Haunted by Ghosts from my Past!

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I’ve always considered myself to be a mentally tough person. Someone who isn’t easily flustered, or even get overly emotional about things. It’s not that I don’t care, or that I’m an unemotional robot, but I don’t let my emotions blind me to my task ahead.

I started writing a few years ago, and it seemed a welcome release for my thoughts. Instead of keeping them inside, there was a feeling of release by expressing my thoughts and feelings. As I learnt to voice those thoughts more and more, I came to realize that having feelings and showing vulnerability was not only normal. It also had a bit of a cleansing feeling, keeping your feelings berried deep could be toxic. Knowing all of that, it came as a surprise to me when a few months ago that all changed. I had reverted back to keeping my thoughts to myself, to internalizing my feelings, to not be as social with friend’s and family. I was having a hard time understanding why there was this sudden change in my mental state. Of course the past few months have been fraught with national tragedy after the next. Whether it was the shooting in Charleston, the shootings in Ohio, the police incidents with Black citizens in South Carolina, Texas, or many other cities around the country. It seemed each week brought a new tragedy to the headlines. Given that back drop, I felt like my words were pale in comparison to that kind of grief.

In the time that I’ve not been writing, I’ve instead been doing a lot of reading. From Between the World and me – by Ta-Nehisi Coates to After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey – by Dan Sheehan. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book shook me to my core, awaking me from my slumber. For awhile I was naive in believing that those Black people that lost their lives, somehow did something, “I would never find myself in that situation” “That would never happen to me” Yet in examining each case more closely, there wasn’t anything I would have done differently. Ta-Nehisi’s words dislodged something in me, perhaps it was my cognitive dissonance as to what it is to be Black in America. Perhaps it’s because I was born in a different country, some aspects of the African American struggle are foreign to me. While this new insight did awaken me, it wasn’t until I read Dan Sheehan’s After Action, that there was any real awakening to the lies that I’ve been telling myself.

Some of you may know from my other posts that I was an Active Duty Marine. As a teachable moment, don’t make the mistake of saying a Former Marine, or Ex-Marine, lol they get VERY offended about that. There’s a mantra, once a MARINE, always a Marine! Which get’s complicated because if I say I’m a Marine, you might thing that I’m still currently serving.

To be clear my Active Duty service ended in 2007; almost 10 years ago. In my time in the Marines, I did also go to Iraq. My primary job was a Helicopter Mechanic, working on AH-1W Super Cobras. While I was in Iraq, and just a few miles away from Fallujah, the epicenter of some of the biggest conflict of 2003-2005 in Iraq. I wasn’t directly involved in the fighting, I was on a Military Base on the outskirts of the city. My main focus was on making our Helicopters Combat ready, and working despite the harsh desert conditions.

The Myth about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Marines like any other Military Service member hold themselves in high regard, we think of ourselves as Warriors, capable of any feat. Not the kind of people you’d want to tussle with. I’m sure in some circles, those Chuck Norris jokes, are actually about Marines; well that’s how they think of themselves! There’s a kind of an idea about PTSD, in that the sighs are those who are abusive, suicidal, and overall incapable of functioning in society. Even more dangerous is the notion that only those who have killed, lost limbs, or seen their friends die; are somehow deserving of having PTSD. In the case where a warrior has suffered those horrible experiences, and isn’t a complete mess. Anyone who suffers an experience less traumatic, isn’t deserving of claiming to have PTSD. If you didn’t fight in WWII or Vietnam, you didn’t do anything deserving of having PTSD. While this isn’t the medical diagnosis of the disorder; this is how military service member’s see themselves. The book I mentioned earlier After Action by Dan Sheehan, was written by one of the Pilots in my unit. Many of the people and references he made, I had first hand experience or knew those same people. Like many veterans, Dan had a kind of a cognitive dissonance about his experiences. Seen in this except:

I could relate to the feeling the veterans were having, yet my experiences ranked nowhere near theirs in horror, guilt or pure trauma. I felt like an idiot with a sunburn whining in the burn ward of a hospital. I felt so weak for feeling my discomfort in the face of such real suffering.- pg 347

For context, here’s another excerpt Dan made about 1 of many enemy soldiers he killed from his Helicopter: (Warning the following mental images are quite graphic)

My missile streaked into the cab and exploded in a nasty puff of grey smoke. The three who were closest simply ceased to exist, their organic matter reduced to particles too small for me to see…it happened so fast that I didn’t see him go up, only his clothes coming back down…- pg 204

