That’s correct: I haven’t shared an article on my site in over 3 months.
“What gives?” you ask.
Life happened. Visas expired. Catching an international flight during the Coronavirus pandemic became necessary. Book manuscripts needed to be completed. And things got crazy in novel ways.
And no, I’m not sorry about my silence. That’s not me being a smarta**; it’s simply the truth.
But I’m not writing this article for me.
I’m writing it for you. I’m writing it for us. I’m writing it for the unheard voices that are suffering in silence during these unprecedented times. In the words of one of my former military commanders, “We’ve been desensitized to a new normal. Remember, there’s nothing normal about this.”
The Covid-19 pandemic already had the world on edge. Now, the Trump vs. Biden showdown has captivated the international platform with a thrilling display of disregard for our fellow mankind.
It’s easy to lose sight on the only constant reality that really matters: We’re all stuck on this planet together.
We have more in common with each other than differences; yet, we somehow think vowing to support our political party with a blaze of glory at the polls should be the defining act of grace that defines our legacy.
A couple of days ago my Facebook timeline was packed with opposing commentary views about the televised Trump vs. Biden debate. We can’t afford to allow overly privileged politicians to be the divisive barrier blocking our power in unity. Our love for each other should last longer than the hatred spewed for the sake of an election.
I remember when “snowflake” was only a childhood term used to describe the magic of winter. Today, it’s rarely used as anything other than a derogatory term to describe people perceived to be “overly sensitive” and “easily offended.”
I remember when Karen was nothing more than the birthname of a young lady that married one of my closest friends. Today, it’s an adjective largely used to describe an overly entitled woman that refuses to wear her face mask. Before that, it was an all-inclusive adjective to describe a white woman that refused to give black men access to a predominantly white residential complex.
Tomorrow your birthname may be on the chopping block.
These times are beyond unprecedented. We’re becoming desensitized to the sensibilities of our neighbors. We’re allowing the mass dissemination of biased news to infiltrate the purity of our hearts that we once possessed as a child. We’re being bamboozled.
It’s time to reconnect.
It’s time to unite with love.
It’s time to prioritize peacefully coexisting above political preferences and skin color.
We’ve been engrossed in the Digital Age since personal computers were released in the 1970s. Now we’re in the middle of the Insinuation Age without realizing it. We’re being led to believe that all Trump supporters are racist, Biden supporters are snowflakes, “Karens” are wired genetically different than the rest of us, and divisive issues are a matter of right and wrong without any gray areas in-between.
This is not okay. Let’s stand above these media-induced ideas that promote fear for the purposes of corporate profit.
Remember: The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic was the start of an era when personal validations were rattled, and personal identities were stripped for the sake of global health.
Our Personal Identity Crisis
Our personal identity is largely composed of things we can’t control, such as our race, where we were raised, our early beliefs, and much more. Over the course of our life, we begin to increasingly express our personal identities and validating our sense of belonging with things we can control: wardrobe choices, make-up, materialistic possessions, and the freedom to choose our social circles and beliefs. These are the same lifestyle choices that facemasks, social distancing, and venue closures seriously impact.
Whether we realize it or not, Covid-19 has probably rattled our sense of personal validation; therefore, our impressionability to lean towards abnormal rigid beliefs has likely significantly increased. If Coronavirus hasn’t stung us in a place where it hurts, we should still have sympathy for our neighbors.
Covid-19 has had the same international impact that Basic Military Training has on military trainees; it has stripped the comforts of individual identities and replaced them with impartial mass agendas, without considering personal discretion and the sensibilities of our fellow mankind.
A year ago, I was boarding a flight from Vietnam to Chiang Mai, Thailand — carefree, and living my best life. Today, I’m watching my homeland crumble with assumptions, political stances, and racial tensions.
At some point we must look in the mirror.
I’m rarely in America long enough to make well-informed political judgments, but it doesn’t take a NASA certified rocket scientist to understand the buffoonery. It’s obvious: American coins have been infected with an advanced deadly strain of Covid-19 which has led to a national coin shortage, voting means we’re either a rainbow-stricken snowflake or a bigot (take your pick), and facemasks are covering the ugly side of people that make-up never had the power to conceal.
Okay, okay. I’m not being serious.
Joking aside, I’ve only been back in America for a couple of months and I think George Lucas would agree: The force is strong.
The force of racism.
The force of political divisiveness.
The force of the media.
The force of the Insinuation Age.
A couple of weeks ago I was weathering a minor (non-Coronavirus related) illness at Comfort Suites hotel in Cedar Park, Texas (900 Arrow Point Drive, Cedar Park TX). After a 3-day stay at the hotel, I was greeted on the morning of October 3rd, 2020, in the lobby by the receptionist with, “You need to leave the property.”
I was sitting quietly in the lobby, minding my own business. I was hoping the tender age of my ears forgot about their youthful abilities and distorted what the receptionist said. The lady rephrased her statement, and it became clear: The Comfort Suites receptionist erroneously assumed I wasn’t a registered guest and was loitering on the property.
