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Let It Begin With Me

There's plenty of bad things going on in the world today, especially in these present times. But what makes it more shocking to the point of numbing is that it's seen more frequently before our eyes. Thanks to more cameras and social media catching it all. And the results are shocking. From an angry woman telling a family with broken English to "go the f*** back where you come from," to police officers pinning an unarmed black man to the ground without even allowing him to breathe. From fights breaking out between students and bullies with little to no help from police officers, to maskless people protesting lockdown restrictions and an election to the point of storming a government building and endangering lives. And that's only a small portion of the things we see online or on the news. Even the most ludicrous things that seem to draw people - even the deranged kind - to watching and reacting with laughter and name-calling. Or even if it's a story shared through a status or photo. It can truly bring out the worst in people. It's especially true this time of year when all of the world should be focusing on goodwill toward all people and tidings of comfort & joy. Whenever you see something online that is truly outrageous and awful, and the people actually throw their support behind it to the point of starting a heated debate, what's the one question all of us ask? "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?!?!?!?!?!?" And it doesn't even have to be something seen online. It could be just as simple as who we are as people. How we speak (accents and dialects included). How we dress. How we are educated/taught. How we walk (or get around if you're disabled). How we perform (not just in the arts, mind you!). How we work (or not work). What car we drive. What our occupation is. What our beliefs are. What music we listen to. What movies and TV shows we watch. What our hairstyle or hair color is. What our health lifestyles are. What our brands of technology are. What car we drive. Where we live. Where we come from. What our religious beliefs are. Which store we shop at. Which celebrity figure we admire (adore, even). Which sports team we support. Which political parties we follow (and the statues that come with it.). Which pizza toppings we like (or don't like). Which musical artist does the best rendition of a classic song. Or even how we see the world around us. It's clear that we all have problems with the other person based on all of these things and more. When this question is asked, it often creates an uncomfortable feeling within us. I think it's best described as feeling inadequate or inferior to others when asked what our problem is. That individual thinks that they're better than you because they're way of thinking, living, or simply being is a better or even correct way of doing things. And our way of doing things is wrong, or even absurd in some cases. In some cases, it could be the other way around, and those of us who are "normal" or "sane" think that another person's way of thinking, living, or simply being is just plain wrong and ridiculous. Now, I want to do something for me. Take a look at the first sentence in this paragraph. Notice that I have the words "we all have problems..." written there. That's right. WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS. Including yours truly. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. Those of us who are seemingly doing the right things that society tells us to do and who we should be are just as much at fault as those who have a problem with those of us who are "different" from us. It's sad to think that each of us has problems with the other, and we tend to not realize it. Why? Maybe because when we try to make the other people see the world through our eyes, or vice versa, we end up being more divided and hurt than understanding and patient because of our differences being the "problem" the other person or even we ourselves have. Here's the real question I have for all of you: Is there a way we can view how we live, think, and simply be as not a problem, but as something that's unique enough to change the world? And by doing so, learning to love, understand, respect, and appreciate each of our gifts we have to offer? Especially during the holidays and going into the new year? I believe... Emphatically speaking... YES. It's time to allow your mind and eyes be opened, and your heart to grow three sizes in this week's post. We're focusing on not the problems each of us has, but the gifts that we can offer to our world that can be quite the transformation we need right now.

