Working For a Better America: Thoughts on Obama’s Second Inauguration, Dr. Cornel West, and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although I wrote this piece nearly five years ago, the theme and message of Dr. West’s speech are as true today as they were in 2013…

This afternoon, on the day we annually celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Barack Obama was recognized in the 57th presidential inauguration celebration. As America’s 44th president, the first claiming African-American heritage, he gave a beautiful speech of togetherness, of the American dream, and of equality. Mr. Obama’s words and aspirations rang true to Dr. King’s legacy, offering hope for change in education, in the recession, and in political cooperation. His words were reminiscent of those Dr. Cornel West told to an eager audience last night that he wished for President Obama to act upon in the next four years.

At 8:00pm on Sunday, January 20, 2013, during Kennesaw State University’s Annual Observance of the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Dr. Bobbie Bailey and Family Performance Center, Dr. West gave the keynote speech in a program titled “Globalizing the Black Legacy.” Following a beautiful and uplifting musical selection by the KSU Gospel Choir, led by Dr. Opal Moses, the stage was yielded to the esteemed Dr. West, who exalted music as an integral component to the Civil Rights Movement. He claimed there would have been “no Martin Luther King without Mihalia Jackson” and promised of his speech that “The last thing I want to do is deodorize [MLK]. It’s gonna get funky up in here.” Dr. West stayed true to his word, offering a view of Dr. King that many of us forget.

“MLK was a radical and a real person,” said Lauren Wiginton, who was in attendance at the event. She said Dr. West’s speech “made me think about the truly controversial nature of [Dr. King’s] message, and how even today it would be considered controversial when you look at the heart of it.” Dr. West spoke of how MLK’s movement highlighted “unarmed truth and unconditional love,” regardless of whether those ideals fit snugly with any political agenda. His message called for the world to think about what it means to be human, reminding us that you reap what you sow. In his eloquent speech, Dr. West pointed to three main components of Dr. King’s message, relating them to injustices in America’s political agenda today:

  1. Jim Crow Laws:: Prison Industrial Complex – Dr. West regarded the “Jim Jane Crow Laws” as American terrorism, a way of keeping blacks in de facto slavery even while de jure slavery was openly criticized; he said that today we have a new Jim Crow in the form of soft drug crimes being treated more harshly than hard economic crimes and in African-Americans receiving drastically more and greater criminal sentences than their white counterparts (see Book Review – The New Jim Crow);
  2. Carpet Bombing in Vietnam:: Drone Attacks – Dr. West pointed out that more than 300 innocent Pakistanis have been killed in the unmanned drone attacks, not unlike the numerous innocent casualties that stained the American war effort during Vietnam; he cited our need to respect the citizens of all countries and to keep from providing foreign aggressors with fuel to inflict further terrorist attacks against the U.S.; and
  3. Poverty:: Poverty and a Broken Social Welfare System – where Dr. King spoke out against worldwide abject poverty, we can see its persistence today; in the richest country of the world, we Americans have denied so many basic rights to the underclass and, worse, created a culture of welfare-dependent individuals with near impossible opportunities for escape.

Dr. West called upon our president to reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s challenge. Today, in his inauguration speech, Mr. Obama also spoke of creating an environment of equality, of exiting the theater of war, and of using education to provide every child with a chance to realize the American dream. He insisted that these goals cannot be achieved by one person or one group, but only through the American people working “together.” As Dr. West told his audience last night, “Justice in the face of might sounds naïve… [but] it’s about numbers. That’s called a social movement.”

In reflecting further upon the current state of American culture, Dr. West urged U.S. youth to “lift every voice, not every echo.” While social movements rely on numbers, they cannot be carried by a sea of uninspired fans. Social movements need strong followers to put forth their message, and Dr. West called upon each youth to look first to himself and his own life before rallying behind a purpose. He claimed that “weapons of cultural distraction” and lack of access to education have robbed many young Americans of the opportunity to build an identity and a voice. He reminded his audience that “eventually you’re going to have to deal with the choices you’ve made” and that “you need to learn how to die in order to know how to live.”