I reckon that’d be a semi-reasonable assumption if she had multiple guests to accommodate; however, that’s a hard bargain to sell since I was the only guest sitting in the lobby. Our unfortunate acquaintanceship escalated rapidly. I wasn’t in a mood to prove my innocence in a predominantly white city; those days are gone. I politely ignored her outlandish request, she threatened to call the police, and she eventually sent a member of management — Bill Winters, General Manager of Comfort Suites — to come speak with me in the lobby.
Bill Winters was as respectful as you can expect from somebody following the absurd guidance of a prejudice employee. The conversation would’ve been amicable if the employee had attempted to ascertain whether I was a registered guest before I was told to leave the property. It would’ve also gone differently if Bill Winters would’ve began the conversation with a question rather than a statement originating from an overtly prejudice employee. I forgot to smile, but you’ll learn about that shortly.
Fun Fact: “If you’re not a registered guest, you need to leave the property” (wrongfully) implies much less guilt than beginning a conversation with “I just need you to leave, sir, if you don’t have a room here.” Winters should’ve apologized and disengaged the conversation after :15 seconds into our conversation. Ten seconds later (@:25), he received another appropriate time to stop the nonsense. You can see the full video recorded interaction with Bill here.
Nonetheless, the narrative of Bill & I’s conversation echoed the heartlessness of the Insinuation Age: Instead of inquiring about the actions of his employee or taking any responsibility for her poor decisions, he insisted to know if I was a registered guest — a fruitless question that originated without any merit.
(4k character limit, but you can read my review here)
So yes, the force is strong.
Small acts of gross mismanagement and personal inconsideration are perpetuating bigger problems that reflect what’s already been established within America’s poor current international reputation. It’s an extended reputation that’s been growing roots deeper than the love we’ve been showing to each other.
If you know anything about the historical narrative of unlawful “stop and identify” policing violations that were extremely common following the tragic events of 9/11, you’re probably aware that the officers usually had a tendency to say, “It’s because of the current climate [we can violate your rights].”
It became a growing problem that didn’t go unnoticed. First Amendment radicals increasingly began to openly photograph federal facilities from public spaces (referred to as “First Amendment Audits”) to exercise their civil liberties. In response, the Department of Homeland Security released a memo in 2010 to ease the unlawful policing violations that kept repeatedly occurring. However, the unlawful policing violations didn’t subside. Therefore, the DHS released the following memo in 2018 to reiterate the 2010 memo (and the proper way to address activities protected under the First Amendment).
Fast forward a few years later: Today, the same “current climate” justification is minimized to “pulling the black card” and deflecting the narrative away from excessive force. Versace’s Vice President of Sneakers & Men’s footwear, Salehe Bembury, experienced it in this video (@3:20) uploaded to YouTube.
When was the last time you got frisked for jaywalking?
Perhaps these types of mistakes are common where the grass is greener?
White. Brown. Black. Pink. Purple.
It doesn’t matter.
We’re beautiful, and our color shouldn’t demonize us; however, our decisions have the capacity to tell a story that’ll be told long after we’re gone.
Our children probably won’t remember whether our vote would classify us as a bigot or snowflake at the polls. But our victimized neighbors’ children may not be so lucky. They’ll likely be indoctrinated into a belief system of fear and anger due to experiences that were at least partly out of their parents’ control.
So we — yes, WE — you and I, must acknowledge something more important than baseless assumptions, political preferences, and color. We need to acknowledge that we’re in this together.
The Smile Challenge
Whether we agree with each other or not, the perceptions of our brothers and sister — no matter their color or associated political party — depict a reality that we may not be able to understand; yet, we still have a responsibility to respect the rare power of these unprecedented times without succumbing to their convenient temptations.
“How?” you ask.
It’s simple: We exercise our emotional intelligence. As Jason Bridges would probably say, “Let’s get involved in the people currency.”
How does it work?
Like this: Smile.
I’m not a psychologist, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may have more work ahead than you in the emotional intelligence arena. At the same time, I contend that the Coronavirus Era has genuinely desensitized us to the considerations of other people. And smiling is the first step to reconnecting on an authentic level.
And no, I’m not referring to the smiles you give yourself while looking in the mirror.
But yes, that magical beauty is something worth smiling about — remember that.
Humans are emotional creatures. We’re highly adaptable and responsive to our surroundings. More importantly, we can usually be RE-sensitized to things that we were once desensitized to experiencing; The Act of Killing, a 2012 documentary about individuals that participated in the mass killings of Indonesia in the mid-1960s, has a particular silencing scene that further supports the idea that human empathy is stronger than a culture of insensitivity.
Surely you and I are no more desensitized to humanity than a former cold-hearted Warlord, right?
A few days ago I was having a deep conversation with a cousin. It was humbling because he was admiring my social skills. I’m an introvert, but I also have an extroverted switch that I can instantaneously turn on. After I re-watched Jason Bridges’s TEDx Talk the following day, I realized that I’ve been doing a twisted version of what he refers to as The Smile Challenge for more years than I can recall.