The imagery of killing those soldiers is graphic and visceral. That was 1 incident over several weeks, and only at the lower end of the traumatic experiences of all his other experiences. My point is that to walk away from an experience like that and be completely unscathed, is virtually impossible. In my mind much like Dan’s interpretation of his Combat experience. Mine was not even remotely close to his, therefore I shouldn’t be traumatized by my experience. In describing my time in Iraq, it went something like this “I didn’t have to use my weapon, or didn’t get shot at ( although we were regularly attacked with rockets and mortars, which would have had a similar effect as the scene described above), so I came back ok. For me that meant I wasn’t an alcoholic, I wasn’t physically abusive to my family or those close to me. I wasn’t a recluse, or someone who was jumpy at any sudden sounds. But I’m learning that the effects aren’t always so overt. The absence of those symptoms doesn’t mean that you don’t have any subtle ones lurking in the shadows.

It’s important to compare Apples to Apples!

In his second book Continuing Actions: Dan Sheehan makes an important distinction about what PTSD is. Comparing your experience to someone with a worse more visceral and traumatic experience, isn’t the predictor of whether you will have mental scars from combat. While my experiences were virtually harmless compared to his or 1000’s of other veterans, it doesn’t mean that it is any less traumatic to MY mind. Despite what I may have thought about my time there, my body was telling me something very different. While still in Iraq, towards the middle of my tour, there was an incident where I thought I was having a Heart Attack. This episode took place when I was sitting reading a book, not doing anything dangerous, or not even after any of the Rocket Attacks by Insurgent Soldiers attempting to hit or base. After returning home, this continued for several months. While I wasn’t jumpy or having any other overt signs of PTSD. There were many other occurrences when I would wake from my sleep because I was having a panic attack. Which was confusing because this was never preceded by flash backs, or nightmarish memories playing back in my mind. Even though it’s been 10 years since I left Iraq, from time to time I still have these episodes. I’m not sharing this to garner any sympathy, but I’m sharing this to show my unconscious mental reaction. While overtly I may say I’m ok, my mind clearly is showing something differently. I think this is the mistake many veterans make. We say that were not effected by our time in combat because a) Another Veteran with a worse experience is fine, ergo we should be too. or b) I don’t see any of those BAD symptoms, therefore what I’m experiencing must be something else.

Acknowledging there’s a problem is the first step!

While this revelation isn’t a source to ALL my problems, it’s a window into my overall mental state. I’ve always been under the impression that I was unaffected by my time in Iraq. Since I didn’t show any overt symptoms, I wasn’t mentally effected by my combat experience. Secondly because my experience wasn’t as traumatic as countless others, I don’t feel worth of claiming that I’m experiencing mental trauma from my time there. While I may only have a “paper cut” of an injury, it still causes discomfort from time to time. My overall mental state is good, but as anyone with a paper cut knows; it sure is uncomfortable from time to time.

My hope is that for the few that read this post, will get the courage to talk to veterans you may know. They definitely won’t talk about it, but I also think that getting them to a stage where they’re willing to acknowledge that there may be more going on under the surface; is a step in the right direction. There is no real clear line that designates that some traumas will cause mental scars. There isn’t also any experiences that are too small or minute to not deserve to be called mental trauma. When evaluating your own Post Traumatic Stress, I think Dan says it best:

But you can’t measure the impact of experiences like that. Does it matter if a person is exposed to one second or ten years in combat? Not to that person. What matters is the impact that person’s experiences had on them – and that cannot be measured solely by duration or even by their intense or dramatic nature. What I experience inwardly in a given situation can be very different from the impact that same event has on you, the person standing next to me. My personal experience and yours are that unique – Continuing Actions (pg 527)

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Why does it seem the World around us is getting worse!

On any given day, there seems to be a new tragedy that plagues our Nation. America is a great nation, but I can’t help but ask the question, why do we hear of these tragic situations nearly daily? 

Last month it was the Church goers in South Carolina. Yesterday it was Marines in Tennessee. Time and time again we continue to hear of a new mass shooting case, while opponents of Gun Control argue that less guns is the answer, and proponents of guns argue more guns. It seems that at the heart of that they’re forgetting to look at the root causes. As some have said “Guns don’t kill people” while I agree with that statement, there seems to be no effort to get to the root cause of those instances. It seems evident that HATE is the central issue.

