Wednesday, June 26, 2013


A few weeks before I came out to my advisory class this past November a sixth grade boy came up to me during study time for his vocabulary test and said, “Mr. Eich, I think a mandate is wrong.” 

Students often tell me things or ask me questions that are completely baffling.  They either have nothing to do with the topic at hand or they demonstrate such odd thinking that I wonder if perhaps the children should take medication for delusional thinking.  

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” I said.

“Mandate.  I think it's wrong.”

“What do you mean it's wrong?” I asked.  “You know what mandate means, right?  A command.”

“Yes, but it could also mean a man dating a man.  I think that's wrong.”

Okay. I didn't see that one coming. 

“The world is a big place,” I said.  “And you are only in middle school so you don't know a lot about it yet.  But there are a lot of men who date men and a lot of people who think that's just fine.”

“Well, I think it's wrong,” the boy said.  “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Okay. I didn't see that coming either.  In  my ten years of teaching I’ve never had a student use the “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” argument.  I was also rather impatient that day.  You get that way sometimes after teaching ninety kids in three hours and still have another sixty to go before the day is over. 

So this is what I said to him:  “That statement as an argument for why being gay is wrong is filled with so many illogical and fallacious assumptions that I can't really go into them right now and do  justice to any of them.  Suffice to say, someday I hope you see the error of your thinking and become a bit more accepting of two guys who would like to go on a mandate.”

I'm sure he didn't see that coming.  He didn't know what to say and looked rather befuddled.  I'm sure he had no idea what I said in the beginning, but heard my message loud and clear at the end.

“Okay,” he said, probably not knowing what else to say, and walked back to his desk.

I could have taken the time and had a conversation with him about the topic in a more kid-friendly way, seize what educators call a “teachable moment”, perhaps even tell him I found what he said offensive because I'm gay, but I wasn't ready to make that step yet, and the English class he was in needed a lot of supervision all the time, and the number of completely off the topic and strange conversations I have with middle school kids sometimes takes all of my mental and emotional energy and I just need to move on to teaching or managing the next thing, and so I said what I said in a rather short and terse way.     

The irony is that this boy's favorite band is One Direction, his favorite TV show is Glee, all of his friends are girls, he would like to be an actor when he grows up, and he has a folder with a picture of kittens on it.  I know the dangers of stereotypes and perceptions, but it seems to me like he might be the type of boy who would one day like a mandate. 

Of course, as most gay people know, often the most homophobic people are closeted people.  In fact, back when I was a closeted sophomore in college I used the “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” line on a fellow actor in a theater production who said something affirming about gay people.  Two years later when I came out, someone told me that the guy I said this to was gay.  I'm sure he thought the same about me as I did about the sixth grade boy.

Prior to my coming out to my students, this boy talked to me almost every day.  After coming out, he seemed to avoid me.  He's best friends with one of the girls in my advisory class which I told I was gay and I assume the girl told him.  She's a gossip princess, the Liz Smith of the sixth grade, so I'm sure she did. Maybe the boy didn’t talk to me for a long time because he felt guilty for saying what he did.  I can understand that.  I also believe that if he is gay and he knows I'm gay, I made him uncomfortable. I brought up all those feelings and thoughts he was trying to suppress and repress.  I know I did the same when I was in college and met my first person, a professor, who was gay.  At the time, I was ten years older than the eleven year old boy in my class, and the professor simultaneously intrigued and unsettled me.  Knowing he was gay made me think more about myself as gay.  That's the power of coming out.  We can change minds.  

In fact, this boy’s prejudiced statement indicates that already someone is indoctrinating him with the idea of “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”.  All prejudice is taught to children whether it's racial, gender, national, religious, or affectional prejudice.  We, as a democratic society stepping into the increasingly diverse twenty first century, need to counter this prejudice by teaching our children to accept all diversity.

Over the course of the year, this boy showed less apprehension and discomfort around me and talked to me often and unreservedly.  I’m glad he did.  I hope his fears about me as a gay man and himself as a gay boy, if he is, dissipated.  I know it's not easy.   If he’s straight then I hope I’ve opened his mind and heart and made him more accepting.  With marriage equality for gay people in Minnesota and at the national level passed, he moves forward into a society where acceptance of gay people will become the norm and prejudiced views will become the minority.

