Archive for September, 2011

09/30/2011

Pleasing All Makes One A Perfect Ass

http://www.aesopfables.com/cgi/aesop1.cgi?sel&TheMantheBoyandtheDonkey

Above is the link to one of my FAVORITE Aesop Fables of ALL time: The Man, The Boy and the Donkey. One of the reasons I love this fable is that it highlights where you can end up if you’re the man, boy or donkey in the face of poor leadership and being a “crowd pleaser”.

Young people, and everyone for that matter, always struggle with the idea of fitting in. Yes, no one wants to be alone or on the outside looking in. In fact, people want the best of both worlds – to be accepted for who they are and to fit into a group that they want to be a part of. Unfortunately, people tend to set themselves up for failure at times because not everyone will be accepting of who they are and sometimes the groups they want to be associated with are just not a good fit.

People try really hard to fit in though. Living above their means, handing out favors, being who they are not – fitting in is contagious disease that allows folks to take chances that they wouldn’t ordinarily view. While I will agree that it’s great to connected and being open to new ideas and fresh input, there are times when you and your gut knows what’s best.

So when is it that we get to that point in life we realize that it is better to be who we are and not what others want us to be? Well, everyone gets to that point in different phases – some don’t get there at all.

For me, it took a realization of being in surrounded by people who really didn’t have my best interests at heart that in order for me to be me, it’s ok to not have certain people around who were really not in my corner.

I was a high school senior at the time and hung out with a group of more true middle class kids at a church I attended. Even though we had great conversations, and they were pretty nice to me, I realized that I was putting more work into maintaining the connection than they did. I decided to test the strength of the relationship I had with these folks by being very minimal with them one day. Sure enough, we stopped talking. I left it and “hi” and “bye” when they saw me and it was then I realized that they just weren’t for me, just as how trying too hard to fit in wasn’t going to work for me either.

Just like in the fable, you don’t want to be the ass that drowned and was lost because he couldn’t help himself. As hard as it may be to be you, being someone else to fit in or please others may be more difficult and costly in the end. Being selective of the company you keep but respectful of everyone make allow you to fit in better with life than you may have imagined.

09/28/2011

Prosecuting The Prostitute

There was a recent case in the news of a young woman aged 20, who had a conviction of prostitution overturned that caught my eye and I had to put my two cents out there on this topic:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2011/09/22/2011-09-22_shes_first_forced_into_prostitution_to_get_charges_tossed.html

Now being on my 9-5 has allowed me to encounter either commercially sexually exploited youth or youth who are at risk for commercial exploitation. The change in this law is something to cheer about, and is long overdue.

Ever since commercial sex work has been deemed a crime in 49 of the 50 states here in the US, laws have been written that are more punitive to the sex worker than to the other players in the commercial sex trade. Advocates have often argued that punitive actions should be more heavily placed on the pimps and the other key placers in “the life” and more service to be offered to those who are exploited – especially the youth and ones who are desperately trying to escape.

Let’s be clear here. There are many different levels and faces to the “prostitute”. Yes, there are those who offer adult services who are in complete control and understanding of both what they are doing and their reasons behind it. Some of those people see it as a temporary means to an end; some have decided that it is their way to eek out an existence. As a society, anything involving the sex industry gets the whore/prostitute/stripper label. It’s often amazing to see the subtle distinctions between those three terms, and how often they are used interchangeably. What we tend to forget is that no matter if it’s a high-end call girl, a street-walker, an exotic dancer or a porn star, it’s the allure of sexual fantasy and the easy access to disposal resources that keeps the demand in place and persons in the business of meeting that demand.

The seemingly romanticized image of the street-walker or the high-end call girl is truly unrepresentative of the stark reality of those who are in “the life”. Many commercial sex workers are in fact commercially exploited youth. As the case in the article points out, this young woman was forced into “the life” at age 13 – just about the average age of entry for commercially exploited youth. These young people are often targeted and there is research and anecdotal experiences on how those youth are exploited. Some spend significant portions of their life in “the life”, moving from exploited youth to exploited adults.

