Unity is Unlikely: Here’s What We Should Do Instead

It’s been said, in many circles, that we stand a country divided.

At least, that’s what you hear if you pay close attention to the mainstream and fringe news media, or the cable talking heads: we are divided, and we need desperately to heal.

Years ago, I made a decision to follow the lead of author Tim Ferriss, and adopt what he called the low information diet. It is exactly how it sounds. The crux of it is to ignore news outlets for the most part, to not let them dominate your day or your psyche. He suggested, to still remain an informed citizen, scanning newspaper headlines on your way to work or running errands, or engage someone in conversation, asking, “what’s new in the world today?”

His interest lie in seeing how much information another person could relay back to you: what they retained after a morning or afternoon of being influenced by what Don Henley coined “dirty laundry.”

I Got the News Today, Oh Boy

I was pretty faithful to this way of life until the pandemic hit: when we all felt a civic duty to become more informed. Starting innocently enough with updates on case numbers, data and statistics. Which might segue into the evening national news, which would supplement COVID driven information with other bad news.

Pretty soon, you find yourself drowning in news content, going down the slippery slope of fear and despair. Exactly the plan, to rivet your attention to marketing to follow: so you can be sold pharmaceutical drugs, household cleaners, and new Toyotas.

Make no mistake, the primary function of the news is not to inform, but to sell.

Happily, I’m awakening from my stupor. Slowly weaning myself from it’s devil’s grip, and as future corona case numbers head south and vaccines are more prevalent, I’ll expect a cold turkey sabbatical: to watch for one reason only, as Paul Simon said, “getting all the news I need from the weather report.”

But lingering doubts driven by the talking heads still remain: are we divided, and what can be done about it?

I Don’t Need No Civil War

As you may expect, our political leaders call for unity. To some of us, these requests smack of pure rhetoric. Why unity? In their eyes, it equals votes. The objective is to ensure securing votes at any cost, to the end of making sure few changes transpire during the election cycle. Securing the thirst for power and influence they covet.

Having said that, let’s end there, with the attempt to keep this post as apolitical as possible.

Is unity, a unified human nation, a probable goal?

I’m going to say no. With so many differing ideologies, cultures, and beliefs – some probably instilled at a very young age – mass unity is a far fetched dream that will always elude us, no matter how feverish the chase.

Instead, I offer that we focus on what sales leaders call the low hanging fruit (i.e., sell the easiest deals first before moving to bigger challenges), or what legendary coach Vince Lombardi would refer to as the blocking and tackling fundamentals.

Let’s instead focus on increasing our civility towards one another. It’s not unity, but it goes a long way to creating a better time.

The type of civility I refer to is an example I was shown growing up: Italian immigrants, who although discriminated against and often with a challenging path up their personal mountains, still managed to display class and love for their fellow human being. I’m certain, at times, it wasn’t easy for them. But damn, they sure made it look easy.

The answer to my self imposed questions were clear: if they could do this, with lives that began in this country as an unquestioned fight for survival – why can’t we, while we’re enveloped in our lives of (mainly) modern comfort and convenience?

If you’re at all interested in more civility (I realize some of you may not be, and that’s OK; I’ll make a concerted effort to steer clear of you in public), there are many ways to increase awareness on how you treat your fellow human being, and as the immigrants did, display a little class in most every situation. I’ll highlight a couple.

Gimme Three Steps

Earlier this week, my company launched their annual sales kick off, albeit virtually. Although we missed the travel, and seeing friends from around the country, it was still worthwhile. There’s always a great keynote speaker, and 2021 was no exception: Shawn Achor, an author known for his advocacy of positive psychology, delivered the speech.

Amidst his citing of research and science, he emphasized to live with more purpose and feel happier, it helps to spend a minute each day thinking of three things you can be grateful for.

Just three things.

I’m taking this exercise to heart. My things today, that I noted in long hand earlier, included our recent polar vortex temperatures (yeah, it sucks at first: but man, you eventually feel alive!), vaccines (our parents with their first doses this week. Yay!), and push ups (brutal to perform at times, but I appreciate the fact that I can probably do more than most other 57 year old men).

To think of, and write this down, took all of five well spent minutes.

Secondly, it may also help to temper your social media consumption. Zuckerberg’s creation initially dubbed the facebook was a way for college students to stay connected, but has morphed into a behemoth, a poison well of easily shared false information. Compared to the rolling vitriol of Twitter, the facebook seems like a viewing of Mary Poppins, however. Take the poison of your choice.

Having said that, there are positives to social media: you just have to filter, sort, and curate your way to a better online experience. I’ll lose patience with that never ending battle, instead focusing on what I can share myself that might lift someone’s day. Which is something my Nonna taught me is pure civility.

Once you do modify social habits, if you choose, you may find an increase in positivity is apparent – a step forward to helping decrease the temperature of your own life.

Sure, things still piss me off. Absolutely. There was a time not so long ago I was a perfect candidate for anger management intervention.