“The thing I took away” from Dr. West’s speech, said Ms. Wiginton, “was how relevant the idea of looking out for ALL your brothers and sisters is, no matter their nationality or the details of their struggle, especially at this juncture in our nation’s history.” Without an identity to a movement, it lacks inspiration. Without the strong character of its individuals, it lacks drive. And without an overreaching respect for all people in all walks of life and the effects of the injustice in each of their lives, it lacks morality. As music was a key component to the Civil Rights Movement, so too has morality – and often spirituality – been an integral part of social movements worldwide, according to Dr. West. He urged each individual to remember this while acting in his community and in the world.

The experience of hearing Dr. Cornel West speak at a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was uplifting and inspirational. In remembering Dr. King, we are reminded of how much one person can do for a movement, be he the charismatic leader or the voice that keeps the message rolling. Dr. West said of MLK that he was “not an isolated individual” but instead “part of a decent and dignified people” and “part of a vital and vibrant tradition” of speaking out against social injustice.

“We miss you so,” said Dr. West. “We need you so, especially in these confusing times.” Hopefully Mr. Obama will reflect on the purpose behind the radical Martin Luther King, Jr. and will heed his own words of hope and equality in his second term as

This afternoon, on the day we annually celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Barack Obama was recognized in the 57th presidential inauguration celebration. As America’s 44th president, the first claiming African-American heritage, he gave a beautiful speech of togetherness, of the American dream, and of equality. Mr. Obama’s words and aspirations rang true to Dr. King’s legacy, offering hope for change in education, in the recession, and in political cooperation. His words were reminiscent of those Dr. Cornel West told to an eager audience last night that he wished for President Obama to act upon in the next four years.

At 8:00pm on Sunday, January 20, 2013, during Kennesaw State University’s Annual Observance of the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Dr. Bobbie Bailey and Family Performance Center, Dr. West gave the keynote speech in a program titled “Globalizing the Black Legacy.” Following a beautiful and uplifting musical selection by the KSU Gospel Choir, led by Dr. Opal Moses, the stage was yielded to the esteemed Dr. West, who exalted music as an integral component to the Civil Rights Movement. He claimed there would have been “no Martin Luther King without Mihalia Jackson” and promised of his speech that “The last thing I want to do is deodorize [MLK]. It’s gonna get funky up in here.” Dr. West stayed true to his word, offering a view of Dr. King that many of us forget.

“MLK was a radical and a real person,” said Lauren Wiginton, who was in attendance at the event. She said Dr. West’s speech “made me think about the truly controversial nature of [Dr. King’s] message, and how even today it would be considered controversial when you look at the heart of it.” Dr. West spoke of how MLK’s movement highlighted “unarmed truth and unconditional love,” regardless of whether those ideals fit snugly with any political agenda. His message called for the world to think about what it means to be human, reminding us that you reap what you sow. In his eloquent speech, Dr. West pointed to three main components of Dr. King’s message, relating them to injustices in America’s political agenda today:

  1. Jim Crow Laws:: Prison Industrial Complex – Dr. West regarded the “Jim Jane Crow Laws” as American terrorism, a way of keeping blacks in de facto slavery even while de jure slavery was openly criticized; he said that today we have a new Jim Crow in the form of soft drug crimes being treated more harshly than hard economic crimes and in African-Americans receiving drastically more and greater criminal sentences than their white counterparts (see Book Review – The New Jim Crow);
  2. Carpet Bombing in Vietnam:: Drone Attacks – Dr. West pointed out that more than 300 innocent Pakistanis have been killed in the unmanned drone attacks, not unlike the numerous innocent casualties that stained the American war effort during Vietnam; he cited our need to respect the citizens of all countries and to keep from providing foreign aggressors with fuel to inflict further terrorist attacks against the U.S.; and
  3. Poverty:: Poverty and a Broken Social Welfare System – where Dr. King spoke out against worldwide abject poverty, we can see its persistence today; in the richest country of the world, we Americans have denied so many basic rights to the underclass and, worse, created a culture of welfare-dependent individuals with near impossible opportunities for escape.

