Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Intricate Differences and Ramifications between Indebtedness and Gratitude

Son hugging Dad at giant Christmas tree
We often feel indebted to others, be it our parents, teachers, and mentors, in addition to all those who help and support us by going out of their way and walking the extra mile for us. At the same time, we express our gratitude for them, their counsel, guidance, and actions, and often feel grateful for them not only for being there for us but for simply being here in this world.

I used to think of the two terms indebtedness and gratitude as interchangeable. I would feel indebted to those who would help me and at the same time feel grateful for them. But only rather recently have I noted and noticed subtle but vital differences not only between the two terms and definitions but more importantly concerning the feeling and the psychological dimensions associated with and connected to each of them.

This new awareness was brought about after the wonderful opportunity to speak with Kristen Ragusin about her revolutionary concept and conception of money and the importance (and various benefits) of moving and shifting from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance. As a result, I came to reevaluate not only how money is used and portrayed in our world but also how we use it figurately in our way of thinking, interpreting, and understanding the world.

As Kristen points out on my podcast, we need to change how we see and define money and if we are stuck in a mindset that accentuates scarcity, meaning we never have enough money for our needs and desires, then we are trapped in an endless loop. This would create a scarce and pessimistic outlook regardless of how much money we end up having or making. This is also demonstrated by the usual restlessness that accompanies many ultrarich people who are so set on making and amassing money that life passes them by unnoticed and unused.

They may be financially rich, but they would often lack in wealth; the former representing how much money they have in their respective bank accounts while the second underlining how much overall wealth they have accumulated, which would include various other qualities and characteristics that are closely tied with happiness, fulfillment, and life satisfaction.

The spotlight is now on the first term, that of being in debt with someone or something. When it comes to our educational background, we would often literally be in debt due to student loans (I have had my fair share and managed to pay them off after various years). As to my graduation, I am certainly grateful for my professors, some of whom were excellent and some of whom were not, but essentially, it was my own hard work and discipline that led to my degree. In other words, I am certainly grateful and feel privileged to have had the opportunity and at such a wonderful university to boot but I do not and ought not to feel indebted to them.

But what about the accumulated debt that we tend to have towards our family, in particular, our parents who brought us into the world and (hopefully) supported us along the path of life? In certain terms and manners, they may have ended up paving the way for us to get where we are now. What and how much do we owe them for all of this?

It often depends on who you end up asking, and there is a definite cultural component, relation, and variable there. For instance, my home culture very much values the contribution of parents, and they are put on a pedestal much more so than simply honoring them as is said or rather commanded in the Bible. Various Asian cultures follow suit in which sons and daughters are expected to subjugate their own wills (and often dreams and aspirations) to those of the family; this is often referred to and acknowledged as a collective society or mindset. It is also prevalent in many Latin cultures often driven by Catholic beliefs but it is not as pronounced in places that have predominantly Protestant roots, which typically tend to value work and material wealth over everything else.

This often unconscious mindset has significant repercussions on decision-making, lifestyle, and control. The will of the self or ego often needs to yield and give way to those of one’s environment or family. At its best, it ensures harmony and balance; at its worst, it can squash or severely limit and hinder personal freedom and liberties. And it is so effective not merely because we feel gratitude towards our parents and by extension our country and nation but rather that we feel in debt and lacking. And debts need to be repaid one way or another, with money or actions.

It becomes a moral issue as we assume that, like loans, we need to pay them back the material and emotional tolls and costs that our parents have endured for simply having us alongside everything else that they may have endured because of us. But in this case, we get it wrong and the wrong way around: the moral responsibility does not lie with the children but with the parents who decided to have the child in the first place.

By accepting this and making this decision, parents and caregivers are personally responsible for the maintenance, upbringing, and well-being of the child at least until the age of maturity. We tend to understand this concept much better when it comes to our pets than our children and willingly and gladly take care of animals for the duration of their life span. Yet somehow, parents come to believe or assume that the children are indeed theirs, if not their property, that they belong to them, and that the children need or ought to pay off their dues one way or another.

But in fact, parents are fulfilling their necessary obligations, some indeed do more and better than others. Some do go the extra mile and help and encourage the child on his or her chosen path in life while others do not and may even limit them when it comes to their dreams and endeavors. Still, other parents continue treating the adult person as children wanting them to obey and wishing to discipline them when they are not acting in accordance with parental wishes and desires.

