Uncommon

Hi, I'm Ryan. When I find the time, I write about life, politics, foreign policy, technology, and religion. This is merely one man's opinion... 1 of 7 billion.

Uncommon

unfettered but not unfiltered

5 Steps to Finding the Key to Happiness

image

Around 940 B.C., one of the great mysteries of the world was solved. History records that the smartest person on earth, with wealth beyond imagination, had finally found the most sacred object known to man. No, it wasn’t the Holy Grail. Nor was it a massive treasure of gold. (As a matter of fact, he pretty much owned almost everything.)

What Solomon discovered was much more valuable than anything he could physically touch. What did he find? He found the Key to Happiness.

Several books, motivational speakers, and the occasional Reader’s Digest article periodically proclaim what they believe to be the key to happiness.

Yet for over 3,000 years an increasing number of people have realized that the key to happiness lies in the ancient writings of Solomon, writings they have tested themselves and proven to be true time and again.

So, without further adiue, here are the 5 steps you can take to find Solomon’s key to happiness…

1) Become humble

Humility is one of those buzz words you hear occasionally that most likely elicits an unwelcome response in your innermost being, a desire to stop caring about your own needs and instead put someone else’s needs above yours. Yet the process of becoming humble (and eventually finding the key to happiness) is much more involved, leading to a gut-wrenching, come-to-Jesus moment (literally).

Your pursuit of becoming humble will shed light on your own human depravity and will evoke a response within you to seek out why you just can’t be good enough.

True humility forces you to come to a point of complete surrender to something bigger than yourself and an ultimate recognition that you are (and we all are) in need of someone (or something) to save us from that depravity.

Becoming humble requires that we contemplate our sinful nature and what the heck to do about it. The good news is that we can be set free from our own depravity, that we can be set free from our own false sense of superiority, free from our sinful nature and even free from death.

The good news is found in the Bible, which says that although the wages of sin is death, if we are humble enough to recognize our need for God, then we can have true freedom—the free gift of eternal life—by simply believing that Jesus, as God’s son, saved us from our depravity by taking our own sin upon himself, by removing the burden we cannot remove on our own.

That level of humility is required before moving on to Step 2.

2) Search for insight, ask for understanding

Solomon writes (in Proverbs 2:3-5) that if you seek insight and understanding from the Lord with as much passion as you pursue wealth (a.k.a. “The American Dream”), you will uncover one of the secret steps necessary for finding the key to happiness.

So, what is that secret step? It’s simply this: Cry out to God for insight.

Ask the Lord to give you understanding in every area of your life, in how to deal with relationships with people, in how to manage the affairs of your house or business, in how to raise your kids (if applicable), and in how to love.

You must develop a habit of seeking the Lord’s guidance for every decision you face and His knowledge for the things you do not know. Then, and only then, can you move on to Step 3.

3) Fear the Lord

The process of fearing the Lord is somewhat unique because it often involves us failing miserably before finally comprehending what it means to truly fear God.

According to Solomon, only when you humble yourself and seek the Lord for insight and understanding will you “understand what it means to fear the Lord.

So what does it mean to “fear the Lord”? Fearing the Lord should not be confused with being afraid of the Lord. Sure, he is big and powerful. But he is also kind and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love.

To fear the Lord is to recognize that he created you, knitting you together even in your mother’s womb, designing you for a purpose. Fearing the Lord means recognizing that he cares deeply about you, about your devotion to Him and to His advice.

4) Seek the Lord

The second-to-final step in finding the key to happiness is to seek the Lord in all you do.

Okay, so what does that mean?

Seeking the Lord means listening to Him and treasuring His commands, being honest and living your life with integrity, and storing up His commands in your heart.

Only then will you be able to move on to the final step to finding the key to happiness.

5) Embrace wisdom

The key to happiness is found in a relatively overlooked verse in Proverbs 3:18 of the Bible. It states,

"Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.”

So how to you gain wisdom? Again, you’re in luck! The Bible tells us “the Lord grants wisdom.”

