critically important. With that said, if you cannot also learn to listen to, communicate with, and attempt to understand those who have different points of view than you, you’re only doing a disservice to yourself.

I want to grow intellectually. I want to find a better understanding of the world around me. The world around me is extremely complex. It’s changing on a daily basis around each and every one of us. And if I’m not doing what I can to learn about the world at large — eating my knowledge vegetables to grow up big and strong, if you will — I’ll grow up to be intellectually weak. I won’t be able to adapt and to learn about those around me. I won’t be able to be empathetic towards someone who is different from me, especially in a world where empathy is sorely lacking.

As much as I enjoy social media, it’s a toxic thing. Twitter in particular seems to bring out the worst in people from all walks of life. If you’re not trying to be as radical, hateful, and obnoxious in your point of view as you can be, you’re not going to generate a following there. I’ve watched countless people I used to respect go down the road from being a normal human on Twitter to being a caricature of their former self. Only now they were filled with more rage than before. Some of it is the current American political climate, sure. But when you’re in an echo chamber where you only hear what you want to hear, anger gets amplified. People who don’t agree with you start to look less and less human. Everyone on the right becomes a fascist. Everyone on the left becomes a communist. And everyone in the middle, regardless of where on the continuum they fall, becomes little and weak because they’re perceived that they aren’t capable of taking a stand.

The truth resists that simplicity2As I channel my inner John Green with this statement., as it does with most simple explanations. There are very, very bad people in this world. Every group has its terrible people. Yes. All of them. Even the ones you, dear reader, belong to. And we cannot let those terrible people dictate our lives. But we also must remember that change does not occur overnight. Drinking one glass of milk doesn’t make you big and strong. Making one phone call to your congressman doesn’t solve all of the political problems. Seeing the actions of one side of the political spectrum and saying that your side could never do that because you’re not like that doesn’t fix anything.

Time, understanding, patience, and compassion fix things. Those attributes must be exercised towards everyone — ESPECIALLY those who are not like you. Otherwise, what’s there left to grow up for?

A Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America

United — it’s a funny word, isn’t it?
Joined together for a common purpose or by common feelings
Our similarities are so obvious yes?
They’re the things we see at a glance
Skin and bones, prayers and penances
These are the things that make us our best

And to the republic
For which it stands

We stand for a republic
A state whose power is held by the people
That’s all we are — people — every one of us
Gay or straight
Liberal or conservative
Atheist or religious

But you’re not here to stand for a person
You are but one of a larger people
Linking our arms together as we protect
All humans, who by definition, were created equal
And if we leave one man or woman behind
Raising them up powers our republic

One nation, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all

Our hearts sing for compassion
Our hearts sing for equality
Our hearts sing for acceptance
Of our pledge’s final refrain

Our hearts sing for unity
Our hearts sing for altruism
Our hearts sing for freedom
With liberty and justice for all

Shades of Darkness

“Am I a friend or foe – or a little of each? Are the important things black and white, or maybe a little gray?”  – Svetlana Chmakova, Witch & Wizard: The Manga, Vol. 1

On September 11, 2001, I was 13 years old. I was sitting in my eighth grade English class when the first plane struck the World Trade Center in New York City. I know this, not because I saw the destruction and horror first hand on television like so many others did that terrible day. I know this because it was at that time our middle school principal came around to all of the classrooms and pulled the teachers out of class to tell them what was going on. They were under orders to discuss nothing with their students, but to know that all after school activities were being cancelled, and that parents may be picking up their kids early. I only know this because our algebra teacher felt we were “adult enough to discuss current events” and shared what happened. Since algebra was my last class of the day, the first time I heard about the events around the country was nearly six hours after they had begun.

In the aftermath of that day, I began to hear a pair of words I’d only in limited amounts prior to the day itself. Those words “Islam” and “Muslim” were said regularly, first as qualifiers to help explain what happened on September 11th, then as derogatory terms with connotations that anyone who followed the religion was a terrible human being.

I was torn on the subject. On one hand, what little I’d read about non-Christian/Jewish religions in my social studies textbooks seemed like followers of the Islamic faith were people just like me, only with a different, though similar, belief system. On the other hand, I had my mom preaching to me from infancy onward that anyone who wasn’t Christian needed God to come to them…and that it was my responsibility as a Christian to show them the way by any means necessary.

Looking back on my youth, I realize that allowing myself to struggle with whether or not someone practices Islam is inherently bad[1] was more a product of the environment I lived in than anything else. My mom made every effort to shelter my bother and I from other cultures, races, religions, and belief systems. While my dad didn’t make the same sheltering efforts, he also didn’t exactly encourage us to go out and learn about the world. For me, it took going off to college and learning[2] that the world wasn’t just WASPs. My opinions and beliefs have changed — in some cases rather drastically — from the opinions and beliefs that I was raised to have.

As I have become more educated, as I have become exposed to a greater diversity of cultures and religions, and as I have allowed myself to work to understand the political ideologies of a broader range of people, I’ve realized a great many things. Above all else, I have realized that no one group of people is perfect and blameless and that no one group of people is completely corrupt and evil.

