Category: Do No Harm


In 1988, my employer called all the call center representatives into a conference and plopped down a binder full of known product problems. Each known product problem had an associated ‘mitigation’ step to assist the customer. Some included replacement, while others included replacement and compensation. Still, others included payment. Sounded great, until. Until what? Upon reading the fine print, we could only assist the customer if the customer complained. We could not broadcast any manufacturing problem, discuss any form of compensation, or any customer inquiry outside the office. That meant any customer experiencing a known product failure, but did not complain to the manufacturer, received nothing, no compensation, no mitigation. Those who suffered in silence were swept under the corporate rug.

The visceral and brutal nature of corporate sins often gets “cleaned up” by corporate and religious communities alike. Suffering is downplayed publicly, and individual elements, including any agonizing days our customers endured, were buried by silence and a tsunami of the indescribable pain. As a business, we failed to recognize our horror, the inexplicable level of pain inflicted, and the raw violence performed against our customers’ human psyche. Instead, we went to church, held hands, recited the Lord’s prayer, and asked God to forgive our debts just as we forgive our debtors. Yeah. Sure.

Thirty-five years later, God asked me, why was I so willing to sacrifice my ideals upon the throne of business? I am fascinated by God’s question and of the impossibility of inconsistent, rationalized ethics. What did this absolute obedience and faith of humankind offer that made it entirely permissible to sacrifice customers? By questioning my request for forgiveness, God asked a provocative question, “What good is thy faith?” 

Another angle by which to frame this is that God inquired about its aftermath. What did I accomplish? Through a series of acts, I trusted in the invisible plan of now-defunct and unmemorable business leadership. Had I shelved reason and ethics to become ‘employee of the month’ or ‘employee of the year?’ I understand that worse has occurred throughout history and that humanity has endured the wrenching horrors of current and past U.S. leadership. Just as Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, just as many business colleagues across the county, I sacrificed ethics to obligation.

Truthfully, I have no understanding of why management required such sacrifices thirty-years ago. I failed to ask, and my lack of ‘positional power’ was limited. On the other hand, God gazed into my soul — where I could not see — and knew my secret, even when I couldn’t see it myself. God affirmed I made myself a co-conspirator, either symbolically or with consent: I saw the facts, and I participated in the commitment to secrecy. If I was unwilling to pass judgment on management at the time, then the essential question is, how is my ethical code different today? Should ethics be relative to religious status and hierarchy, or to the extremity of one’s commitment to God? 

When does the end justify means? Where is ‘humanity’ in the reward? Should my profound humility somehow replace the patriarchy of God’s original call? More importantly, What does it mean to be God’s chosen? How do I live accordingly?

Like most of my life’s poor decisions, I will never rid of the most sacred ethical failures. I am blessed that forgiveness is offered via faith. Yet, this fact demands that I now follow spirituality and continually evaluate both faith and obligation. Indeed, my footsteps should not be traced, as my example should provide ample pause. 

If your first response would be to entertain the notion that I was a madman or criminal, or, more likely, that I was tragically deluded in some false image of God’s call, then what of those harmed? What if I misunderstood the will of God? What might have I lost in translation between divine intent and human implementation? 

Final Thought

During the COVID pandemic, we’ve heard politicians weigh the value of human life against economic and stock market viability. We openly discuss hitting the poor the hardest for the sake of chasing profits. Entertaining business without ethics means losing our humanity. We must serve a higher purpose: look after employees, support the community, and strive to make a product that inspires. 

God’s questioning taught that each human life is more significant than gross profit. Of course, a business balance sheet is essential, but human beings are created in the image of God. As such, we must reject suggestions to sacrifice ethical discernment. To do otherwise means human lives become nothing more than check marks on a to-do list rather than sacred. 