Dr. West called upon our president to reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s challenge. Today, in his inauguration speech, Mr. Obama also spoke of creating an environment of equality, of exiting the theater of war, and of using education to provide every child with a chance to realize the American dream. He insisted that these goals cannot be achieved by one person or one group, but only through the American people working “together.” As Dr. West told his audience last night, “Justice in the face of might sounds naïve… [but] it’s about numbers. That’s called a social movement.”

In reflecting further upon the current state of American culture, Dr. West urged U.S. youth to “lift every voice, not every echo.” While social movements rely on numbers, they cannot be carried by a sea of uninspired fans. Social movements need strong followers to put forth their message, and Dr. West called upon each youth to look first to himself and his own life before rallying behind a purpose. He claimed that “weapons of cultural distraction” and lack of access to education have robbed many young Americans of the opportunity to build an identity and a voice. He reminded his audience that “eventually you’re going to have to deal with the choices you’ve made” and that “you need to learn how to die in order to know how to live.”

“The thing I took away” from Dr. West’s speech, said Ms. Wiginton, “was how relevant the idea of looking out for ALL your brothers and sisters is, no matter their nationality or the details of their struggle, especially at this juncture in our nation’s history.” Without an identity to a movement, it lacks inspiration. Without the strong character of its individuals, it lacks drive. And without an overreaching respect for all people in all walks of life and the effects of the injustice in each of their lives, it lacks morality. As music was a key component to the Civil Rights Movement, so too has morality – and often spirituality – been an integral part of social movements worldwide, according to Dr. West. He urged each individual to remember this while acting in his community and in the world.

The experience of hearing Dr. Cornel West speak at a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was uplifting and inspirational. In remembering Dr. King, we are reminded of how much one person can do for a movement, be he the charismatic leader or the voice that keeps the message rolling. Dr. West said of MLK that he was “not an isolated individual” but instead “part of a decent and dignified people” and “part of a vital and vibrant tradition” of speaking out against social injustice.

“We miss you so,” said Dr. West. “We need you so, especially in these confusing times.” Hopefully Mr. Obama will reflect on the purpose behind the radical Martin Luther King, Jr. and will heed his own words of hope and equality in his second term as president of the United States of America.

This post was originally written and published on January 21, 2013, for a personal blog that is no longer active.

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Trump for President – A Good Lesson for America?

Let me be clear from the start: I do not want to see Donald Trump lead the most powerful nation in the world. He would wreck our international relationships, ruin the country’s credit, and generally  run the United States into the ground. But having him run for president might be exactly what America needs right now.

As Ted Cruz announces he is backing out of the race for the GOP nomination, it seems to some like a sign that half the nation is ready to bring back old-fashioned racism and bigotry. This year, Republicans across the country have turned out at the polls to vote for a man who openly diminishes immigrants, degrades women, and doesn’t seem to have any real plans for when he gets in office. The Grand Old Party is certainly shifting, but has it really moved so far backward that we might as well pull out the Dylan hits and organize a sit-in on the Mexican border?

Before the Canadian consulate gets flooded with questions on how to get a permanent visa, maybe we should take a minute to look at the real culprits behind this tangled mess. I have a hard time believing half of this country is ready for a racist misogynist to lead when only 62 percent of the population is white and nearly 51 percent are women.

Instead, I see the 2016 election as a culmination of good timing, dirty party politics, and a flawed election system.

Good(?) Timing

Start with eight years of a progressive, Black president who fought openly with conservative members of Congress. Add in the worst economic downturn the world has seen since the Great Depression and a visible, growing push-back from marginalized groups. What do you end up with? A lot of angry people looking for someone to blame.

Behold! A charismatic speaker steps up to the platform with a scapegoat and a promise of greatness. Sound familiar? It should. The European populist movements of the 1920s began much the same, with one young German officer named Adolph rising slowly to what would be great and lasting fame. Promises can be dangerous. Blame aimed at a group of marginalized people is even more dangerous. But the two together are not only menacing – they can be utterly catastrophic if given the chance when the timing is just right.