Well, great. How do I get the Lord to grant me wisdom?

It’s simple: Ask.

God’s word is clear…

If you become humble, search for insight & ask for understanding, fear the Lord, seek the Lord, embrace wisdom & ask for it, you will find happiness.

The Cost of Following Christ

image

"Don’t begin until you count the cost." ~ Luke 14:28

Throughout the years, I have often been reminded that following Christ might cost me my life some day (v. 26). Yet, Jesus says that becoming his disciple requires much more than contemplating “your own life” scenario.

The Cost of Finishing

"Who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?" (v. 28)

Following Christ requires contemplating all the hardships you might face in life just for being a Christian. Deciding to become a disciple of Jesus shouldn’t be a light-hearted decision. Why? Because Jesus wants people who will follow through, who won’t quit on him.

After all, he says that if you decide to follow him and then, after realizing the cost is too high, decide to quit following him, people will laugh at you (vs. 29-30). Would you rather be ridiculed for your loyalty to Christ or for being a traitorous deserter? Those are the kind of questions you’ll want to contemplate before deciding to follow Christ.

Just as constructing a building requires making sure the cost does not prevent from finishing, building a Christ-filled life requires making sure you can overcome the cost.

The Cost of Giving Up Everything

Would a leader go to war without first consulting with his advisors? (v. 31) Of course not. And if he has to go to war but knows he’ll be defeated, won’t he first discuss terms of peace? It might mean surrender. It might mean giving up everything he owns.

Jesus says that (just like this leader) you cannot become Christ’s disciple “without giving up everything you own.” (v. 33)

The Cost of Staying “Salty”

Too many times in my life I’ve neglected to share Christ with someone who needs him. Jesus says of me, “Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again?”

Simply put, if I am not Jesus to the world, then what am I good for? The answer: Nothing. Jesus says that I should be “thrown away.” What a condemnation and, yet, what a challenge!

If you’re contemplating following Christ (or if you already are), you must realize that you cannot become complacent in sharing the good news of his salvation with those who need him! Otherwise, your “saltiness” (or lack thereof) won’t even be good enough “for the manure pile.” (v. 35)

"Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt."



- Herbert Hoover



What I Learned from a Josh Groban Concert

Josh Groban

For years now, Josh Groban has been a favorite of female fans worldwide. They have dragged their husbands, boyfriends, and sons to his concerts for the better part of the past decade.

So when I had an invite to attend one of his concerts, my first thought was that I would not have gone were it not for a friend’s generosity in giving me a ticket. Oh, and my wife would have to go with me.

It’s not that I disliked Groban. In fact, I appreciate good music in any form. It’s just that his choice of lyrics usually targets the female audience.

But when the concert began, it wasn’t Groban’s music that grew to impress me. (The man does have some serious vocal chops.) It was the way he interacted with his fans, the way he made them become a part of his show.

Over the course of the next two hours, I became a fan.

Dance with the Prom Girl

About 20 minutes into the show, Groban walks down from the stage and into the crowd, talking with them, and asking them questions.

The last person he talks to is this 17-year old girl. Groban asks her what her name is and she tells him. Then she says, “I missed my prom to come see you.”

The crowd erupts.

Groban takes it in stride and starts dancing with her, twirling her around, like her being there was worth every moment she missed at the prom.

20 minutes into the show, he has already won the crowd.

Humor the Audience, Self-Deprecating Style

Everyone loves humor, but not everyone likes the kind of humor you dish out, unless that humor comes in the form of self-deprecation.

Groban was a master at this. A few times he inferred how bad his love life was, though not in the kind of way that makes you think we was depressed. And he was well aware that most men in attendance came because their wives or girlfriends dragged them there. He made reference to this fact many times.

His self-confidence wasn’t lacking though. Neither was his humility. He displayed the perfect mix of humor, confidence, and humility — in the form of self-deprecation.

The crowd loved it.

Social Media is Your Ally

About half-way through the show, Groban informs the crowd that he will now read some text messages sent to him by his fans before the show began. He says that he doesn’t look at the texts before he reads them. He says it’s funnier and more authentic that way. The crowd, of course, agrees.

