Risk and Regret

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Taking risks is scary but leaving yourself with regrets is much worse.  And more often than not we regret the risk not taken.  So in an effort to curb our regrets, we become quick to act when we see something we want or when we believe a golden opportunity has graced our lives with its presence.  We’ll say to fate, “not again, I’m not going to let this pass me by like the last time” and we’ll go for it, whatever it may be.  In doing so, we hope to claim the reward we’ve let slip through our fingers time and time again while growing a little more as individuals.

But at the same time one shouldn’t fear regret because it may make you risk unnecessarily.  It may make you feel urgency where there should be none, causing you to rush and misstep, thereby forfeiting your chances and finding yourself regretting your choices once again.  It seems that caring too much AND caring too little are equally detrimental and lead you down the same road you were trying to avoid.  And they do.  It’s because they are both overcorrections, and just like driving, overcorrecting yourself will cause you to swerve and fishtail when approaching an important junction in life…giving you no real control over which road you end up taking.

So what do you do?  Do you just move along somewhere in the middle, accepting everything as it comes without making a decision to care too much or too little?  Or do you only act on the risks that seem good for you–when the juice is worth the squeeze? Because it can be hard to tell what is actually good for you and by the time you can tell, it may be too late to make a decision:  either you get locked into the risk or you get locked into the regret.  While accepting everything as it comes leaves you susceptible to the whims of chance and circumstance with no real power over the direction things go…and the second you decide to take power over the situation you are showing you care AND you are taking a risk, so once again you may misstep and wind up falling flat on your face.

The reality is life is a balancing act and there is no right or wrong way to approach this.  Sometimes you risk and win, sometimes you risk and lose, while regrets are just a fact of life.  Take it all in stride.  You’ll learn from your decisions and balance yourself out over time.  If you feel something is good for you and see an opportunity then go for it…you may end up failing but don’t be discouraged because one day you will win big.  And then you’ll learn to appreciate your risks and regrets because they guided you straight to that jackpot that has eluded you for so long.  Or at least you’ll know that jackpot is on the horizon and is just waiting for you to do the right combination of things to win it.

You just have to keep going and remain strong, never losing faith in yourself or your decisions.  Do your best not to overcorrect when the road forks and you have no idea which way to go.  But above all, make sure you stay focused on your goals and desires while appreciating what you do have in life.  Sometimes we risk for things that will lead us from our paths and other times we regret things that may not have been the best for us anyways…guessing is the essence of the human condition for we can’t know everything and some would even say we can’t know *anything* for certain.  But that’s the beauty of it–the mystery and the suspense.  Yeah, there may be pain involved but as someone once told me, pain is life’s admission.  And while that may be true, I believe new experiences are the reward.  We can’t grow if we don’t risk and what is the purpose of a life without growth?

The uncertainty of life is certain but that should be more liberating than restricting because it means the possibilities are endless.  You can wind up anywhere with anyone doing anything.  So don’t shy away from risk and don’t fear regret.  Just accept them for what they are and continue down the path that seems the best for you.  There’s no way to tell if you missed out on a better path or not but as long as you are happy with things there can really be nothing better.  And if you aren’t happy then you have all the power in the world to change that.  The power comes from your mindset and your mindset comes from your attitude.  Change your attitude, change your mindset, change your life, change the world.

The Baltimore Riots: Justice or Lawlessness?

The riots in Baltimore are the latest reaction to ongoing police brutality that has targeted our fellow Americans. While some see the riots as justice others see them as lawless and emotions have flared from both camps. Regardless of how you feel, the worst thing we can do is ignore the situation. The riots are a cry for help. So, I’m going to take the time to examine the issue of police brutality in America to determine what is justice and what is lawless…I’m assuming we know enough about slavery and civil rights movements in our country so I won’t touch on those relevant details.

INTRODUCTION

Imagine a country where people of a certain race lived together in concentrated areas as minorities.  These people went to their own theaters, their own schools and spoke their own language separate from the rest of the country.  Those who didn’t had to adopt the culture of the country they lived in while their own culture vanished into obscurity.  Although emancipated and given civil equality, they were still subject to racism and had to face that racism in their everyday lives–whether it was not being hired for a job, being called racial slurs or being pre-judged as criminals simply because of who they were.  Next thing they knew, violence erupted and hundreds of them were being killed because of their race.  A new leader eventually rose to power and a new, militarized police force emerged that arrested these people, brutally beat these people and started killing them left and right.  At the same time, citizens were losing faith in their government and military as they clawed their way out of an economic depression and clung to the promises made by this new leader that their country would once again be prosperous and there was hope for them all.

Sounds like American history on up to the present day, doesn’t it?  With fire hoses turned on black Americans, freedom riders ripped out of busses to be killed, rampant reports of police brutality by a police force receiving military hand-me-downs and a disillusioned people investing so much hope in their new leader?

Well, that’s a scary notion because I am talking about Nazi Germany.  But let’s jump across the ocean real quick and examine current events in America regarding police brutality.

RIOT OR REVOLUTION?

Police brutality and violence leads to riot and unrest
Police fire tear gas at FTAA protesters. Quebec City, Canada. Photo Credit: Wikipedia User, Devinasch

I’m sure most of you are aware of the riots in Ferguson and more recently, the riots that occured in Baltimore.  And if you’re like most people, you have already formulated an opinion about them.  Now, I’m not going to sit here and condone harming innocent people or destroying property because both are senseless and neither lead to any positive changes.  At least, they haven’t since the Boston Tea Party, where patriots rioted and committed vandalism to get their point across three years after the injustice of the Boston Massacre.  But what options did the patriots have left?  The King of England wasn’t listening to their pleas and was imposing his tyrannical will on a nation that was founded on the basis of freedom.  And as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”  And let’s face it:  the Boston Tea Party was very much a riot and the colonists were very much unheard.

Legal definition of a riot:  A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.

(It should be noted the Boston Tea Party escalated tensions between the colonists and the British to contribute to the start of the Revolutionary War.)

But the thing is, the protests in Baltimore didn’t start out as violent riots. On the contrary, the majority of protestors were engaging their first amendment right to a peaceful assembly, as reported here, here and here.  However, the news cameras didn’t start to roll until the violence started–after outsiders shouted racial slurs and agitated protestors, according to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore.

The difference between a peaceful protest and a riot is only one of them gets televised, politicized and makes the movement demonized.  Case in point, Baltimore.  The news crews didn’t start reporting until the violent protestors appeared.  This is because the media believes death, violence and unrest are more newsworthy than peaceful protests so death, violence and unrest are all they allow us to see–they teach us that in journalism school.  So now we get to hear all the spin on the riots and even the peaceful protestors have their names marred and the whole movement against police brutality loses credibility.  It is a political sleight made possible by the media and is akin to selective hearing.  And yes, police brutality is a thing.

“Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012,” according to information reported by USATODAY.  While Huffington Post noted that black Chicagoans are 10 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white Chicagoans.

Even more chilling is the story of the 51-year-old grandmother beaten and hospitalized by highway patrol–her medical records were seized by the department in a questionable breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.  Or the case of 87-year-old Venus Green, who had an officer try to force his way into her home without a warrant, beat her and handcuff her as she was trying to help her grandson who had just been shot (scroll toward the bottom of the linked article for details).  Clearly, both these women were menacing thugs who deserved that treatment.

In a previous article about violent crime rates in America, I provided FBI statistics that showed violent crime is declining.  Despite that trend, other statistics have shown violence by police is increasing.  So why aren’t news stations telling us this?  Well, it’s likely because many instances of police brutality go unreported by police departments.  In New Jersey, only one percent of police brutality cases are reported, according to Huffington Post.  ONE PERCENT.  Extrapolate that data to the rest of the country and it is likely that many other police departments are following the trend of sweeping the issue under the rug and demonizing any movement against it.  So if there is no perceived problem, why would we be told there is a problem?

Truth be told, we really don’t need to be told there is a problem with police brutality to sense something is fishy about all of this.  Even Wikipedia created a page containing lists of police killings by year, many of which are in the hundreds.  Some might ask, “but shouldn’t that be expected when dealing with violent criminals?”  And I would ask, “you mean violent criminals like the beaten grandmothers above?”

Compared to other first-world countries, our numbers should be an embarrassment.  Police in the United States kill more citizens than any other first-world country each year, according to information gained by The Free Thought Project.  In fact, our police force killed 78 times as many citizens in 2014 as Canadian police. Citizens like Freddie Grey, Michael Brown and Timothy Thomas. Further, while 763 American citizens were killed by police in 2013 (see link at the top of this paragraph), only 119 American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan the same year (see here).