Backhanded Politics

It’s a game of cat and mouse that has left the entire house in flames.

For a long time now, the GOP has been calling out officials for “voting the party line” and telling its supporters what a terrible job “big government” has been doing. The thing is, the rhetoric worked! More and more, Republicans (and Libertarians) are denouncing loyal party members and raising up mavericks. They shun any legislation that looks like the federal government is growing or -quite frankly – doing its job.

On the flip side, satirical news like The Daily Show and other entertainment news shows alike have made cynicism the “cool” thing to do. A government program has done something right? Ignore it or give it 30 seconds of airtime. A legislator says something stupid or off-putting? Give it a full five minutes and a YouTube clip of its own!

It’s a game of cat and mouse that has left the entire house in flames. Both sides have made “government” a virtual four-letter word. Worse, they have made it the norm to mock our political officials and declare the whole thing useless. Calling the institution to task does not have to mean ridiculing it altogether.That lack of respect is reflected in our election coverage, voting record, and reputation around the world.

Outdated Elections

It seems like there’s always been a Frenchman telling us what we’re doing wrong (or right). Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 that the reason America’s democracy worked was because of our civil organizations. Social clubs let us rant about the government and work together to make changes. Later, in the 1950s, a man named Maurice Duverger wrote that we were doomed to remain forever a two-party system.

Duverger’s Law states that our electoral system has a way of funneling our candidates into one of two parties – a feature that persists to this day.

Basically, Single-person Districts + Winner-takes-all Voting = Two Parties. Always.

Look at a district. There is only one seat per district. You need the largest number of votes to win that seat. The logical winning strategy would be to make sure at least half the voters in that district want to vote for you. If more than one person is running, then each candidate is trying to win at least half the votes. What’s the best way to do that? Consolidate as many smaller groups as possible until you make one big group that holds at least half the district. BOOM! Only two parties.

But that isn’t the whole story. Our primary system may well be what pushed Mr. Trump to the top of the heap.

First, most people do not vote in primaries. It takes time to vote, and most of us have jobs to work around because the U.S. does not list Election Day has a state or national holiday. So we wait to take that time off until the general election in November. Not to mention a lot of districts are not that great at advertising where and when elections are held. You have to really want it to find out how to vote.

Second, because we have a two-party system – and especially because of the dirty party politics of the past half-century, the two sides seem farther apart than ever. If a candidate wants to win the primary, they have to reach out to the extreme voters in their party. As it turns out, the extreme voters are usually the ones who vote in the primaries! So by the time the general election rolls around, the moderate candidates have all been left behind when the primaries nominated the candidates from the far left and far right.

Third, if we want to get deeper into the flaws of the primary system, we need look no further than the long stretch of elections held leading up to the national conventions. Candidates are not just looking to win votes – they’re looking to win delegates! That means, if a candidate fails to win delegates early on, fewer people will vote for them in the long run. Why?  Because no one likes voting for the loser. If it looks grim in those first two elections (Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s  primary), then it probably will continue to be grim. Many candidates drop out close to the beginning because they lose the first few primaries. The persistent prosper!

Last, in the presidential election, we still rely on the outdated Electoral College. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it has a few major hang-ups. Probably the biggest flaw is that it makes only a few states important to the overall vote. Candidates focus on the swing states, and a good number of people in the other states don’t even show up to vote because they think it won’t matter! Does that really give a fair representation of the U.S.?

Oddly enough, the Electoral College was originally created to STOP the few big, populous states from being more important than the others. That sure worked out well, didn’t it?

So, no, I do not think Mr. Trump would be a good fit as the next leader of the “free” world. But his campaign – and its frighteningly many successes – have shined a light on the problems we have with elections in this country. It’s started a dialogue that has needed to happen for quite some time now. Hopefully we will listen this time.

