What politicians could learn from Olympic athletes

The crowd was still. Running bare feet ratcheted up the anticipation like a drum roll. The familiar sound of the spring board, the horse, and the gasping crowd played out in only a few seconds. Her body flew, spun and moved in ways that defy imagination and gravity. Somehow she landed on her feet with her hands raised and a smile on her face - make that elation. The crowd exploded in admiration - a lump formed in my throat. The announcers called for a perfect score, the girl bounced up and down, her teammates hugged her. Years of hard work and practice just manifested. Who could not admire this girl?

When was the last time a politician caused a lump in your throat because of admiration?

No matter the event and no matter the country, I dare say Olympic viewers admire the winners, the losers, and the also rans. It is not winning the gold that impresses us, but the human stories. We see them as ourselves - they are us. They have families. They have dreams. They are ordinary and they are extraordinary.

There is an honesty to sport. One trains, one performs, and then life goes on. The winners celebrate and the losers - temporarily crushed, resolve to work harder. Their dream is even stronger now. They pursue it relentlessly. 

They are not selfish. They are aware of others around them. They admire a perfect performance and offer sincere congratulations regardless of race or country. They are united as athletes. They are not just tolerant of those different, but embrace them. They interact, communicate, accept, encourage, and truly cheer for eachother.

We are seeing the best of man. We are given a glimpse of how things could be.

Our politicians could take a lesson. Corruption, arrogance, devisiveness, and negative focus are in sharp contrast to the Olympic athlete. Let us imagine a politician growing up in the Olympic athlete tradition. I can dream can't I?

The prospetive statesman would have a noble dream. He would strive to represent all of the people. He would prepare his mind and heart for the task. He would follow the examples of successful leaders. He would value truth, love, respect, and service.

Our present system is broken. The values that drive athletes to perfection are absent from our political leaders, who find ways to justify nearly anything corrupt. Still, there is hope. Much of what is wrong with politics is due to we the people. If the eloctorate does not hold their leaders accountable, then who is to blame. Our leaders reflect our values.

It would be easy to blame the politician. That will not solve anything though. It makes us like the thing we say we despise. Like one leader said - "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." That is what an athlete does. That is what we will have to do to begin fixing this mess.

Until the next time

John Strain



In my years of blogging, I find that I revisit, what are central themes in my psyche. One such theme is connectedness. I know about it from studying psychology, participating in religion, and experiencing it in reality. I need to feel connected. Connected to myself, to others, and to God. That about covers the bases and it is almost a cliche. So let me explain what I mean - how I experience it.

First of all, these three are interrelated. I cannot be connected to myself if I am not connected with God or others. It is a zero sum proposition. Think of the string of Christmas lights. If one bulb goes out so do the others.

Second, feeling connected is a fleeting thing. This is common in life. Feeling satisfied, quenched, and happy is also a time limited state. This is a necessary thing. How would you be able to enjoy fullness without hunger, or the soothing relief of cold water without thirst? Therefore, without a feeling of disconnection, we would not know what connection feels like. 

Those who have been traumatized, abused, and neglected at a young age are hindered when it comes to feeling connected. They learn to not feel. They learn to fear or not to trust others. They learn that they are worth less than others and that they do not matter. They may see God as a distant unconcerned being if they believe in God at all. Their lack of connection has them float on a surface of superficiality, depression, anger, anxiety, and confusion. They seek happiness in form over content. Love and learning can heal them, but it takes time, an open mind on their part, and a loving other who will patiently lead them.

Connected to Self

So enough of theoretical foundations and academia and onto the personal experience. Fortunately, I was loved as a child. I had my struggles with self-esteem due to my visual handicap. I had my moments of feeling sorry for myself, but I had others who helped me see things eyes could not. Our limits are mostly self-imposed. Struggles are universal. I learned to see myself as the same as others. We all have gifts and we all have disappointments and things we cannot change. This view centers me so I do not feel superior or inferior. My sense of humor picks up on the irony of life. When I laugh it is because I relate to the condition. I do not laugh to mock someone who just did something stupid. I laugh, because I relate to the poor guy. I am him. It has been me before, it will be me in the future.

Therefore, to be connected to myself, I must keep in perspective who I am. I am important to myself, important to my friends and family, but less important to the rest of the world. Even if I were famous, rich, or important by the standards of the world, it would not change. My core value in the universe is the same as everyone else. Only to myself and those who care about me is this different. The movie star, the homeless alcoholic, the illegal immigrant housekeeper at Motel 6, and the humanitarian have the same intrinsic worth. They all deserve respect, dignity, and love.

Connected to others

If you view others as I described above, connecting to them is easier. I do not look down on people nor do I overly revere folks either. I admire a lot of people, writers, sports figures, certain politicians, actors, and so on. Still, I would not lower myself to ask them for an autograph. I would see if Barbara would do it for me. Ha. The point is, we may get star struck, but the degree to which you place someone on a pedestal, is the degree to which you devalue yourself.