Hence the protests.  Hence the anger.  Hence the distrust.  Hence the riots.  The case for police brutality is valid.

justice and freedom from police brutality, racism in America and media manipulation.
Image credit: Wikipedia user Pheasantpete. Derived from image by Wikipedia users Lexicon and Vikrum.

But if crime is universal and other countries’ aren’t seeing nearly as much police brutality against citizens as America–and if some of the citizens being killed and beaten here include feeble, old women–is there another explanation?  Glad you asked.  Let’s turn to psychology for a possible answer.

SCIENCE AND HISTORY TIME

In 1971, a team of researchers under the lead of psychology professor, Phillip Zimbardo, undertook what is now called the Stanford Prison Experiment (funded by the US Office of Naval Research).  The team selected 24 male students to be designated as either prisoners or prison guards to determine the cause of conflict between military prison guards and their prisoners.  The students adopted their roles perhaps almost too well and within days of the experiment, the “guards” used psychological torture on the “prisoners” and enforced authoritarian measures.  The guards attacked the prisoners with fire extinguishers, renamed them as numbers, harassed the prisoners, made them urinate and defecate in buckets, forced them to strenously exercise as punishment, removed prisoners mattresses so they had to sleep on the concrete, forced one prisoner into solitary confinement in a closet and used other sadistic psychological manipulation techniques to control them.  Keep in mind these were college students seeking course credit.  One prisoner allegedly started acting insane while another fled and never returned.  The experiment was supposed to go on for two weeks but was terminated on day six.  The guards were extremely disappointed the experiment had ended.

The results showed the corrupting power of authority and how we as humans bend to the will of authority, even if it isn’t real.  It was hypothesized that the situation caused the behaviors in the guards and that their behaviors were not natural to them.  The effects were psychologically damaging as five of the prisoners were emotionally traumatized and had to leave the experiment early.  Early, as in, they didn’t even last six days.

This could explain how officers in positions of authority are finding it easier to beat and kill suspects.  Cops are human, after all, and are subject to corruption, brutality, cruelty and racism. This could also explain why we as a society justify recent police actions and sit by idly instead of making a stand.  We were raised to obey authority at all costs ever since we were children, so when we see police brutality we believe the victims had to have done something to deserve it–even in the cases of the two grandmothers.  We can’t accept that the victims may not have deserved what came to them because police are supposed to be the good guys, not the bad guys.  The reason we can’t accept that maybe some of them are the bad guys is because of another psychological factor called “cognitive dissonance.”

So now let’s return to Nazi Germany.  You have an entire nation of people who feel defeated and hopeless and are losing faith in their government and military.  A new, charismatic leader appears and promises to return Germany to its glory days.  Just, nevermind the militarized police force that is targeting Jews, beating them and placing them in concentration camps.  Soon, the nation follows suit and justifies the police brutality.  Not only that, they aid the police brutality and eventually venture down the path of genocide.  They don’t believe they are doing anything wrong because that would make them and their police the bad guys.  But they can’t be the bad guys because the Jews are the bad guys and everyone is antisemitic.  Cognitive dissonance at play.

I reference Nazi Germany as a history lesson.  No, I don’t think we are quite as bad but we can learn a thing or two from the German’s mistakes.  Such as, not being afraid to question the motives of our authority figures or accepting the notion that there are bad cops out there and not every victim of police brutality deserved what was coming to him or her.

Some will still ask, but what about the riots?  Well, what about the Boston Tea Party?  I mean, wasn’t the Boston Tea Party a riot?  Or do powdered wigs somehow make things different?  What about what happened at Kent State several decades ago–not only was it a riot but wasn’t the incident criticized as an abuse of power?  How is that any different from the abuse of power we are seeing today?  I hope your answer isn’t because the victims in those examples were white, because that seems to be the only difference.  Not to mention, the protests in Baltimore started off as peaceful until outsiders jumped in and the cops swarmed the streets.  According to this Baltimore teacher who was there when it happened, even her students were targeted by police and not allowed to take their busses home from school.

REPERCUSSIONS

peaceful protests occur in Baltimore after police brutality incident
Protesters from Peaceful Uprising at Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing July 26, 2011 Salt Lake City Utah USA. Photo Credit: Jonathan Mauer

We don’t necessarily know what started the violence because we weren’t there (in Baltimore and in the historical cases I mentioned).  But we seem pretty comfortable believing the protests started as violent riots just because that is the point at which the cameras started to roll.  But of course that’s how it played out–death and unrest are considered more newsworthy than peaceful protesting, so death and unrest is all the media allows us to see.  Then we make up our minds based on that and let our emotions rule our judgement instead of seeking truth for ourselves.  And the truth is you know police brutality must be bad when even the Bloods and Crips have joined forces to protect their neighbors from the police.

And let’s not forget the unarmed man who was shot in the back during the other recent case of police brutality some people seem to have forgotten.

So now people will make up their minds based on a half truth and condemn the entire city.  The movement against police brutality will lose credibility because media giants are more concerned about ratings than fair reporting.  The country will judge these people based on half truths and politicians will use the riots to push their agendas.  Fox News is having a field day with the Baltimore protestors I’m sure, so now the conservatives who make up the majority of that audience will have their minds manipulated and their opinions made for them which will affect future votes on related issues and make it seem like police brutality doesn’t exist.  It is a horrible cycle that can easily be broken if people did their own research on police brutality Instead of jumping to the conclusions the media wants them to jump to.

So after this issue gets ignored for decades (and it has been going on for decades–Rodney King comes to mind) and recent peaceful protests aren’t given ANY media time, you get outsiders coming in and shouting racist slurs at peaceful protestors in Baltimore and assaulting them, so the protestors finally turn violent. I don’t condone hurting innocent people or destroying private property (what’s that going to solve anyway?) but I can at least empathize with their struggle and understand where they are coming from.  That’s what our fellow Americans need right now rather than blind judgement and rampant criticism on an issue many people know nothing about and won’t inform themselves about because they don’t want to be wrong and have to change their minds about something.  Like police brutality, racism in America and media manipulation.

Cognitive dissonance is a killer. Don’t fall for the propaganda of the mainstream media because the mainstream media is crap. Instead, do your own research to see for yourself what is really happening in our country. If we don’t wise up and start holding our leaders and our police force accountable for their actions, then we’ll be too complacent to stop them when things become even more serious…should it move past police brutality and become more Orwellian in nature.

Let’s not follow in Germany’s footsteps. Something is going terribly wrong and we have to band together to stop it. That is true patriotism. We are the voting citizens who give our leaders their power and who our police have sworn to protect and serve. We can’t let them forget that and we can’t just sit back and watch our fellow citizens suffer injustice.

It’s time their voices are heard and justice is served.

Who Are You?

If I asked you to tell me about yourself, you’d probably tell me your name, your gender, your ethnicity, your job, your religious beliefs (if any), your musical taste, your marital status, your education status, your pet ownership status, your Zodiac sign, your political allegiance and if you’re an introvert or extrovert.  Which is great–those things would help me get to know you some.  However, none of those things are really who or what you are, they are merely labels.

And labels, well, they kind of suck.

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Labels are reductive, they divide us and limit us.  They give us a reason to fight rather than unite.  They prevent individuality by making us conform to definitions and group allegiance rather than conforming to our own authenticity.  They cause us to generalize people instead of looking at each person as a special case because it’s easier that way.  They take away from what it is to be human and replace it with a facade.  They make it difficult to discuss ideas because people ascribe those ideas to the label rather than the person, which causes arguments rather than understanding–especially if the people fall under different labels. 

You are more than a label or an identity.  You are more than your beliefs and experiences.  You are more than a gender, a race, a religion, a political party or an age.  You are a human.  A soul.  Like the rest of us.

Instead of discussing political reform as a concept, we blame conservatives for only aiding the rich and blame liberals for making the government too big and expensive.  Instead of talking about gender equality or freedom of belief, we blame feminists for male-bashing, “meninists” for feminist bashing, Muslims for terrorist attacks and we blame Christians for Bible-thumping. 

We don’t agree with conspiracy theorists because they’re all obviously crazy and we never listen to scientists because they’re always changing their minds and talking down to us if we can’t keep up.  We know athletes are overpaid douchebags and we know mathletes will never lose their virginities. We know stoners are all losers and we know straight-edge people are all winners.  We know people from rough areas are bad asses and we know people from gated communities are yuppies.  We know everyone who wears flannel and tight jeans are hipsters while everyone wearing hoodies, baggy jeans and sneakers are thugs.  We know cops are corrupt, politicians are shady, women are emotional and men are aggressive.

