Monday, April 21, 2014

Love is the Best Thing We Do ...

It almost seems that no matter where you turn, someone is complaining about something or someone.  Liberal-conservative, male-female, white-black, old-young, fat-thin, rich-poor, religious-atheist: it is so easy to pick a group to which you identify and vilify a diametrically opposed group or person.  People confuse complaining about injustice and identifying how wrong a particular group is with bringing positive change to the world and to the people in and around your life.  To me,  positive change in the world comes directly from each person's positive interaction with the world - it does not arise from a continuous stream of complaints and vilification in the name of correcting injustice.

Over the years, I have been just as guilty of this as any other person reading this (if anyone actually reads this), but slowly I have made a determined effort to live by one specific rule: "Don't be an ass." - based not so loosely on Wheatons' Law.  However, that is a pretty ambiguous and all-encompassing statement and so, privately, I have tried to turn that into a set of rules for myself - with the aim of turning positive thinking into positive living, which translates directly in a more positive and hopeful world.

So today I thought I would share my personal philosophy with you.  These are all aimed at making not only me a better person but, by extension, the world.  If I am a better and more positive person, then I can impart that upon the world around me.
    1. Choose to be Positive: this is by far the hardest step. It is easy to remain negative and in particular, it is not always obvious that one can choose to be positive. Some times bad things happen, but it is up to me to find the positive. By doing so, I choose to handle the situation the best that I can, and knowing that I choose my own attitude empowers me, and no one can that away take from me.
    2. Everything is a Learning Experience: in every situation there is good and bad and sometimes finding the good is hard - very hard. But it is up to me to learn from what is happening and incorporate that learning experience back into my life. By learning from the situation, you inherently find the positive and that is what carries forward.Not every situation is immediately fixable, but every situation does carry an experience from which I can learn.
    3. Take Care of Myself: only if I am mentally and physically healthy, can I truly gain what is offered by life and only then can I impart back on to the world a constructive and positive attitude. Self-doubt is the most insidious enemy of self-care. It is easy to turn on yourself, but if you don't care for yourself, who will? For me personally, this is the most difficult step and the one with which I struggle the most.
    4. Love: this is, by far, what we do best (thank you HIMYM). Don't shy away from it and hide it, but rather, embrace it, share it, expand it, and show it. And I don't necessarily mean love in the sense of a lover, but rather love your family, your friends, your pets, the sky ... whatever. Love is an emotion that, like all emotions, gets buried away if it remains unused. Don't save it for some rainy day - use it and enjoy it.
    5. Work Hard, Play Hard: positive living grows from self-fulfillment which comes from knowing that you have done your best. From there, you can be in a healthy place for yourself and for the world around you. Not everything will work out and sometimes you will screw up. That is all ok - failure is part of life; taking responsibility for yourself and your community turns that failure into a positive. In short: Have fun, sleep well, and tell good stories.
      On a daily basis, do I succeed at each of these? Of course not! But by keeping these goals in mind, I strive to improve not only myself but the world around me.  All those lofty goals preached to you every day by someone who thinks they know more (or better) than you - that doesn't work. True positive change does not come from shaming someone but only truly happens if we start with ourselves.  The world is changed and bettered, not from without, but first from within. 

      Friday, March 7, 2014

      Menstruation - yes, I am a man and I said the word out loud!

      I am a man and I have two daughters.  When my daughters were born, I vowed that I would not shy way from topics such genitals, sex, reproduction etc., and yes ... wait for it, menstruation.  Yep, I, a man, said the word out loud (ok, wrote the word, but trust me, I actually said the word out loud as I typed this). To me, menstruation is just a natural part of being human.  Yes, it is specific to women - in the sense that men do not have a menstrual cycle, but it is just part of life, and to ignore it or pretend it does not exist is stupid, at best, and dangerous, at worst.

      I, in particular, wanted my daughters to understand that menstruation is not something to be ashamed about or to hide, but rather, it is a part of who they are.  Every woman needs to come to a good place in their heads with this for the sake of their mental health. And every man, needs to understand that this is something that women have as part of their physiology; it is just what their bodies do.

      As my daughters approached puberty, my wife and I talked very frankly with our daughters about what to expect and how to handle the menstruation once it happens for the first time.  Now granted, my wife has significantly more experience with this than I do - ok, infinitely more experience -  but, we wanted to prepare our girls that Mom might not be around when it starts and that it might be Dad who is there and that is ok.

      To this day, I still see a shuttering of people's shoulders when the word menstruation is used - and, in fact, a euphemism (e.g., period, cycle, that time of the month) is often used in its place. For goodness sake, we can not even refer to a dog in heat without using a euphemism.  Look at this image I found on the internet ... "For Female Dogs in Season"; we can not even say estrous cycle for dogs.

      And I simply do not get it.  I am not saying that a woman has to broadcast to the world that she is menstruating, but for the love of god, there is no need for a woman to be ashamed or embarrassed.  Are we ashamed for going to the bathroom and having a bowel movement?