What kind of world do we live in where young kids now has “Active Shooter Drill” ingrained in their vocabulary?

What kind of a world do we live in where a young teenager can go out to get candy and a soda, and end up dead?

What kind of a world do we live in where a traffic stop, ends in you clinging to your life?

What kind of a world do we live in where unarmed citizens are dying in police custody?

What kind of a world do we live in where my skin color, is a motive for the violence inflicted upon me?

What kind of a world do we live in where Slavery and Jim Crow era is now looked at as Southern Heritage? I’d like to pause here briefly. It boggles my mind to comprehend how a society that was soo against Blacks prospering just a mere 50 years ago. In one breath say they’re proud of their Southern Heritage, while at the same time not recognizing that Racism was an aspect of that heritage. It’s one thing to say you’re proud of your heritage, and acknowledge the bad aspects. To remember that you’re also capable of bad thing, so that you can actively work to produce good. To simply forget about the bad aspects seems a recipe to repeat those mistakes. 

What kind of a world do we live in where Military Service members have to protect themselves living in our Country?

What kind of world do we live in where someone can say “I’m CHRISTIAN” yet openly spew hate towards the LGBT community?

These are just a fraction of the questions I find that I ask myself. The truth is I don’t know how to begin to answer many of these questions. For me part of it is a break down in empathy. How can you continue forward with any of these acts if you’ve ‘Walked a day in another person’s shoes’ A question that I love to ask is “why have you take the actions you have?” This question has always quipped my curiosity about people, to get to know and understand them beyond what I see. What is your motivation? Why did you say what you did, or more importantly what experiences have led you to your decisions? If you’re living your life and not making a conscious effort to think about many of these types of questions that I find plaguing my mind, it seems that Society as a whole may be in bigger trouble than I can imagine. Our world seems to be falling apart, is anyone going to try to address some of our faults, to make an attempt to be less violent with each other?

LIGHT Always wins out the Dark!

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Life is inherently complicated, and sometimes it’s easy to get into your groove and forget that it’s still a daily struggle. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen various topics that have sparked my interest, and I wanted to get in on the conversation. As many of you may know, this past week there was yet another Mass shooting. It feels like yet another cognitive distortion. Before Sandy Hook, we probably thought that no one would go into a school and deliberately kill young innocent children. History has thought us that we were wrong about that. For me there’s always been this type of respect for the sanctuary that is a church, at least hear in the United States. That it takes a certain kind of vile hatred to intentionally harm those at worship.

Regardless of what our Race relations look like today, there’s just a kind of un-spoke rule. That at least in your place of worship you’re free from that type of persecution. I too was wrong, hate doesn’t have boundaries. Hate is so vile it will cross any boundary to get it’s point across.

I must admit that because I haven’t directly experienced any kind of overt racism, I sometimes like to pretend that it’s not as serious a problem as some may make it. While I recognize that as a black male I have to be a bit cognizant, in recognizing that I could be the victim of racism. That people will and are judging me based on the color of my skin. I always find myself evaluating my own blackness.

What does it mean to be black? Does my skin color mean I’m predestined to act a certain way? That I’m inherently more dangerous than some people? That I’m some how a lesser educated and unambitious person that the rest?

These are questions I ask myself often, but I don’t get bogged down by the answers. I’m more focused on writing my own story and not letting society or even the color of my skin dictate who I’m to be. I’d never really thought about this before but race isn’t a genetic construct, it’s a social construct designed to help put people into broad easily recognizable categories. It’s not something necessarily designed by nature. While your DNA can tell you where you’re ancestral background has likely roots (Europe, Asia, Africa…) There is no exact biological way to determine a person’s race. This is such a surprising finding, because you hear about forensics determining the race and gender of a victim. The reality is that their answers are just statistical approximations. Yet we place so much emphasis on a person’s race.

Interestingly even for siblings who grew up in the same household, it doesn’t mean that they will have the same personalities. If we’re not guaranteed to have the same personality of people we’re directly genetically related to. Then why is it acceptable to believe that we will share similarities to those we’re not genetically related to? These attributes make the concept of race so interesting yet unnerving. The color of my skin doesn’t tell you much about me, just as you can sometimes never tell who your siblings are.

