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An Intersectional Look at the Alphabet Soup: Two Spirit

As part of the kick off for Native American Heritage month I wrote the following article:

For those readers who are unaware of what I mean by Alphabet Soup, I am referring to the LGBTQ+ acronym, and every variation that goes along with it. Something else many readers may not be aware of is that it is Native American Heritage Month. The question you are probably asking yourself is what is the link between LGBTQ+ identities and Native Americans. This is both of a simple nature and it is a complex answer: Two-Spirit.

Two-Spirit indicates that a person is inhabited by both a masculine and feminine spirit and is a term used to identify individuals who transgress the bounds of gender and or sexuality. The term is an umbrella term for decided on by native peoples during the third annual Intertribal Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference, which took place in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990. The term was chosen to replace the word Berdache, a title given to these Native Peoples by the Europeans. This word is highly offensive as it is rooted in the French word bardache, which refers to male prostitutes.

Those who are Two-Spirit don’t necessarily present their gender differently from their birth assigned sex. Many are in relationships with individual who are the same-sex, as a Two-Spirit identified person. In some tribes, the title of Two-Spirit was taken on by war widows as a show of strength and respect for their fallen partner.
Throughout the Native populace Two-Spirit individual were and still are treated with reverence and respect. They are healers and medicine persons, warriors, orators, soothsayers, nurses, potters, matchmakers, and often makers of the feathers of special headdresses. Many of the fiercest warriors were Two-Spirit identified.

Although we see Two-Spirit identified people in many, many native tribes, the concept is not universal among Native Peoples. Native American Nations, such as the Iroquois have never had the Two-Spirit ideology within their tribes. Two-Spirit, like all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, is an identity. But unlike many of identities in the alphabet soup, it also cultural. I caution those who read this who are of non-native heritage from claiming this identity as your monomer. Cultural identities come with a rich history rooted in privilege and oppression.

Today, Native People are once again embracing this identity and Two-Spirit is welcome amongst my Alphabet Soup. I encourage you to include it as well


Brazil 2014: Latin America.


This past Tuesday, October 15th the last set of qualifiers for the World Cup were played and more than 21 Countries secured their participation in Brazil. Among those 6 Latin American Countries: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Honduras. These six Countries overcame what has been described as the most competitive qualifiers of the last  couple of decades, as many of the aforementioned Countries only managed to secure their ticket to Brazil on the last date.

The next phase of qualifiers has started, and  two more Latin American Countries are still in contention for participation in Brazil – Uruguay and Mexico. Both come from disappointing qualifying campaigns.  Uruguay after finishing 4th in last edition of the World Cup ( South Africa 2010), was expected (with Argentina) to be the sole dominants of the South American Qualifiers ( Conmebol Round-Robin); but instead suffered getting a spot in the play-off’s. Now they must face Jordan to determine their comeback to Brazil where they previously won the 1950s World Cup. Mexico, on the other hand, has never been considered a major team, but they have  always been expected to qualify. This campaign proved to be a disastrous one, more than two Head Coaches resigned after less than stellar results. In fact they were not supposed to be facing the play-offs, they failed to win their last Match against Costa Rica and only a late victory of the US against Panama saved them from missing out the World Cup altogether for the first time since Italy 1990. Now they must face New Zealand to determine their participation in Brazil. However without a Head Coach and little time to prepare, Mexico has a lot to overcome so as to regain the confidence of their players in order to secure their participation in Brazil.