This law is significant as generally speaking, most laws surrounding “prostitution” blame the sex worker and are punitive accordingly. It’s like saying “if s/he was not selling ass, they wouldn’t be breaking the law in the first place”. The counter-argument could be “if there was no market for selling ass, then s/he wouldn’t need to break the law in the first place”. Many of us in the general public get hung up on the sexual act in the sex industry, but lose sight of the significance of the commerce involved. It cannot be stressed enough – if there was no money to be made, anything involved sex under this context would not be profitable. Since it IS a capitalist venture, the exploited get the short end of the stick financially, physically (abuse), and emotionally (being subjected, emotional scars, shattered self-identity).

So the fines, marks on their legal record actually serve as an effective deterrent in the “policing of prostitution”. It deters those in “the life” who do need various levels of help not to access the authorities. After all, they cannot protect them from the demanding pimp, the abusive customer or the predatory person in authority who takes advantage of their vulnerability. Such a powerful deterrent only feeds into the control of isolating hold “the life” has over the exploited person.

Organizations like GEMS(http://www.gems-girls.org/) are working hard to make a difference and to show why changes in the laws like these are necessary to help those who are seeking to escape “the life”. Advocates will tell you many of those caught in the life live in total fear – fear of the pimp controlling them, fear of the police who throw the books at them, fear of the john who will beat the shit out of them to act out some sexual fantasy, and fear of how to rebuild a life knowing that this chapter of their history has so much stigma attached.

While it is hard to say how the laws should address the smaller minority who fit the “romanticized” image of the prostitute, changes to the laws similar to these might be the first steps needed to really examine the commercial sex trade and make a difference in the lives of those who want to escape “the life”.

09/26/2011

STDs and The Stigma of Sexual Health

Being on the 9-5 allows me both the pleasure and bane to work with youth. One of the big topics for young people has always been sexual health. Without getting too much on the 9-5 soap box, I will say that positive youth development is an absolute necessity. If we are able to help young people make affirming choices and take on the responsibility of their actions, we get better adults and ideally a better society. No where is taking up this responsibility more important than the topic of sexual health.

One thing I’ve taken away from doing my type of 9-5 is the reminder of the amount of stigma that still exist around STDs and talking about sex period. Now, I’m not going to a workshop here, but I’ve noted that while we live in era of greater access to information on sexual health, the level of awareness is not near where it needs to be. Stats from the CDC show that a significant percentage of newly diagnosed STDs and unintended pregnancies are found in the teens and young adults bracket – from ages 15 to 35. Some may ask: shouldn’t this be the group that is the most highly aware because of the large pools of information available?

Like anything else, “practical awareness” or “true knowledge” is derived from how effectively one applies information. What stands out the most in my 9-5 is people’s comfort level with talking about sexual issues is surprising lower than it should be. Now, young people don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking about these issues because not everyone is willing to give them a space to express themselves and acquire the knowledge they need without judgement. But if you look across the board,

STDs have become an issue in the geriatric population as well. Seniors are now living longer and as a result have the right to enjoy as healthy a sex life as any age group. Since pregnancy for them is more minimized biologically, there is more evidence of higher STD rates in this age bracket than previously seen.

So what does this all mean? A senior taking an STD test probably faces with same stigma as a teen who’s accessing the same service. So how do we fight the stigma and get people to better take care of themselves in this area?

The most memorable conversation I had about this topic was with a close friend many moons ago. Being two guys who had known each other for eons, sex was a topic narrowly discussed within the context of “girls” – never from a sexual health point of view. So we were talking about some girl problem he was having and being on my 9-5, I mentioned the importance of testing. It ended up being a real deep discussion about practicing good sexual health. I shared some anecdotes from the 9-5, he shared some things he had heard and experienced, and we together busted a few myths and reinforced some best practice ideas. We will probably never have that depth of conversation on sexual health again, but a “safe space” was created where if the need for a resource or a perspective on a scenario is required, it can be broached without judgment.

Now, culturally, there is still some what I call unnecessary stigma about sexual health. Seeking treatment, getting tested, asking about contraception, discussing pregnancy options are so heavyweight issues by themselves that thinking about the social aspect of these decisions should be the LAST thing on a person’s mind. Yet they end up being the first thing people (un)consciously think about, because of the fear of both judgment and RIDICULE if this aspect of their life becomes public knowledge.

To me much of that ridicule and judgment is out of fear, or rather an unwillingness to examine one’s own sexual health practices. Taking control of one’s sexual health isn’t a knock on someone’s sexual preferences and that might be the biggest and most damaging myth of all.

At the end of the day we all have to do our best to find and stick with our own sexual health best practice. While the fear of judgment talking about sexual health is strong, the thirst for knowledge and being safe is that much stronger.