New Tools for Modern Education, Made Easy

In today’s working world, quick innovation and technological advancement has flipped the traditional system of seniority on its head. Where once experience was the fasted path to respect and a promotion, now it seems to only matter if you know the newest media platform or computer code. This is especially true in our education system, where innovation has left some of our best innovators in the dust. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Georgia high school teacher Jarrod Shirley recently approached me about featuring a new project to address this issue. Soon to graduate with his master’s degree from the University of Georgia, Mr. Shirley has been working on a website that allows experienced educators to familiarize themselves with new teaching tools. They can watch videos on tools like Screencast-O-Matic and learn how to use platforms like Google Slides. Even better, the site Old Dawg New Tricks uses learning examples that compare old methods to new technology, making it accessible and effective.

Below are a few words from Mr. Shirley about the project. You can access the site at Olddawgnewtricks.weebly.com to learn more about how the Experienced can become the Innovated. Well done, sir!

Jarrods_site_OldDawgsNewTricks (2)

I believe a generation of educators are being seen unfairly by the public, at the same time I recognize there are issues that need to be worked out but I think a bit of understanding is in order before blame is handed out to those educators in the public school system. In summary, I believe that a demographic of educators exist who happen to have been the most talented of their generation once upon a time– in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s.

Those educators were the teachers who were asked to perform the extra duties outside of the classroom because of their talents with students and the public, and they gladly accepted. Fast forward to present day and those teachers are the veterans of the industry, if you will. Much has happened since their time being the best of the best. The iPod, Social Media, Cyclical Economies, Budget Cuts, The Apple Craze, and much more. Students now a days are much different to educate than before. Couple the busy schedules with extra accumulated tasks given to those educators, with the technology boom, and God forbid a teacher’s personal life such as family, religious responsibilities, and hobbies, and we have a modern day pandemic. The once passionate teacher of the late 90s in their late 20s has sadly grown tired of trying to keep up; if they are still in the industry at all. They want to be the best again, but they also want to be at their teenagers’ ball games and graduations or date nights with their significant other. They want to be excited about teaching again, but they cannot operate the device their student now brings to school, simply because it did not exist when they were growing up. These teachers care and they want to learn– so why not go to the professional developments or do online tutorials similar to MOOCs?

More than likely, because those same teachers have already committed to being Character Leaders, Club Sponsors, Coaches, Volunteers, Committee Members, and other various roles that make their local school have a great culture and not exist as just some government building. As far as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) go, these educators, and most of everyone else working 40 hours a week plus a family, more than likely do not want to take 55 to 85 mins our of their evenings to try and understand a complicated professor teach online. With that said, this is what I have proposed to fix the problem? I believes MOOCs was a very great first step; however, I think that the need for short, simple, and direct online lessons should be implemented with this teaching generation in mind.

I designed a website using the free website creator, Weebly, that does just that. I also stated that comparative statements should be made as often as possible when teaching this generation of educators new technology. In the spirit that innovation exist to recreate or improve preexisting tools, processes, or solutions– I believe new technology can be traced back to the root of the technology it was innovated from. The original technology can be compared to in order to help this generation of educators understand it better.

For example, look at the similarities Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint have. Then consider the older teachers in public schools have more than likely been using PowerPoint for years and that a great way to convert them to an easy collaborative tool like Google Slides, is to make comparisons they will understand

More than anything, I have a passion for these educators and the students that come through their classrooms to succeed and establish a positive environment.

In closing, I believe that the success in education isn’t as complicated as studies make it; I believe that if teachers are happy and setting a positive atmosphere in their classroom, the students will naturally become engaged with the material and will not only stay in school, but take pride in their grades as well as their behavior.

Jarrod Shirley, M.A.

Proud Georgia Educator

What It Should Mean to be “Pro-Life”

Since when did being “pro-life” become synonymous with being prudish and anti-woman? Why does being “pro-choice” make you anti-family?

When did the dehumanizing ad-tactics of the Mad Men-esque marketing world take its attack labels away from business and onto the political battlefield of Values vs. Rationality? Better yet, when did the two concepts become mutually exclusive in the minds of the American people?