And yet, here is where gratitude comes into play. We can be grateful for our parents, family, and teachers as well as our nation, government, culture, and compatriots without having to feel the urge to be indebted to them. This is where the independent spirit plays an important role in which we choose what we deem best for us instead of blindly obeying others or following rules, impositions, or cultural and religious traditions.

Yet it is equally important to underscore that, like anything in life, it is not a matter of either/or but a combination of various factors that is ideally in harmony as perfectly symbolized by the equal and calibrated forces of the yin and the yang. An extreme assertion of independence will do more harm than good, and neither is a complete abandonment and annulation of one’s own wishes and desires desirable.

Along the same terms, even individualistic cultures are certainly not immune to the feeling of feeling indebted. Our whole conception of work is based on the idea that employees need to respect and obey their employers simply for the act of being hired in a world where jobs seem - and often are - rather scarce and hard to come by. It is not merely a matter of gratitude but one of deeply ingrained debt. The “reward” for one’s hard work would be dished out in terms of salary.

But what if we see the workplace as a more balanced interaction. The employee provides a service or manufactures products that lead to overall gains and wealth for the company and organization, while in exchange, elements of gratitude and appreciation are often - but not solely – expressed and demonstrated in terms of monetary compensation by the employer. This is where many employers often fall short; they do not give enough thanks and should not ignore, neglect, or undervalue the emotional aspects of this professional interaction between the two parties.

Once we see that we are not in debt nor need or ought to feel shame or guilt, then we feel free to live a freer and happier life that is more in tune with who we really are deep inside. And that is a path worth taking and would lead to abundance, not only in fiscal but more importantly in emotional and even spiritual terms. And this is certainly something to cherish and to be extremely grateful for.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

New Order: Love Will Unite and Bind Us Together

New Order playing live under vibrant lights
I want to start off with a personal disclaimer: I am quite new to this and it’s only recently that I have joined the New Order bandwagon. I am not claiming to be a lifelong fan nor am I too familiar with their music, moves, and their impressive body of work. I should have been a fan of them during adolescence but alas back then I was youthfully arrogant and too focused on Classical Music to accept or acknowledge - let alone listen to - other genres and types of music.

When I was a teen, New Order was at the top of their game, but I had barely heard of them and had rarely heard their music. This is certainly to my detriment because seen retrospectively and in perfect hindsight, they were one of the best bands of their times, and I should have embraced them at the time. It was the pandemic that brought them under my radar and purview, which brought to light and showcased to me how good they indeed are.

As a matter of fact, I am not too sure they themselves are fully aware of how good they are, and this seeming inferiority complex might have come about mostly because of how they came about in the first place. Like phoenix, they rose out of the ashes of the once promising and thriving Joy Division, which was cut short by the untimely and unfortunate death of its front singer.

Yet the decision to reimagine and reinvent their music and to combine rock with electronic music and dance produced exhilarating and fascinating songs that make you feel good deep inside while also making you sway and move to their notes. In my view, both Power, Corruption & Lies, and their best album compilation Substance may just well be among two of the best albums of all time.

New Order’s music, particularly the utterly wonderful triple combo of “Blue Monday,” “Temptation,” and “Run” alternatively filled most of my rainy days during this lonely and often difficult and challenging pandemic. The first one is a classic and to me a perfect example of how electronic music could and should be. The official 7+ min video is minimalist, hypnotic, and mesmerizing but equally brilliant in bringing back forgotten trace memories of floppy disks and slow computers.

The second music video - the song “Temptation” - feels like taken straight out of a nouvelle vague film, and it bridges and segues into the third video, my most recent discovery, which erupts in joyful and energetic dancing at the end. Life is a joyful dance despite blue days, various temptations, and our constant run-of-the-mill running around to survive and get by.

When after months of being on the run in my quest for a job and looking for some much-needed income and finally ended up landing the job I had aimed and wished for, I followed up on the promise I had made myself: I had told myself right after the interview that if I indeed got the job, I would treat and reward myself by buying a ticket to see New Order live and in-person on their Unity tour with their legendary counterparts, the Pet Shop Boys.

It was the tail end of their concert tour, which had been postponed and rescheduled due to – you guessed it - the pandemic. It was sad, wonderful, and fitting for them to wrap up their Unity tour in our hometown.