We know so much about others based on their labels, don’t we?  So much that we don’t even need to get to know them before believing we know them.  Which only makes it easier for us to judge and gives us more opportunities to misunderstand.  Because labels are merely facets of who we are and none of them are really definitive or say anything about our personalities. We cling to them to feel a sense of identity and belonging, but that’s all it is, a sense.  Not the real thing. 

So when people ask about you, try telling them about your passions and hobbies.  Tell them about your quirky sense of humor, your love for cinnamon pancakes or the dream you are working on manifesting in the future.  Tell them how you can’t sleep at night without having the television on or how you consume fifty cups of coffee a day.  Tell them you built your own computer or that you travel somewhere new each year. 

Tell them what things in life still give you goosebumps. 

Tell them all of that instead because it reveals more of who and what you are as a person than labels do.  The labels give us status and constructed identities, but telling someone you get goosebumps when checking out new books at the library tells them more about you than the fact you are a data analyst.  Because we are always so much more than our constructed identities.  We are human, we are souls and we are complex webs of thoughts, memories, passions, dreams, attitudes, outcomes and personalities.

Each one of us is a universe.  So ask yourself, who are you?

I Am Charlie

Je suis Charlie.

I am Charlie.  Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine.  I was attacked twice over the years by religious extremists for exercising my freedom of expression.  A freedom that truly reflects the unique and indominable human spirit while ensuring all opinions are held valid and no ideas are censored.  A freedom that gives a voice to citizens, opposers of tyranny and defenders of liberty.  A freedom that must never be taken away and should always be carefully guarded.

Today I was attacked and more than ten of my employees were murdered along with a police officer who was executed in the streets.  All because of a joke.  But not just any joke, a joke about a particular religious prophet.  A prophet people are currently killing others in the name of, which is a pattern we’ve seen repeated too many times throughout history.

I could have not made this joke and maybe the tragedy would have been avoided.  But at what cost?  To allow a group of people to command me into silence with the threat of physical violence?  To be forced to conform to others’ subscribed beliefs and dogmas rather than my own?  To give in to bully behavior and make this religious prophet the one thing I can’t joke about?  Laughter is the greatest medicine and helps people unite in harmony.  Laughter helps us take ourselves and life a little less seriously, it eases tensions, it reduces fears, it humbles us, it elevates us above our problems, it strips power from people and things so we are all equal and empowered, it makes boring topics easier to understand, it turns strangers into friends, it makes illuminating truths easier to swallow and it makes us feel good.

Most people are offended by something but making those subjects taboo to joke or talk about only keeps them offensive and leads to the banning of other subjects–in other words, censorship of expression. If you can’t laugh about it, you can’t heal or get over it and it will always have power over you.  Either everything is okay to joke about or nothing is okay to joke about.  This is how we maintain balance and remind ourselves that we are in fact human, we make mistakes, we don’t know half as much as we think we know, we think and do stupid things sometimes, we have transcendable fears, we have painful experiences that need healing and we like to be playful with each other. It also helps make difficult topics easier to talk about, which promotes responsible discussion and social change. 

My jokes made extremists the subject of ridicule to empower free citizens everywhere and demonstrated why ideologies shouldn’t be followed blindly.  Yes, many consider religion a sacred topic but just as many people consider it a fallible human creation…while we all have different beliefs and perspectives we all also like to laugh and have different senses of humor.  Denying people the freedom to express their senses of humor denies them expression of themselves and their personalities–what makes them unique and authentic.  If we don’t find something funny then we don’t laugh at it and we either move on or explain our position to seek understanding…rather than demand the censorship of that joke and shoot those who make it.  This is how free society operates.

Today’s attack was a test of our collective will to defend our freedoms and stand up to those intent on taking them away.  The pen is mightier than the sword and as humans we should seek to understand each other and discuss our issues peacefully rather than force each other into doing things our way and using violence or coercion as an incentive. 

My thoughts are with the lives lost today along with all those who died due to violent extremists.  I hope the victims’ families find peace and closure and that all who are affected by these individuals find shelter and sanctuary.

We are in the midst of volatile and trying times but don’t lose sight of peace and prosperity.  Together we can make a difference for a better tomorrow, when we can all take a joke in stride and respect each other’s right to self-expression and critical inquiry through humor.

I am Charlie.  You are Charlie.  We are all Charlie.  This was an attack on all of us and our freedoms by a group bent on domination and control.  They don’t represent all Muslims but they do represent all people who let their beliefs run wild and use them to oppress other humans and disrespect the sanctity of our condition.  Poking fun at people’s beliefs may not be the most classy move but we are allowed to think they are ridiculous or degrading and have the right to say so.  Especially when the beliefs have led to thousands of years of bloodshed, disparagement of women, beheaded soldiers and journalists, citizens murdered in their homes, children shot by snipers or orphaned and seeking refuge in another country, terror attacks in Boston and New York, legitimizing torture to find terrorist leaders, several nations in shambles and the apparent need for increased government surveillance that invades privacy.  All this because of a few beliefs.  We can poke fun at them to make the monster easier to deal with or we can say nothing yet act sovereign and free.  I choose the former.  Because I am Charlie.

#jesuischarlie

Manifest Destiny–Literally

How many of you noticed how things seem to fall into place in your life when you’re feeling good about yourself?  Or conversely, how everything seems to fall apart when you aren’t feeling good about yourself or where your life is at right now?  It always seems like a crazy coincidence, but there’s something about coincidences a lot of people don’t realize.

They don’t actually exist.

Well, not the way we normally think about them.

You welcome into your world what you think the most about, and “coincidences” are simply validations that your inner world and outer world are interacting.  We simply can’t notice all the subconscious interactions and connections we make each day and how they all weave together to influence our lives at a larger level.  Thus, if you hold negativity you’ll encounter negative outcomes, circumstances and coincidences and the same is true for holding positivity.

For example, if you think you’re better than everyone else you will spend all your time finding people’s flaws and attracting other people who think the same way, which you will interpret as flawed thinking and take it as evidence you are better than everyone.  On the other hand, if you are self-content you won’t see a need to judge or compare yourself with others which will help you see not only the good in you, but the good in the people around you who are often your biggest supporters.  We see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.

Think about it.

Given we share one outer world and all have our own inner worlds, the events that befall in life are the result of everything that everyone is thinking.  If you think of matter as energy and thoughts/emotions as energy and believe in conservation of energy, it could be said that a rise in global disasters, wars, disease and famine can be the result of a global-scale trend toward negative or destructive thinking.  And if you can see things that way you can see what kind of influence over the physical world our intangible thoughts have, making them akin to the influence of a God.  Which helps explain why religions emphasize the growth of self and promote self love because in having these traits one brings only positive things into their lives and the lives of others, using their “Godly” mental influence over fate and the world responsibly and compassionately.

But you don’t even have to take it that far for it to make sense.  Thoughts dictate behaviors, behaviors cause reacting and reoccurring behaviors–ebb and flow, to and fro, cause and effect, Taoism.  It all begins in our minds, and by it, I mean the flow and progression of life. The paths our lives lead are hugely influenced by our actions, habits, beliefs and attitudes–and each of those things begin as thoughts.  Simple, everyday thoughts we think about, but don’t really think about as our mental habits turn into mindsets.  Mindsets that affect perspective, motivation, self-esteem and happiness levels.

So mind your thoughts and keep them positive for best results.  We are what we repeatedly do, as Aristotle says, and this extends to what we think about.  “I think, therefore I am,” or to relate with this article, “I think, therefore I exist and I exist as my thoughts are.”  Our minds are POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE and can act as cages or as wings.  We can be our own worst enemies or our greatest allies depending on the thoughts we keep with us in the foxhole.

Seek to empower and inspire yourself everyday and you’ll be unstoppable.  Be your greatest supporter and provide encouragement along with your constructive criticism and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the best YOU as humanly possible.

Spread Your Seed…Of Positivity

“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”

–Deepak Chopra

Whether or not you’ve thought much about it, you are a supremely unique individual with your own blend of talents and traits (hereon referred to as “style”) to share with the world.  No one else will ever have your same personality, your same outlook on life or your same path…let alone all three. Though we are all one in a sense and have a lot more in common than we like to admit, our individual styles are what make us one-of-a-kind expressions of life and soul.  Our individual styles make us unforgettable and irreplaceable.

Take a moment to think about what your natural talents and traits are.  Perhaps you are funny, athletic, intelligent, sociable, musically inclined, supportive, strong, artistic, techno-savvy, optimistic, hard-working or helpful.  Maybe you can sing real well, cook for a king or fix nearly anything.  Maybe you’re a patient and thoughtful listener or maybe you know all there is to know about accounting.  Just think about all the big and little things that make you who you are but especially any natural talents you have and your personality traits that you think make you different from others.