Time is the condition,
the inherent volition
in which the experience
of subject and object
a priori and a posteriori,
(which is and exists)
lies through a space

The time came into being with the Big Bang,
or the world is in time,
and the time of the world,
shows that time is in the world,
otherwise recognize how the Big Bang came into being with the time

So I explode as a time-bomb,
and find artificial paradises,
and life gives me drunken thoughts,
and the piece of the puzzle enacts the road,
and I got a Lacanian psychosis,
by breaking from dreams rather than from reality

And in the kingdom of realia,
the subject asks:
What happened with time?
And the object answers:
Life happened, it just happened!
Subjective and objective
rational and experiential questions
are the ones found here

But answers turn us
into unique beings
whereupon false connections
ought to burn the bridges,
flood the streets,
flying through the deserted mountains,
and descend from the ether
to verstehen this

Believe in me,
because by creating your own world
(solipsist of false admirations)
you must go beyond the eyes,
with the help of your psyche,
before Shiva destroys the outside,
and your very own creations

Aber, ich bin not a solipsist,
come with me,
let’s go to the end of the foundation,
through our perceptual and conceptual vehicle,
by our induction and deduction,
our transcendental machine,
aesthetics, dialectics, analytics,
all of a sudden the slumber disappears,
because there wasn’t any slumber at all,
just illusion of one: an utterly completed synthesis

An inference of perspective,
a glimpse of regularity,
causation of habit,
and the only recurrence:
my faith in you

Time to Stop Binary Thinking – The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

I had the pleasure to interview Thomas Ouellette (Director) and Peter Ruiz (Actor) from the upcoming adaptation of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, and hear – not only their opinions towards the play and its significance – but also about their views towards humanity, theater, and art. Peter and Thomas are very passionate about what they do, and they related it back to what is it that makes good articles. Their answer: the ones that comes closer to everyone’s soul.


Camilo Garzon: Why did Rollins decide to make an adaption of the Laramie Project in this specific time?

Thomas Ouellette: A little history on the topic, the original Laramie Project was done in 1998. The play became instantly an international phenomenon. In the beginning of 2000 it was one of the top 3 plays produced in the US, and consequently became translated and adapted in many other countries. Many students in their twenties have at least seen one adaptation of it. The decision to make the Ten Years Later was made to mark the 10 year anniversary, done by the Tectonic Theater Group, and thus decided to check how the town was doing. In the first play, Matthew never appears. What appears is a place, just a town and its reaction. That is where the universality was with respect to places identifying with it. In the second piece the reaction is just like my town. The Tectonic was not going to go back to find unpleasant memories, but to check with the town itself and the progress or permanence that had occurred. Now. Why am I interested in the play now at Rollins? We did the play 6 or 7 years ago, in the Fred Stone. As you know, it’s a smaller venue. It certainly sold every night back then, however this time I did not want to visit the first play of the Laramie Project. I wanted to see where homophobia is now, not where it was in 1998, but now. The second play is about how Laramie has owned what happened and the ways they haven’t. The inhabitants of Laramie have rewritten their history. What is interesting is to see how people attach to the play. This is about two outliers in our town, but not only outliers, they are alcoholic outliers.

C. Ga: Now going in another direction, what do you consider has been interesting of the portrayal and artistic representation of these characters?

Peter Ruiz: One of the big ideas I think of is to connect with these people in the visceral level. It does not matter what you are in race, gender or identity. Laramie is an every-man’s-town. It represents the US towns and all of us. We should portray these characters as what they are, human beings. And as such, they are someone you can connect with, with compassion. They can be despicable, clearly. When Father Roger is talking about one of the perpetrators, we understand that he is more like me, than unlike me. When he spoke this line I recognized and confirmed my thought that everyone has a piece of every character.

Th. O: Cliché is that actors cannot play someone that they don’t like. But there is some truth inside of it. In Rollins, how do I get into the skin of the character that I don’t like? You are going to play a murderer, and have to figure out how to get in their characters, clearly based on human beings and the true accounts of their lives. We have to humanize them and tell their story. It’s not my job to teach a lesson, my job is to tell the story honestly and fully, and let the people react to it individually. If we wanted to make a point, or even tell a story with a moral, it would fail as a story. If I were to write a speech about homophobia and recite it in the Annie Theater, plus inviting the community to hear it, no one would come and hear it. I am an artist and what I can do well is to tell the story, and expose the audience to this.