The tragedy in Charleston, SC has forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of the presence of racism in today’s world. There are many still alive today who went through the racial turmoil of the 1960s era. So the concept of racism isn’t that far removed from my lifetime. I think for us to not acknowledge that is dangerous. By remembering the past and our mistakes, we keep a constant reminder of our capacity for darkness and hatred. If we pretend that racism doesn’t exist anymore, we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Science has show that we ALL posses an unconscious bias, that is part of the way our brain processes information. We must remember that just a few decades ago our government was the perpetrators of injustice. I don’t say this to be offensive, but rather to show how deep hatred and racism can go if unchecked. While we live in a society where our government isn’t usually the sponsors of racial attitudes, it’s not that far in our past that it has been eradicated.Desmond Tutu

I’m reminded a few lessons from the tragic events from Charleston. It’s not good for good people to always stay silent, because evil is always looking for a stronghold. If good people don’t stand up for what is right, evil will fill that vacuum. Secondly I’ve learnt that while we can feel a whole host of emotions during tragedy, LOVE should always be our focal point. My faith has thought me this important lesson about love:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Cor 13.1-7. NLT

I’m happy to see the outpouring of love from the community in Charleston, which is much different from the riots and the violence that we’ve seen in others that were faced with injustice. There are many aspects of love, one of which is forgiveness for wrongs. Loving someone doesn’t mean that you won’t be angry or upset when they’ve wronged you. Loving someone doesn’t mean that you won’t set boundaries to ensure you’re not taken advantage of. I think many people get the concept of love wrong. I’ll acknowledge that I’m also continuing to evolve in my own views.
I would like to encourage ALL  who read this to take a stand towards injustice. Without your voice hate will continue to thrive. Have you ever notice what happens when you light a candle in the dark? How the light seems to dispel the dark, that no matter how small the light, it can illuminate even the darkest space. How the light seem to bring a kind of peace to any situation. So I encourage everyone to let YOUR light shine in the dark spaces, to let LOVE win over hate.

Lessons I’ve learnt from not having a Plan!

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I’ve been a bit quite in the past months, while I’ve wanted to write, I instead took time to be a bit introspective. For the past 2 years I’ve been single, and have decided to be a bit more intentional about getting a better understanding of my personality. I’ve learnt so much, and I’m also very excited to see what comes next. I’ve always been the type of person who has a plan (5 yr, 10 yr, 15 yr…). Despite my best plans my life hasn’t worked out how I thought it would. With a bit of a mix of frustration and wanting to change things, I decided to forgo any new plans, and just live and see what happens. In the past that would have scared me to death, not having a plan is going against every fiber of my being. What’s remarkable is that first of all I’m still here, I haven’t succumbed to failure, and I’ve also learnt a lot more about myself and have rediscovered my faith along the way.

What is SUCCESS!

Everyone talks about being successful, yet we all have varying meanings for what success looks like to us. At it’s root success is a kind of a Social Agreement, in order for you to be successful, it doesn’t just depend on your definition; others have to agree with you. For me my success is tied to my childhood, and family upbringing. Although I consider myself as someone who follows his own decisions. My past also determines what I see as success, the messages I’ve heard as a child back home in Guyana play a big role in my definition. Despite what I may say, having a family of my own, having a stable career, are all tied into what I consider successful. For the past several years it’s been a bit of cognitive dissonance, I know what I want, but despite my best efforts I can’t seem to quite get there. For the first time in a long time, I feel as though I may finally have the tools and drive I need to push ahead.

Fear of Failure my Nemesis

I’ve been recently reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In one of the chapters Brene talks about how shame and fear can hijack us. Sometimes it seems that my greatest enemy isn’t others, but how I think of myself. In my mind sometimes I ask “what will others think if…” That shame of letting others seem ME is sometimes paralyzing. Of course the other thought is “will they like or approve of what I have to say?” There’s a hidden danger to that type of thinking. For example when I first started this blog, it was because I saw how my words could encourage those close to me. So I thought that if I reach a larger audience, I can help and impact more people. Somewhere along the way I became more focused on whether I received any likes, or if anyone read or commented to my posts. So I stopped writing for a bit, at least until I can write based on my initial motive. I will admit that I’m not immune to other’s impression of me. I’m learning to not attach my self-worth to what others think, that seems a quick way to end up down the negative self-talk and depression roads. Sharing something that is special to me with others without regard for whether they like it is a way to be more authentic. I have to learn how to not let my worth be dictated by how others perceive me.

Not everyone will like or agree with you!