However, it’s harder to be pissed when you’re not bludgeoning yourself over the head with the latest news, or falling down the social rabbit hole. The gratitude habit, however cliched, always helps, as well as exhibiting patience in stupid situations.

You’ll find as you lower the temperature, that it’s easier to have a measured conversation, avoiding shouting and hyperbole. Levels of empathy increase, as you find yourself standing in someone else’s shoes. You may, although you don’t agree with it, actually respect another’s opinion.

Wow moments, am I right?

Lowering the temperature doesn’t have to be hard. It can be radically simple: remembering that we can all think of each other as members of the same flawed human race, and aren’t really all that much different, despite what we perceive as differences.

Barriers can be broken down if you want them to be.

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To Boston, With Love

BostonI don’t know how many times I put my arm up, but it was approaching a countless number. The air was starting to chill, and I wanted to get myself and my girls back to our hotel. My arm went up again, another attempt to hail a cab that had no intention of pulling over. There wasn’t an empty one in sight.

We were still sweating, from the sing and dance-a-thon that was a two hour Coldplay concert at the Boston Garden: a great show featuring staunch musicianship, pyrotechnics, and stunning visual technology. I was with my wife, daughter, and our cousin from Ohio. We were wiped out and needed the comfort of our hotel room.

“Taxi!”

The concert was a cap to an outstanding day in a visit to my favorite American tourist destination – the city of Boston – and I say that as a diehard New York sports fan (rivalry, anyone?). After walking along the harbor, darting in and out of shops in the electric Quincy Market, my wife and I stopped in a Cantina there to have a drink and chat with the locals. And make no mistake: even when I wear my Yankee hat, the people of Boston are some of the friendliest around.

While my daughter and the cousin roamed the landscape, we enjoyed our time at the bar, and had great conversations with those who were just happy to be in this beautiful place – and we were happy to be with them. We segued from Quincy quickly to a North End restaurant, where we enjoyed a tasty slice of Italian America before heading to the Garden to see my daughter’s favorite band.

After the show, we did finally get back to the hotel. A taxi did stop. Persistence pays off.

It all would have been very impressive if that was the first, or one and only, trip to Boston. But, of course. it wasn’t. My first nerve wracking ride on a jet airliner to take an initial romantic weekend getaway with my wife (then girlfriend), more than 20 years ago, was to Boston.

For the purpose of love and romance, we couldn’t have picked a better town.

Trips to Fenway Park, as a Yankee fan, brought me back here many times. Bus rides taken with good friends, enjoying baseball in possibly the most intimate stadium in America. Most of the games the Yankees won. I’ve heard horror stories from others about the dangers of rooting for New York at Fenway, but have never experienced anything but good will and good natured ribbing from the Fenway faithful. I hope to get back there soon.

This past year, we have witnessed events that bring us to question human integrity and sanity. All of us wonder aloud why a bombing would happen at a marathon, how men can be so sick and indifferent to the lives of others. How they can target locations where children run and play.

I’ve been to Boston. Many times. I love it there, and can’t wait to go back. The city will rebound and come back better than ever because of the qualities of the people that live there. I have made memories with family and friends in the place they call “Beantown” that would be hard to forget. I’m thankful for endless hospitality and wish them god speed in repairing their lives and building on the strengths that showed in those harrowing moments that we have become much too familiar with.

We love you, Boston.

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The Immigrant Song – Inspiration Around Every Corner

It was interesting to watch what I could of both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions recently. With the political posturing so evident in this election season, it’s obvious the candidates of both parties are looking to appeal to the “everyman”.

Your “Average Joe”, if you will.

Marco Rubio. Mitt Romney. Julian Castro. Democrats and Republicans alike are recounting the immigrant stories within their own families, in the attempt to win the voters who have their own immigrant stories.

You can’t fault these politicians for using the unique immigrant experience to try to sway votes that could help them win. We all have recollections of parents or grandparents that have inspired us with their personal successes of achieving the American dream.

Finding Inspiration

The stories are unique, but the story line follows a familiar pattern. Immigrants, whether they be Spanish, Italian, Polish, or Irish, made huge sacrifices for the good of their families. Some went to bed hungry so their children wouldn’t. Others, like my grandparents, worked multiple jobs to make sure the family had enough money to survive, then thrive.

My grandparents also left school early to aid in the financial support of their households.

They persevered through the Great Depression and willed their way to success. Because they knew if that feat was accomplished, the generation that came after them could enjoy a better life.

As one of the Democratic participants stated in a speech, “Their stories may never be famous, but in the lives they lived, you will find the essence of America’s greatness.”

Despite the campaign mudslinging going on now, with keywords such as entitlement and redistribution, the candidates seem to agree here: the strength of the country, and the economy within, was built on the very formidable backs of people from other nations.

One Direction

I’m more than happy to share the stories of the immigrants that influenced me. Yeah, the blog has occasionally meandered into the subjects of weight loss, Joe Paterno, cell phones, and the importance of being a patriot, but it’s mainly concerned with one very important topic.

My family, immigrant status and all, and how they molded and shaped the lives of those around them.