I've often hear that whenever someone asks "what's your problem?" we often think that it's us that seems to be a nuisance or annoyance to the other individual. In actuality, it may be that person who doesn't seem to appreciate or enjoy who we are as individuals. Denzel Washington put it best this way: "Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons." Those people may have the absolute worst demons they've experienced in their lives. We all have demons, for that matter. They could've arrived from traumatic experiences like domestic violence, bullying, divorce, isolation, loneliness, or anything of that nature. Or it could've been born from something seemingly insignificant but just as painful like not getting an A+ on a test you've studied hard for, or peeing your pants, or your favorite toy being snatched away by your bratty sibling, or similar things like that. Those moments, repeated or singular, can have a lasting effect on our lives that may haunt us. And it can also shape who we are as individuals. The experiences we have and the lessons we learn from them are the seeds planted to create us into the children and eventually adults we become. For many of us, we learn from a very young age what "yes" and "no" means, often through our parents snatching our hands away from a hot stove or keeping medication or laundry detergent away from us. But that's done out of safety and love because our parents don't want us harmed in any way. Then there are the times when we learn about "yes" and "no" in a different way. Most likely, it's taught on the basis of fear. We are taught to say "yes" to people who look like us on the basis of color, sex, and even religious beliefs. Then we are educated on saying "no" to those who don't look like us on the basis of color, sex, and even religious beliefs. We are taught to say "yes" to family members who come over for the holidays because they're family and nothing bad can happen in a family. Then we are told to say "no" to experiences of inappropriate comments, sexual advances, or even abuse because they're family and nothing bad can happen, even to the point of sweeping it under the rug repeatedly. We are taught to say "yes" to those in power because their promises and beliefs align with our own, and they are able to get the job done. Then we are forced to say "no" to those in power because their ideas, rationale, methodologies are deemed too radical and scary to the point of destroying our livelihoods. We are taught to say "yes" to religious beliefs that help us be good people and guarantee a place in heaven for doing good works. Then we are asked to say "no" to the things and people that could lead us astray from spending an eternity in the next life in peace and not lacking for nothing, like the LGBTQ+, abortion, premarital sex, greed, or even other religions that conflict with the beliefs of your church and faith. We are taught to say "yes" to perfection - a svelte, healthy body, a large bank account, a beautiful home, a high-quality job, the best outfits money can buy, the latest technological advances, and more. Then we are demanded to say "no" to anything that's deemed imperfect - a broken marriage and family, poverty, low-paying-bottom-of-the-barrel jobs, hand-me-down clothes and toys, and more. The ways we were taught "yes" and "no" may have come from a place of love, but if the parent who was a child themselves were taught to say "yes" to certain people, places, things, and opportunities that would get them far in life and "no" to those who are deemed inferior to what they should get, it's not out of love that these lessons were taught. It's out of fear. And from there, that's where all of the demons start to come into our lives. It's those experiences and lessons learned over the centuries has people sharing what they know with their children, and their children's children, and so on. Even the ones that caused the demons to be created within themselves. Those bad memories of being mistreated, violated on, disrespected, and whatever bad thing that came into their lives allowed these demons to spring forth. And what does one do when they see something in someone else that irritates their demons, even if it's with good intention? They blame that other person for being the problem, and it's because their demons are frightened that if that other person's goodness or truth gets anywhere near their hearts, the demons lose their power. And their hold on what made that person who they are to begin with. If the demons continue to hold onto that power over the other person, they control how they see others who are different from them. Henceforth, being taught "yes" and "no" out of fear, and not out of love. Now do you see why people blame the other person for being the "problem"? Even though ALL of us have demons we have face, and even let go of? I know that this may come as a shock to some of you reading this, but each of us has problems with the other person. Even if we don't know it right away. The question is: WHY? Maybe it could be that the demons that grew within us from the memories and experiences we had are holding power over us, and those who are unlike us cause the monstrosities to appear in the worst possible way. But here's something else to consider: Maybe the big reason why we ask what that person's problem is is due to wanting to see ourselves in them. Almost like a