Others may not treat me with these rules. They may look down on me because of outward appearance, social status, financial worth, education, race, religion, and all sorts of reasons. If they do, that is fine. I just will not hang around them. They can have their beliefs and values, and I can have mine. I do not hate them or do anything to make their life miserable - I simply ignore them. Life is too short and there are so many others who are more compatible with me.

I do not spend much time being angry and bitter. Those emotions only corrode my insides. I do not want revenge, just distance. I have to get them out of my head. I have to lose the anger and resentment, because it becomes a cancer that kills me. I get angry. I do not stay angry. I do not give into it. I do not linger in it.

I described who I do not connect with, that leaves everyone else. Those who I connect with or have not connected with yet. When I think of friends and family, I think of special times. It is a great thing to feel accepted by another, no judgment, no manipulation or expectation. When you truly connect with another, you can be yourself and be comfortable.

When I think of connecting to others, I recall a sense of pure love. Accepting someone with all of their uniqueness, faults, and strengths. Feeling accepted on the same terms completes the circle. The longer you relate with such people, the stronger the bond becomes.

Another aspect of connectedness with others is history. Others give us a connection to the past. They know our stories, they are in our stories. They testify that we lived, to what we said and did. When we lose a friend or loved one, part of our grief is because of this loss. Our parents knew us as babies. They knew us before we knew ourselves. When they are gone, so is a witness of our past.

The bad comes with the good. To be happy we must know sadness. To feel vindicated we must know injustice. There is no connection without disconnection. Life is our time to work this out and to learn to endure the unwanted looking forward to the good. We do this with the help of others. We will console a grieving friend and our friends will support us when we are visited by loss ourselves. 

Connected to God

How did the universe come to be? Where did people come from? What happens when we die? How are we supposed to live? Philosophers and theologians are still working on these questions and a few others. You have roughly 75 years to figure it out if you are lucky. 

I went to church some as a kid, but when I was a teenager, having witnessed the divorce of my parents a few years earlier and heading into a life without meaning, I began to ponder questions such as, What is this all about? My search took me to a Southern Baptist Church, Baptist College, Seminary, and beyond. Now at age 54, things have regressed to the mean in my life. I think I know some things, while others are still mysteries, but I have a peace about all of it.

I do believe in God. I believe God wants us to live a life characterized by love. Love others as yourself. I am a Christian. It is a shame that Christians are looked down on the way they are these days. I suppose it makes sense. Jesus talked about love, he exposed hypocrisy and lived what he preached. His reward was false accusations, a farce trial, and a criminal's death. The law put Jesus to death, because the law can be manipulated by corrupt men. Jesus was about a higher law and Truth with a capital "T". Most of us know what is right or wrong. There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. God wants us to follow the spirit of the law.

Connecting to God accepts this. You do not cheat your brother or a stranger. You help where you can. Your impact on the world should be positive. It is better to give than to receive. So I accept the high bar set by Christianity and the Bible. I strive toward it. I fall short, but I keep striving. I do not earn salvation - that is given to my by grace from a loving God. My striving is a testament of my love and obedience to God in response to His love for me.

Being connected to God has a lot to do with nature. The changing of the seasons, the lights in the night sky, the songs of birds, the beauty and grandeur of it all is a constant whisper in my ear that there is a God and he is a great God. I like to nurture my sense of wonder by contemplating things like tree, color, light, our senses, life, death, love, animals, - it is endless.

I remember a sermon in which the minister talked about the difference between the US and Soviet astronauts. The US astronauts went into space and said they saw God everywhere. The Soviet astronauts went to space and proclaimed they did not see God anywhere.

If you believe in an all powerful loving God who created you and loves you. It is not a stretch to see others the same way. It follows to treat them well - believers or not. Feelings of gratitude marinate your soul. You feel appreciation, awe, love, and purpose. It all translates to meaning. How you live is a reflection of these attitudes and beliefs. This way of relating resonates in others and you connect. Feeling the connection to God and others are the key ingredients you need to fully connect with yourself.

The awareness of this waxes and wanes. We give into selfishness, anger, greed, and other vices, but only for a time. The still small voice is always there calling us back, encouraging us to press forward. Christians are the body of Christ. His body exists in the millions of Christians alive today. His work, if it is to be done, is done through his people.

Connectedness therefore, is a symmetry of beliefs and actions pertaining to self, others, and God. I shared some of what it means to me. You, however, are unique and do it a bit different. I would challenge you to think about how you do this in your own life.

In the words of the great thinker Forest Gump, "That's about all I know about that."