09/24/2011

Same Old Gossip: Bad Press is Good Press

Well, Britney Spears was in the news again this week, but not for the “right” reasons. She was in London promoting her European tour, when getting out of a car in a short dress she apparently flashed the camera with a crotch shot. Talk about an “Oops! it happened again” moment. The last time she was in the news for a crotch shot she had no underwear on with that black sheer dress on that infamous night out with Paris Hilton (2006).

There have been a few other overexposure incidences the last few weeks. At the recent Miss Universe beauty pageant, there was a leak that the sponsors where unhappy with Ms Colombia’s alleged propensity to wear short skirts with no underwear – drawing attention to herself with the occasional crotch shot. Naomi Campbell was recently snapped with a boob exposed in a somewhat sheer dress. Lady Gaga teased us (intent there is always up for debate) with a split in a dress on a promo event at summer’s end that apparently showed her sans underwear. If those aren’t titillating enough for you, there’s the whole genre of leaked images taken meant for private eyes – see Amber Rose and Rihanna for the more noteworthy examples.

Gossip like this has always been humorous to me. Why is this really making news? When I took a step back after reading this article in passing it made me think about a few things.

If you look at it from a moral point of view, there’s something inherently faux pas about getting out of a car and not remembering that the dress is short causing it to ride up or flash a crotch. Moralist would say that if the whole world is watching you, being more lady-like and making sure we don’t see your crotch as you exit a car with many dozens of paparazzi there makes sense. In Spears’ defense – this flash for the press could have been unintentional – I see some dresses here in NYC I wonder how some women walk in them, much less sit or move around without being overexposed. So yes, there is an art to wearing certain clothes and a need to wear what you want and be sexy when you feel like it.

Some fashion snobs might debate how well red cheetah print skivvies and lime-ish green dresses go well together, but who cares if the only thing the public is SUPPOSED to see was the DRESS in the first place?

What stood out for me the most is as consumers is how hungry we have become for negative press. Personally, I would take some issue with paparazzi using DSLRs and other high-powered equipment to zoom in and take pictures and videos of all body parts and actions if I were famous. I’d want my human moments to be left in the same level of anonymity that “average folk” have when they make a goof. I think all celebs feel that way, even though they know they traded away a lot of that anonymity once reaching some level of notoriety.

Perhaps what drives this hunger is the need for a distraction from the daily grind by ANY means necessary. Times are tougher now than in recent memory; in the face of a shaky economy and divided leadership, people are finding it harder to make a life. Stress levels are so high that it is easier to tap into that one common resource – making fun of someone is who is an a worse moment or position than us. For every slip up someone makes and people say “I’m glad I’m not like her or in his shoes”, you’ve got a hundred fold more posters venting when it’s a celeb involved. Some of us do this “hating” unintentionally, others are famous for it and that’s how they get paid. But, however we get it, many of us will take the opportunity to have that one moment where we feel better than  someone else or a celeb because we would NEVER SCREW UP in manner that they did.

Celebs are still people at the end of the day, they too can have human moments. But unfortunately, if their brand is how they make money, since that brand is what most of is will see faux pas and falls from grace will always be headline news. Still, wouldn’t it be more interesting if we were more selective at WHAT faux pas was really headline newsworthy? Maybe we can hear more about the other gossip – the amazing stories of average people (or even celebs themselves) making a difference in the lives of others.

09/17/2011

Being Truly Sorry or Being Sorry For Getting Caught?

One of the many core lessons that the elders taught me coming up is that being remorseful for a wrong is different from being remorseful over the fact that the wrong you committed didn’t get you what you wanted.

Ever have that one friend who is ALWAYS cheating on their partner, but their partner ALWAYS looks surprised when they found out? Ever count the number of times you’ve shaken your heard once you hear they’re back together again? “He got forgiven for THAT?”  “Why did he TAKE her back after what happened?” Some things just seem to not make much sense in our minds – even though we’re on the outside looking in.

Many times people who get busted doing something they shouldn’t have (cheating, lying, stealing, etc) often whip out the old remorse card with great alacrity. The question I often ask myself whenever I see this happen is: are they truly sorry for what they did or are they truly sorry for getting caught?

Now some people just have a habit of finding themselves in the same situation consistently. It doesn’t matter what people tell them, they just have a knack for messing up. Those folks are probably more embarrassed that they were in the same situation, in spite of the efforts of people to steer them away from it.