Now, think about how you can use those talents and traits of yours to positively impact those around you in a small way.  Each one of us has a story that weaves and intertwines with the stories of countless others, so if each of us were to use our talents and traits to benefit those we come into contact with on a daily basis then over time we will benefit everyone in the world by extension.

It’s what I call “planting your seed of positivity” and the cool thing about it is you don’t have to do much:  simply affect someone positively and watch as that person does the same to spread your seed on down the line.  It’s like a phone tree except more reliable.  We all know something as small as holding a door open, letting someone merge into your lane, helping a friend move or smiling at a stranger can make a huge difference in someone’s life.  Everyone has their own struggles and we typically don’t know what others are going through at any particular moment or during the course of a lifetime.  A simple friendly gesture could be an improvement to anyone’s day but we can take this practice a step further.  Consider another quote:

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

–Bill Nye (The Science Guy)

Think of what would happen if everyone taught someone a single thing that person didn’t know–in no time at all the entire world would become that much more knowledgeable.  For instance, I love meeting people who have a unique taste in music because I’m shamefully dependent on the radio and I invariably end up with a list of interesting artists to check out.  This usually leads to me finding new music I really dig and connect with, which then leads to me sharing that music with other people I know.  Even if I never see those musical mentors again I at least have two new things to carry with me for the rest of my life:  a wider music base and a sense of these peoples’ individual styles.  The first will enrich my playlist with new things to be exposed to while the second will help me further define myself by showing me how I am different from others and how I am similar (in other words, it reveals more of my unique style to me).

Of course, I also learn a lot from other people by looking at their personalities and attitudes, listening to their backgrounds, talking about their goals and motivations, observing how they interact with the world and discussing their philosophies on things like life, love, society and their interests.  But the point here is to share what makes you unique with others so they may carry it with them and spread your seed of positivity while learning how to spread their own seeds.

Helping others find their unique styles is important because it promotes self-actualization, esteem, individuality and personal development.  Not to mention we are all geniuses in at least one thing, so helping people find their inner geniuses through genuine self-expression can lead to a more enlightened and awakened world…akin to a Renaissance. Teach a good friend your special blueberry muffin recipe (but maybe not your secret blueberry muffin recipe).  Take someone to your favorite spot and compare music playlists.  Show others your intuitive understanding of the world and inspire them to make a difference.  Help somebody learn how to do an oil change.  Or simply lift peoples’ spirits with your random jokes and warm personality.  Just try to rub off in a good way and with good intentions–those are like the sun, water and soil for your seed.  Over time you’ll see your seed grow into a sapling among thousands of other saplings.  And over some more time, all those saplings will grow into a forest where each plant is helping the plant next to it grow and develop into a strong tree.

Imagine what we could accomplish as a species and as a civilization if we all helped each other grow into strong trees rather than competed for the light and cut each other down to stumps.  Let’s leave the deforestation of each others’ characters, identities and happiness in the past where it belongs–right next to actual deforestation.

PhAze 2 Facebook Page Launched

Hello everyone and welcome to November!

I just wanted to let you all know I created a Facebook page for PhAze 2 as a satellite for this blog.  I’ll use the Facebook page to post new PhAze 2 articles and to engage readers in a more convenient setting.  The majority of my focus will continue to be on this blog but having a Facebook page may make it easier for me to update everyone on new articles without requiring you to log in to WordPress.  It will also allow others to engage with and follow my blog without having to create a WordPress profile.

Please check out the PhAze 2 Facebook page and give it a Like by following the link below!

https://www.facebook.com/phazetwo

Thanks for your time!

25 Songs To Raise The Dead On Halloween

Halloween is celebrated around the globe and is commonly associated with ghosts, skeletons and all things dark and deceased.  The holiday has origins in Samhain–a festival that signified the end of harvest for ancient druids who believed spirits entered our realm at this time.  The druids felt the spirits should be made offerings to gain their blessings during the winter as they welcomed in the “dark half” of the year.  Hence the candy.  To this day 2,000 years later, some believe the portals separating the worlds of the living and the dead are relaxed during this time, allowing all kinds of spirits, ghosts and demons to roam the Earth at their leisure.  Much to witches’ and necromancers’ delights.  In light of this, I unearthed 25 Halloween-theme songs for raising the dead on All Hallow’s Eve.  Play at your own risk (mwuahahahaha).

1. Zombie-The Cranberries

Zah-ombie, zah-ombie, zah-ombie eh-eh-eh-oh.  A powerful anti-war ballad by an equally powerful Irish rock band to start off your Halloween night.

2. Voodoo-Godsmack

The original, real zombies were created by Voodoo bokors who used a special mix of chemicals that could render a person nearly comatose, yet still aware enough to mindlessly follow instructions.  As such, the next song on the list is Voodoo because without Voodoo there can be no Zombie. *Note:  This entry was a close tie with Santeria by Sublime and won because, well, Sublime isn’t very spooky.

 3. Living Dead Girl-Rob Zombie

The zombie theme is alive and well, as you can see.  Mind the irony.

4. Witchy Woman-The Eagles

Witches sweep on through…

5. Black Magic Woman-Santana

Oye como va, la mujer de la noche, la mujer de mis pesadillas bonitas.  My Spanish is limited.

6. Werewolves of London

A cheery piano melody makes it easy to miss the casual gore in this song.

7. Spooky-Classic IV

For those of you who like to mix your vampire fangs with your love games.

8. This Is Halloween-Marilyn Manson (cover)

The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Marilyn Manson.  I don’t think you can get more Halloween than this, unless you traded Tim Burton for Ichabod Crane.

9. Brain Damage-Pink Floyd

The creepiest thing about this song is how mellow it is, given its substance.

10a. I Put A Spell On You-Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

This guy.

10b. I Put A Spell On You-Bette Midler (Hocus Pocus)

Alternatively, you can run amuck…

11. White Noise-Murder By Death

A very cool song with a very cool music video by a very cool indie band.  Check out my interview with them for The News Record here.

12. Dragula-Rob Zombie

Moar Rob Zombie pl0x

13. Thriller-Michael Jackson

The obligatory Thriller entry.  RIP Michael.

14. The Monster Mash

Classic Halloween tune championed by elementary school students everywhere. And the updated version…

15. Superstition-Stevie Wonder

This song makes me think of possessed jeans.

16. Sympathy for the Devil-The Rolling Stones

Perfectly acceptable on Devil’s Night.

17. Them Bones-Alice in Chains

Got milk for them bones?

18. Sun Doesn’t Rise-Mushroomhead

This was on the Jason vs Freddy soundtrack, so that counts.  I guess.  Okay, sure.

19. Don’t Fear The Reaper-Blue Oyster Cult

It features a beat you can chew bubblegum to and surprisingly creepy lyrics when really listened to.

20. Beast and the Harlot-Avenged Sevenfold

Not quite Halloween-themed, but it talks about demons and custome companies seem to want to dress women up like harlots on Halloween, so it’s kind of close.

(Really.  What is this?  Are you trying to get me turned on by pets now or something?  Or is this just cleverly placed innuendo?)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

21. Sober-Tool

The music video and the line, “waiting like a stalking butler,” grant this song an honorable mention.

22. Mr. Jack-System of a Down

Another cool song with some Halloween potential.

23. Open Up-Korn

Kind of spooky, especially the ending.

24 & 25. Brackish and Into The Darkness-Kittie

Kittie doesn’t really need a reason to be on this list.  These songs just seem to fit. Obviously, there are a lot of good songs out there that didn’t make it to the list.  Share the ones you think should have made it in the comments below!

The Four Horsemen of The Holiday Marketing Apocalypse

Every year starting around mid-September, we are faced with a serious threat to our psychological conditioning:  the over-marketing of consumer goods.  It begins slowly and sweetly with seasonal favorites then it suddenly jumps our bones and sends consumers into frenzies across the country as people are trampled in attempts to score the big sale.  The madness seems to revolve around four key players, or horsemen if you will, since their annual arrivals spell out media chaos and consumer-state doom. Grab a pen and take note–the “end of days” of the year is fast approaching and there’s not much time to prepare!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes – Famine

The Armageddon begins with pumpkin spice lattes (never thought you’d read that sentence, did you?).  Don’t let these hot, tempting, caffeinated pumpkin spice-infused abominations fool you:  they mean serious business and represent the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse.  Pumpkin spice lattes remind consumers the holidays are just around the corner, priming us for the season of spending like trumpeters of war.  Before the leaves even begin to change every company and it’s mother corporation starts rolling out  pumpkin spice everything, from pumpkin spice waffles to pumpkin spice Jell-O, for the one time of the year it is acceptable to flavor our junk food with a type of squash.