Until the next time

John Strain


Bedside Manner: Hope, trust, and responsibility

When I was growing up, I occasionally went to the eye doctor for a checkup. My visits were not the routine perfect recitation of the eye chart. I went in hopes there was some new surgery or advancement in medicine that could improve my "legally blind" vision. I still wanted to play little league baseball, shed my thick glasses, and someday drive a car.

I had the kind of hope children have. I had faith in grown ups and science. I believed in happy endings and that life was fair. One day, I figured I would walk into the doctor's office and he would tell me about a new surgery. I would have the operation and then my life would finally fall into place.

I was in awe of the doctors. They possessed the knowledge of a scientist, and the skills of wizards. I hung on their every word. Those men had the power to either crush me or to lift me to the heavens.

It was similar for my parents. The doctors offered advice and direction on how to raise a child that was legally blind. The best thing ever said came from Dr. Eubanks. He told my parents when my "condition" was known and reality was setting in, "He (me) already has one handicap. Don't make it two. Expect as much from him as you do your other children. Don't let him use his poor vision as an excuse to not achieve."

"Handicaps" are mainstreamed these days, but when I grew up, being "different" meant a special school and a lot of held beliefs by others that were untrue. I say this to give some perspective to the above. Reading in today's context, it may not sound like such a big deal. With the Internet, my parents would have just "googled" "congenital cataracts" and they would have instantly possessed all the information they needed. Information was something we did not have a lot of then. What we knew came from the annual visit to the eye doctor.

Fast forward 50 years. There never was a miracle cure. I had to adjust to not playing little league baseball and I never drove a car. I work as a crisis counselor in a mental health clinic. The tables are now turned. Sometimes I am very aware that the person I am talking to is looking to me with the same kind of hope I had taken to my eye doctor.

It amazes me how many stories I have heard in which hope was squashed by some doctor either unaware of their power or for some other reason did not nurture the individual's hope. This is tragic, because such a simple thing can have an huge positive impact.

This phenomenon of hope and trust is a powerful tool and is created when one person makes himself vulnerable to another. It is a trust and a responsibility. The helper has an opportunity to do much good or to do great harm. I try to blend honesty, encouragement, and motivation into a message that I hope increases their hope. It feels like love.

This is not something only doctors and helpers get to do. It is something everyone can do. Recall a time you helped someone and you knew it was meaningful for them. The gratitude and relief they exude is a wonderful thing to savor. One is in need, another sees it and responds with help, the first welcomes the help and is uplifted from the burden, and the helper is rewarded in the knowledge. This is love.

Our culture looks for cures in new breakthroughs, innovation, medication, and a host of other places. There are plenty of studies to show the patient's attitude or state of mind influences the outcome. When it comes to helping people, doctors are "leaving money on the table" if they do not utilize a good bedside manner. Hope is not a touchy feely thing for hippie doctors and weirdos. It is a necessary ingredient in the healing process. I know this from personal experience. I know it as a patient and I know it as a helper.

Hope and encouragement do more than help us heal, they make us better parents, bosses, employees, coaches, teachers, and children of God.

The power my eye doctor used to wield was possible because I believed in him. It took trust on my part. It took responsibility on his part. When the trust was rewarded, the bond grew stronger. Relationships grow like this too. You can deduce then how irresponsibility and mistrust affect that bond.

So there you have it - a nice way to love your neighbor. It helps him/her and it helps you too. You can believe it - trust me.

Until the next time

John Strain


We hold these truths to be self-evident

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I was thinking about equality, while reading McCullough's book, "John Adams." All men are created equal and have rights given by God. The rights referred to are: Life, Libety, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States of America was founded on this belief, which is also a philosophy and a value.

As citizens of the United States, we are equal. Laws exist to detail what that means in day to day living. Courts ensure each citizen is heard and dealt with fairly.

When the above words were written, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington each owned some 300 slaves. The issue of slavery already had abolitionists on one side and proponents on the other. It took a costly civil war and some legislation in 1964 to give black people equality under the law.

Women were not allowed to vote in the United States until 1920.

Native Americans were herded around, lost their land, and were settled in reservations.

Unequal treatment has existed in spite of the US Constitution, the laws, and the courts.

When I was growing up, I often got into low level fights with friends. I might punch my friend or the reverse. The victim usually retaliated to "get even." More often than not, the retaliation was judged too harsh. "I didn't hit you that hard." So, feeling justified the offended party retaliated back. "Now we are even." "No we're not." Back and forth it would go and the result was rarely a win win.

In 2010 there are still charges of inequality. Offended parties are "hitting back," but the other side is thinking, "I didn't hit you that hard." There is no win win possible in our present climate.

I think part of the problem is that we cease to be Americans and assume a sub category of American. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Republicans, Democrats, Women, Gays, Christians, and Atheists.