Before each text, Groban reads off the name of the person who sent him the text and which section of the stadium they’re sitting in. All this is so the spotlight people will find that person in the stadium. Then Groban says ‘Hi so-and-so’, reads their question, and then answers it. Some questions were serious. Some were funny.

But the only thing people cared about was that he cared. Social media became one more tactic to connect with his fans.

Always be a Student and Treat People with Kindness

One of the questions Groban answered had to do with his thoughts on what it takes to reach his level of success. He very quickly said, “Always be a student, and treat people with kindness. I never stop learning, and if I don’t treat people with kindness, then they will grow to despise me and talk behind my back. Who wants that?”

Whether in business, the arts, as a performer, or just living life day-to-day, Groban’s advice is solid.

Exalt others and You will be Exalted

The final text question came from a 20-something girl in the crowd. She asked, “Would you sing a duet with me? And how tall are you?” Groban laughed as he read the question, told her how tall he was (5’11”), then asked her, “Can you sing?” She said, “Yes”.

He then walks off the stage down to where she was, grabs her by the hand, and asks her to follow him to the stage. The crowd is going nuts at this point. The girl is probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown but follows him to the stage nonetheless.

Groban asks her what they should sing, and she names a song that he doesn’t know. “She wants me to sing a song I don’t even know! Why don’t you pick one of my songs?” So she does.

As she begins to sing, the crowd is left speechless for a brief moment because her voice was angelic. Groban is taken aback, and then joins in the duet with her. They finish together, and the crowd explodes in applause.

Groban exclaims, “I don’t think you really know how difficult that is! That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

The crowd is standing in awe, not only because the girl nailed her part but also because Groban gave her that chance.

As she walks back to her seat, she turns around and waves goodbye (or ‘thanks’) to Groban. He laughs and quips as if to say in her voice, “Thanks for the shot of a lifetime!”

Make People Feel Comfortable

Nearing the end of the concert, Groban walks back down into the crowd. He wants volunteers this time.

After picking a couple that had been married 37 years and a little 7-year old girl, he walks over to “Prom Girl” and asks her to join him.

She, of course, is swooning. And as they all walk onto the stage, Groban has his staff bring up some inflatable couches and a coffee table with wine and milk (for the 7-year old).

He then serenades them with a couple of songs, as they sit comfortably on stage.

The remaining 10 minutes of the concert was purely a focus on his music, but he had already won over the crowd and created even more fans, including me. I left there telling my wife, “He seems like a cool guy.” Who would have thought I would ever say that? Not me.

What To Do About the World’s Growing Inequality

Rich & Poor

Last month, The Economist ran a story about income disparities between the rich and everyone else. The Economist noted the growing concern among leaders of the world, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, Warren Buffett, and French economist (and Socialist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn. While each of these leaders has spoken recently of the dangers of a rising inequality, they differ on how to solve this — one of the world’s oldest problems.

The Gap, in a Nutshell

The growing inequality around the world can be attributed to a number of factors, none of which a single person has been able to yield influence over. Instead, as in most cases, it’s the “system” that usually fails someone — in this case, the world’s poor and middle class. The “system” that is failing so many can best be described as a combination of poorly performing schools, ineffective immigration laws, increased government influence over the daily life of the average person, entitlement mindsets, pursuits of greed and power, and a general rise in the number of rich people who withdraw from engaging in the rest of society and instead move to build a “self-contained world unto themselves, complete with their own health-care system (concierge doctors), travel networks (NetJets, destination clubs), separate economy… and language (‘Who’s your household manager?’)”.

To be sure, a rise in the number of rich people is not in itself the problem. A public education system is not in itself the problem. Immigration is not the problem. Government itself is not the problem. No, inequality happens when neglect or abuse enters the mix.