MIRROR of ourselves. We may be unique individuals, but in some ways, the things people do that are appalling, surprising, or downright weird can cause us to shake our heads and wonder what this world is coming to. It may even cause us to say things like... "Why can't there be people who actually THINK or ACT like me?" We want people to have the same, if not similar, ideals, beliefs, dreams, and goals that can help make the world a better place. In a way, our demons of trying to force others to be exactly us can be quite a problem, indeed. And the spirits of those who are ignorant, cruel, selfish, egotistical, incompetent, cold, toxic, spineless, immature, and more can irritate our demons of goodness, honesty, kindness, creativity, love, optimism, hope, and more in the worst possible ways. Even to the point of almost stooping to their level just to get a point across. So you see, ALL of us have problems, and we ALL are a part of the problem. ALL of us are part of the problem when we make assumptions about the other person instead of taking the time to get to know them - who they are, where they live, what they do as an occupation, what their beliefs are, how are they in relationships with others, and more by simply asking questions in a nonjudgmental and loving way. ALL of us are part of the problem when we would rather be misinformed about current events, conspiracy theories, political ideologies, gossip, and other newsworthy stories instead of looking & researching reputable sources away from social media and the dark parts of the internet, including books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, established practitioners in their field (from various educational backgrounds), and more beyond our technological advancements. ALL of us are part of the problem when we resort to name-calling if an opinion, fact, or idea in a heated debate or conversation gets to a fever pitch instead of taking the time to say things like "help me to understand where you're coming from" or "I didn't know that you felt this way. Can you tell me why so I help you and respect you?" or "I'm not aware of all of the information. Can you clarify or explain it to me?" or even "I guess we can agree to disagree. Have a nice day." ALL of us are part of the problem when we expect the things that worked over 100 years ago to continue working in the present times instead of adjusting, transforming, or adapting to new ways of improving our lives for everyone in a way that satisfies both sides, even if it's not always going to be 100% perfect. ALL of us are part of the problem when we think men and women should be their respective sex and do their expected "duties" as their gender requires (i.e. dominate over the household, be a submissive wife, bear children, be strong, etc.), instead of learning and understanding that each individual is different and should be allowed to explore their sexualities, identities, and beliefs as a human being as they should be allowed to be in their own eyes. ALL of us are part of the problem when we believe that getting the things we want or need will make our lives better, even through force, instead of being patient enough to let the things and opportunities we want and need come to us on the universe's timing, and not ours. Or even showing an ounce of gratitude for the little and big things we have many people often take for granted. ALL of us are part of the problem when we expect the other person to be an exact mirror image of ourselves - thoughts, ideas, opinions, lifestyles, ideologies, beliefs, and more - without any disagreements or fear involved, instead of accepting that each of us are individuals with free will and experiences that are our own and never will be the same as the other. ALL OF US ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. And that problem comes from within us due to us being taught to think, believe, and act in a certain way. And that came from our parents who were taught these things from their parents, and their parents, and their parents... You get the idea. To reiterate a lyric I shared with you recently: What do you leave to your child when you're dead? Only whatever you put in its head. Things that your mother and father have said What was left to them, too. The lessons and experiences given to us as kids were based off of our parents' experiences and lessons. Much of it was out of love and joy. But some instances, many of it was out of fear. And sadly, those problems (aka DEMONS) were created in order to protect children from the world around them. Even to the point of holding their hand everywhere they go, every step they take, and every opportunity to keep them close without letting them go. When you think about it... Those demons we have that face the spirits of those opposite or even like us were taught to us out of fear. And the only way to let go of those demons and let the spirits of others and ourselves truly go free into the world out of goodness, hope, creativity, and understanding is to allow ourselves to be taught something new. Reteaching ourselves how to be the kind of people the world needs right now. Not the pessimists, egotists, selfish, ignorant, envious, fearful, or just plain blind type of people there are out there. But the courageous, visionaries, hopeful, optimists, patient, understanding, open-minded, vulnerable, and loving people we can become.