I tend to be a bit more logical in my thinking, I’m an INTJ on the Myers/Briggs if you follow those types of Personality Inventories. Making decisions based on emotional appeals doesn’t usually work on me. As a result I can seem a bit stubborn to most people, where others may have a strong emotional connection to a decision; I tend to be more logical and practical. With each passing moment and day, I think carefully about decisions I make. I decide what is best for me, and I know that others will disagree with me. I’m ok with that, afterall I’m making the best decisions for my life, while they’re doing what’s best for them. Of course the hope is that with those close to you those decisions will overlap.

(It was a few weeks since I originally started writing this post) I’d like to end with another quote from Daring Greatly

Perfection is the enemy of done.”

For me that means that regardless of whether I think this post is good enough, I should post it. I got the opportunity to visit New York for my lil sister’s Graduation, it’s funny that I still think of her as a little kid, but she’s a grown woman. Being back in New York, served several purposes. Of course the most important was to see my sister Graduate College. I also had a few brief moments where I was able to relish in the thought that, I’m at a stage in my life where I can take off for a few weeks to go to New York. Despite what I may think of myself, or my lack of career progress, I still have the time, energy, and resources to take trips like that. For that I’m grateful and feel blessed.

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Lessons on Empathy. What can we learn from Ferguson!!

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With each day comes more news of events much like Ferguson Missouri unfolding. Yet another unarmed person is loosing their life in the hands of police. While death is nothing new, loosing a life to someone who’s supposed to protect you isn’t something we’d like to be a normal everyday occurrence. The events unfolding in Ferguson has become yet another issue that is polarizing, now religion, politics are not the only issues of polarization. I wanted to take some time away from writing about my usual topics such as Love, Relationships, and Self-help to talk about this. How can something like this drive us apart, how is it not bringing people together, why does it separate us? While the issue is very complicated, and picking a particular side is easy, my mind prefers to look at it from a deeper angle. In the recent weeks what I’ve been thinking about is how there seems to be a lack of connection to those involved, to really understand where they’re coming from. For me I believe that part of the reason the events from Ferguson can happen in our communities, and why it seems to polarize other communities is a lack of empathy. I’d like to spend some time talking a bit about that and other closely knit factors.

Practice empathy not sympathy!

I tend to be a more logical person, while I doimage have emotions, and express them quite often. When it comes to making decisions I tend to be a bit more logical. While emotions are necessary, they do cause us to make decisions on things that are perceived, rather than actual evidence. Before I get further, let’s talk a bit about empathy. In a little video I found while researching this topic, Brene Brown gives a great explanation of empathy: The Power of Empathy. Brene defines empathy as having 4 elements: perspective taking, staying away from judgement, recognizing emotion, and communicating that feeling with people. In order to have empathy, we have to be able to put ourselves into someone else’s shoe. In the video she describes this as climbing down into the cave with someone else. It’s very important that we not pass judgement, “well I won’t have…” or “you’re stupid, it’s your fault.” Just by recognizing someone’s emotion it can change the conversation, “it sounds like you’re angry” “I can see that you’re upset.” By acknowledging someone else’s emotion you’re saying that you’re paying attention to THEM. In contrast sympathy is slightly different, but it is perceived vastly different. Sympathy in essence is sticking your head into the cave and saying “wow that looks really bad down there.” Sympathy is acknowledging that something is wrong, but not being willing to step into the mud yourself, you want to stay out of the mess yourself. As Brene says,

Empathetic responses don’t start with “at least”

I had a miscarriage “at least you can get pregnant.”

My marriage is falling apart, “at least you have a marriage.”

So to specifically understand why the Black community in Ferguson is so outraged, we have to fully understand what THEY’RE going through. We can’t necessarily look at the events there through OUR lenses, unless of course you’re living in Ferguson.

Our Perspective forms our Reality

This brings me to a central point that I think needs to be stressed. Our perspectives shape our reality, and this is where emotions could lead us astray. Regardless of what another person says or does, our perspectives will sometimes show us things that are not there. In the work I do I’ve encountered many upset customers, and one particular experience is still fresh in my mind. I spoke to a customer who was not happy with their experience, and felt that they had been treated badly. While I had no desire to follow the policy that initially caused this bad experience. I even tried telling the customer that I wasn’t going to continue to push the issue, but didn’t even get to say that before they began berating me. Not to worry there’s more to the story, but my point is that despite my actual intentions, the customer perceived that they were being treated unfairly, even though I was not actually engaging in the same behavior. It fascinates me that even in the presence of video evidence, people will still maintain there perspectives. Take football for example, there will be a video clearly showing whether a player was out of bounds or not. Despite what that video actually shows, there will be 2 people hotly contesting that the player was either out of bounds or in. Why is it despite concrete evidence people will still say that things are the way they think, even if actual physical evidence says contrary?