As far as the mandate goes, I hope that if he is gay, he accepts his affectional preference and someday can have a man date.  Or if our society changes as rapidly as I hope it does in regard to gay acceptance, a boydate. 

Speaking of which, I'd like to give this eleven year old boy the credit for inventing a new meaning for the word mandate that I hope becomes a part of our vernacular. 

Mandate, noun, a man going on a date with a man.  As in, I could use a mandate.  It's been a while.     


Five Truths about Fear

Five Truths about Fear 

Truth #1: The fear will never go way as long as you continue to grow. 

*If we are learning and wanting to do new things, as we should be as people who live in this world of amazing opportunities, then we will always encounter something new and wonder can I do it?  We will always encounter some doubt and fear. 

[My note: *To say to yourself “if the fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow then I don't want to grow” is denying yourself your potential and the amazing opportunities offer us, and like it or not, as recalcitrant and stubborn and unwilling as you can be to grow, you will grow]

Truth #2:  The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.

*Fear dissolves when you confront it

*The “doing it” comes BEFORE the fear goes away

*In other ways, the fear doesn't go away until you do it.  So, for the most part, you're going to feel some degree of fear before you do it and while you are doing it, whatever that “it” is—starting a new career, living in a different city, traveling to a city or country, asking someone on a date, dating someone, going back to school, changing a significant habit in your life, changing yourself

*Don't play the When-Then Game with fear

          ...When I feel better about myself then I will do it

          ...When I'm confident, then I'll do it

          ...When I'm fearless, then I'll do it

Truth #3:  the only way to feel better about yourself is go go out and do it.

*The doing be comes before the feeling better about yourself

*It is fairly predictable, however, that when  you've finally mastered something and gotten rid of the fear, it will fee so good that you will decide that there is something else out there you want to accomplish, and guess what?  The fear begins again as you prepare to meet a new challenge and opportunity.

Truth #4: Not only are you going to experience fear whenever you are in unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else

*Don't interpret fear as a signal to stop buy rather as a green light to go ahead

*Move toward your desired goals with the fear rather than away from them because of the fear

*The fear is there; don't let it stop you

Truth #5: Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness

*You can't escape from fear.  You can only transform it into a companion that accompanies you on your exciting and new and out of comfort  and certainty security zone

 These five truths about fear are notes I took from the book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. 

Making Decisions

I've read Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers a couple of times.  Here are notes that I recently took on her chapter about decision making that I found insightful. 

Making Decisions

Before Making a Decision

1. Focus Immediately on the No Lose Model:

Path A is right--->>Goodies (Well Being in my words)---->>Choice Point

Path B is right--->>Goodies (Well Being in my words)---->>Choice Point

My note: The No Lose Model could be called the Win Model or the Succeed No Matter What Model or Learn What Life is Teaching You in Any Moment Model

As opposed to the No Win Model which is:

Path A is it right or is it wrong?--->>Will I get Goodies (Well Being in my words)?--> Choice Point

Path B is it right or is  it wrong?--->>Will I get Goodies (Well Being in my words)?--> Choice Point

My note: The No win Model could be called the Lose Model of the Fail No Matter What Model or Don't Be Aware to What Life is Teaching You in Any Moment Model

*Goodies are opportunities to experience life in a new way, to learn and grow, to find out what you are and who you'd like to be and what you;d lie to do in life.  Sounds optimistic to me!

2. Do Your Homework

*Talk to the “right” people—people who encourage, support are positive, have taken positive risks themselves, to embrace life, who want the best for themselves and for others, who in your definition of success and well being have succeeded and practice well being

As Susan Jeffers writes, “You're not a failure if you don't make it; your's a success because you try.”

3. Establish Your Priorities

*What do you want in life?

*Remember that goals constantly change in life the decision you made ten years ago might not be the decision you wold make today; the decision you make today might not be the decision you make in five years Why? Because your priorities change.