Jason’s Smile Challenge is simple: Every day, attempt to make 5 strangers smile with nothing more than your smile. It’s a fabulous method to increasing self-awareness, building relationships, and increasing your emotional intelligence.
Smiling is a guaranteed way to inch ourselves towards the relative purity of pre-Coronavirus. As Bridges briefly mentions during his lecture, scientists in the UK have used heart rate monitors and electromagnetic brain scans to determine that smiling replicates eating 2,000 chocolate bars or receiving up to $25,000.
The Retail Social Challenge
In my version of The Smiling Challenge, I oftentimes seek to do something different. The Smiling Challenge works great when you’re walking past a stranger and face masks aren’t mandatory; it’s a lot less of an opportunity when you enter a store and you’re immediately greeted with the employee’s manager-dictated script. You’ll rarely find a better way to practice increasing your emotional IQ than with an employee required to greet you in a store.
The Retail Social Challenge:
When you enter a retail store and you’re greeted by an employee, try to break the employee from their script with a conversation that has nothing to do with the store you’ve entered.
This accomplishes everything The Smile Challenge accomplishes and more.
It’s one of the quickest ways to boost self-confidence, nurture personal power, regain social traction (when necessary), learn how to control conversations, and develop a stronger emotional IQ!
Trust me: It’s not always as easy as it sounds, but it’s always rewarding — regardless of the employee’s response.
You’ll quickly discover that some employees are highly receptive to connecting on a deeper level than the annual 40% off SALE they’re being forced to promote; meanwhile, other employees require various degrees of icebreakers.
And yes, some employees are going to be too rigid to break. Whether it’s because their pet goldfish died that morning or they’re a strand of hair away from strangling their boss, some employees won’t budge from their misery or “professionalism.”
That’s not your problem.
Still, express a genuine interest on trying to help them escape the monotony of their day. Give them a reason to smile. A reason to think. A reason to hope for a better tomorrow.
Don’t sell yourself short: Mix it up.
It should be a fun challenge that allows you to be completely forgiving of yourself for any meaningful connections you fail to make. Give a contagious smile, tell a random joke, ask the employee how their day is going, relate to them on a personal level, do anything to try to distract the employee from the stressors of their job and strike a non-work related conversation.
They may not see your smile behind the face mask, but the good juju you receive from the 2,000 candy bars pumping through your brain will likely convert into a conversation worth attempting.
Most of all, remember that you’re not simply talking to an employee; you’re talking to a fellow victim of the Coronavirus era. You’re talking to somebody who likely had a piece of their identity stripped away at the same time we were being desensitized to the power of love.
You’re talking to somebody who deserves the type of empathy that’s stronger than racial tensions, political differences, and Covid-19 pandemonium.
You’re talking to somebody suffering through the same “current climate” as you.
You’re strengthening your emotional intelligence by talking to one of US.
(Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker are two fabulous books that can further your skills while doing the Retail Social Challenge. )
The Sad Origin of the Retail Social Challenge & Where We Go From Here
During my adolescence and early adulthood, I frequented retail stores in many predominantly white middle-upper neighborhoods. I had a grandmother that lived in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Therefore, I would oftentimes shop at the Best Buy electronics store near her house.
Unfortunately, I would regularly receive unwarranted “Great Customer Service.”
“So what brings you in our store today?”
Such a seemingly innocent question that commonly has devious intentions.
In Loss Prevention terminology, “Great Customer Service” is code for: This person looks like a thief, so let’s repeatedly ask him if he needs help until he gets uncomfortable and leaves the store.
The Retail Social Challenge started as a tool to make me comfortable in places that gave me “great customer service.” It gave my brown skin and middle-eastern type beard the innate innocence we’re all bestowed at birth — despite how we’re sometimes treated. Today, I occasionally find myself still using it for those same purposes; the same tactics used to make a potential shoplifter uncomfortable can also be used to make an employee uncomfortable. And if the employee is uncomfortable, than the customer is more comfortable.
Tongue twister, right?
Ironically, the same techniques can be used with empathy to increase your emotional IQ, build authentic connections, and break the bonds of political divisive issues, racial prejudices, and the stressors of Covid-19.
Let’s end this article where we started: We’ve been desensitized to a new normal.
A new “current climate” will always exist.
Skin color is only as deep as the prejudices we assign to them.
There will always be more than one contender for presidency.
And social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing.
We can’t control how the media portrays the current realities around America, but we can certainly control the climate of the love, empathy, and compassion we express wherever we are.
So, the next time you’re 6+ feet away from a stranger and you’re wondering if you should wear your face mask, remember one thing: A smile flies further than a Covid-19 infused respiratory droplet, and caring words last longer than most illnesses you and I will ever experience.
P.S. — Be better than me.
Smile, even when you’re being wrongfully told to leave a property.