P. Ru: I remember in the first rehearsal how everyone was discussing the killers. We went to talk about abstract thoughts and about their actions. I’m the super gay one, and I was the only one who stood up in the defense of Russell, because he would be abused and hit while growing up. I said that this might have been one of the reasons for him to not be strong enough to stop Aaron. There are a lot of people that cannot understand why he was an accomplice, even so they can still relate to their past.


C. Ga: But wouldn’t that be an apparent contradiction of terms? What about the dualities of human nature?

Th. O: Two things can be true at the same time. On one level, Russell deserves to be in prison. On the other level, it is true that he did what he could with the deck of cards that he was given. His past and the bad decisions he had made led him to that night, and helped to make Matthew a saint, a martyr, an icon. We all are Matthew Shepard. If you go to CFAM and see an art piece, and you have someone by your side, the person will take something from it, you take another thing. The same with theater. Once it is on the stage, as art is on the wall, it deals with interpretations. I don’t want an explanation from art. I want to take whatever I can from it

P. Ru: My perspective doesn’t come to live until I come to the audience. It is the exchange of ideas, passions, ideologies, that intermingle with the audience, and the actors of the piece. That is the moment when art is created.

Th. O: If I create a painting and just leave it the garage, is it art?

P. Ru: If someone sees it, then it is art. What we are working on now is art, what we will be showing in the Annie is theater art.


C. Ga: Why do we, humans, have to identify with all those socially over-imposed categories?

P. Ru: We live in a binary society. There is nothing in between for most of the society. One side is the proper, the right. The other is the wrong side to do things in. When we introduce the shades of gray, and stop thinking in black and white, our own brain starts putting a red flag. We categorize so that our brain can put things into boxes, and when we cannot, we create tension in ourselves. And the only way to deal with it is with actions. When people are uncomfortable it’s because of crossing boundaries. We attribute these different characteristics, such as masculinity to men to become a manly man; or on the contrary we attribute more feminine characteristics to men. These categories are not real.


C. Ga: It is completely sexist to do so. Even Jung argues that, what man should strive for, is an understanding of their feminine part, which he calls the anima.

Th. O: It is sexist. Why would you undermine women?  What is wrong with having a more feminine side in any gender? The lazy thing about binary thinking is that it allows us to define things from what they are not. A gay person is not a straight person. This does not define what they are. It is a shortcut. I also think that there are bits of me in the really troubled people and in the really virtuous. Theater allows us to see experiences and look at the world, plus having the magic in a darkened room, shoulder to shoulder with other others, and understanding how horrifying and fun it is to be human. To see the ways we relate with the characters and the ways we don’t. Shakespeare relates to us even nowadays because the way I relate with him underlines the ways I don’t. This play relates to us as humans, and thus it is not for one or the other, art is for all.


As Shakespeare’s Macbeth teaches us that fair is foul and foul is fair, or Goethe’s Faust shows us how two souls are dwelling in his breast; be sure to come to the first show of Rollins’ adaptation of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later on September 27, at 8:00 pm (Doors will open at 7:00 pm) and see how art can show us a reconciliation of opposites, and not binary thinking.



Photographer: Lisa Thompson

#1/ Director Thomas Ouellette

#2/ Director Thomas Ouellette

#3/ Director Thomas Ouellette (right) and actor Peter Ruiz (left)

#4/ Director Thomas Ouellette (right) and actor Peter Ruiz (left)

#5/ Actor Peter Ruiz

#6/ Director Thomas Ouellette

#7/ Director Thomas Ouellette


Photographer: Olivia Haine

#8/ Actors Ryan Roberson (left) and Casey Casteel (right) with Assistant Director Charlie Barresi

#9/ Actors Ryan Roberson (left) and Casey Casteel (right) with Assistant Director Charlie Barresi

#10/ Actors Taylor Sorrel (left) and Chris Stewart (right) with Director Thomas Ouellette (center)

#11/ Actors Taylor Sorrel (right) and Chris Stewart (left) with Director Thomas Ouellette (center)

#12/ Director Thomas Ouellette with actors Chris Stewart and Taylor Sorrel (from left)

#13/ Director Thomas Ouellette with actors Chris Stewart and Taylor Sorrel, from left (& Lillian)

My Land Is Not For Sale

Juan Manuel Santos is Colombia’s president. We both have had the opportunity to study outside of the Bogotan bubble. He went to University of Kansas, I came to Rollins. However similar we are in this educational privilege, we are radically different. I want to serve, he does not. If you want to rule, don’t preside over my country, Mr. Santos. I don’t want our country in your feeble hands for four more years. Politics is the meta-practice that strives for internal goods and for the whole community.