*A decision may be “right” or “good” now. Because you later want something different from that decision still means the decision was “right”  or “good” back then

4. Trust Your Intuition

    *Even after you've done your homework, and talked to many people, and come up with a logical choice, it is possible that your impulse, your instinct, your intuition, your heart, your soul, your spirit (call it what you will) is telling you to go with the other choice. Don't be afraid to do that.

*Remember that every choice, even to stay with what is your current reality, will bring you rich opportunities for experiencing life in a new and different way if you view your life as one of opportunity and growth, and if you make and take those opportunities.    There is no wrong decision, just different ones. 

5. Lighten Up

*Nothing is that important!  As the title of another great book advises, don't sweat the small stuff and it's all small stuff)

*You are a life time student at the large university of life.  Your curriculum is your total relationship with the world you live in from the moment you are born to the moment you die.  Each experience is a valuable lesson.  If you choose Path A, you will learn one set of lessons. If you choose path B, you will learn another set of lessons.  [My note: Whichever path you choose, you will learn some of the same lessons, lessons so important that no matter what you choose, you will learn this.]  Different classroom,  teachers, different books, different homework, different exams, but it doesn't really matter.  If you take Path A, you get to taste the strawberries. If you take Path B, you get to taste the blueberries.  If you don't like the strawberries (Path A), maybe you will try Path B or you'll eat fewer strawberries or over time you'll learn to like strawberries.  Same for blueberries and Path B.  Don't like strawberries or blueberries (Path A and Path B)?  Try raspberries (Path C).

*Whatever place you're in learn everything you can from it about yourself and the world around you.

*Whatever happens as the result of your decision, you can handle it.  This is a key concept in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: You can handle it!

After Making a Decision

1. Throw Away Your Picture

*Set aside expectations of what you thought it would be like

*If you focus on “the way it's supposed to be” you might miss the opportunity to enjoy the way it is or to be wonderful [have well being, feel successful, be content] in a totally different way from what you imagined

2. Accept Total Responsibility for Your Decisions

*When you can find the opportunity in any decision is is much easier to accept the responsibility for making it

3. Don't Protect, Correct
*Is is most important to commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you've got.  And if it doesn't work out, change it.  Make another decision, Life is a road of decisions. Many of us are so invested in making the “right decision” (and protecting our egos, our comforts, our appearances) that even if we don't like the path we've chosen, we hang in there for dear life.  This is craziness.  There is tremendous value in learning you don't like something and then changing your path. 

*The key to a well lived life is not to worry about making a wrong decision.  It's learning when to correct a decision. 

*Keep making decisions that take your to what you believe is your destination, knowing that the place you are was once the place you thought was your well being destination.  Appreciate and accept where you are and learn from it and also have the wherewithal to make another decision and change it when the time is right. 
Effective decision making means taking responsibility for your decisions and ultimately your life.  The following are ideas from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway about taking responsibility

Bliss, Contentment, and the Hero's Journey-Part Two

I've been thinking about what I wrote regarding the Hero's Journey, bliss, and contentment in my last post.  The Here's Journey requires us to ask what is my bliss and to follow that bliss rather than, as I suggested, what is my contentment and follow your contentment.  The Hero's Journey is a big journey, a big step for us, an adventure which makes us feel alive, makes us feel connected to our spiritual source, and makes us feel as though we are living a meaningful life. 

As my friend Waylon pointed out to me, the Hero's Journey doesn't always involve traveling somewhere; rather, what's important is that the Hero's Journey is always an interior journey.  We do something, we take the journey, because we believe it will make us a better person, a more fully lived person, a person tapping into our  potential, and a person living the life we imagine for ourselves. 

Bliss, therefore, does seem the right idea that would compel us to take our Journey.  Bliss is crazy wisdom, a teaching in much of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the teachings of Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche.  Bliss is that big dream, the idea we think is farfetched, and yet, something we want to pursue.  Will we obtain it?  That's not the point.  The point is the Journey.  The point is going after that dream.  The point is not the attainment, not the destination, and not the getting.  The point is that we should keep our goal at the forefront of our journey, but once we embark we should let the journey take us where it will.  We should remain open to changes and chance and opportunity and life unfolding in the way that it will. 