I looked at the sample ballot while standing in the early voting line. The county set up the early voting center at a major library just two blocks from work. Of course there was a line, and it was long. Poll workers placed “yellow duct tape” on the carpeted floor. Cinematically, the message was “follow the yellow brick road.” Voters zig-zagged through ‘Fiction,’ ‘Non-Fiction,’ ‘Periodicals,’ ‘Audio/Visual,’ ‘Teens,’ ‘Romance,’ and ‘Current Affairs.’ Everyone followed the same path. Half-way through, I snickered. A woman ahead of me inquired of my laughter. “You know, ask people to wear a mask and they complain like hell about how it infringes upon their life. Yet, they will stand in line following tapped floors without question.” Chuckling she asked if I had any major thoughts for an election of a lifetime. Indeed I did, most coming from several days prior.

My doctor walked in the medical office and asked how I was doing. I regurgitated a perverted verse from Charles Dickens. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, its been a season of fatigue, it is the season exhaustion, I was barren of hope, and feeling a winter of despair.” She paused for a moment, with slight inkling to mouth, “W… The F…?,” but caught herself. Recollecting her thoughts, she posed her question once more, “Please explain?” 

Exhaustion is difficult to live, but nearly impossible to explain. How do you explain deep tiredness that does not improve with rest? Early mornings are foggy, moving is a slog, and energy deletion appears from nowhere, like those half-drained Ray-O-Vac batteries my father presented at Christmas-time. “Just try em’” he said. They would, then didn’t. I can’t completely focus as if something is awry, but cannot quite sort it out. I operate at 85%-95%. I work and make a living, just like before. No one detects a problem, but post-event is nothing like pre-event.

Fatigue shadows me, especially since the incident. I reflect often, it was the day the night spun and life shuffled from ‘Years’ to ‘Months.’ Nearly half of people with Parkinson’s report fatigue as a major problem. Though I don’t rule out depression. “Maybe I did have a ‘mini-stroke,’” I tell myself. After all, strokes cause the same level of fatigue I experience. It will be difficult to know, for brain scan appointments can be weeks or months from the event. The earliest appointment available is November 10th. The whole encounter is frustration. If I saw Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez I’d scream.

What Sanders and Cortez has failed to answer is, “Exactly just how are you going to change health care? Yes, one can shout ‘Affordable Healthcare’ to the heavens. But how will your proposal change wait times to receive medical care?” Sanders and Cortez believe America is the richest country on earth. As such, no person should suffer because they cannot afford healthcare. Got it. Thank you. I applaud your push for a universal, single payer healthcare system. Tell me though, “What’s the point if you’re waiting for 20 days for an appointment?”

Neither Sanders nor Cortez offered anything close to a universal health care system where the government would own and operate hospitals – instead, they offered that the government would pay private providers an agreed upon rate for their services. Eventually, the country phase out of private insurance plans so everyone would receive insurance from the federal government. There would be no deductibles, no premiums, no co-payments for care. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Republican healthcare plan.

There have been at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act since its inception. In the 2016 election, the ‘Orange One’ stated the GOP would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Per The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein, the Republican plan goes something like this: lack of protections is a feature. Ending protections for the sick is the central mechanism all GOP health-care proposals utilize. Essentially, GOP believes your premiums should reflect the risk you pose to the insurer, and insurers should be able to assess that risk and then set a rate accordingly. Younger people are less risk … Older folks or the ill (like me), well, sucks to be us.

I work in healthcare. And I am dying. More than likely, this is my last presidential election. When the woman ahead of me in early voting asked if I had any major thoughts for the election of a lifetime, I replied, “I am making this vote for the futures of my niece and nephew.” I went to the poll and thought of the character Kenny O’Donnell from the film Thirteen Days, “If the sun comes up tomorrow, it is only because of men of good will. And that’s – that’s all there is between us and the devil.”

I casted my vote for a future. Sorry Republicans, at this point in time, ‘… you ain’t it.’

Dominoes

“I wish your father were a part of our lives,” my mother blurted while playing Dominoes. Since suffering a stroke, my father’s health declined from a self-professed sports addict to being unable to recognize anyone, including my mother. In the wake of Coronavirus, many families are staring at walls, hoping for an idea ‒ or perhaps a miracle ‒ to come through those walls that will return life to the ‘normal’ once known. Such miracles rarely, if ever, occur, and we are remanded to rehashing previous events, hidden wrongs, and unquenched anger.