However, since Colombia signed a Free Trade Agreement with the US, my people have been bleeding. We have been economically growing and stable in inflation. Yet, there is a clear crisis with a reason: Colombia – as Mexico, when NAFTA was signed – was and still is not prepared for the economic consequences brought by a FTA. And it is because of this that farm-workers are still in a national strike.

As my friend, Sebastian Sanchez 13’, stated in a Facebook status about the situation: “it has become a domino effect for those in ‘power’ to screw the ‘bottom’”. This tendency is evident right now with the agrarian workers.  Agriculture etymologically means the care of the fields. They are one of the cornerstones of the country because they indeed care for our land. “We are what we are because we have farmer roots”, a women protesting on one of the marches said. I have farmer roots. All my grandparents lived in rural areas when growing up. My blood is the same that runs through theirs. And they are voicing and acting upon the unfair treatment done by the authorities.

And what does the Head of State decide to inform the world and his country?

“The, so called, agrarian national strike does not exist

Those are heavy words, right there, Mr. President.

For a MEcon and MPA – that has been both Minister of Finance and of Defense, in a country rooted on an agrarian economy – I find this as a promotion for ignorance and indifference that I cannot stand.

I want to believe you were joking. I want to think of this as your way to relieve the distress and stabilize the tension. Maybe you were doubting existence of this phenomenon as Descartes, Husserl, or the Madhyamaka, so that you can then see what is real.

Are you disregarding that the countrymen that work tirelessly every day of their lives – like my compatriot Cesar Pachon, who voiced the problems of the agrarian community to the Senate on May 7th – should continue surviving this karmic retaliation that they do not deserve, and that their claim is (for you) non-existent?  Two questions now: Is there no corruption in any possible sphere of Colombian society? Are FARC not killers and your reelection-trump-peace-treaty that is being signed with them is for all of us to obliviously sing kumbayah?

I find this hard to believe when you declared a state of exception. This is clarified in the Colombian constitution from article 212 to 215. The Constitutional Court explains this in the C-049 Sentence of 2012. However the Court, in its jurisprudence, interpreted the 7th numeral of Article 241 as a constitutional mutation, which was done without the normal mechanisms of reform. Furthermore, the Court was not given, by the 1991 Constituent Assembly, the faculty to make an analysis of the decrees that declare these states. We know the president, and his ministers, have the faculty of declaring them. But he is doing it for a strike that does not exist? How does Santos have the pants to make this claim and declare it?

Cowardice, as Bulgakov wrote, is the most terrible of vices. Concealing, corrupting, and lying are not going to solve the problem. He is escaping from it, and he is ignoring it as well. And this makes me think of our generation. Yes, clearly we all get bored and selfish, it is natural. But not all of us act and decide cowardly. When you try to transform subjects into objects – and throw them into the garbage – they will come back. They will rebel to the mediocrity of this decision. Santos decided superficially, shallowly, and as what he is: a spoiled child. I am not going to accept this. I hope you, reader, won’t either.

I will guarantee you this: my land is not for sale. The storm will come to an end, and a slack tide will hit my country’s shores when Santos and these cynic politicians start acting as Colombians. Colombians like Cesar Pachon. As a fellow (although self-exiled) Colombian, I want you to be aware that I apply what Borges once wrote:

“Nobody is the homeland, but we all are

And you, Cesar, are definitely not alone.