The Rich

No doubt you have heard the famous saying, “Money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money itself is not evil, but the pursuit of money can take hold of a person’s life and become the foundation for their deeds. Simply put, when rich people decide to disengage from those who are not rich and therefore fail to help others succeed as they have, they abuse their opportunity to make the world a better place. It’s true that many rich people employ others. Also true is the fact that the money they spend helps the lives of others employed to make the products or services that rich people buy. Yet, when the rich do not realize a greater responsibility as wealthy citizens to become more involved in helping others reach the same level of success they enjoy, they abuse their opportunity to lessen the gap of inequality. The result is obvious: Inequality grows.

Of course, not all rich people abuse their opportunity to help out. In fact, the majority are craving someone to mentor, someone less fortunate to help out, but don’t know how to make the connection. (Uh, oh. I just revealed another opportunity for a disruptive business. Get working, people!) Some rich people are simply to blame for neglect, for abdicating their duties as responsible citizens to seek out those less fortunate, to create institutions that disparage no one, and to willingly offer their time and talents in pursuit of something greater than themselves — the growth of another human being.

Abuse by rich people can lend itself to many forms: the pursuit of excessive power or greed. Granted, to some extent we all want to increase our influence and living standards. Yet, if we are not grounded in something stronger than ourselves — such as family or friends who won’t be afraid to correct us and a God who can sustain us — we may find ourselves in the peak of life, wealthier than ever, and susceptible to neglecting the least of our society or, worse, abusing our opportunity to influence for the good.

Failed Education Model

We are all familiar with stories of a public education system failing yet another student, of incompetent tenured teachers, and of teachers’ unions wielding way too much influence. In fact, The Economist places much of the blame on how America’s “powerful teachers’ unions have stopped poorer Americans getting a good education.” That’s a nice sound bite, but I think what The Economist was trying to get at was the way in which teachers’ unions in the U.S. have lobbied to never let a teacher get fired, never let a school become defunded, regardless of how piss-poor the teachers were or how terrible the results coming out of a failing school.

In defense of teachers everywhere, the real issue is not the quality teachers alone. The real issue is the system. In the U.S. we have a failed public education model. I am a product of both private and public education. To be fair, though my private education was by far better in the elementary years than those of my public education peers, private education failed me during junior high. How so? Without going into details, the model was simply broken. I learned virtually nothing in those three critical years. In high school, my parents were able to lobby the principle to remove me from poor teacher’s classes and match me up with great teachers. As a result, I enjoyed being taught by four “Teachers of the Year”.

As stated above, public education itself is not the problem. Yet when the U.S. increasingly lags behind other less-developed countries in math and science, we are doing something wrong. When so many of our 18-year olds don’t have the capacity to hold a decent job or go on to college, we have only ourselves to blame for not fixing our education system problems.

Illegal Immigration & Multiculturalism

Just recently, leaders in Europe met together to discuss the growing problem of multiculturalism. The term multiculturalism has several different meanings, depending on your worldview. According to European leaders, they define multiculturalism as an invasion of one society’s culture without regard for the respect of and adherence to the culture in which they live. Specifically, both Tony Blair and David Cameron, along with other European leaders have seen how their countries’ policies toward illegal immigrants and multiculturalism are failing. Specifically, illegal immigrants in Europe do not have respect for European culture and are instead trying to replace European culture with their own.

Here in the U.S., we have the same thing going on. The U.S. has been a great melting pot of many differing cultures. In large part, this is due to the wonderful cultural aspects that legal immigrants have brought to this country and their willingness to assimilate into ours. Yet, in this new era of multiculturalism, illegal immigrants are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be “multicultural”. Many illegal immigrants disregard our way of life and instead publicly acknowledge their desire to replace our culture, language, and government with their own.

So what is the result from a blend of multiculturalism and illegal immigration? In Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, illegal immigrants account for an increasing majority of those under the poverty line. They account for an increasing majority of crime. And they account for an increasing overall mindset of entitlement.

Increased Government Influence & Entitlement

Government is not bad. That may startle some conservatives, but a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is not a bad government. Of course, most of us realize that the current state of most governments — with over-bloated bureaucracies and unchecked power — provides for a climate that breeds entitlement. When governments become too big for their own good and start failing the public in spectacular fashion, they begin seeking majority support from society in order to continue existing.