If the story correct, my grandmother said my father created chaos wherever he went. For our family of four, chaos spared none. Preferring to drink with ‘bar buddies,’ my father was absent for a significant portion of family life. Post-stroke, he disappeared again, shuttled off to assisted-living, left to manage his thoughts alone. Yet, each family member is left to balance inner thoughts, and as walls close inward, secrets begin oozing from the crevices.

Sixty or so years is a long time to carry grudges, but my mother’s pain appears just as raw yesterday as it did 50 years earlier. Like 40 percent of children sleeping in homes where fathers do not reside, my mother bore the responsibility of managing both the household and children. Dark secrets buried nearly half-a-century were suddenly barfed onto the dining room table. I can personally attest to the consequences of a life stuffed into canyons far more profound than anything created.

My father neither saw my brother or I as we were, he saw us only as he wished we were. Being quite adept at sports, my father drew nearer to my older brother as I struggled to find shelter, to hide or fit. To be anything else, I learned, often entailed humiliation. As the years went, I found a way to mingle while never exposing the inner child who desired love. Turning eighteen, I left.

I carried forth my father’s legacy: chaos. At times I skipped school and received poor grades. I committed a crime, but only by God’s grace, I was never prosecuted. I was promiscuous and was foundationally set for poor relationships, including several divorces. Unknowingly, I became my father, and the journey to unwind it has been long.

Being so flawed, I often reflect upon the nature of perfection. Recently, I asked Ms. K. why, out of all the people in heaven, she waits for me. “Because you are always seeking to improve. The danger for you is that you have become focused on shortcomings, that I would judge harshly, unable to accept and forgive your faults. I want someone real, not perfect.” And therein lay the hope for us. Maybe perfection in God’s eyes is the desire to improve. 

I should stress that we should not accept ourselves. By that, I mean that we shouldn’t swallow the notion to “accept ourselves” as a license for complacency. We shouldn’t say, “I’m going to accept myself. Therefore I have no desire to change.” I accept my desire to change. We need patience, kindness, and forgiveness so that we can bring change to our lives. 

To change means bringing more love into your family. And then, ultimately, to you. If we change, you end the repetition of family secrets, children cowering in fear, and unwanted legacies. You are your legacy, and the life you live, by choice or by fate, is the legacy you ultimately leave behind.

After learning being diagnosed with “high-functioning” autism, writer Helen Hoang never told her mother. “I hadn’t really known how to tell her. More than that, I’d feared her reaction, so I’d simply avoided the topic around her altogether.” When I was diagnosed with a tumor last year and Parkinson’s this year, only five knew of my tumor, and only three (my doctor, my case manager, and a friend) knew of the Parkinson’s. Only three knew both, those being my doctor, my case manager, and a friend. Avoidance will either be my enemy or friend.

My doctor has routinely asked why I haven’t told any relatives. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche said, “Death and dying is a subject that evokes such deep and disturbing emotions that we usually try to live in denial of death.” My brother is not particularly adept at dealing with it. And to be fair, most of us aren’t. Dealing with a terminal illness is hard enough without family instructing me to suck it up, swallow some Vitamin C, or work it out. Such a pronouncement would change every interaction; none of them are genuine. When I told my brother about the tumor, he was driving on the highway after flying lessons. Rather than waiting for a more suitable time, he listened to my diagnosis, demanded a second and third opinion, complete several other medical tests, and get back to him. He never called again, even when the date of the surgery came and went. The process of hiding or masking fits better in America’s society.

My military call-sign was ‘Chameleon,’ meaning I could almost on cue, adapt to any situation. I’m very good at it. I learned to blend as a kid because I saw people treated me, ‘different,’ ‘not socially adept,’ etc. Underneath that easygoing facade, was a soul struggling and found the minutiae of social interaction draining. The military changed that and trained me to adapt. It’s an acquired skill I continue to leverage and flawlessly execute.

I’ll admit, for months, I have considered coming clean. I almost came clean to my boss at work about the Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I know its impact on my career, for he was the second person informed of the tumor. Beyond that, I don’t want to have my illness define me, turning every conversation into a series of “how are you?” and every email into “here’s the latest cure you must investigate.” Nor do I want someone telling me to suck it up. Such conversations would provide neither meaning nor purpose. I aim to find out what the truth is for me and to live without vulnerability.