Bubba Gump Pumpkin Spice Latte Flavor Food Drink Forrest
I think we ALL know who is to blame for this pumpkin spice obsession…

It all begins with the pumpkin spice latte and consumers eat it all up (err, sip it up).  We’ve become conditioned to making seasonal purchases each year and these sinister sippers get us into the buying spirit well before the winter holidays.  Need more proof?  Take a look at these 20 pumpkin spice products, including pumpkin spice pasta, and tell me people would buy them year-round if we weren’t already conditioned to seek out these products during the fall.  Aliens would have to assume pumpkins are the only thing we can get nutrition from between September and November and because of that, pumpkin spice lattes have earned the title of Famine, the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse.  Once they roll out, the unholy procession of sales and advertising has begun…

Thanksgiving Weekend – War

No more “over the river and through the woods” for this holiday weekend–grandmother’s house can bite it.  The Thanksgiving Weekend is the largest retail event of the year thanks to Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and a little classical conditioning)–they even sound like doom incarnate, which makes them perfect for this list.  Black Friday is famous for inciting stampedes and fights between shoppers that have left people both dead and injured–right after practicing gratitude and counting blessings on Thanksgiving Day.  Yay, ironic violence! There’s even a site that keeps track of Black Friday deaths and injuries, so you know the annual advertisements are working.  Cyber Monday, on the other hand, only exists because office workers just couldn’t get enough shopping done on Black Friday so they continued their sprees at work the following Monday when they had faster internet access and could make back some of the money they were spending as they were spending it. “Just two more hours of browsing Amazon for Sally and I’ll have that extra fifty bucks to get Riley that new Grand Theft Auto game.” True story, and there are millions of people across the country conditioned into doing this. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are hailed as the biggest shopping days of the year–92 million people hit the stores last Black Friday while more than 131 million consumers shopped online last Cyber Monday, according to press releases by the National Retail Federation.   All in all, consumers spent about $57 billion last Thanksgiving Weekend (2013) according to the same press releases–though the numbers have been climbing for decades. In related news, the rising sales figures are inversely correlated with the amount of quality time families spent together to remember the Natives and how they saved the pilgrims’ sorry asses from freezing in the snow.

‘Murica!

Retailers spend all year preparing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday by creating marketing and advertising strategies, developing keywords to boost site traffic, buying ad space on Facebook and Google, planning floor layouts, developing sales, selecting their best merchandise and training their sales associates to kill–figuratively speaking.  Because retailers are constantly trying to out-compete each other to win relevancy in consumers’ minds during this crucial time of year (you know, when we’re supposed to be kind, spend time with loved ones and have good will toward others), the retail madness we call the Thanksgiving Weekend has been declared the Horseman of War.  It’s already too late to escape the holiday marketing apocalypse by the time this horseman arrives: door buster sales, red tag discounts, free shipping, gifts-with-purchase incentives and repetitive Christmas commercials are EVERYWHERE.  Your best bet for survival is to unplug from all media and lock yourself in the bathroom with a baseball bat, a yo-yo and one thousand granola bars.

Anthony Dodson Antwon Black Friday Cyber Monday Sales hide yo kids wife husband
Yes, this really does happen. Here’s one case and here’s another.

30 Days of Christmas – Conquest

Okay, we get it.  Christmas wins and it’s not going to let us forget that.  Instead, forget those lames Chanukah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving and Halloween.  And DEFINITELY forget the pagan origins of Christmas and how the holiday should really be celebrated sometime around September*.  Christmas is here and you jingle-heads better be ready for Santa.  To make sure we are, cable networks slam us with Christmas shows and movies that activate our psychological conditioning to make us feel unseasonably warm inside–just warm enough to remember uncle Greg and that sale on a coffee maker.  Don’t buy that?  Then take a look at two classic Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life, which are sure to include plenty of elements of capitalism and commerce, the Macy’s references being prime examples. Ever notice how many Christmas movies and shows involve malls?

The mental priming typically starts with Elf, because if there’s anyone who can catch us off guard and warm us up to indoctrinated consumerism, it’s Will Ferrell dressed as Peter Pan making paper snowflakes.   Then a clinically depressed Charlie Brown comes along followed by a Rudolph scorned, an irresponsibly naive Frosty, a forever-young Macaulay Culkin, Woodland Christmas Critters and that one elf who just wants to be a dentist.  The flood of nostalgic Christmas movies anchors us to our inner child and the holiday mindset simultaneously and now we’re fully ready to accept product advertisements and wait in long lines at malls (y’know, in concordance with the true meaning of Christmas?). Quick, somebody tell Frankie he’s going to put an eye out.

Will Ferrel 30 Days Christmas Elf Retail Funny Phaze 2 two

Valentine’s Day – Death

The retail holidays don’t end with Christmas or even New Year’s Day–they end with the last big retail event of the winter, which is Valentine’s Day.  Last year, consumers were expected to spend $17.3 billion on Valentine’s Day with $3.9 billion of that going to jewelry, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.  Turns out the day we equate to love and romance has quickly become a superficial display of affection to benefit Wall Street as we’re guilt-tripped into splurging on our significant others so we can be thoughtful and romantic for one day out of the year as we’ve been conditioned by society.

“Consumers can expect Cupid’s holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck.”  – Matthew Shay, NRF President and CEO.

But let’s be honest here, was Valentine’s Day ever really about love and romance?  First off, according to an article on History.com, Valentine’s Day has it’s origins in Lupercalia, a Roman-pagan fertility celebration featuring sacrificial cows and goats, women streaking naked through the streets while being slapped with raw animal hides and the story about Romulus and Remus is told, how they were raised by a wolf and became the founders of Rome.  So not much romance there, unless you’re into BDSM story time with raw animal hide and mammal blood.

There is a redeeming factor.  Valentine’s Day is named for Saint Valentine, who was executed by the Roman emperor Claudius for marrying young couples.  As the story goes, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men because he believed they made better soldiers if they didn’t have wives or families to live for and care about.  When he found out Saint Valentine was conducting secret marriages he had him executed…but not before the saint sent the first Valentine’s Day card in history to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “From your Valentine.”

So at least there’s a silver lining.  However, because Valentine’s Day forces romance to make it an empty annual tradition and because it can also be the end of a relationship if handled improperly, Valentine’s Day has been deemed the horseman of Death. It annoys both single people and those in relationships equally, leaving a trail of marked-down candy and envious Facebook posts in its wake.  But on the plus side it’s passing means you survived the holiday marketing apocalypse and have a full five months of peace before Christmas in July arrives and brings with it the return of repetitive, tinsel-wrapped advertisements indicative of consumer-state doom.  So, congratulations?

*While this article makes a strong case Jesus was born on December 25, it doesn’t take into account that January and February weren’t added to the Roman calendar until 450 A.D.  That was about 150 years after the article claims Christmas was first dated in December, which would mean the date is still close to October after the two winter months were added. But I’m no expert…

7 Tactics Designed To Make You Spend…And How To Beat Them

You go to the store for one box of cereal but leave with three boxes of cereal, a gallon of milk, a bag of oranges, a carton of yogurt cups, a box of donuts, a ready-to-bake blueberry pie, an entertainment magazine and a pack of gum.  What the hell happened?!

Marketers and sales staff are taught how to influence consumers into making purchases by using psychology to manipulate our buying behaviors.  But you can (and should) fight back. Below are seven tactics meant to encourage you to part with your money–and simple defenses for resisting their influence or even striking a better deal.

1.    The “FUGI” factor

FUGI stands for “Fear of loss, Urgency, Greed and Indifference,” the first three being emotions to target in consumers and the last one being a mindset salespeople should adopt.  The idea is to tell consumers they have a limited amount of time to make a purchase before the sale is discontinued.  This taps into our Fear of missing out on something (or our fear of regret) and our Greed, which makes the situation more Urgent:  consumers know they have limited time to make a decision before missing out on the deal.  At the same time salespeople act Indifferent to the sale, which puts all the pressure onto the consumer–if the salesperson doesn’t care about making the sale, it’s up to the consumer to care about snagging the deal.  This plays off the Principle of Scarcity noted by Robert Cialdini in his book, “Influence:  Science and Practice.”