I like to, and choose to, write about different things. That won’t change. But I hope you’ll come along for the ride as I take a closer look at this one topic near and dear to my heart in the posts to come. It may be difficult to think that a bunch of diminutive Italians could teach you a thing or two, but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.

As both Democrats and Republicans have demonstrated: the saga of the immigrants and their American story is one of the most important of our times.

If you saw the conventions, what do you think? Were the speakers sincere in their praise of their immigrant connections, or did they seem to be pandering for votes? State your case in the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe for future updates!

Explaining Evil To Your Children

Columbine. Oklahoma City. September 11th. Virginia Tech. Aurora.

vaderThe evil in the world isn’t easily explainable. The presumably safe activity of going to a movie theater is no longer safe. You can’t take for granted the simple tasks of going to work or attending class.

My son and I were on my way to my father’s house when he asked me why so many people got shot. Before his question was posed, I was thinking about the coffee I was going to drink, and he was anticipating the ice cream his Grandfather was going to give him.

I couldn’t answer his question with other than this lame response – “Son, there are bad people in the world.” We can only reassure our kids that these are rare events, and that the criminals usually get taken down. Good triumphing over evil.

When my daughter was much younger and drawing pictures of airplanes crashing into buildings over ten years ago, I felt useless then, as well. How do you explain such things? As an adult, I barely comprehend them myself.

As we went into my Dad’s house, and he quickly forgot about his question. Maybe because that house is a sanctuary. Our house is his sanctuary. Our yard. There is security of sorts in this world, but it’s usually contained within.

When I was young, it seemed all we had to deal with was the terror of the Son of Sam, preying on his victims in one sweltering summer in New York City. Simpler times, right?

I’d like to take my kids on a trip to “simpler times”, so they could catch a glimpse of a time without 24/7 media coverage of mass murders, of terrorism. Where they wouldn’t have to ask the question, “Why?”

When we get there, we’d play in my grandmother’s yard, without a care in sight. We could play games in the street, without much fear of other cars. We could go back to the family farm my cousins owned, and wander in fields for hours. No one would be concerned as to where we were.

In the days of “back then,” you could go to school without running for your life. You could go to a movie without the fear of flying bullets.

You should live your life by the windshield and not the rear view mirror, but who can blame us for looking to the past for comfort? Crap, I think that’s what I do here. I write about things that provide a dose of that comfort and stability. For myself. I can throwback for decades with writing subjects like my grandparents, music, baseball, and being an inspired teenager.

Kids, it’s difficult to explain these things to you. To say that you’re growing up in a much different place than your Mom and Dad grew up in – well, that’s a vast understatement. The only steps we can take are to raise you according to our ethics, and give you the room to grow into your own version of a wonderful person.

And once you do that, just believe that people like you will always outnumber the evil guys. And from tragedy, good will come.

Joe Lied – And Why It Should Matter To You

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The legacy of Joe Paterno was of a football program that molded boys into men, and did so with success for many years. Paterno was the archetype of the term “college football coach”, and a model of the Italian American community.

In that community of sports figures, his name could have easily been mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi, DiMaggio, and Marciano. Legendary in his work.

How sickening it was to learn, this past week, that his legacy will have nothing to do with football – but will have everything to do with his role as a protector of a sexual predator. A predator that preyed on children, ruining their lives.

It was easy to think previously that Paterno knew nothing, or knew little, about the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. That they were beyond his comprehension. But he did know. He knew for years. Lied about it. Did his part to try to cover it up.

He turned his back on the innocent. All in the name of his football program and its “reputation”. He could have stopped the actions of a monster, but he turned his back instead.

Could this have happened under the watch of Lombardi? In the locker room of DiMaggio? In the gym of Marciano?

Before the information from the Penn State investigation came out last week, I would have said “no”. As in hell, no. But no can turn into “who knows?”. Now, you can never be sure. About anything. This is part of what Paterno’s betrayal has done.

The worship of men, no matter the status, is a losing proposition. Can’t do it. It gives power and prestige to those that should never have it. Because they are human. They are flawed. Some of them are evil.

How many parents do you think felt completely confident sending their boys into the Penn State football program? Answer: All of them. How could they have known that they were bringing their children to rapists, molesters, liars?

If you are a parent, you are always on the offensive to begin with. When your kid drives a car. When they get into a car driven by someone else. When they go out with a friend.

Parents, it’s time to get your paranoia on. If you haven’t already. Every time your kids meet a new friend, meet a friend’s family, or go out among strangers, question it. Question everything. Make them give you every bit of information their little brains have.

Go on the offensive.

You’re in a new world now. Where coaches protect criminals, and themselves, in the name of fame, power and money. God forbid if your child is the one in the crossfire.

I admired Joe Paterno. Thought he was one of the good guys, a role model. I was fooled. I won’t get fooled again. The tradition that is the worship of men can no longer continue. Mickey Mantle is a memory, Willie Mays has faded, and “Where have you gone?” is a question that is no longer asked of Joe DiMaggio.

We know where they have gone. What they’ve left behind is a world where human tragedies play out off the field in the business of sports.

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