Contentment has its place, by all means, but seeking contentment in regard to the Hero's Journey typically isn't the big interior or exterior journey that Joseph Campbell encourages us to take. 

My friend Natasha, Waylon's sister, is the person who has sparked this contemplation about the Hero's Journey.  She left a well paying career in marketing at the age of thirty nine to pursue a different career.  She left her family and friends in Eugene, Oregon to pursue a Master's Degree in Gerontology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  Immersing herself in the world of academia she encountered the teachings of Joseph Campbell and his concept of the Hero's Journey and now considers her decision to leave the comfort of her past life to pursue the uncertainty, and yet, the dream, of a life, a career, in gerontology as her Hero's Journey.  I consider her incredibly knowledgeable in the Campbell's idea of of the Hero's Journey and she recently clarified for me that follow your bliss is a bit of a misinterpretation and misconception about the Hero's Journey.  Rather, a better understanding of the Hero's Journey is pursue your avocation, or the question what is your life's work?  When we ask ourselves what is I want to do as a career or even outside of a career, as a life's work, that we will find rewarding and meaningful, then we are embarking upon our Hero's Journey.  We think our life's work needs to be the magnificent, but it doesn't.  It can be the small, making a difference only to a few rather than the masses.  It's detrimental to think big—Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr big.  Let's face it: the vast majority of us will never make that significant of societal change.  Rather, what we must do, over and over again, is ask ourselves how can I given my strengths,  talents and interests best utilize myself to feel what I am doing is meaningful and to remember that virtually everything is meaningful in some context to someone.

So perhaps the question isn't what is my bliss or what is my contentment but rather what is meaningful to me?  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bliss, Contentment, and the Hero's Journey

My friend Waylon recently asked me in a letter:  what is my bliss?  He, his sister, and I have been discussing Joseph Campbell's idea of the Hero's Journey and one of the quintessential aphorisms of the Hero's Journey is follow your bliss.  One of the essential questions of this mythic existential philosophy, therefore, is what is your bliss?

My answer is I don't know.  For me, bliss implies deep passion, ecstatic pleasure, exuberant emotion, and nirvanic proportion.  As such, bliss seems unattainable.   It seems transitory and illusory.  And yet, this is the message I hear so often:  do what you love and the money will follow, pursue your dreams, live big, follow your bliss. 
I feel more practical than this quixotic ideal.  And yet, I know that passion for life means living a fulfilling life.  I certainly want that for myself.  We all do.  Nonetheless, I don't know what bliss I would follow right now.  Or rather, I know, but it seems impractical.  Perhaps that's the nature of bliss.  Seldom is it practical; seldom is it comfortable.  Like the Hero's Journey, bliss means stepping outside of our security and pursuing something because it means that much to us and because it means more to us than the comfort of our current situation. 

The concept I feel more comfortable with is contentment.  Perhaps happiness.  Contentment suggests attainability, satisfaction, and equilibrium.  Contentment is bliss's mild mannered sibling.  Practical and quiet, and yet, engaged and energized by acceptance.  Contentment isn't inaction or introversion,  although each of these traits can emerge.  Contentment can still be active. 

Contentment still asks us to take the Hero's Journey, and reminds us that it is not the Hero's Destination but rather the Hero's Journey.  The journey itself is the adventure and not only the final destination. Furthermore, contentment is available, indeed necessary, each step of the way.  The leaving for the journey, the journey itself, and the arrival are equally significant.  Arrival, after all, is constant until the day we die.  Each new moment is arriving into that new moment.  As soon as we arrive we are departing.  Our arrival is always temporary as is our departure and the journey in between.  The two are the opposite and the same: yin and yang, the pendulum swinging back and forth, the eternal equilibrium of our existence. 

So, what is my contentment is the question I ask myself and the question I pose to you.  What would bring you contentment?  Pursue that.  Follow your contentment.  Create a net for yourself, take the leap of faith, and jump.