Call To Action Urgency Factor In Advertising

The best way to avoid that pressure is to ask yourself if you really need the product or service right now.  Chances are a similar sale will come around again weeks or months down the line–and chances are equally well the deal isn’t all that good.  You could try to negotiate from here, but typically when FUGI is employed the sale price is non-negotiable:  the salesperson isn’t trying to make a bunch of sales, just the ones netted by FUGI.  This may not be the case in department stores or at retailers but is generally the case with door-to-door sales and event marketing.  It never hurts to try haggling, though.

2.  Door-In-The-Face Technique

This is when a large request is made knowing it will be turned down and then a smaller request is made knowing the person is more likely to agree to it.  For instance, a box of cereal in a grocery store may be priced at $5 and then “marked down” to $3.50, which was likely the original sales price anyways.  Or a saleswoman may ask $45,000 for a new car then after “talking to her boss” (stopping in her office for coffee while you stew in anticipation, imagine yourself driving the car and start over-thinking) she drops the price to $37,500, which was probably what she was hoping to get all along.  We see the smaller request and assume we’re getting a deal, which compels us to make the purchase.  We’re also willing to agree to the new terms and may feel like we owe the person now that they’ve made a “compromise.”  This is similar to Cialdini’s Principle of Reciprocity, which suggests we feel obligated to return favors as a social rule that developed alongside civilization–which can explain why free samples and gifts with purchase are so effective at turning sales.

It may sound cold, but one of the best defenses against this is realizing the person doesn’t really care about you, the person cares about your wallet.  Try to realize the free gift or the compromise was a ploy meant to bait you into making a purchase.  It can be tough because we naturally want to return favors and feel guilty for not doing so, but that’s exactly how they want you to feel.  If they’re going to play emotional hardball, it’s absolutely okay for you to do the same. Mention how you came out of your way and got stuck in traffic to get to the sale and ask if you can get a discount for your troubles–perhaps you’re even putting a deal with another salesperson at another lot on hold to check out this sale.  Just do something that shows you did the salesperson a favor in some way and see if they can do you a favor in return (you’re helping them make commission, after all).  It may not work all the time but you’ll be surprised how often it does, especially if you employ FUGI as a counter.  Door-in-the-face techniques can be a fairly good indication that sale price is negotiable since the price fluctuates but they don’t always mean negotiation is on the table.

3.  Store Layout

The very layout of a store can cause you to make more purchases than you intended.  Most stores are set up so you have to walk by tons of products in order to get to the one you came for, which is why common purchases and best sellers are usually found at the back of the store and in the center of aisles.  At the same time, store layouts are designed to keep you inside the store as long as possible.  Popular and pricey products are typically at eye level while generic and discounted items are closer to the ground and thus harder to see.  Certain colors have subtle psychological effects, such as red being mentally stimulating and causing us to make more impulse decisions or yellow causing us to become happy (if you can think of a fast food chain that uses red and yellow in its logo, you can also see how influential branding is).  Of course, color psychology is dependent on individual interpretations of colors and their meanings, which are typically learned through culture and personal experience…but the general physiological responses to “warm” and “cool” colors (stimulating and relaxing, respectively) and the learned associations such as gold for wealth and luxury, green for the environment or red+white+blue=’Murica are easily exploitable.

Brand Logo Color Psychology Advertising Media

The first 15 feet inside a store is known as the “decompression zone,” where customers mentally prepare for shopping and don’t notice merchandise–that’s also where most of the signs for sales are placed to slow us down and to prime us for “great savings” ahead.  Items are priced at $5.99 instead of $6 for example, because we read left to right and see the 5 first without giving much consideration to the .99 tacked on the end.  This causes us to group $5.99 in the $5 range instead of the $6 range when buying on impulse.  Background music makes you relax and lower your guard, items with ample space between them appear more valuable, aisles lead straight to featured product displays, staple items such as socks are surrounded by more expensive products like branded shirts and impulse purchases can always be found by the cash registers. This, this and this are three good articles about the influence of store layout–the last is a UK link so mind the slang, mate.

Every time you step into a store you are stepping into a retail “trap” meant to guide you into making the most expensive purchase possible.  Store designers and salespeople will even try to get you high.  Beating the trap is simply a matter of awareness.  Pay attention to your surroundings to see through the smoke and mirrors of merchandising, stick to a shopping list, compare prices, round items up to the next dollar when budgeting, look all over the shelves instead of just at eye-level and above all, stay the course without getting distracted by all the signs and displays.

4. Low-Balling

Hey, I have this spaceship in my backyard that’s in excellent condition and can actually fly.  You seem like the type who  appreciates extraterrestrial transportation, so I’m willing to sell it to you for cheap.  This baby used to tour the galaxies alongside the ship that went down in Roswell–I know because the aliens told me.  I’ll let it go for $1,000, what do you say?

If you don’t think I’m crazy for admitting talking to aliens, then you probably think I’m crazy for selling a functioning spaceship for $1,000.  So what’s the catch?  Well, the catch is I’m selling the ship for $1,000.  But the scheme is the damn thing won’t fly without the engine, which I’ll install for another $8,000 (price of the engine included–reciprocity).  You’ve already committed to the $1,000 in your mind so the $8,000 doesn’t seem so bad–I mean, a spaceship does need an engine and the price of the engine is factored in…

This, in essence, is low-balling.  The aim is to get the customer to mentally commit to a low price then switch up the deal and hit the customer with the higher price, which was the original price intended.  As long as the high price can be justified by the perceived value of the sale, this technique can be quite effective.  It’s similar to the bait-and-switch tactic as well as the Principle of Commitment (another “Weapon of Influence” noted by Cialdini).  Beating this strategy is simple:  ignore the first number.  Then remember the first number.  Then see if you can strike a deal somewhere between the first and second numbers.  Just as you have committed to the sale, so has the seller of the spaceship.  This means you can have equal influence over the negotiation since both parties are committed to seeing the sale happen.  You could even bring in the reciprocity factor by agreeing to buy the spaceship for $1,000 first then seeing if you can strike a deal on the engine installation.  Don’t forget to mention you already did the salesman a favor by believing his story and NOT running back to your car…

 5.  Testimonials

Humans are social creatures and sometimes to a fault.  We see other people buying a product or using a service so we assume the product or service is worth purchasing.  All those other people are doing it and they can’t all be wrong, so why not do it too?

Event marketers gather crowds because it validates the product or service and draws in more people.  Salespeople mention their sales from earlier to show you people are buying from them and some bartenders add their own money to tip jars to make it look like everyone is tipping.  This is essentially the bandwagon effect and Cialdini’s Principle of Social Proof at work.

Celebrity Vote Or Die Campaign Citizen Change

Some testimonials come from celebrities or those in positions of authority such as doctors, professors, scientists, mechanics, subject matter experts and  professionals.  Testimonials from these kinds of people are extremely powerful because people tend to trust and believe them.  This is the power of ethos, known in rhetoric as manipulation using one’s character, reputation, expertise and identity.  Many of us like to identify with and relate to celebrities so we will buy what they buy and do what they do (we also do this because we like them, another “Weapon of Influence” by, you guessed it, Cialdini).  The celebrity chosen for the testimonial depends on the brand, the target audience and the message communicated:  Michael Jordan represented Nike and Hanes because those brands target young, athletic males while Kelly Clarkson represented Proactiv because she just won American Idol and the company targets young women who may feel like their acne is holding them back.  In both cases, the brands are using the celebrities identities to leverage sales and motivate the behaviors of the target audience.

Additionally, when we see someone in a white lab coat giving medical advice, we tend to take their words as truth because they’re obviously real doctors who know what they’re talking about and deeply care about our well-being .  Despite the fact many of them are paid actors, we see the white lab coats and transcribe those symbols of profession to the spokespeople giving testimonials and rarely think twice about them.  This is due to the Principle of Authority noted by Cialdini and the fact we are conditioned from a young age to take authority as truth and never question it.

Beating this is very, very simple:  be yourself.  Don’t jump off bridges just because other people are doing it.  What’s good for the spider is bad for the fly.  Realize that no matter how much you want to identify with celebrities, chances are you will never meet them and they will never know you exist–you know what is best for you better than any celebrity would. And remember that just because someone wearing a white lab coat says he’s a doctor, doesn’t mean he is.  And even if he is a doctor that doesn’t mean he’s right–he’s still getting paid to say what he’s saying and the only reason they’re paying him is because they know you will trust his judgment.  Case in point, this actual advertisement for Camel cigarettes that was part of an R.J. Reynolds campaign back in the 1940s:

Cigarette Ad Doctors Smoke Camel
Camel advertisement from R.J. Reynolds campaign during the 1940s. Source: Stanford School of Medicine. URL: http://tobacco.stanford.edu/tobacco_main/images.php?token2=fm_st001.php&token1=fm_img0002.php&theme_file=fm_mt001.php&theme_name=Doctors%20Smoking&subtheme_name=More%20Doctors%20Smoke%20Camels

 

6. Selling Benefits

The current advertising trend is to sell the “benefits” of a product rather than its features.  For example, an ad for a dishwasher may say “what you’re really buying is more time to eat with your family,” which makes you feel guilty for washing dishes instead of eating, makes you feel like you’re missing out on quality time and makes you believe this dishwasher is the answer to a closer, more loving family.