But you’ve got the slick bunch who are just sorry they got caught, and know that pulling out the old remorse card is just another step in getting closer to what they want. I tell you, some of them are so good that they will turn the water works on, and give an Emmy award winning performance to boot. They have all the lines down pat, they know what strings to pull – and at the end of it all, they get to have their way.

I knew of a friend who dated a woman who was so good at playing the game that even we SHE was wrong HE was the one being all apologetic. If you tried to stand up to her though, that’s when her true colors would shine through. It’s not gender specific either, as I can shake my head at many a story where men have been caught cheating red-handed and with the other woman in his lap and got a “slap on the wrist” as punishment from his partner.

So why is it important to tell the difference between the two? Well, no one wants to be taken advantage of, that’s for sure. More importantly though, it’s being aware of the difference allows us not to put ourselves in situations that we are the guilty party we don’t incur the wrath of others. Understanding the real reasons behind our actions will allow us not to do confuse being remorseful with manipulation and not to be subject to the pros at that game.

Always been sorry loses its meaning after a while. Even the most unintentional klutz has to face their consequences of their actions.

09/15/2011

Just One Shot

I had a conversation with a close friend of mine a few weeks back and he was talking about how essential making good first impressions are. While I agreed with many of his comments, the conversation made me think of why for better or for worse, putting too much stock into first impressions has made us more lackadaisical in our approach to dealing with people.

It’s been proven that we “look” people over pretty quick (literally in seconds), size them up and make an instant judgment on the individual. What has always fascinated me about this process is that it is done in a matter of seconds, and almost always the impression derived is permanently etched in the person’s mind. It’s funny as in the obstacle course that is dating, I’ve seen people get passed over treated differently for the smallest of things – extra nose hair, mismatched colors, how they handle a spoon at dinner, a hole in their clothing, etc. Maybe the person was having an “off” moment, maybe that’s who they are – who knows for certain? But the judgment is handed down swiftly and once the label gets applied – it’s over.

What makes such judgment even more hilarious is that the judge themselves are often so flawed that if they were judged by their OWN standards they would be found WANTING. Talk about a double standard. Is it really that surprising considering the idea that many times we are looking at people to see how they can fulfil our “needs” and what they can do for us?

One of my favorite examples of “never judging a book by its cover” was George Washington Carver, Carver was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. As a scientist, he made tremendous contributions to the fields of horticulture, food processing and agronomy. The story goes that many a time Carver would walk into a lecture hall in his famous suit which was battered and beat up as can be. People who look on him curiously, especially since we was African-American, and shake their heads in a curious disbelief. Once he touch to the stage and opened his mouth, all negative perceptions would fade away and his genius shone through.

The truth is that we’ve become so instantaneous in our society that snap judgements based on first impressions are the rule of the day. I’m tired of hearing about stories where teens swat their SATs in order to get perfect scores and when they get to college they aren’t successful because they are merely exceptional test takers instead of good students. Or the great employee who is a good managerial candidate but his poor sales pitch only leads to him getting managerial responsibilities but no increase in salary. Management knows he can do the job but doesn’t “look and act the part”.

We’ve got a lot of used car salesmen out there, telling us what we want to hear in order to stroke our egos. The grass is never as green as it seems, especially when someone else is the gardener. Still, sometimes when we make snap judgments by relying solely on great first impressions, we miss the opportunity to learn or connect with someone who can make a real difference to us, or vice versa.

Now, am I saying that there aren’t times when what your gut is telling you isn’t the case? Of course not – I’ve side stepped many a bad situation because I went with my gut and saw that the first impression I received was correct. The one thing people don’t tell you is that the more you understand yourself, the more “accurate” your gut becomes. We all can have those moments of “clarity” to see through the sales pitch, but to do so consistently, some self-awareness is essential.

Sometimes greatness comes in the most unassuming of forms.

09/11/2011

9.11.01 – Ten Years Later

Today’s the anniversary of 9.11.01 – ten years later. It’s been a life changing 10 years, for many of the people tied to this event for sure.

I can remember EXACTLY where I was on that Tuesday morning. I was in college, getting ready to go to some class – Social Research – that morning. I woke up and was going through my routine, trying to get to school early to catch up with a few new friends I made before classes started. Somehow, the day had a weird feel to it and I just couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I remember something snapping inside that said “you need to turn the TV on”. I remember hitting the power button just in time to see the second plane hit the South Tower.