Special interests are big business. If one can muster a voting block, politicians listen. The scales soon weigh too far to one side and then there is a backlash. Politicians are often less about justice and service and more about keeping their job. So laws are not hewn with the tools of minds principled with service, justice, and honor. Laws are products of the highest bidder. We could close down Washington DC and move the whole process to EBAY.

Today, individuals often look to the government to soften the blow of their uninformed, lazy, irresponsible choices. Current government practice reveals that the constitution guarantees many more rights than Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You also have the right to be bailed out of a bad loan or not purchasing home owners insurance, or health insurance.

The 24th President of the United States was Grover Cleveland (1893 - 1897). He saw government aid as a means of weakening the national sturdiness.

Cleveland vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group. Vetoing a bill to appropriate $10,000 to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas, he wrote: "Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character. . . . "  Source

Equality is not something the government does. It is something God did. Politicians and individuals seeking fortune and fame will gin up class warfare to create a market in which they can thrive. We the people fall for it and learn to mistrust or judge our fellow citizens. We learn to fear each other because we have allowed ourselves to be divided.

The concept of political correctness sets an orthodoxy to smoke out an individual's beliefs. "Are you one of us or are you one of them?" What ever happened to polite debate and an exchange of ideas while sporting an open mind?

The government cannot fix this. I must fix this and you must fix this. We do it by learning about issues - both sides. Practice looking at things from various points of view. Try to understand the stake each party has. Instead of developing battle plan strategy, seek common ground, develop trust, engage on the common level of an American Citizen. Agree to disagree. Show respect.

When one speaks their mind in public there is often an angry response. Polarized talking points are hurled back and forth and then the conversation often gets personal. The other side is either stupid or evil. Good people can hold opposite points of view on issues.

We do not have to fight for our rights, they cannot be taken away. The Apostle Paul wrote these words from a Roman prison:

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Prison cannot take our freedom, poverty can not tarnish the riches of a peaceful soul, and a government cannot take our equality. It is not theirs to give.

Until the next time

John Strain




Remote Controls and the X Chromosome

This is not intended to be a suicide note, I just want to share some observations about women and remote controls.

I am sure there are women who can program remote controls, and even manage to have both picture and sound going when attempting to watch a DVD. I would however, not bet there are many.

Ladies, before you brand me as a male chauvinist pig, hear me out. Sharing an observation and making a generalization is not a hate missive directed at an entire sex.

So with that meager effort toward a disclaimer, I will proceed.

I came home from work the other day, and as is my custom, I went into my bedroom and switched on Fox News so I could get angry and more upset about the world as I changed into my play clothes and shared some Cheeze Its with Bear.

When the television warmed up, it revealed, not my hero Charles Krauthammer, but snow. You know what snow is, it is the absence of Charles Krauthammer when he should be on screen explaining eloquently what I believe in a way I could never match.

I grabbed the remote and changed the set from channel 63 to HDMI1. Like magic, Brett Baier appeared. I had not missed Charles.

I deduced from the fact that the Directv remote's function switch was on TV instead of Satellite Receiver, that Barbara tried to change the channel to QVC or the Food Network, but the remote changed the TV from HDMI1 to the useless channel 63.

Simple huh?

I knew you would agree.

Then why is it I can not teach this to Barbara? I have tried, but have never been successful. I begin to explain, but we wind up in an argument. She impugns the hardware. I defend the hardware. Suffice to say, it all goes down hill from there.

I am always trying to be funny. If Barbara and I are "arguing" and I am holding the remote, I may point it at her and make an exaggerated button push in an attempt to turn down her volume or change her channel. Heehee.

The concept of a television, a satellite receiver, a surround sound receiver, an Apple TV, and a DVD player is harder for her to understand than Chinese arithmetic.

Until the technology is invented that can read a woman's mind, I think Barbara is going to need me if she wants to go from listening to music to watching Trading Spaces. 

I have shared this experience with some of my buddies and they can relate. Their wives get confused with function switches and HDMI ports. I know it is not intelligence. Women do much more complicated things than this. Lord, when I look at all of the tubes, cans, and bottles in the bathroom, I am humbled. How could any one person know what all of that stuff is for and how to use it?

No, I think the problem is one of interest and attention. Barbara is just as happy with the TV off. I guess if she cannot get the darn thing to come on, she just reads a book.

In contrast, hurricane Katrina took out my Directv dish, but I found a way to fix it in time to watch football on week one. Generator powered and the dish arm was propped up with a 4X4, but I saw me some NFL that day.

I have my remotes memorized. I can have one in each hand, pushing buttons and pointing them in the right direction to make my TV screen change faster than a strobe light. 

If I die before Barbara, she is going to have to call one of my friends to come over now and again to un push the mute button, put the receiver on the proper source, or make sure the TV is drawing from the correct input. Then again, she may just find the motivation to learn how to do it.

I have a few minutes, maybe I will watch some TV. Now where is that remote?

Until the next time

John Strain