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Shifting the Paradigm Within Ourselves
Cultivating Deep and Substantive Change
I have had to stay on top of my mental health over the last couple of weeks. The unconscionable genocide happening in Gaza has been weighing heavily upon my mind, and in the last couple of days, the mass shooting in Maine with a current death toll of 18 people has done nothing to brighten my spirit.
The question I ask myself is, “What can I do?”
Sure, I can stay informed and post my thoughts on social media. I can protest. I can become engaged in a larger conversation with my community.
Yes, I can do all these things, but is any of it enough?
The best answer I can come up with, I must admit, might sound trite, naive, and idealistic, but I would rather be all those things than be jaded and hopeless.
I have often looked upon the entire human race as one interconnected organism. On some level, despite cultural and ideological differences, we all share a collective consciousness that informs how we engage with each other and the world at large. Templates of how to behave in society, express ourselves, and value what we are taught have been passed down through every human generation across time.
These templates have evolved as we have, but I fear they exist now in a framework that encourages us to be more reactionary and self-serving. We are more prone toward defensive arguing instead of thoughtfully listening and respectfully exchanging perspectives. We want our shiny cars and fun vacations (and to show them off on social media). We do not want to live in shabby, dilapidated homes because we do not want to be judged. We want to make more money in order to have a big and fluffy retirement fund. We want so much, and we do everything we can to get it.
And then, we want to hoard and protect all that we have with guns and exclusive, gated communities. We complain when we do not get a good seat on a crowded flight or if a server at a restaurant is delayed in getting our food. We prioritize our own convenience and self-preservation over the needs of strangers.
To top this all off, I believe, more than anything, that we get what we give. If all we do is put ourselves and our own needs ahead of others, then we will receive that treatment in return.
Selfishness begets selfishness.
In a larger sense, cruelty begets cruelty.
Of course, as history has shown us, violence begets even more violence.
So then, what is the “best answer I can come up with?”
Change happens within ourselves. We can choose to lead with kindness, compassion, and generosity. If more of us lived this way, maybe we could change the template and build a new paradigm.
I had a teacher in high school who always shoved a new book in my hand to read outside of the curriculum. She did not have to do this, but she sensed that this would help me. To this day, reading books has been a deeply satisfying practice that has inspired and informed everything I do.
Many years ago, the National Institutes of Health awarded over 120 minority high school students with a fully paid trip (including airfare, lodging, a generous stipend, a ton of food, and trips to museums and theme parks) to study biology, chemistry, and physics at a college in Frederick, Maryland for a summer. I was one of those students who benefited from such an enormous gift. Coming from a tiny and distant tropical island in the middle of a massive ocean, that trip changed my life and opened my eyes to new possibilities.
Decades ago, in Charlotte, NC, a woman named Tonda Taylor founded a small nonprofit organization called Time Out Youth (TOY) that created programs to support LGBTQ youth. I found my way to that safe harbor, and for several years, it was a place where I found love, friendship, and for the first time in my very young life, a sense of belonging. Tonda used her own money to start and build this organization. That act of generosity has now helped thousands of youth. TOY currently thrives on an annual seven-figure budget and continues to serve LGBTQ youth with support groups, emergency housing, mental health services, and a vocal speakers bureau.
I have benefited from so much kindness in my life, and I strive to be kind every day toward others. I nod and smile at strangers when I am out and about. I express gratitude as often as possible. I open doors for others behind me. I donate money to causes I believe in and people I want to support. I take the time to listen before I speak.
I try to be more empathetic toward others instead of judging them. I try to give more than I ever care to receive toward people and animals.
The gift of kindness begets more kindness.
The gift of compassion cultivates a sense of safety and love.
The gift of universal generosity benefits everyone.
I have to believe that this organism we call the human race is capable of evolving into something that is not destructive, selfish, and cruel.
Sure, perhaps violence will never go away, but it will continue to thrive if we all let it.
Go ahead, call me naive or even misguided if you will, but I believe change starts within ourselves. It informs how we treat others and engage with the world, and if more of us embody these gifts, we will all benefit across generations of people.
I choose to lead and live with kindness, compassion, and generosity.
This is the best that I have to give.
What can you do?
P.S. For those of you who live in the greater Nashville area or in Sarasota, Florida, here are my upcoming shows:
10/28/2023 at Boro Pride (the Murfreesboro LGBTQ Pride Festival) at the Miller Coliseum. I will be the featured artist on the second stage in the Miller Club with my band (Andrew on guitar, Joe on drums, and MaxZine on mandolin). My performance times are 3:00 PM, 4:00 PM, and 5:00 PM.
12/03/2023 at the French House in Nashville, TN
12/10/2023 at Piano Sessions at Aviva in Sarasota, FL
Please mark your calendars and come out to a show!
Earlier this week, after rehearsal with my band at my drummer Joe’s garage in west Nashville, I stopped in at a place called McKAY’s bookstore and record store just ten minutes down the road. As part of a chain of stores in Tennessee and North Carolina, it is basically an enormous warehouse where patrons can buy or exchange used books, CDs, vinyl records, cassette tapes, and just about any other kind of cultural ephemera. They have thousands of items to choose from. I wanted to check out their vinyl collection and browse through their shelves of art books. I bought a tiny selection of odd and delightful gems that made me happy. It is inspiring, if not a bit overwhelming, to see how much art has been created in the world. Needless to say, I enjoyed sifting through so much of it and headed home smiling.
To listen to my music, watch my films, or see my visual art, please visit:
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