It seems to me that the labels – self-made or media-given – that we use to identify these groups have done little to bring about positive change. And instead, have done more to damage any chance we have have at helping the people who are really in question: The Next Generation.

What’s in a name?

These labels, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” have become so emotionally-charged that it seems near impossible for two people from different sides to even hold a normal conversation. Pro-lifers tend to be seen as “antiquated” or “anti-women.” The label itself pushes aside the proclaimed cause of protecting fetal life, and instead hearkens to the mind thoughts of backward-thinking prudes.

Alternately, pro-choicers are often tagged as “baby-killers” and “heartless.” They are seen as irrational progressives, defending irresponsible women who care more about their social lives than about their potential children. But is either label association really fair?

Think about it. According to Operation Rescue, “each year, about 2% of women aged 15-44 have an abortion,” over half of which are in their twenties. The main reasons? Because they don’t have the time, don’t have the money, don’t have the emotional resources.

More than one-third of the women getting abortions are African American, and another quarter are Hispanic. These are women who are already marginalized by society, statistically more likely to hold lower-end jobs and with a much smaller chance than whites of raising their standards of living even in one generation  When 30% of abortions are obtained by women who make less than $15,000, is it really fair to say their reasons are irresponsible?

The case could made in equal measure that their actions are actually rather responsible. And the goals of both sides seem similar: promoting the well-being of valued human lives.

The Freakonomics Debate

In 2001, economists John Donohue and Steven Levitt published a theory that shook the economics and political science fields to their cores. Their argument looked at a correlation between the legalization of abortion and the sharp decrease in crime in the 1990s, claiming that legalizing abortion reduced crime rates.

The main theory? Fewer unwanted kids = fewer at-risk teens causing trouble.

It seems simple, right? Let’s take a look again at the complaints of women having abortions: they don’t have the time, don’t have the money, don’t have the emotional resources. These reasons line up pretty well with the reasons why kids grow up in homes where they feel unwanted or where they feel unable to escape their lot in life. Statistically, these are the same kids relegated to crime-ridden, low-income neighborhoods.

And when you think about how difficult it is for children from low-income families to raise their standard of living, it makes sense that these are the same kids who end up committing crimes. According to Levitt and Donohue, that’s exactly what the numbers show in reverse: fewer unwanted kids in these neighborhoods means lower crime rates overall.

So what does that have to do with being pro-life?

So what exactly does it mean to be “pro-life“?

If you ask most Americans, being “pro-life” means being anti-abortion. But what about the meaning of the word itself?

Pro may mean “to be in favor of” or “to promote.” And life is not just the process of birth itself, but the very active and (hopefully) lengthy process of living.

Why does being “pro-life” stop at birth?

The main argument I hear from pro-lifers, and especially from those who are pro-life for religious reasons, is that every child deserves the chance at living.

steve_jobs_aborted

Ads like this one are meant to make us think about the lost opportunity at life. The implication is that when people are aborted, we miss out on what they could have been. But this misses the mark on what it means to support our children, our future generations.

If we really want to see the amazing things our potential children can do, shouldn’t we be supporting them for much longer than their birth?

What it should  mean to be pro-life

If you start asking the question “What if Steve Jobs had been aborted?” you can’t stop there.

What if Steve Jobs hadn’t been born to a white family? What if Steve Jobs had been female? What if Steve Jobs had grown up dirt-poor? What if he’d stayed in the broken home of his biological parents? Or if his adoptive parents Paul, a mechanic, and Clara, an accountant, had been living in government housing? Or if they’d been abusive?

More importantly, what if Steve Jobs hadn’t received a proper education? My guess is there would be no Apple Computers, just the same as if he hadn’t been born at all.

To say that being “pro-life” (as the label stands today) means giving every child a chance to be born because every child deserves the opportunity of life is entirely missing the mark on what it means for children to receive a real opportunity.

Face it: Roe vs. Wade is here, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So instead of focusing on uteri, or arguing the exact date a fetus becomes a child, maybe we should be focusing on more real, tangible ways of preserving the next generation: Education.