Gender Bending in India

Over winter break I was fortunate to attend a field study to India. I was ready for the cold weather –until the airline lost my luggage for five days– I was ready to eat vegetarian, I was expecting bucket showers and squat-style toilets, and I was ready to brush my teeth with bottled water. What I was not expecting was for other people to think that I was a female on a regular basis.

To be fair, I have had my gender confused in the States as well, but not multiple times daily, and it never really made a difference like it did in India. Also in the States, it usually only happens when people get a side or back view of me, and even I think that my now-shoulder-length-hair looks pretty from that angle. However, if I’m facing someone or talking to them directly, it has never been an issue before.

The first time I was sent to the women’s section was during a Hindu chanting session at our ashram in Rishikesh, located at the foothills of the Himalayas. One of our hosts directed me to the left-hand side of the room, where the women were sitting. I quickly noticed the gender segregation –there were many more women than men– and sat down with the other men on the right side. Within less than a minute, someone walked up in front of me and politely yet purposefully directed me to stand up and go to the other side. I decided to simply follow directions rather than argue during a chanting ritual in a foreign country.

The Ganges River, outside the ashram in Rishikesh

The next time was in Agra as we were entering the grounds of the Taj Mahal. There were separate lines for men and women, and our tour guide put me in the women’s line. Asserting my male privilege really paid off this time, because the men’s line was significantly shorter. However, the person checking my ticket looked at me skeptically, and again I had to assert that I was indeed a male.


At the Taj Mahal

At several of the restrooms in India there was someone holding paper towels or napkins that they would then give you to dry your hands. By one such restroom in a roadside restaurant in Agra, this person pointed to the ladies room as I approached. I pointed to the men’s room and proceeded.

Since my sexual orientation is straight, sex is male, and gender expression I presumed was male, I never thought that I’d have to assert that I belong in the men’s restroom or worry about what other people thought as I entered. After this experience I always had second thoughts when entering the restrooms in Indian airports.

Just so we have everything straight (yes, the pun is intended), sex refers to your biological sex –organs and stuff. Next, there’s gender identity, which refers to whether you feel like or identify as a man or a woman or both or neither or something else. Next, there is sexual orientation –who you are attracted to. There is also gender expression, which oddly enough, is how you express your gender. Sounds simple, but there are also gender roles, or how society believes that a person of a specific gender should act and present themselves.

Even in America but more so in India the gender role that I am breaking is the length of my hair and perhaps looking pretty. An employee at Rollins actually said that I look pretty enough to be a girl, to which I responded, “Thank you, I think.” Besides the few above stories, I was also referred to as “mad ‘am” countless times during our field study, including in the Paris airport and on the airplane.  Much of the gender-segregation in India seemed to be in place because of all the places we visited where we could not get in without getting patted down at security, such as at the airport and the temple at the birthplace of Krishna, where I stood right in front of the security guard and said, “I am a man.”

The only other men with long hair that I noticed were members of the Sikh religion, who cover their un-cut hair with a turban. I also can’t grow nearly as much facial hair as men are apparently supposed to.

I’ve grown used to it by now. My official count for the total number of times it has happened is in the 20s, although I could not keep track of them all in India. After the first few times I was starting to question my look, which I always thought was relatively adequate, but never feminine, despite my slender figure and beautiful hair. The gender role of masculinity is tall, big, muscular, short hair, and perhaps facial hair; none of which I fulfill.

The Indian field study was only ten days, and mix-ups in America are far between and make little difference. However, there are people whose sex, gender identity, and expression play a significant factor in their daily lives just because they do not match dominant values, and it can make a big difference. Something as simple as using a public restroom can be difficult when your identity does not match one of the two nice clean shiny boxes in a binary perspective of sex and gender. Or perhaps your marriage would be considered illegal just because it does not fit a narrow standard of what a marriage is. I just got a minor taste of what it can be like, and still there were times when I was thinking, “Maybe I should just go through the women’s section.” It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like living with something like that every day.