Every society should have governance. Here in the U.S., our founders saw such a need early on in bringing together the colonies, yet what they also saw was the need for a government to keep itself in check. They saw the danger in government influence over the life of a citizen in how England was governing the colonies. Today, the U.S. government is the largest employer in our nation. Bureaucrats have largely succeeded in exerting soft control over our citizens. Many of our friends or family work for the government. Our teachers work for the government. To some extent — through welfare programs — our poor work for the government.

Is it any wonder why so many people oppose cuts in their area of government? Most people say that our government needs to do something about our huge deficit. Yet, most would also say, “Just don’t touch my area. Just don’t decrease my salary.” For example, let’s have a look at the teacher. Now, I love teachers. In fact, I think teachers should be paid more and paid according to the quality of work they perform.

So back to the example: Let’s say I’m a teacher. The economy has just tanked. People are being layed off right and left. The unemployment rate is hovering around 10%. Companies are trying to stay afloat by decreasing salaries across the board by 10%. Who are the people still employed without a cut to their salaries? Government workers. Teachers.

Then when a state decides, “We’re going to do something about this debt and cut government salaries across the board by 10%,” who are the first to complain — the first to picket? Teachers. It’s for the children, they say. BS, I say. It’s an entitlement mentality. And it’s not just teachers. It’s pretty much all government workers.

Through no fault of their own, government workers have been sold a Porsche — steady salary, incredible benefits, and tenure. Yet they come to find out that their Porsche has no engine — no way of getting ahead by one’s own measure. They’re not upset by it though. They have the government to push them along… at a steady pace. They can rely on the government. And if their lives suddenly crash and burn, what will they do? Well, they cry out to the government to save them. It is the government after all that moves them along in life.

Europe is realizing this all too well. Look at Greece, one of the world’s largest entitlement societies. The country was on the brink of ruin and will be there again shortly. “Give us our jobs back, give us our pensions, or give us death!” they cried. When other European governments hinted of balking, what did the Greeks do? They cried some more. And guess what? The government saved them again.

Through all the efforts of governments to influence the lives of its citizens, do you know what the most interesting commonality is among them all? A dumbing down effect. While the rest of the world is increasing its pace of becoming better educated, we are decreasing ours. It’s the mindset of entitlement: I deserve this. It’s my right. Ultimately, such a mindset lends itself to apathy, then poverty. This is not to say that all poor people are apathetic but to say that all apathetic people are poor. A mindset of ”you don’t deserve it and I do” will not get you ahead in life — in your living standard, in your relationships, or in anything else.

The Solutions

Solutions are easy to write on paper. Theories are easy to formulate. Because it takes a willingness of so many people to change the course of one failed system, change this big often seems impossible to accomplish. For the rich, they must be willing neither to abuse their power & influence nor to neglect their duty as responsible citizens to help others less fortunate than themselves. They must be willing to step out of their comfort zone and find people to mentor. How to do this? If you’re rich, begin by surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable to becoming a better citizen, a better person, one who gives back of your time and wisdom.

As far as education is concerned, it will take a few brave individuals in government leadership to possibly sacrifice what’s politically popular in favor of reforming their country’s education system. What we need is a different education model. Actually what we need are several competing models, thereby flushing out the bad ones in favor of flourishing good ones. If you find yourself in a position of leadership to effect change, then hopefully you will have reached that point by already surrounding yourself with wise people who will keep you grounded. Only then will you be able to act wisely on wise counsel and effect the change our country so desperately needs.

Illegal immigration breeds multiculturalism, which breeds an entitlement mentality. Increased government influence also breeds an entitlement mentality. A scaled-back, lean government with competent immigration policies will help turn the tide of entitlement thinking to something more promising: If I work hard enough and smart enough, with persistence I can improve my living standards, my family, and my legacy. I will not be part of the world’s growing inequality.