It is the holiday season, and something that people generally enjoy is watching holiday films. Whether that's the warm & fuzzy feelings of Hallmark films (even though they never seem to change the storylines), the craziness of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the Home Alone films, or the nostalgia for simpler times with A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Rankin & Bass specials, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original 1966 classic trumps the recent adaptations. Fight me.), you can't deny that the lessons and plots surrounding the themes of peace, goodwill to all, believing in the unseen, and capturing the magic of the season to last all year is a prominent part of what makes these films and specials so timeless. Can I tell you something? I tend to go for films that may sound corny or cheesy to some, but still have a lot of weight on the messages that we all need to hear, even if the film is imperfect for over 90% of you in terms of the script and actors. One of my favorite films to watch during the holidays is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. While it's not explicitly a film about the classic Tchaikovsky ballet, there is still dancing and imagery from the masterpiece that made it's way into the film. In this case, the story is about a bright young girl named Clara who receives a special gift from her late mother, and is missing a vital piece to open this gift. She is then led to a magical land of the four realms where she finds the key to her gift, and potentially the answer to how believe in herself even after the one person who supports her is no longer with her. It seems like this movie has a powerful message, wonderful costumes, and an amazing score. Perfect holiday film to watch, right? Well, when the Rotten Tomato score is below 50% and the popcorn meter is even lower than that, it seems to disagree. Fans complained that it's not the real nutcracker. "Where's the dancing?" "This story is terrible!" "The scriptwriter did an awful disrespect to the original ballet!" And so on and son on. Fortunately for me, I was able to find some of the five star reviews from people who took the time to enjoy The Nutcracker and the Four Realms as it should be: an ADAPTATION of the story told in a new way. One reviewer from Amazon put it best this way: "We almost didn't see this movie in the theater thanks to all the critics who could not get over the fact it didn't have the traditional Nutcracker elements that they wanted to see. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is my pre-teen daughter's favorite movie and one of mine as well. Why? Because she left the movie inspired to be "curious and brilliant" and to take an increased interest in STEM. The movie reinforces that superficial beauty and false kindness are not important and can be deceiving (the Sugar Plum Fairy); instead, courage to believe in yourself and continue in the face of adversity is critical (Clara). If that message resonates with just one girl who views the world and herself differently as a result, then it is a success in my book. We can't wait to own this movie on DVD." Or if you need another reviewer's insight about this film, how about this? "The problem is that the translation of a story from book to opera or from book to movie limits the imagination because it casts a specific visual interpretation of what is left to each person's imagination in the book. I read somewhere that J.R.R. Tolkien, while he was living, refused to let Disney release his "Lord of the Rings" as a movie precisely because it would replace the viewers own imagination with the static images produced by Disney. Tolkien observed that because of Disney, folks will forever more visualize dancing pink elephants when they hear the music of Fantasia.