Please.

Check those claims with logic and reason, otherwise they will get the best of you.  That’s what they’re designed to do, after all.  Economist Ted Levitt said it best:  “People don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits, they buy quarter-inch holes.”  And that’s the philosophy of benefits selling:  it’s not about the product, it’s about what the product does for you.  There is a certain appeal to promoting benefits–maybe it’s the innocent approach or the fact it sounds incredibly genuine, making it hard to resist.  But do try.  Think rationally about the claim and consider how it makes you feel (for example, “you aren’t buying a car, you’re buying a better sex life”), then look at how the product stands in your mind without the claim supporting it.  If the product or service still appears useful or beneficial, go for it.  If not, leave it.  There is usually more than one solution to any problem so don’t let marketers and salespeople trick you into thinking their product or service is the one-size-fits-all magic bullet that’s going to make your life a thousand times easier and your problems go away–because it probably won’t.

7.  Add-ons, Cross-selling and Gifts With Purchase

One sale isn’t enough–retailers and salespeople want you to keep adding to your purchase until your cart is full and bloated like an overfed goldfish.  Just bought a TV?  Take a look at this nifty universal remote.  Just bought car insurance?  You’ll probably need a policy on your house as well.  Sometimes they’ll offer a free gift with purchase to either get you to buy something else or to remember them as the considerate retailer who “hooked you up” with something special.  In these cases the salesperson is utilizing both reciprocity and commitment by doing you a favor with a  free gift and getting you to commit to your first purchase before showing you a related item they hope you’ll also purchase.  The name of the game is to keep throwing products or services at you until you finally say “no more” but by then you’re still buying at least one thing–if not two.  And the internet is no better.  Online retailers use “product recommendations” to ramp up your purchases and will even offer free shipping to encourage you to buy in bulk.

To counter, tell yourself you only need the one thing you came for.  When the add-on or cross sale appears, examine how much more they’re asking you to spend and if the second item is really necessary.  If the add-on seems like it’s worth the extra money, then go for it.  But if not, tell them “no thanks” and proceed to checkout.  You can always come back to get the second product later if you weren’t able to haggle a better price for it the first time around.  But you’ll probably be just as happy without it.

Conclusion

There are a myriad of ways we are manipulated into making the most expensive purchases possible but they all follow the same principles. Keep an eye out for “Weapons of Influence” such as reciprocity, commitment, liking, social proof, authority and scarcity.  Also be aware of any time you feel your emotions flare during a sale or advertisement–chances are a tactic was being used to trigger your emotions, which reduces rational thought and causes us to become invested in the product or service before even paying for it.  In rhetoric, this is known as a pathos appeal–A.K.A. eliciting emotion and tugging on heartstrings.  Ultimately, the best defense against these tactics is knowing they exist and acting accordingly.  And now that you know they do exist, the only real question I have left is:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Why? Because I Said So

The English language is packed with words but only a select handful of them are considered “power words,” or words that have more influence over people than others.  One of the simplest yet most effective of these power words (according to the highly influential and aptly named book “Influence,” by Robert Cialdini) is the word “because.”

Say you have  a business report that needs to be copied ASAP but there’s a line in front of the copy machine.  If you were to go up to your co-workers and ask, “May I use the copy machine first?  I have an important business report that needs to be copied,” your co-workers may resist your polite query or just shrug you off without a second thought.  But if you were to tweak the phrase by adding the word “because,” you can greatly increase your odds of convincing your co-workers letting you cut in line.  Such as by asking, “I have a business report that needs to be copied, can I go first because I’m in a rush?”

You may not be convinced this works, and that’s okay–I felt the same way when I read this example in Cialdini’s book.  But there is a study and statistics that back the claim which can also be found in “Influence.”

When the participant in this scenario asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine?” 60 percent of people let the participant cut in line.  However, when the query was changed to “I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94 percent of people let the participant cut.  The word “because” influenced them to give into the participant’s request, even though the reason (being in a rush) isn’t that strong of a reason–everyone is in a rush at an office.

Further, when the question was changed to “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?” 93 percent of people let the participant cut in line–even if the reason wasn’t much of a reason at all.  Everyone uses the Xerox machine to make copies, making this a reason that should go without saying or a “non-reason,” to put it another way.

Cialdini says we are much more likely to get someone to do us favors simply by providing them with a reason–regardless of how good the reason is.  People just like knowing there is a method behind the madness and they aren’t being asked to do something just for the sake of doing it.  Of course, this may not work ALL THE TIME but it can tip the scales in your favor when asking someone to do something for you or to let you do something that may slightly inconvenience them.

You can read more about the power of “because” in this article by the Huffington Post, which includes four other power words that hold influence over people.  Use this knowledge to see how advertisements, salespeople, politicians and other people try to sway you into buying products or doing things for them so you can become more aware of their influence.  And it should go without saying that if you intend on using these power words for yourself, do so responsibly and ethically.

Remembering The Lives of Aurora Theater Shooting

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the two-year anniversary of the Aurora Theater Shooting, so I’m reblogging this article from one of my old blogs to keep the memories of the victims alive in the hearts of all affected by this tragedy.

The Freelancer

12 Victims of movie theater massacre From left to right:  Top row:  Alex Sullivan, Micayla Medek, John Larimer, Jessica Ghawi. Second Row:  Rebecca Wingo, Gordon Cowden, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Teves.  Bottom Row:  Matt McQuinn, Jonathan Blunk, AJ Doik, Jesse Childress. Photo courtesy of The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk)

Thousands of people gathered in Aurora, Colorado to attend a prayer vigil that took place last night to honor the lives of the victims of Friday’s theater shooting.

To show my support to the families who lost someone that night I’m going to highlight the individuals whose lives were taken.  It is my hope that these brief memoirs will aid in the national remembrance of those who died and will allow them to live on through each and every person who reads about them online or hears about them from the television.

My heart and condolences go out to the families and friends who were impacted by the tragedy.

Jonathan Blunk…

View original post 2,802 more words

Beware Of The Label

If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.  Case in point:  product labels.

Take Simply Cranberry Cocktail and Kickstart, for instance.  The one on the left presents itself as a fresh, natural juice product while the one on the right appears to be a carbonated chemical concoction about as healthy as a hole in the head.  Both, however, are misleading.

Empy calorie fruit juice with hardly any vitamins.
A closer look at Simply Cranberry Cocktail reveals some surprising information.

Looking at the nutrition facts, Simply Cranberry Cocktail has 190 calories, 49 grams of carbohydrates and 48 grams of sugar (likely making up a lot of the carbs in this product).  The label also mentions the drink isn’t “a significant source of” vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium or iron and it only consists of a paltry 27 percent actual juice for a product claiming to be “All Natural.”

To put this into perspective, let’s take a closer look at the Kickstart label.

Kickstart drink nutrition facts vitamins and low sugar
Surprisingly, the Kickstart label reveals a fair amount of nutrition.

First, Kickstart is only 80 calories, has 21 grams of carbs and just 20 grams of sugar in it–that’s less than half the sugar in Simply  Cranberry Cocktail.  Kickstart also provides 100 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin c, 80 percent of the daily value for niacin (aka vitamin b3), 80 percent of the daily value for vitamin b6, 60 percent of the daily value for pantothenic acid (vitamin b5) and 10 percent of the daily value of phosphorus (a required dietary mineral).  And that’s with only five percent fruit juice–22 percent less than Simply Cranberry Cocktail.

Let’s take a step back before continuing.  It should be noted that Simply Cranberry Cocktail has very low sodium–25 milligrams compared to Kickstart’s 180 milligrams.  It should also be noted that Kickstart contains a PLETHORA of ingredients including caffeine and a ridiculous amount of preservatives (see below). So Kickstart isn’t exactly a healthy choice either but at least you’ll get all the vitamin c you need in one day plus some extra vitamins and only intake half the sugar.  And that’s only with the orange flavor of Kickstart–the other flavors are fairly devoid of vitamins.