Good as Gold

Recently I’ve been pondering the Japanese art of Kintsugi, or the practice of mending broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold resin. There was an image of such a piece circulating around Facebook, and the metaphorical implications were quite profound.

I know no more about Kintsugi than that which was revealed via a quick Google search, but here is the main idea. The goal is to honor the history of the pottery. It makes no attempt to hide its cracks and imperfections, but rather incorporates them into its design and restoration, thus repairing its wholeness and making it even more intricate than before in the process. It’s a very honest way of dealing with something, one that respects the scars that life has thrown at it and even sees beauty in its rough history.

An interesting comparison is how ancient Romans would repair their pottery. They would use wax that can seamlessly blend into the work and be painted over. It’s somewhat of a folktale that this was a way for dishonest potters to cover the flaws of their work, and so a piece that was made without wax (sine cera) or sincerely, was more valuable and honest. However, there is probably little truth to this story, but like Kintsugi, its metaphorical implications resonate with people, which is probably why it’s a popular explanation. Whereas Kintsugi highlights the imperfections of a piece, using wax would hide them, giving the guise of perfection when in fact a pot repaired with wax would be just as cracked as one repaired with gold.

When we relate to people, it seems to me that we have the option to be the mythological unscrupulous Roman potter or the honest Kintsugi artist. We can either try to cover imperfections or embrace and respect them. No one is perfect, and in fact accepting our imperfection can be a great relief with the gift of permission to live authentically. Everyone goes through hard times, some more than others, but that just means that they need more gold to put the pieces back together.

So, why would people use wax instead of gold when interacting? Well, wax is inexpensive. It does not take as much effort to plaster over something. Wax can blend in, helping uphold the impossible image of perfection. However, wax is also a cheap substitute compared to ceramics. Gold on the other hand is a highly valuable heavy metal that stands out. Similarly, interacting sincerely –without wax as the story goes- is valuable, substantial, and beautiful. The cracks will still be clearly visible, but that has become part of the charm rather than something to stress about covering up.

Perhaps even worse than using wax is throwing something away completely. Just look at our society’s collective junk that is bloating landfills, polluting the oceans, and getting shipped to poorer countries. Those could  be valuable resources if we would go through the effort of sorting things out, or, even better, built things that were designed to be reused and recycled in an ecologically respectful manner. However, we keep seeking more and more pristine resources. At some point someone needs to say enough, and many people are because they have had enough.

Saying enough means taking a stand, asserting yourself and your boundaries and reaffirming your individuality. There’s this annoying aether of not-enoughness or scarcity in our culture. Just fill in the blank: I’m not ________ enough. There’s plenty of things I could put in that blank. That same craving for more that is manifest large in how we interact with the environment as a society also exists more or less in each of us. Depending on your circumstances, you may really need more, but if not, it’s time to say no.

Since wax is blends in like make-up, it can create a false image that appears more complete and pristine than reality. If we judge ourselves to this illusion, then that will support the feeling of not-enoughness. So, use gold instead and use it well, because in addition to being valuable, it’s also rare.

And as nice as it would be for the gold in our lives to look like this

Odds are good that it will look like this, where it ought to be, reconstructing beauty out of life’s challenges.

So, what’s your religion?

My initial internal reaction to hearing the above question is usually, “Dang it, what was it again?” I personally don’t feel the need to identify or label my religion, but it helps for the sake of communication. So, here it is just in case I need to remind myself someday.

When people inquire about my religion, I get the sense that they’re often really asking if I believe in some sort of supernatural something. When it comes to God, I consider myself ignostic, which means that I don’t know what you mean when you say God. Once we clarify what we’re talking about, then I may be able to commit a different label with respect to that God.

For most Gods, I’d just be a shade short of atheistic, such as with the God of the Abrahamic religions and gods of other cultural mythologies, many I’m sure I’ve never heard of. I prefer not to use the term agnostic, because that makes it sound like I’m on the fence between yes and no, when I really think that God is highly unlikely. However, atheist is too strong of a devotion, so I guess there’s no nice shiny box to fit this into. Some people may label things that already exist as God, such as the universe, everything, or energy. In that case, I believe these exist, but calling them God is at best redundant. Then there are Gods that are beyond our powers of comprehension by definition, such as simply by saying, “God is beyond our comprehension, so everything that you think God is, he isn’t.” In that case, it’s open ended and over, and I’d rather get to more interesting questions.