Are Twitter Users Narcissistic?

Narcissistic Twitter Users

I haven’t been on the Twittersphere that long, but what I’ve noticed is that social norms play out as heavily on the web as they do offline. Take the “Retweet”, for example. Duncan Geere wrote a piece on Wired.com about a social media study from Sysomos on why 71% of tweets “get absolutely no response from the world.”

So why do so many Twitterers refuse to show the love? My initial thought is that Twitter users are simply narcissistic. Twitter users love to see themselves retweeted, love to see their Twitter “cred” go up. And if you’re a Twitter peon like me (< 1 thousand followers), the coveted RETWEET is as close you get to social influence on the Twittersphere.

Let’s take a look at the social dynamics in play on Twitter.

1. Esteem and Self-Actualization

To be sure, when Abraham Maslow wrote his paper A Theory of Human Motivation, he never could have imagined a virtual world, where social interactions mimicked those in real life. After all, why have a virtual world if you still have to be yourself? Now, that’s a topic for another discussion, but I digress. What Maslow proposed is that after a person’s first three needs are met — physiological, safety, love/belonging — the need to be respected, to be esteemed, becomes a person’s greatest need. After respect is gained, a person then moves on to fulfilling the final need: fulfilling one’s potential in life (i.e. self-actualization).

Within the world of Twitter, most people are consumed with fulfilling the need to be respected within the Twitter community, and when that is gained, the need to fulfill one’s potential. For the marketing guru on Twitter, gaining respect might equate with having 90% of your tweets retweeted. Fulfilling your potential might equate with having 50,000 followers and from those followers generating more and more business than you ever thought possible.

For the small business owner like myself (owner of VoterMind.com), gaining respect on Twitter would probably mean that my Twitter followers retweeted half of my tweets, leading to a dramatic increase in my follower count. But who knows? I haven’t found a credible source on the web who said, “This is what it means to gain respect on Twitter.” I suppose that if VoterMind is so successful that people are “following” me in droves, then I’d humbly say that I’m not sure that’s even reaching my potential. True potential on Twitter is somewhat confusing.

What is “potential” on Twitter anyway? If you had 1 million followers, and you tweeted that your grandma just took 3 hours to eat her apple, and 700,000 people retweeted that, then would you say that’s worth anything at all? What if you tweeted something so meaningful to the world that you thought this could be the best tweet ever, and all 1 million people retweeted that to the world, what would that be worth? Would that be fulfilling your potential on Twitter?

The point is that every person’s fulfillment of esteem and self-actualization will look different, but all people seem go through the same motions to achieve that fulfillment.

2. Individualism and Selfishness

We are all selfish. By nature, people are selfish beings. We want what we want when we want it. Even when we try to be unselfish — like giving large checks to large charities — we make sure we gain something out of our unselfishness. In this case, that “something” would be a tax deduction.

On Twitter, our desire to fulfill our need of being respected and achieve our potential often leads us to act out in very selfish ways. For example, Twitterers apparently don’t retweet 70% of tweets. Why would this be? To pary, probably some of the tweets are ridiculous to most (like the grandma tweet). From what I’ve seen on Twitter, lots and lots of tweets are simply copied, then “repurposed” or reformatted to appear like an original tweet. Shoot, I’ve been guilty too. But why?

We all want to be known. We all want to be our own individual selves, not just a copy of someone else’s brilliance, wit, or humor. Our individualism prevents us from propping up those people and those things we find interesting, smart, witty, or funny. Instead, since we realize the value of the tweet, we want it for our own. Enter selfishness.

After some thought, I’d say that Twitterers aren’t narcissistic. They’re just human. The fact is that our social norms in real-life interactions seem to play out similarly on the web — in this case, on Twitter. We all have basic needs that need to be met. Why be a different person online than in real life? Because both worlds are inextricably bound to each other. Maslow’s hierarchy was spot on. Little did he know his theories would play out in virtual life. So do someone else a favor (me), and retweet this. After all, I’m just asking out of my own selfish need for esteem and self-actualization.