However, the question does arise:  If Simply Cranberry Cocktail only contains pure filtered water, cranberry juice, sugar and natural flavors, what happened to all the nutrients and vitamins?  What turned a natural fruit juice drink into an empty-calorie facade?  I haven’t been in contact with the company so I can’t say what the reason is, but I can say this:  Lakewood Juices Organic Cranberry Juice contains 30 percent of the daily value for vitamin c and even 350 milligrams of potassium, an important mineral and electrolyte.  So the vitamins are in those cranberries at some point, just not at the point of consumption.

Kickstart nutrition ingredients preservatives and caffeine
See? “Plethora” was the perfect word for the amount of preservatives in Kickstart.

So what’s the takeaway here?  Always check product labels before assuming something is healthy or unhealthy based on the packaging, branding and product itself.  The side of a Kickstart can clearly states it is a “flavored sparkling juice beverage blend from concentrate with other natural flavors” and the phrase, “energy drink,” never once appears on the can although that is what most people I’ve encountered assume it is.  And being a Mountain Dew/Pepsi product, I don’t blame them.  But we all know what happens when we assume and hopefully after reading this you’ll be less inclined to do so on your next trip to the store.

Keep a critical eye out for the smoke and mirror setup of product promotions–how we spend our dollars dictates what choices are available to us and the extent to which companies respect us through their merchandising.  And as always, stay thirsty for knowledge, my friends.

I’m Back & Meet The Mascot

This blog isn’t dead yet though it may have seemed that way over recent months.  My apologies for leaving you all hanging.  I got a job as a copywriter back in September doing a good amount of promotional writing for newsletters and marketing materials as well as working on several bulky product catalogs.  After writing all day at work it was hard to come home and write for PhAze 2, let alone the novel I’ve been working on for several months.  But I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to blogging and I feel now is as good a time as any to give it a good scratch–especially considering my stint as a copywriter is on its own hiatus for the time being.

PhAze 2 started as a project of mine, an attempt to carve a niche for myself in the new media scene that actually helps people rather than manipulates or uses them like a lot of mainstream networks.  Covering stories, issues or topics you typically won’t see on the news that inspire and empower people to make a real difference in the world.  Challenging institutions and conventions with critical thought and illuminating questions to help equal the playing field between the individual and the corporate-political matrix.  Creating original content designed to make you think, laugh, act or engage with others positively to do my humble part in advancing society to a more conscious, aware and compassionate future.  After a lot of thought and a brief hiatus to thoroughly explore the world around me, I think I’m ready to take PhAze 2 to the next stage of its development.

This is a recent sketch of mine, titled “The Skyship Bomber.”

PhAze 2 Mascot The Skyship Bomber
Meet PhAze 2’s tentative mascot, The Skyship Bomber. Dropping insight, playing watchdog and equipping readers with inspiration and empowerment to make a real difference in this world.

 

The Skyship Bomber (“Bomber,” for short) embodies courage, independence and liberty, soaring above the clouds to survey the earth, keeping an eye on those in power and dropping insight on those who seek it.  The Skyship Bomber is a metaphor for the vessel that is this blog, providing wings of cover for those who need it while shooting down corruption or those who perpetuate it.  He is a peaceful yet forceful public defender that has a sense of humor and spunkiness to spare (just get a load of that jet pack strapped onto the tail!).

It seemed natural to make this the mascot for my blog so that’s what I’m doing.  At least temporarily.  It could be the rush of adrenaline from writing my first blog post in nearly a year or it could be the refreshed conviction I feel from writing article after article about the jewelry industry and realizing I no longer want to be a part of that industry’s marketing efforts that is causing me to feel slightly more defiant and bold than usual.  I’m not sure.  But for now it feels right so I’m going with it.

I’ll be updating the structure, layout and utilities of PhAze 2 for the next couple days until I find a combination that sticks.  And of course, I’ll be adding some new content.  I have quite a few ideas in the works that I’m excited to experiment with and launch–including a possible column reviewing TED Talks–so be sure to check back in the next several days and see what’s going on.

Thank you so much for your readership and your patience as I’m coming into my own as a blogger and producer of content.  I’m looking forward to writing more and getting to know some of you through your comments.  Discussion makes the world go ’round–between your comments and my posts, we can join in the global conversation of spreading conscious knowledge.

Now, Carpe Diem!

-bw

Desire and Ambition, Life and Moments

Your dearest wish will come true.

After an interesting turn of events you suddenly come into possession of a small piece of paper that will grant you one wish, and one wish only.  What do you wish for?  Money?  Time?  Teleportation?  More wishes?

Whatever you wish for the piece of paper does nothing, aside from mock you with its inanimate indifference.  As you get ready to drop it the word “dearest” begins to glow in a bold sapphire hue, and the answer becomes clear:  you may have wished for something, but it wasn’t your dearest wish.

So now the question changes.  What is your dearest wish?  The return of a lost love?   To travel the world?  For good will to triumph over greed in the hearts of all people?

If your dearest wish was different from your first wish, why do you think that was?   Often when we think of having our wishes granted we tend to go for our desires rather than the causes of those desires:  we wish for money when we want security or happiness, for example, or we wish for love and fame when we are lonely.  Sometimes we wish for something self-serving rather than altruistic, thinking karma owed us one or only thinking of ourselves.  In most cases our initial wishes are quick fixes to our problems and fast ways to feed our material or superficial desires.  But there is one main error with this type of thinking, aside from when it is egocentric:

If we give more value to our material desires than the causes of those desires then we don’t  account for our “dearest wishes.”  This leaves us hollow as we acquire more material (items, money, property, stock, people in some cases) to fill the void instead of building a core of fulfillment within us.  What we gain in material we lose in inner peace and happiness.  So to preserve our inner peace and happiness we should give more value to our “dearest wishes” than our regular “wishes,” and focus more on the causes of our desires than the desires themselves.  If you want security and happiness for example, wish for a lifestyle that will make you the most happy and secure.  You’ll account for the causes of your desire for money (security and happiness), and the money will follow on account of your wish if your lifestyle involves some type of work or investment.

You can find the causes of your desires and material desires through introspection, self-reflection, and meditation on the things you desire and why.  But when it comes to the desire to be loved — a desire within us all — all you can really wish for is time and attention from someone you met somewhere or will meet somewhere, then put yourself out there.  We all want to love and to be loved, but on our own terms.  So with high supply and high demand by nature love is a volatile thing that requires the right chemistry to stabilize.  Just a little disclaimer before moving on.

A moment:  Yi hui er

Take a moment to think about your dearest wish or the cause of your greatest desires.  How does it make you feel?  Who does it benefit?  Why is it so important to you?

Think about how having this wish come true would change things from the way they are now.   Try to imagine what all would happen from this wish coming true and the possibilities that would come with it.

Now ask yourself:  What’s stopping you from making this wish come true?  Even if you’re wishing for money or more time to enjoy life, what is holding you back from making this wish a reality?

Every obstacle has a way around it, for where there is a will there is a way.  Ambition.  Be creative and look for all the possibilities.  Aspiring travelers can backpack through countries, work on cruise lines, do wildlife photography, volunteer with the Red Cross, offer scuba diving to tourists on coasts around the world (if accredited), or even become international five-star hotel reviewers.

On the other hand, if you’re worried about not having enough time to make your wish happen or to simply enjoy the life and time you have, it’s because you’re looking at time with too wide of a lens:  Life is made up of moments, like a mosaic made up of ceramic tiles.  Each and every second that passes by is an opportunity for you to take advantage of chance and choose to change your life to the way you want it to be.  Or alternatively, to change yourself and your circumstances to better align with the future you want to have and who you want to be.

If you take each moment as it comes and use it to work toward making your dearest wish a reality, then it will become a reality.  It’s just a matter of how determined you are to succeed.

The benefit of changing your life moment by moment is it doesn’t require any big changes, just little tweaks.  Over the course of time those little changes will build up to drastically alter your life-path in the direction you want to take it, whether it is toward your dearest wish or the cause of your greatest desires.  And as you make more choices that align you with your intended destination you will find yourself getting closer and closer to your goals.  As my former communications professor says, “we become who we are one choice at a time,” and to take this quote further, our lives become what they are one choice at a time.

So remember your dearest wishes and don’t let superficial desires hog all your attention.  By giving too much attention to the latter, you will likely stray from the path you set out for yourself.  As long as you take life moment by moment, achieving your dreams and ambitions won’t require you to make dramatic changes or sacrifice too much of your time.  Just ease into the reality you wish to see, think positive, and let time run its course.  You’ll get there eventually if you stay focused, determined, and open to all of the possibilities.

Evolving Media | Expanding Minds