We have our disagreements as human beings. We can hold differences of opinion. Those opinions can be over minor items. For example, I hold the opinion that Taylor Swift’s music isn’t very good. I personally don’t like her music or find it pleasing. That said, record sales and concert attendance show that many, many people disagree with me on this item. And you know what? That’s fine. They’re allowed to.

Likewise, disagreements can come on more important or politically sensitive items too. I support the ability for members of the LGBT community to marry someone of the same sex, if that is the person that they choose to marry. I recognize that many people in my family, as well as many others around the country, disagree with this opinion. While I would love it if those who hold contrary opinions to mine on this topic would change their mind and become more accepting of someone else’s love, I also realize that it is not my place to tell someone that they need to change their mind.

Living in Northeast Ohio means that I get to be front and center to the Republican National Convention this week, wherein the Republican Party is expected to name Donald Trump their nominee for president. While the GOP’s platform hasn’t fully been voted on at the time I’m writing this[3], the platform is set to include items like a border wall with Mexico, the declaration of pornography as a public health crisis, barring women from serving in the military, and going back to the “traditional”[4] definition of marriage. Rhetoric used in the party platform plays on the fear of those who are already well entrenched in a similar set of belief systems. While the Democratic Party platform has not yet been released, don’t be shocked if whatever items they take a social stance on are given similar fear-inducing wording in the platform.

That fucking frightens me.

What politics is doing, particularly in America, but also around the world, is creating an Us vs. Them mentality. If your political viewpoint wins, the good guys have won. If your political viewpoint loses, the evil empire has triumphed. And though, yes, there is good and evil in the world to some extent, when politics are made the main driving force behind culture over compassion and altruism, we create our own divides where none previously existed.

There is not one group of people — not a single solitary one — in the entire world that is perfectly free of blame. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not whites. Not blacks. Not Latinos. Not Asians. Not men. Not women. Not heterosexuals. Not the LGBT community. Not Christians. Not Jews. Not Muslims. Not Taoists. Not Hindus. Not Americans. Not Mexicans. Not Germans. Not Russians. Not muggles. Not wizards. Not sports fans. Not bookworms. Not any group I’ve neglected to mention or even think of. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. Literally[5] no one is perfect.

Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has fucked up and everyone can work with those around us in an effort to create a better world.

The problem lies in actions that go on one of two extremes of the same mentality. The first I’ve discussed at lengthy already above — the use of fear to exclude, persecute, and hate others. When you ignore the opinions and beliefs of others because you do not wish to expose yourself, your family, and your world to them, you’re only harming the long-term growth of our society. This goes both ways. It’s why if I ever have children, they’ll still meet and interact with the members of my family whose political and religious views are vastly different than mine. By educating ourselves about others and doing so in a manner that is objective, rational, and open-minded, we allow our society to continue to move toward a more progressive society.

At the same time, we cannot assume that everyone whose opinions we agree with or whose beliefs are blameless or incapable of doing something wrong. I remember numerous people who hold Christian beliefs saying that there was no possible way that Robert Lewis Dear could have actually been a Christian when he killed numerous people in Colorado Springs. To say that any religion, political ideology, race, sexual orientation, or any other identifier you can think of lacks a single person capable of horrific crimes, excessive violence, sociopathic actions, or general hatred is a foolish assumption. It’s uncomfortable to think about and it might make you upset. But it’s reality.

You know what else is reality? You don’t have to be that person. You can be the change that brings the world together. Perhaps you can’t do it by yourself. But with enough compassionate, kind, and altruistic people in the world, those many shades of darkness we see all over the news every day will begin to fade away. We’ll likely never have a perfect world — but we can take actions to make our world a better place for everyone, even those we don’t agree with.

Stuff Is Messed Up

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
I don’t know what it is
Something’s wrong with our eyes…

The world is fucked up.

We live in a world where it takes a video of a woman being hit on an elevator being made public for people…and by extension the most powerful sports organization in the world…to realize that domestic violence is wrong.

Some of us knew already, yet it apparently takes seeing a punch being thrown to know one landed.

We’re seeing things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t His
It sure ain’t no surprise

We live in a world where people fight and kill in the name of religion. Whether the fighters be Christian or Muslim, Jewish or Hindu, or any religion in the world be placed in the place of those aforementioned, killing others for a religion goes against the very premise of spirituality.

Love all. Love one another as you love your deity. Be the love you want to show others in the world.

None of those words are kill.

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
The lightbulb’s gettin’ dim
There’s a meltdown in the sky

Police militarization has grown exponentially in recent years. Cops are getting assault rifles, body armor, and tactical vehicles to break up riots and protect themselves from the forces of evil (or something like that).

There are terrible people in the world, this is as true now as it’s ever been. Yet it’s no more true now than it was yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that. People hate. It doesn’t matter the weaponry in use when the hate is what propels it.

If you can judge a wise man
By the color of his skin
Then mister you’re a better man than I

Why do we hate people because of their differences?

Why do we do we allow the things that make us unique to be the same things that drive us apart a civilization?

Why do we hate?