Vulnerability mustn’t be turned against me. It’s bad enough to battle a tumor Parkinson’s at the same time. I am unsure if I can fend off youth’s naysayers, demanding I fit into their mold. I don’t want to be the guy who seeks every nuanced therapy that provides marginal to no benefit. I want to live but live under my control, not under another’s umbrella.

Before the end of the year, I will tell my family. In subsequent days, conversations will become harder, and silences will grow. Relatives living in Chicago, Wisconsin, Florida, and elsewhere will email and either express regret or outrage at being uninformed. The ultimate question for every conversation will be, “Why?” And, it’s a fair question.

I have read many blogs where readers posed such philosophical questions of determining the proper moment to inform others of their terminal illness. Blogger Molly Kochan stated, “I have chosen to navigate this journey privately, with a handful of supportive friends and family. It was important to me to not be seen as a “patient” or as cancer.” I do wonder if my selfishness would impact others to such a degree that those affected would never move on. And so I say, “Yes. Eventually, they would find it within themselves to move on.” Therefore, I hope everyone focuses not on my final days (or year(s)), but rather upon leading the kind of life that will impact others. And should that be the result, then I would be truly inspired.

Poor Me

In the backdrop of US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams’ “somber” message “I want America to understand — this week, it’s going to get bad,” Trump tweeted:

“I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the [New York Times], & the [Washington Post], and all I see is hatred of me at any cost. Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?

In a heightened level of anxiety and fear, throughout history, our leaders have risen to the moments before them. Trump? Not so much. His tweet claims, “Poor me.”

As the White House plays catch-up, a deadlocked Congress struggles to cope with the pandemic’s, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got infected and decided to share it by attending the Senate Republican lunch meeting and swimming in the Senate gym’s pool. Remember folks, Sen. Paul is a physician.

These days, leadership comes not from the White House, but Governors. Almost to a person (Florida Governor excluded), there has been deliberate and pragmatic action. Each has come to the right place in history … where truth is the best weapon. 

The Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi told his men: “I do not promise you ease. I do not promise you comfort. But I do promise you these hardships: weariness and suffering. And with them, I promise you victory.”

Though the roads may be empty, we are not alone. 

Part of me wishes Cuomo were our President. Not because he’s a Democrat, but rather because he chooses accountability. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said several days ago. Cuomo welcomes accountability. “If someone wants to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else responsible for this decision.”

Democratic strategist Lis Smith nailed it. “The daily press briefings out of Washington and Albany over the last week have provided a split-screen in leadership. Whereas Governor Cuomo has been ruthlessly direct, faithful to the facts, and in command at all times, the President has lashed out at the media, sowed confusion, and shirked responsibility at every turn.”

Nearly every spiritual doctrine claims. “Do no harm.” Mr. President, people are dying. America is starving for leadership. Yet, all we get is confusion. Unfaithfulness to facts and ruthless. “Poor me.”

No, Mr. President. “Poor us.”

In the constant battle to stay abreast of the epidemic, I still have to care for aging parents. I also have to care for my employees, ensure medical supplies get shipped to healthcare facilities across the country, beg the government for testing kits, and have to care for myself: the post-tumor treatment with a side order of Parkinson’s. If this seems like a tall order, it is. But it’s no different than any other person.

Each of us has challenges, trials, tribulations, joy, and peace. Congressional physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, stated the virus would hit 70 – 150 million Americans – roughly half the U.S. population. Therein lay a vital lesson: Coronavirus lessens for no man. Every hour at my desk, I become more convinced that my parents will die from it. And at 60 years old, having underlying health issues myself, I am likely to be a graph plotline on some statistician’s graph. I accept I will succumb. It’s not if, but rather, when.

If statistics prove true, 3.6% of the infected from Coronavirus will perish. While that average is breathtaking, a particularly brutal, yet often undisclosed, statistics indicate 8% over age 60 who get infected will die. In the U.S. alone, the median elderly population above sixty nears 60 million. if true, 2,000,000 older Americans are likely to perish. When thinking of Coronavirus under those terms, Parkinson’s means little. Aches, pains, tremors, and lack of sleep loses perspective. My goal, if there is one, is to try and help as many as possible.