"Hoffman's original story was rich and dark in places. Dumas rewrote the story in a more lightened narrative that lacked some of the richness and substance of the original. The various operatic interpretations mostly followed Dumas. Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are" created an operatic version for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company where he attempted to remain true to the original Hoffman version while still doing justice to the music of Tchaikovsky.

"This Disney version is delightfully done. The imagery is lush. the music of Tchaikovsky is rich, the actors are delightful. The story is generally light with just enough darkness to make it interesting, but hardly scary. The characters are delightful as well. It does justice to a child-like freedom of imagination. It is very much a Nut Cracker fantasy. If you forget about the "version" that you might have expected, it is a joy to watch." See what I mean? But I'm going off on a tangent again, as I often do. Let's get back to the matter at hand. There's one scene that's just about relevant to this week's post. In the film, Clara is reminiscing about a Christmas with her mother, and young Clara finds a nutcracker ornament to put on the Christmas tree after a bit of doing. Her mother tells her daughter that it reminds her of a land she discovered to go to all the time, full of sweets and flowers and the funniest people. It was wonderful, and hopes Clara can go there one day. Clara hopes her mother can go with her to this land. But Clara's mother replies, "there are some journeys you have to go on alone." She also knows how Clara wishes she could be like her older sister, Louise, but her mother still loves because Clara is so different because she can see the world in a unique way. "When you realize that's your greatest strength, you can change the world, my girl. And I'll be watching you." Don't you see? We each have the power to see the world in a unique way. Often times, it can be for good. New ideas, new steps to take, new stories to tell, new lessons to learn, new directions to navigate, new songs to sing, etc. But often times, there are those of us out there who unfortunately see the world in a unique way that's harmful. All they see is the ugliness of it all. Or even what they think is good is actually ugly and bad to the rest of us. It sort of reminds me of The Snow Queen (NOT Frozen, mind you!) by Hans Christian Andersen. At the start of the story, it describes the devil creating a mirror that distorts everything it reflects, and fails to expose the good and beautiful things about people. Instead, it magnifies the bad and ugly aspects of a human being. Unfortunately, when that mirror broke, the shards fell in all of our eyes so that we can only see the ugliness and bad things instead of the beauty and goodness the world has to offer. And those shards don't just come from a physical mirror. They come from the very people we love who teach us to hate, fear, and separate ourselves from others who are deemed "different" from us. They come from the experiences and lessons that harden our hearts and create the demons that get irritated by the spirits of others who want to bring joy and light into our lives. They come from giving into the darkness and not fighting for the light we need so badly in our lives. We ALL have these shards of ugliness and bad within us. And it can create the worst possible days, moments, and experiences we've ever had if the demons are irritated by the spirits of others which in turn allows the mirror to magnify these ugly people, things, and opportunities that come before us. More often than not, we feel powerless to stop it. But never fear. There's always a way to change and transform our lives for the better. ALWAYS. (This holiday season is a such a wonderful time of year - families come together, gifts are exchanged, memories are made, and love is all around us. Even with a touch of magic. I feel gratified knowing that these blogs are my gift to you, along with my acting talents. But this gift comes with a reminder - these are MY observations, reflections, and ideas. You are more than welcome to disagree with me on anything I have to say on this week's topic or any of my previous posts. What I won't tolerate, especially during this season, is disrespectful, offensive, and derogatory comments. Keep the negativity away and don't say anything at all. If you feel so inclined to do so, I will block you. [And maybe throw in a lump of coal for good measure.])

We ALL have the shards to magnify hate and ugliness. We ALL have demons that are irritated by another person's spirit. We ALL were given these things through the people, experiences, lessons, and memories that often stay with us for many years to come. The biggest question I bet you're asking right now is this: "How do I get rid of it?" Well, to tell you the truth, there's no easy answer for this. But there's ALWAYS a chance to remove the shards and demons from our lives, even if it takes a little bit of creativity to do so. Or in this case, some holiday magic. The first thing to do to get rid of the demons and the mirror shards is to ACKNOWLEDGE. When you realize that you are struggling with your problems and know that you need to change, that is a huge step indeed. And by acknowledging what was taught to you, what your experiences were, and the memories that were created from these people, opportunities, and things are no longer serving you well, you are well on your way to seeing the world as it should be - a beautiful and majestic place. From ACKNOWLEDGING, you can do things like... RETEACHING yourself. ASKING questions. (No question is dumb.) Taking the time to LISTEN to one another. UNDERSTANDING each individual's journey. Giving yourself SELF-CARE for the times that prove to be difficult. Being PATIENT and KIND with yourself and others. LETTING GO of what or who no longer serves you. TRUSTING yourself and a higher power working through you. LOVING yourself for who you are and what you can give to the world. And who knows? Maybe by doing these things and more, you can hopefully inspire others to let go of the demons and shards that plagued their lives for so long, and not see the other individuals who are "different" from them as "problems". Maybe we can actually learn to share goodwill to all and be a kinder, more loving society. If you truly want to see the world in a unique way and even change it because of the light you bring.. Even getting rid of the demons and mirror shards of ugliness and bad once and for all... It has to start with you. No one else can do it but YOU. I believe in you. IT IS POSSIBLE. I hope you and your families have a wonderful, safe, and joyous holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or a mix of the three major holidays or lesser known ones, I truly hope you will be blessed this season. And I hope all of your wishes come true in the coming year. Be kind to one another. Let there be peace on earth And let it begin with me Let there be peace on earth The peace that was meant to be

With God as our Father Family all are we Let us walk with each other In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me Let this be the moment now.

With ev'ry step I take Let this be my solemn vow To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally Let there be peace on earth And let it begin with me.

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