      So why am I writing this?  Well, I came across this BBC news item regarding one man's development of an inexpensive sanitary pad.  His desire was to improve the quality of health of women in rural and relative poor areas of the world so that they do not have to choose between food for their families and basic hygiene.  Here in the United States and elsewhere in the prosperous parts of world, there is a huge array of choices for feminine hygiene products that do not include old used rags or sand or ash (you think I am making that up? - read the article) and choices between food and sanitary pads is not an everyday problem.

      I hope in some small way, I have made a dent in the mystique of menstruation so that women, in general, and my daughters, in particular, can say the word menstruation, and more importantly have their menstrual cycle, without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.  

      Now maybe we can get the world to accept the words semen, vagina, orgasm, ejaculation, or penis.

      Sunday, February 23, 2014

      Curious Stars

      My wife, who teaches physics and astronomy at a nearby college, came home with a treasure this week.  The librarian at the college handed her a book with the comment, "I know you teach astronomy and this book is really cool.  But no one ever checks it out and we are thinking about moving it to the inactive shelves."   My wife, with her uncanny knack of recognizing something special - even if she has never previously seen that "thing", brought the book home and asked if I recognized the book. With a gasp of delight, I immediately recognized "The Stars: A New Way to See Them" by H. R. Rey.

      Most of you reading this post probably just said to yourselves "Huh?".  But, if I mentioned "Curious George", you likely would immediately know of whom and of what I am speaking.  That's right; the Curious George author also wrote a book about star gazing for beginners (in fact, he wrote two: the other beginning "Find the Constellations").  The book was more than just an amateur's guide to the night sky; the book was intended to introduce the night sky to anyone who ever looks up and wants to know the answer to the question "What star is that?" 

      Written in 1952, at the dawn of the space age, the spirit of the book is to bring the night sky to the curious child found inside each of us - regardless of our age - by capitalizing on our imagination and innate love of beauty.  The science background is in the book but it does not lead the book.  

      Rey redefined the drawing of the constellations.  Prior to this book, the constellations were either drawn as ornate figures or abstract geometric connections of stars - neither of which is very useful for finding your way around the night sky.  By drawing geometric figures that connected the stars within a constellation but also resembled a human view of the figure the constellation represented, he brought a human touch to an abstract view of the night sky.  To this day, his constellation drawings still stand and many are used in other "more serious" publications.

      But the book goes beyond pretty depictions of mythological characters, and delves into explanations of the seasons, the phases of the Moon, the diurnal cycle etc ... all the things that we notice on a daily basis but don't always really notice or, perhaps, understand. Rey's book instills in the reader a love of the stars by making the stars part of our world.  It is love of knowledge that fires curiosity, and it is curiosity from which we grow and expand.  Rey's books are not about stars, per se, but rather about who we are and from where we come.

      There are only a few books ever published that have explored a topic in such a way that the book is aimed at children, but is also well-appreciated by adults, and capable of changing a child's (and an adult's) view of the world such that the child would then go on to explore the topic in more detail.  "The Stars" is one of those books - and it would be a shame to lose this book to the ages on some random, dusty, inactive book shelf.

      Thanks for bringing it home ...

      Night after night they [the stars] are there.  And night after night they arouse our curiosity, our urge for knowledge.

      Stone age or space age, man will be asking the question his grandparents have asked before him and his grandchildren will ask after him: "What star is that?"

      Thursday, February 6, 2014

      Curiosity views Earth ... from Mars.
      NASA's Mars Science Laboratory - aka, the Curiosity Rover - has been on Mars for approximately 18 months.  One of Curiosity's main science goals is to assess the habitability of Mars in the past - particularly, in areas where evidence for water flow in the past exists.  Over the years, I have followed the progress of the Mars landers and rovers with keen interest.  Understanding how/if life may have formed on Mars, an environment once possibly rich in water and now barren of surface water, could have remarkable consequences for our own understanding of how life formed on the Earth.  While we study Mars to understand Mars, we also study Mars to understand ourselves and from where we originated, how we have evolved, and what our future may hold. once in a while, a remarkable moment is captured in our exploration of other worlds - as if that sentence is not remarkable in and of itself.  Curiosity looked up and caught a glimpse of the Earth and Moon in the Martian evening sky. Two bright stars in the evening sky - much akin to us looking up in the eastern sky in the morning and seeing Venus just before sunrise.

      By studying the Universe, we study ourselves.  To understand the Universe is to understand ourselves.  

      We truly live in remarkable times ...

      Tuesday, February 4, 2014

      Dog Therapy: The Nose Knows ...

      I am a dog person ... well, really an animal person, but dogs are and have been my constant companions for more than 20 years (um ... in addition to my spouse).   They are my therapy - every weekend, I join a group of dog owners, and we let our dogs romp around.  Interestingly, my dog goes for the people as much as the dogs, and I go for the dogs as much as the people.  I saw this article on CNN and thought what an awesome idea; I wish I had access to a dog when I was in college.  

      This is no huge surprise; the healing power of animals on people is well documented and is used for much more serious afflictions than stress.  Therapy Dogs International is just one organization that helps bring comfort and noses to those that need it.  Just one more way to give back ... and this time it is ok that your nose is wet.