Tossing aside the notion that Democrats went to Wuhan, China, and started the epidemic, President Trump put on a serious face and addressed the nation. He didn’t discuss the lack of testing available for healthcare clinicians. He didn’t explain his repulsion for medical experts. Neither did he consider informing us why his administration cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding nor his bumbling response to the disease’s spread.

In a time of crisis, when Americans required a president, Trump’s dystopian viewpoint was clear: “Sucks to be you.” 

As the rhythms of life close, he offered no guidance, no policy, no answers. The Trump team seems best suited to answer one question: How can I make this pandemic worse? In his speech, Trump pleaded for an end to finger-pointing, only later to say this was a foreign disease. Just two days prior, Trump retweeted a quote from conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Kirk, who is the founder and president of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, tweeted that the U.S. needs a wall on its southern border to protect the country from Coronavirus.

As we enter the weekend, American’s witnessed the NCAA canceled basketball tournaments; the stock market plunged; an outcry was heard from Europe; Broadway was silenced; the hiatus of the NBA, MLB, NHL followed by a shitload of school closings. 

As most Americans work, personal issues take a backseat. We march on. We always do. For me, my focus remains attuned to the needs of healthcare facilities across the country. How can I serve? How can I make someone’s day a little better?

Why goes back to China – not to the days of Kung Fu, where Shaolin Priests walked in harmony with nature. Instead, go to Wuhan. If you do, you’ll find my reason. Death.

The reason Wuhan, China, experienced so much death was for lack of resources. There were only 110 critical care beds in the three designated hospitals. In Italy, the Coronavirus overwhelmed the country’s health system, particularly in the north. More than 80 percent of the hospital beds in Lombardy, the hardest-hit province, is being occupied by Coronavirus patients. 

The U.S. is likely to experience the same fate. In the U.S., our entire medical system has approximately 200,000 hospital beds. Much of our U.S. healthcare system is pretty streamlined. So, an excessive increase in patients will rapidly strain resources. It’s estimated that we have about 100,000 intensive care unit beds in the United States. In a moderate outbreak, about 200,000 Americans would need one. If the Coronavirus closely followed the Spanish flu outbreak (1918), we would need more than 740,000 ventilators. We have roughly 62,000 full-featured ventilators on hand. 

Trump is right. “Sucks to be us.”

Like millions of other married couples across the globe, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, split. Hit the road. Off to wherever. Canada. Los Angeles, CA. or maybe someplace else.

There was so much gnashing and wailing that I ran to the window to confirm the sun hadn’t ceased to exist. Truth be told, it hadn’t.

Many Royal family watchers claim to know the reason. The ladies I overheard while sipping coffee weren’t unlike many naysayers.

“Who the hell would leave royalty?” queried the first.

“All that money,” replied the second.

“God,” sighed the third. “All that free child care.”

Raucous laughter.

“I hear she’s moody,” interjected the first.

“Yeah. Has to be her (Markle),” said another.

Sure. Of course, we know. It HAS to be Markle, has to. Yeah. Yeah. It’s her. Everything was fine until she showed up.

What idiotic thinking! I wanted to applaud the royal couple’s move. If I was under such pressure, every step analyzed, compared, commented upon, I would leave as well. And truthfully, that’s what I did in 1978. 

I graduated from high school and went a week later to the military. Like Markle, I, too, was never considered good enough. In my world, my brother received first billing. He was the best at everything. His grades were better; his friends were better, his girlfriend was better, his car was better, his physique was better, even his d*** was probably better. 

Of course, had I fell in line, then all the world, i.e., my world, would be well, peachy. 

For much of my life, I was considered an accessory. Like a piece of furniture, I was expected to fit a specific role, blend into a corner, respond when asked, but not offer any objective view different than that which had been espoused by seniors. Like Markle, my needs melted into a burning resentment, and sometimes, anger. 

Prince Harry and Markle will learn what I learned: It’s challenging to sever ‘ties that bind.’ 