My wife had shown some interest in the concert, mostly because of the headlining act of the Pet Shop Boys (interestingly due to their almost equal stature, the two bands would switch and flip headlining throughout the tour), and we both ended up attending and being utterly impressed with this concert. And it was easily one of the best concerts I have ever seen!

The “opening band” New Order used impressive visuals and fascinating bits of film throughout and although there were a few issues with voice and sound, their music was exceptional and outstanding, and they played everyone’s favorite tunes alongside all their classic hits.

But I remarked on two things that really touched me deep inside and shook me to the core. Previously, when listening to their wonderful music and watching some of their music videos, I noted how much love they managed to express and exude. It was deeply embedded and enmeshed with the music: it was certainly palpable in their choice and selection of sounds, and this also came through occasionally through their lyrics though not as predominantly.

Not only did one feel their love but their love for their art and craft was equally noticeable. We can often sense it when artists use their form of the medium not only to communicate messages but also to demonstrate and showcase their genuine love for and commitment to their chosen art form.

There are a handful of musicians I get that sense and feeling with, and the closest I would come would be the magnificent Beethoven whose chords are filled with love and appreciation. Although not on the same level, I must say New Order does come close, and at that concert, I had a few glimpses of God or a brief mystical union with the powers that be.

This may be an odd statement - and the last time I felt something similar at a concert was experiencing the Resurrection Symphony by Gustav Mahler - but there was no doubt that I felt this also during the performance of New Order. I had previously heard people say something of that ilk about witnessing a Pink Floyd concert while probably being under the influence of certain substances, but I felt it that night too, completely sober and with New Order.

This filled me with renewed hope not just for that moment but for many next moments to come. If there are enough people who can express their pure love in such an authentic way and passionate manner, the world will be a much better, brighter, and more inspiring place! I felt the warmth within my chest and wished the entire band the very best from the bottom of my heart for eliciting and awakening such feelings in the first place.

Interestingly, I doubt I was the only one that had felt this way about New Order. While my wife did not have that quasi-spiritual personal connection that I had (she did very much enjoy the ensuing act and music put on by the splendent, playful, colorful, engaging, and always youthful Pet Shop Boys – the Prokofievs of the music industry), right after the New Order set, I heard someone in the men’s washroom (of all places) exclaim to his friend “Amazing God bless!”

I could not have said it any better and concur and conclude with that statement because somehow or other this magical music band had the glue, substance, or secret ingredient that connects, and binds notes and sounds with the innermost recesses of our heart and our spiritual core.


Monday, October 10, 2022

With a Deep Sense of Gratitude and Appreciation: Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

Sun Halo visible in the daytime sky
The past few months have been a rather busy time on my side of things where I moved from a single part-time position to four of them (and yet still merely getting by, thank you, inflation ;) while at the same time keeping up with my podcasting and talking to wonderful, awesome, and inspirational experts and leaders across the world!

Thank you to everyone who has actively participated in these projects and endeavors and everyone in the background who has worked hard to make them happen! All of this has put blogging on the back burner at least for the time being, but I shall make some sort of amends with this posted note on gratitude and forgiveness.

Essentially, I have embraced and, in many ways, re-ignited and invigorated my passion for both in-person and remote teaching. Interestingly, I recently started teaching at the same college that I used to attend a quarter-century ago as a young promising student hence marking a full cycle and reaching the other side of the aisle; my previous student number is now my current employee ID. It is fascinating how seemingly separate dots end up connecting with each other in an arc and lead us to familiar yet new shores within the context of the always evolving and expanding yin and yang of teaching and learning with this eternal student teacher.

Moreover, regardless of whether we want this or not, growth is often associated with if not based upon previous adversity. Most of the time, when the living gets easy, we can get complacent, at times lazy, and nestle, accommodate ourselves, and grow accustomed to the delusive hammock of our respective comfort zone.

And yet, life has its ways of pulling the rug under our feet and ripping the blinds off our eyes and thus getting our attention, whether we want and seek it or not, and it wakes and shakes us up. Part of this universal experience was the pandemic that has affected literally everyone on the planet at least one way or another, while another part tends to be family, relationship, or work situations and tensions that spiral out of bounds and control and lead to necessary and mandatory stretches of strife and suffering.

