In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was deeply involved with racist skinhead organizations, a reverend of a self-declared Racial Holy War, and lead singer of the hate-metal band Centurion, which sold 20,000 CDs by the mid-nineties and is still popular with racists today. Single parenthood, love for my daughter, and the forgiveness shown by people I once hated all helped to turn my life around, bringing me to embrace diversity and practice gratitude for all life. Today I am a speaker, author of My Life After Hate, and very fortunate to be able to share an ongoing process of character development working with Serve 2 Unite. Leveraging an online magazine, S2U engages students creatively with a global network of peacemakers and mentors in partnership with Against Violent Extremism, The Forgiveness Project, and Over My Shoulder Foundation
My first memories of music involve a turntable and Beatles records at the neighbor kids’ house. We listened to “Hard Days Night”, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra, and “T.N.T” by AC/DC. Stuff that would rarely be found playing on the same radio station—at least in the mid-70s before all of the above were considered “classic”. Continue Reading →
4 years ago today dawned the understanding that I will find what I seek.
The catalyst for this realization was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “A Time to Break the Silence“, in which he illustrated an intention of peace for Vietnam with interdependent compassion and pragmatic genius. Dr. King’s openness and honesty demonstrated the authentic presence of our common humanity. He inspired a courage to face my past, and share my path with an aspiration for us to all guide each other to a place of caring. He gave me an appreciation of this basically good experience that we all co-create. He demonstrated a mutual responsibility to serve, revealing a natural affinity to unite.
Today I am graced with a fundamental gratitude for each moment of this life that wouldn’t be possible without the impact made by this brilliant man. Dr. King taught me ability to cultivate whatever I put my heart and mind to, and the sublime gift of mindful wisdom in choosing what to sow. Studying his lead, it was plain that we exist in a system that responds according to what we practice. Our practice shapes our lives, and all lives that intersect, which ultimately is all life. All reality. All existence. All that is at stake when we choose to look for inspiration, or insult. Whether we find interdependencies or isolation depends on this choice. Whether suffering is eased or perpetuated is decided each moment of every day, by every one of us. Together we have the gentle, irresistible power to break even the most hardened of hearts, and expose the tenderness within. Together we can topple engines of fear and ignorance and set love in motion to fill any void.
Together, we are a continuance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My love and gratitude are yours Dr. King.
You are always with us.
Is there a difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone if the latter happens with a genuine absence of malice?
Humor is one of the greatest gifts of being human, and one of the oddest (go figure). Last night, as my Facebook feed bled a fully legitimate hysteria about some impending deadly-cold weather, a friend shared a video of a guy going off about said weather in intense granular detail that had me literally crippled with a laughter as involuntary as any I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Led by a knee-jerk desire to cultivate said laughter, I shared the video myself and took it a step further by blasting it all over the place as comments on all the weather-related posts I saw. It wasn’t until another friend replied, “Is it bad that I laughed? I think he’s autistic.” that it occurred to me that I may not have been as thoughtful as a guy who tries to teach and practice kindness should be.
Is it bad that I laughed? Is it good that people ask that question?
The answer to either question isn’t necessarily binary.
Turns out the guy in the video is Frankie MacDonald, a 28 year-old man from Sydney Nova Scotia who is indeed autistic, and who has a passion for breaking down extreme weather. Frankie has a Facebook page and a Twitter account where he posts ongoing weather reports.
Contemplating the balance between thoughtfulness and genuine laughter, it occurs to me that there really doesn’t need to be a balance. Both exist as components of human existence that we can be concurrently grateful for. No need to see them as opposing forces. Like everything else in life, thoughtfulness and laughter occur with countless interdependencies. Our experiences and connections with other people, places, and things set the stage. As spontaneous as anything may ever seem, that momentary reaction, be it laughter or whatever, happens in its unique form thanks to everything that happened leading up to that moment. Our entire lives, and the entire lives of all the people around us, ultimately affect our sense of humor to wildly varying degrees. This truth is not an excuse to be inconsiderate, but simply an examination of cause and effect.
Examining Frankie MacDonald’s weather reports reveals an authentic presence and genuine concern about some very real dangers and the people who face them. I can make an educated guess that it is not Frankie’s intention to be funny. But in the context of growing up in Wisconsin, where we face extreme winters much more often than not, and yet every year people seem to forget how to drive in snow and the local news runs TOP STORIES every time it does, Frankie’s urgency as he warns us to bundle-up, not go outside if at all possible, and drink lots of green tea, white tea, and red tea, strikes me as satirical genius weather (ugh, sorry) he meant it that way or not. Hence the laughter.
Having spent the past four years spilling my guts about my past and in the process trying to address some very serious issues like racism, gang violence, homophobia, and bullying, I’ve learned that aforementioned ridiculously complex and unique life experiences drive people to react to my story in consistently different ways. The first time a kid laughed during one of my talks, another kid made a heated response to the effect that what I was saying wasn’t funny at all. The interdependent nature of existence inspired me to respond by pointing out that we were talking about some difficult subjects. Being gentle and giving the benefit of the doubt—not saddling others with malicious intentions—is a crucial element of waging peace, and we can be grateful for every opportunity we are presented with to practice that.
I am deeply grateful for Frankie MacDonald, his fascination with weather, the concern he has for the world, and the way he shares it all with us. There really is no reason to apologize for the delight evoked by his spirited weather alerts.
“Some of the people make fun of me on the Internet and it is not a nice thing to do. I have a good heart.” From a story in The Star.
You absolutely have a good heart Frankie. Laughter is a great way to remind us that we all have good hearts whether we’ve been alerted to it yet or not. Rather than fret over the nature of laughter, let’s appreciate the beautiful diversity of human nature, and cherish the truth that all manifestations of it opportunities to learn.