When I first started dating my first wife, my mother called and pleaded that my girlfriend would ‘steal me away from the family,’ that I was required to attend holidays, birthdays, and other festivities. And when schisms occurred, I was responsible, regardless. I represented independence, an independence many didn’t adore.

Exhibit self-sovereignty wasn’t allowed. The effort required years to sever. Like Markle, shortly after college graduation, I ditched all of my friends, split from my family, and became the driving force in my own life narrative. 

Of course, I suffered. Mistakes were made. I noted many regrets in this blog, many to which I will have to account upon meeting God. However, they were my mistakes. 

In the early years of my departure, I was ridiculed. I presume Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will experience the same. The royal couple will undoubtedly be pilloried for their decision. Some will claim hypocrisy — others’ greed. A plethora of website commentators will willingly dish out criticism; others may protest, and some will expound vile commentary, both racist and hurtful. 

For all the naysayers I’ve read, I ask one question? Has anyone criticized Jesus for doing something radical, like giving up royalty and coming to earth? How about Siddhartha Gautama? Jesus, of course, is the same Son of God who gave up his royal identity to walk amongst us common folk. Siddhartha Gautama abdicated his privileged life to live in poverty and self-denial. Had either of these holy men walked among today’s masses and Internet trolls, what criticism would we offer? What reinforcement would we provide? Heck, what if Jesus had daycare?

I’m ashamed of the racism Markle received. I cannot relate, but many black citizens can. I’m sure many privileged willingly offered sneers and jeers. Yet, as we embrace the diatribe, many remain unwilling to reach into the pain of a couple, merely trying to establish a family, while simultaneously attempting to provide their son a better life.

For the Shylock’s among us, you’ve had your pound of flesh. Few can relate to the life of a mixed-race woman living life while trying to understand her own identity. And many cannot understand losing a mother who died trying to outrun paparazzi. Prince William claimed walking behind his mother’s coffin ‘one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.’ Imagine doing it knowing tens of millions watching.

If you want to understand the royal couple’s decision, maybe one needs to re-watch The Truman Show, where everything in Truman Burbank’s (Jim Carrey) life was part of a massive TV set. The ‘real’ appeared real but wasn’t. He questioned, doubted, and yearned for freedom. He faced betrayal and even faced death. Awakening from a shipwreck, Truman became free to live the way he wanted.

When I think about it, it seems simple. Maybe we need to offer the royal couple something most of us had: It’s the chance to live the life they want.

I’ll even bet God is rooting for them. I am.

According to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, U.S. Intelligence officials indicate that Iran may have accidentally shot down Ukraine Flight PS752 while firing missiles during a retaliatory strike.

In total, 176 people were killed, including 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians. Victims also included crew members from Ukraine, four Afghans, three Britons and three Germans.

Trump may be right that, directly, the U.S. was not responsible for crash of flight PS752. However, indirectly, these deaths may have never occurred if the U.S. did not strike down Suleimani.

In the end, it’s always innocent citizens that pay the price for ‘stupid.’

God, the Almighty, has promised to get his revenge,” said the man who will take over for Iran’s Qassim Suleimani. Thus, the increasing cycle of fear and escalating cycle of retaliation is reborn.

Twenty years ago, I visited Northern Ireland. Walking along the haunting image of the wall brought me back to a 60 Minutes report during the early 1970s. In 1974, Morley Safer reported on just how much destruction and devastation Northern Ireland was facing. The conflict was named “The Troubles.”

The Troubles was a violent Ireland sectarian conflict lasting from 1968 to 1998 between Protestant unionists (loyalists), who desired the province to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland

Safer was able to gather a group of young Catholics and Protestants. One of the most compelling lines I remember today came from a young attendee. The exchange (not verbatim) went something like:

“Why do you want to kill (him/her)?” Shafer asked.

“Because that’s what my father did.”

In 1995, Shafer returned and met the town doctor, Charles Sullivan. Sullivan told Safer that many children suffered a series of psychological side effects as a result of the war — from nightmares to stuttering. The worst of it, he said, was that children were starting to associate all deaths with violence.