But all these experiences that we often prematurely and unfairly label as negative and bad if approached and harnessed appropriately, can indeed become and be converted into glorious chances and opportunities. Most outcomes, if given enough and ample time and seen through a positive lens or prism can bring many unexpected benefits and pay dividends. Whether it is a premature and abrupt end to a relationship, connection, or association, it can potentially and realistically be converted to not only stability and productivity but much better and more rewarding prospects and vistas across the bright horizon.

I think in a sense this is what Jesus was referring to when he said to love our enemies or to turn the other cheek. It is neither an act of cowardice nor masochism but rather a wider perspective on our humanity and our lives. Events that trigger us and that we jump to see as negative can be turned into gold, and oddly enough, those who do us harm may unwillingly and unwittingly do us immense good. My best lessons came from suffering, and in a sense, my so-called enemies have been my best teachers in life.

Turning the other cheek does not mean passively accepting injustice or harm nor does it imply being senselessly beaten or abused by others without speaking up or standing up for one’s and other people’s rights. It is more a willingness to accept the circumstances no matter how dire and to not offer resistance to that we cannot change or influence; rather it is important to gather up and muster courage and build, rebuild, and channel our forces toward those situations and outcomes that we can effectively and realistically influence and change. This is the core heart and main lesson of the Serenity Prayer.

Throughout, it is best not to harbor grudges, ill will, or negative feelings toward those who have wronged us. They, in the words of Jesus again, do not know what they are doing and will find out to their cost, sooner or later. At some point or other, they would have to deal with the persistent nagging voice of conscience and bubbling feelings of guilt and will end up looking for forgiveness from those they have trespassed.

This may not always be apparent to the eye, and some may be able to fight that voice of the conscience for longer periods while others may drown themselves in their guilt or wallow in pity. But all this time, whether we see or acknowledge it or not, the karmic wheels will be constantly turning and even the mightiest will fall from their thrones.

One thing I have learned is to make forgiveness a priority in my life and to offer gratitude whenever I can as it is not something that can be misplaced or wasted. We should always be more grateful than we are as we are more fortunate than others no matter what the circumstances may be or seem to be in our life.

In the cycle of life, friends can disappoint, let us down, and betray us while our enemies may become our best friends. It comes down to a matter of perspective. It is easy to love those that love us, but the challenge and effort lie in loving those who do not love us and do not wish us well. In many cases, they are filled with negativity, pain, and suffering, and they may express this in the form of envy or anger toward others. And it is usually good people who do seem to take the brunt.

It is interesting that Freud himself had an issue with “loving our enemies” but I believe he might have misunderstood and misinterpreted the adage. It is not a quantitative but rather a qualitative statement. I do not think that we should love our loved ones less or the same as those who are our purported enemies, acquaintances, or neighbors.

But it is the fact that not loving them at all will be a lack and demerit not only towards them but for us as well. In other words, if you love life, willy-nilly, you have to accept the whole package that comes with it, the good and the bad ranging from the first breath and morning of birth to the last breath and mourning of death. It is not a menu we can pick and choose from and the moment you make a choice and take a path, you have opted out of other potential choices and paths.

But since we cannot and should not sit on the fence (at least not for long periods of time), we need to choose a path but also be ready to make changes, and amendments if not complete detours with new destinations. And during this journey, we will make friends and out of necessity enemies and both need our love to different degrees.

Once we send our enemies some love and clear the toxic and poisoned atmosphere around us and fill it instead with gratitude and optimism, not only have we done good, but we have made the world a better place. That is what it is all about, seeing adversity as opportunities and challenges that can help us grow and become more ourselves. To those who oppose or have opposed us along our path, we shall wish them a clear mind and a heart of feeling and empathy.

And yet, my focus here shall not be merely on the lost sheep but also give a deep sense of gratitude to those who have stood by our side. Although there are some who have disappointed and who let us down especially when you needed them most, there are many others who not only help but do it to an unexpected and outstanding degree going the extra mile so-to-speak and that should be always acknowledged, and I shall do so here as well.

Providing a hand to someone who needs help is an act of altruism, and I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all those who have made and continue to make a difference not only in my life but also in other people’s lives. I am in your karmic debt and hope to have been able to show it in this post but also promise to do more so in my personal interactions with you so that fortunately we all continue to pay it forward on this Thanksgiving and beyond!