Good also exists in bad situations

In a TEDtalk about Courage, one of the presenters Janine di Giovanni talks about her experience as a War Correspondent. Check out her full TEDtalk What does it take to cover a War? In the radio segment the host asks her why does she continue to go to war torn countries to report, and something she said stuck with me. Janine said that although she has seen many tragic and horrific things, she has also seen a lot of good and courageous people in those places. Although there is a lot of darkness there, she has also seen light shine through in the darkness. While I had a previous post that talks about this but from a religious perspective, that is not what she is talking about here. To understand why this is relevant, you have to remember that our world is full of duality, good and evil does co exist. I’ve heard people ask in times of pain “why did this happen to ME” “why did god let this happen to ME” While I’m not here to defend God, a particular verse kept coming up this week:

And we know that God causes everything to work together  for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28

This particular verse doesn’t get into the weeds about whether God “lets” bad things happen to people, but what it does say is that god causes things to work for good. I understand that many people reading this probably don’t share my faith, however I know that many have asked this question “why me God?” I’ve heard people try to simplify god down to this, god is good, bad things happen in the world, therefore either god isn’t good or he’s not real. I caution this kind of thinking, so let’s look at an example that will be more relevant. Many people are parents, and they consider themselves good parents, yet bad things happen to their children. When bad things happen we understand that it’s not always directly a reflection of your parenting, that you can still be a good parent. The reality is that many things happen that are outside of our control. Yet there are always opportunities for good to shine through. There is always an opportunity to offer grace to someone who treats you badly. I believe that’s what Janine has experienced in her life.

What does empathy, perspectives and good have to do with Ferguson?

I’ve lamented a bit about a few topics, but again what does it have to do with Ferguson? I believe that when we heard that story, we quickly tried to pick a side, we picked a side that associates more with our lives. We offered our sympathy, and in doing so we didn’t fully take the time to understand why the community was upset. You see while we might share similarities with Mike Brown our Daren Wilson, to understand their lives, we have to really UNDERSTAND them. To really embrace Ferguson and have an honest conversation we have to walk in the shoes of that community. As an African American male, it would be very easy for me to condemn Daren Wilson, he killed a black teen. While that might seem the case on the surface, the real story is far more dirty and murky. This could be our opportunities to really understand the lives of both Daren Wilson and Mike Brown. Especially on social media, this story has raised many divisive and visceral comments, and I’m ashamed to be a fellow human. This situation could be an opportunity for good. One of the things I was reminded from the TEDtalk was that it’s easy to make a negative comment, or to let injustice prevail. It’s much harder to stand up for good, to do the right thing. In the church sermon today about Joy, I walked away with this, sometimes we can’t really offer much help. Sometimes all we can offer is a simple gesture, but even a simple hug, is a step in the direction of empathy. Sometimes in painful situations there really is nothing we can do to make it better.

Writing is a platform for me to express my thoughts to people that are not in my immediate area. While it’s becoming easier and easier, I caution you, my readers to do so responsibly. Today the world is becoming darker, more evil, and even a small gesture will remind us that there is good. While it’s easy for me to pick a side in the Ferguson story, the act of 1 young boy has reminded me I should choose my words carefully. Some people believe they’re only words, Free Hugsbut words are very powerful. “I have a dream” are only words by themselves, but they’re also a rallying cry for the oppressed. Those words taught a nation that we can be more inclusive of our brother and sisters. I have a voice, and I refuse to use it to spew anger and hate. Mike Brown isn’t the only one who lost his life that day, in a way Daren Wilson also lost his life too. The question I ask is what can I do to not continue spreading hate and misunderstanding. A way for me to do that is to have empathy rather than sympathy. While empathy is a great place to start I must also do my part, I must be willing to step out and do good, even if I’m the only one standing. As a 12 year old showed us, even if it’s just a free hug, he’s offering all he can in that situation. Going forward a question I will as is How can I offer YOU help? Not in a Golden Rule kind of way, meaning I’ll offer you the kind of help that I would want. But to actually ask you, what do YOU need me to do for YOU?