If you ask me, both pro-lifers and pro-choicers should be able to get behind the idea of equal and adequate education for all children – regardless of class, race, gender, lifestyle, geography, etc. And that starts with funding.

You want to claim that abortions are murdering the potential for our children to do great things? So is neglecting their education.

You want to claim that women are irresponsible for getting abortions during times when they lack the financial and emotional resources to properly care for their children? We as a nation are irresponsible for allowing those conditions to persist.

You want a real future for the next generation? That requires equal opportunities for our children through fully, adequately, and equally funded education across the country.

Same Me, Different Year — And Loving It!

shoesOne week ago we toasted to the New Year, and boy! What a year 2015 will be for me. My ten-year high school reunion is this year. My closest college friend is getting married. I’m graduating with a Master’s degree. And yet, once the champagne fizzled and the sun rose, there were still bills to pay, stresses to worry over, and work to be done.

Without even worrying with New Year’s Resolutions, I woke up Thursday morning the same boring person I was on Wednesday night. This past week has been the usual whirlwind: Get up. Do five things at once all day. Remember to eat. Crash. Repeat. And guess what? I’m happy about it!

Here’s why…

Cliché though it may sound, I spent New Year’s Day in a yoga workshop at my favorite studio, Tough Love Yoga, that focused on the consuming and fueling power of fire. Yet it was not the asana practice or intention-setting meditation which caught in my mind that afternoon. Instead, it was a simple truth of the practice that our fantastic instructor Neda reminded us near the end of the class: There is a lot of set-up involved before the sweet surrender into a pose.

Her simple statement struck me like a match, igniting a flame within my mind that consumed so many worries of the previous year. As a graduate student, research assistant, writer, sister, daughter, friend – as with every other busy human being – I had begun to see each day as an overflowing bucket of obligations and burdens. I’d wake up and put on the same worn-in pair of loafers purchased second-hand years before. “Same shoes, different day” had become my own personal nightmare in an ultimately suffocating way.

Yet this simple idea, this ordinary way of examining the same motions and poses we do in yoga classes all the time, suddenly became a revelation to my New Year.

“I spent my youth in the fire so I could spend my old age in the ash of truth.”
-Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Neda had posted this quote from her beloved teacher in the Facebook event for the workshop, and yet its own truth did not touch me until Neda’s words during the class. It takes a great deal of set-up before you can relax and surrender to a pose. So much of our lives is spent focused on the endgame. On the finish line. On the mountaintop. Especially in this age of hand-held technology and convenience, we so often forget the race itself, and the arduous mountain climb.

In yoga, we learn that each stretch, each twist and bend and push-up, brings you one tiny step closer to an intricate pose or a difficult arm balance. While one particular pose may be immediately easy, it can take months or even years to attain another. There is a keen sense of accomplishment felt and self-respect gained in each class and with every pose.

Much like in yoga, there is beauty and respect to be acknowledged in every day of our lives, even when nothing new has occurred. A difficult goal may be years away, but that does not mean that each monotonous day spent stretching toward your goal is not just as beautiful and worthy of deep respect and appreciation. Your bucket may be overflowing and overwhelming, but if you keep sorting through it, you will keep finding new accomplishments. Your shoes may be worn-in and outmoded, but they’re still ready each morning to take you on your daily adventure. In them, you will keep reaching new goals, fighting new fires, and building new hopes.

After all, that’s the beauty of life: the ability to wake up every morning and keep living, keep growing, keep stretching.

May your bucket never be empty, your shoes always be ready, and your fire always be burning! Happy New Year!

Two New Articles Out!

Check out my new articles on PJ Media!

Turning Purple: Could New Voters in Georgia Hand Senate Seat to Democrats?

by Alexandra C. Pauley

Michelle Obama in Atlanta: “If we increase the voter rolls by just three percent by adding Democratic voters…”

Georgia Senate Heats Up as Perdue, Nunn Get Their Hands Dirty

However, voters are not entirely sold on the muddier campaign strategies.