Fast forward to Iran.

The killing of Qassem Suleimani, is probably one the most consequential act taken against the regime in Tehran in thirty years—even if we don’t know what those consequences will be. One thing is clear: conflicts between countries could easily spin out of control.

World War I started after heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. A 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, killed 2,000 people. It started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well. A 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog and Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, shot him. At least 50 people died.

Mathematician Peter Turchin’s research suggests America’s cycle of violence repeats every 50 years. The surge of violence begins in the same way as a forest fire: explosively. Only after a period of escalation, followed by sustained violence, citizens start to “yearn for the return of stability and an end to the fighting.” And what is that ‘explosive?’ Stupidity.

The commonality between the Northern Ireland conflict, World War 1, the 1325 Bologna and Modena war, and the Greek Bulgarian war is ‘stupidity.’ When it comes to predicting the future, history reminds us of crucial warning signals – heightened rhetoric or the inability to understand the other side. War’s participants fail to grasp how the other side was thinking and feeling.

In spirituality, our morality is founded upon principles, not rules. In Buddhism, these beliefs are expressed in Precepts and include loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. In general, most spiritual principles include kindness, gentleness, mercy, and tolerance. The same is true of most religions. Even the most extreme circumstances do not erase those principles or make it “righteous” or “good” to violate them. Yet, we do.

History shows us how wars start. But history also teaches us how rarely they turn out as planned. History also shows us how difficult conflicts are to stop. Much has changed about war, but certain things remain constant: Stupidity and death.

The only thing that wins is death.

A New Hope

On December 30th, a suicide occurred. I am thinking of one in particular, but technically, speaking, neither event, time, or place matters. In suicide’s wake, most are likely to be stunned, even surprised. 

“Never saw it coming,” said one.

Robin Williams August 2014 suicide was devastating to those who knew him best. His suicide came at the end of a long decline. Williams faced unnerving challenges, both professionally and personally. His career had stalled, he harbored guilt about divorce and reeled from a Parkinson’s diagnosis (later revealed to Lewy body dementia, an aggressive and incurable brain disorder).

Most miss the signs. Why? A colleague whose son attempted suicide posed hard questions. 

How did this happen? What warning signs did we miss? How will I ever let him out of my sight again? How will I keep him safe? What do we do next?

Of course, certain tendencies may help determine when to get support. It is essential to note that my experience as a rescue man so many years ago left me one truth: warning signs are unique to each person. And some show very few signs at all.

So, I’ll admit. I have considered suicide myself. Not only during high school (especially after a distant friend’s suicide), but more recently, suicide was my chosen method of departure when life’s physical pain and burden exceeded value. However, I busted through such thoughts.

Attending a Buddhist seminar years ago, an audience participant posed a penetrating question: “What happens to someone after suicide?” A monk replied, “Rebirth, and then who knows?” It’s a skillful answer, but a political one. The response is common among politicians. Leaves you something, leaves you nothing.

When asked of suicide consequence, most regurgitate Buddhism’s first precept: Do no harm. Yeah, we get it. Suicide’s act creates a host of significant implications. Almost every dominant religion view’s one’s birth as incredibly precious. Therefore, they purport, such opportunities are not to be wasted. However, if life itself were significant, why do our leaders openly harm those they’re entrusted to serve?

Is there hope? Yes, even by merely sipping coffee. 

Hope For The Day indicates suicide completion rates have surged to a 30-year high. Like many such organizations, Hope For The Day performed proactive suicide prevention by providing outreach and mental health education. They believe suicide is a preventable mental health crisis, with the primary obstacle to suicide prevention is silence. In 2018, Hope For The Day assisted over 500,000 individuals.

I support Hope For The Day by sipping coffee. Sip of Hope is the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of the proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. 

I believe one challenge we all can undertake this New Year is to provide hope . . . to everyone. Clean what keeps us closed to those we love. And forgive. I do believe our goodness survives death. And in God, we can cultivate that goodness in ourselves as well as nurture and celebrate the kindness of others around us. 

Our country must come to terms with the fact that suicide has to be taken out of ‘shame’s corner.’ You can do it by sipping coffee.

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