I will never forget the images from the coverage that day. I watched it for another hour and then I made what seemed to be one of the longest and must burdensome walks to school I’d ever taken. I can remember the mad scramble to call my mother and the relief that I felt in getting through and knowing she was ok. The mood on campus that day was shock, panic, disbelief and a great sadness. School was cancelled. People were just milling around, discussing the whole events.

I saw a piece on ESPN on Labor Day (Sept 4th) which chronicled a young man named Welles Crowther from Upper Nyack NY and his brave service that day. (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2002/america.remembers/stories/heroes/welles.html). There were so many who made heroic sacrifices – from those on the plane who fought back in those last moments, to the first responders, to those civilians like Welles who helped to saves others at the cost of themselves.

One cannot help but feel a sense of loss and suffering. Watching the victims and families of first responders having to fight the bureaucracy surrounding receiving much need health benefits and the strength to take life one day at a time shows a courage and steel resolve some of us may never have. Having it hit home even more upon learning that a family friend lost relatives that day. The first time a dear friend of mine I met 4 years ago recalled her eyewitness account. There’s just such a depth to 9.11 that only the victims, first responders, eyewitness and our troops on the front line can fully understand because they carry the heaviest burden from that day onward.

I pass WTC daily as a part of my commute. I often see the crews at work, and it looks like they’ve removed that blue tarp covering the fence so it is now easier for passersby to peer in. I’m pretty proud of the work that they are doing at the site. I guess my own opinion is that it SHOULDN’T have taken as long as it has to complete the Memorial. Still, like with everything else surrounding 9.11, it’s so complicated that it is almost understandable that things are going at the pace that they are.

I know that traveling there to take the PATH back home from work that Sunday will just be a bad idea. I don’t know how I’m going to react tomorrow on the commute. It’s just one of those things that maybe there is no right or wrong way to deal with it.

9.11.01 – 10 years later. It’s still and will always be for those who were alive to see it, so fresh in our minds.

09/06/2011

All in The Same Boat

Like everyone else, I got moods when it’s time to dig into the iPod and find something that fits the feeling you’re feeling in that moment. To get me through some days I usually will draw upon some “conscious reggae”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I will pull out some Lil Wayne, Pappa Roach and Vybz Kartel from time to time. But many times there’s just a certain truth you want that can only be found in the music from people like Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage, Stephen and Damian Marley, and the older folks like Freddie McGregor.

I won’t ever claim to be a savant, but I will state unequivocally I grew upon music. I find it amazing that for someone who never got his own radio until the 9th grade, I knew enough music by then to be taken mildly seriously in a discussion on “conscious music” with grown folk at the time. So in my own version of the daily grind, one of the songs on my “conscious playlist” I tend to play a lot when needed is All in the Same Boat – Freddie McGregor.

It is so apropos. Living in this rat race that is the American Dream, it’s hard to remember that we really are all in the same boat. We work too hard, love too hard, and play too hard. There is such an immense pressure to keep up with the Joneses – and by any means necessary it seems. The life has gotten us so contorted that we often use the “it can’t happen to me” approach to shield and save ourselves from the fall from grace that engulfs many people in our society.

So how to you buck the trend – and live in a system where it rewards you for stepping on the throat of your fellow-man? Try to follow the lead of this anecdote and see where it takes you.

I’m watching a very intense chess game last week between the retired expert Mr. Inn and one of his newest supporters. Suddenly the tense focus of the middle-game was shattered as this young lady who was sitting near us just broke down in tears, crying loudly. She just had to let it out. She talked about how the pressures of her own daily life were getting to her and how difficult it was to continue. Mr. Inn calmly reached over and began to comfort her by sharing his own story of orphanage, abuse and displacement. Suddenly a woman who was sitting nearby came over and began sharing her story as well. I chipped in with a few words of encouragement. The message we shared with her was uniform – “it’s ok to let it out but you’ve got to dust yourself off and keep moving forward”. She left our company after a few minutes, a little bit flushed in the face but with some sense of resolve flashing in those grayish blue eyes.

Stories and songs like these are a great reminder than even though you’ve got your own problems, there are more people out there with just as much baggage as you. Sometimes it helps to reach out to others to help them along and someone will find you to help you carry your own load. “Spread some love!” indeed.