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Religion is more than just about a supernatural something or another, but for some reason I get the sense that a religion to many people is a tightly sealed box packed with God, a moral code of behavior, values determining what is important, an understanding of the universe, and our part in it. Some people may be afraid to open the box and examine what’s inside, worried that if one can’t hold its ground, then everything else is threatened. However, just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t mean I don’t believe in morality or live a life void of meaning. Everything is astounding enough as it is, and I don’t need the supernatural to appreciate it.

Might as well start with people. Humanism to me basically means that the well-being of people is important, and it does not really matter if God exists or not. If he does, that’s great. If not, that’s great too. Either way, here we are living in this big world.

Everyone has the same basic needs, such as nutritious food, clean water, clear air, and adequate shelter. We all feel stress from the same types of circumstances: uncertainty, loss of control, lack of information, emotional isolation, and overwhelming conflict. Furthermore, everyone wants to feel like they belong, otherwise we can feel disoriented, rather like a stranger lost in a unknown land looking for something or someone familiar.

Any good religion comes with guidelines, so here are some about being human that I believe in. Note: subject to revision.
1.    Understand
2.    Act with compassion
3.    Do what inspires you
4.    Be courageous
5.    Explore

In case we were feeling too important about ourselves, environmentalism says to hold on a minute. We exist in a context that’s not all about us, and that’s a good thing. One of the purposes of a religion I think is to tell us about our place in the world so that we can relate with our environment in a meaningful way. Many religions may get this sense of connectivity by a history of tradition, a creation myth, or the simple fact that being part of a religion grants you access to a community larger than yourself.

To really understand our place and where we are, I think that ecology -or the study of interdependence- is the best start. Whenever people describe a spiritual experience, the hallmark is often a sense that there is something greater than ourselves and that we are all connected. Well, that is literally true. The Earth is a single field of behavior. It may be hard to fully cognize since the planet is so much bigger than we are, but every now and then, the awareness may hit you inexplicably and without warning.

To give a small example of how we are connected, imagine a closed system with just you and a tree. You are breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, so every time you breathe out, you’re losing mass because there’s a net loss of carbon. The tree on the other hand is taking in that carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, so it’s gaining mass from the carbon in the atmosphere. You are losing mass by breathing, and the tree is gaining mass by breathing, so you are in a way becoming the tree. If you’re worried about withering away, you can eat something. Now, imagine not just you and one tree, but millions of different species linked in a single network along with abiotic components (air, water, earth, etc.), and that’s more or less the something greater that we are a part of within the realm of environmentalism.

Environmentalism even has a moral code. Aldo Leopold, who pioneered the study of ecology and fused ethical philosophy with environmental studies, stated, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

You can determine the environmental morality of your interactions by which type of long-term biological relationship your own relationships resemble. Let’s start with parasitism, in which one party benefits and the other is harmed. Parasites drain the life out of their environment or otherwise make the life of the host more difficult. This can be beneficial to the environment as a whole when the host species is becoming too overpowering, but let’s ignore that for now. Benefiting at the expense of others is not consistent with the values of humanism, and draining the life out of the environment reduces its ability to sustain the life of other organisms, so parasitic people and their constructions are generally considered immoral.

The next type of relationship is commensalism, in which one organism benefits and the other is neither helped nor harmed. This situation I think is morally neutral. You’re getting what you need without causing harm, which ought to be the minimum standard with which we evaluate our actions. As is the code for medicine, so to it is for us: First, do no harm.

The third type of persistent biological interaction is mutualism. In this case, both organisms benefit from the relationship. This is the most satisfying and moral type of interaction and one that we should be building in multiple facets of how people do things.

In case we still feel too important, we are probably more insignificant than we are even capable of imagining. That’s the good news. Try justifying that the world was created just for us. Better yet, try justifying that the shade of your skin, your sex, or how much money you have is even important. Try quibbling over an arbitrary patch of desert when it’s a bit of dust on a tiny speck orbiting around a typical star on the edge of an average galaxy out of billions that only make up 4% of the entire universe that may not even be the only one.

All of our problems just look childish. This isn’t an excuse to not solve social problems, but rather a realization that they’re ridiculous. With the Earth in such a larger context,

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”
-Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell

In case anyone is feeling small, I leave you this:

“Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars”
-Serbian proverb

This is college

Life is demanding. Or perhaps it’s not life that’s demanding but other people and institutional requirements and the pressure jumping through too many hoops just to earn a living because for some reason we have to justify our own existence in an overly complicated society in which selling yourself is more important than being yourself.

Anyway, I’ve been in academia for practically all of my life, and since schools are supposed to prepare you for the next year (as if the whole goal of being ten years old is become eleven) until you eventually enter the real world, I suspect that both schools and the real world are pretty much skewed to around the same degree.

This is college. Read this book. Write a paper. Take this test. Quiz on Monday. Change the fonts on all of these files. Organize these folders. Application due next week. Go to this conference. Do a giveback project. Go to another conference. Another giveback project. Go to this event. Write an article. Training session this weekend. Get involved. Start a student organization. Join a student organization. Join an honor society. Join another. There’s a meeting tomorrow. Deliver these papers. Can you make a flier? Put up these fliers. We’re tabling next week. Support your fellow organizations. Work together. Go to Bursar. Go to Student Records. Can you write about this event? Coordinate a group project. Send out those emails. Reply to these emails. Organize a discussion event. Apply for funding. Lunch meeting today. Do an internship. Get another internship. Update your resume. Go to this meeting. Make a plan. Make sure you network. Fill out these forms. Assignment is due at midnight. Plan out your future. Go to a workshop. Find a working printer. Return a call. Request recommendation letters. Return emails. Read the next chapter. Do service learning projects. Join a committee. Become a tour guide. Request a transcript. Check BlackBoard. Translate these sentences. Talk in class or your participation grade suffers. Catch up on emails. Meet with your adviser. What are you doing after you graduate? Can you help this weekend? Do this. Do that. I need something from you.

That’s not everything. I have more meaningful memories from college, but not much that could be put on a resume or be found in a syllabus or a transcript. Maybe a recommendation letter, but that’s still a stretch.

There is probably more reason to college than academics, resumes, and meetings. Perhaps email or maybe sports teams.

The real meaning is probably under the noise of the demands and deadlines.

Black Men in America

The social issue I want to address is the cultural barrier that results from the cultural upbringing of my professors versus myself as a young black male. This cultural barrier has challenged the effectiveness of my learning.

I’m a music major and I have learned music mostly by ear and informal lessons. I grew up listening to Gospel, R&B, Soul, and Hip-Hop. As for my other colleagues, most of them had formal training with a classical background, which is more common in white middle class culture. Most of my professors grew up with the same type of upbringing as these students, so professors have an easier time relating to the other students than someone like me.

One time that I personally felt the systems of oppression that young black males face was after I went to get my hair done. On my way home there was a car speeding and it was a cop approaching me. He asked if I had seen any suspicious activity while I was walking. I said no. He proceeded to call for back up and ask me for identification. As I went for my wallet in my back pocket he reached for his gun, so I put my hands up so he wouldn’t shoot me. After he took my wallet out of my pocket he asked if he could search me. I said yes. While searching me he found stacks of money in my pocket. He asked how I got the money. I told him I worked for it at Hardees, which he didn’t believe.
When back up showed up the back-up cop was a friend of one of my sisters. He started to question me to confirm who I was. In the middle of the search the back-up cop who knew my sister said to let me go home and that I wasn’t looking for trouble.
P.S. Here is some feed back from more experience successful black men.