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I watched footage of American bald eagles yesterday. Not for the first time of course; I’ve seen plenty before. But in watching this bit of video, shot over 30 years ago, I once again beheld what a magnificent creature the bald eagle is, how it is symbolic of our country, and why it has been our national bird since 1782.

Before you go assuming that this post will be merely a flag-waving testament to my patriotism, drawing parallels between our own ever-struggling republic and the freedom and inspiration of a soaring eagle, I beg of you, don’t be hasty. Beauty is only skin (or feather) deep, and my analogy delves much further than the shallow tint of an eagle’s silhouette backed by wind-furled Old Glory on the rear window of your neighbor’s GMC Sierra (likely built in Mexico, of course).

I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t at least acknowledge that aspect of the eagle-nation analogy. So I’ll start there. Please, bear with me.

Call me sentimental; the flight of a soaring eagle is inspiring and does make my heart swell with Patriotism. Grace, guts, and glory are all exemplified in that seemingly effortless flight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten years ago this month I was going through a rough patch. By “rough patch” what I mean is emotional stress. Alienation. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. I treaded dangerously close to what some might call a “nervous breakdown.”

9/11 had just happened; the country was still reeling from a fast and furious attack. Vengeance, hatred, and fear were becoming the recurring thoughts on talk radio, in op-ed columns, from Washington, and in everyday conversation. Sikhs were being attacked on the street by ignorant Americans (this trend has continued 10 years later). Racial profiling of Arabs and religious profiling of Muslims suddenly seemed not just acceptable, but was being demanded.

The United States had just started bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, a remarkably poor country that had been consistently war-torn for over 20 years. The first echoes of the eventual invasion of Iraq (TOTALLY unrelated to 9/11) were rolling out of a power-drunk administration. The country’s thirst for blood was conquering all logic, reason, and restraint.

Even people’s attitudes were angry, and fearful, and vengeful. I found I couldn’t relate to or talk with anyone. Old friends, with whom I had long been in line in terms of policy, I now found myself at polar opposites with. Newer relationships, already tenuous, seemed in danger of fracturing at even the slightest mention of current events. My older brother was talking about dropping out of his lucrative and long-studied-for career to instead enter the military.

We (the country) had been cold-cocked. We were dazed, confused, stumbling, and looking anywhere for someone to hit back.

Up was down. Black was white. Nothing was comfortable, no one was familiar and, in short, I couldn’t find anything to believe in. One day at work, while trying to pen a response to a racist and upsetting email from an old friend, I suddenly broke down in tears. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t type, I couldn’t think. My coworkers were very understanding. They listened, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

Ten years later, I find myself in a similar spot. And it hasn’t been an easy ten years either. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a lot of very smart friends. I don’t just mean educated, or witty, or well-read either. I mean they speak well, think critically, make good choices, can challenge themselves, are curious and self-motivated…I’m talking all-around S-M-A-R-T.

I’m not bragging either; I mean, who brags about how smart their friends are? As if that is some sort of accomplishment. That’s just dumb. No, this isn’t bragging; it’s actually a confession.

Yes, compared to my friends I am, in fact, an idiot. And that’s how I want it.

I choose to surround myself with smart people. Always have. No, not so I could feel important or copy their homework (even though it was occasionally relieving to have that option). I do it because A) it keeps me humble, B) it introduces me to new ideas, and C) it challenges me.

The anti-intellectualism that seems to be gripping a large swath of our society, propelled by mainstream media, conservative ideologues, and a growing un- and under-educated populace, is more than disturbing. It is downright offensive. As though dismissing – nay – refusing to even be exposed to facts and educated opinions, is somehow going to improve things. As though ignoring or attacking intelligent people, especially those that challenge or contradict what you believe, will magically make the truth disappear.

Face it, if you only hang out with dweebs, losers, and jerk-offs, what are you really doing to yourself? Congratulations! You’ve now crowned yourself King of the Crackpots, Despot of the Doomed, Monarch of the Mediocre. No doubt your reign will be lackluster and depreciating.

But when you are beset on all sides by minds and personalities who know more, think better, and have different experiences than you it does your psyche a world of good. It makes you think before you speak, because if what you say is weak, they’ll call you on it. It makes you listen more, because whether you admit it or not, while they speak you know that they are imparting knowledge to which you have not been exposed. If it’s a good in-depth conversation, it can propel you and sustain you on a train of thought long after you’ve parted ways. It can drive you to extend yourself, seeking information about topics you had no idea about, opinions you’ve never considered, facts you’ve never been exposed to. All with hopeful spirit (futile though it may be) that the next time the two of you converse, you’ll at least be able to speak intelligently about that topic, and perhaps something more.

Surround yourself with smart people, especially ones that challenge you, that think differently than you, that can (and will) disagree with you. Immerse yourself in a sea of  intimidating IQs, exceptional egos, and admirable acumen. Grow yourself through the minds and experiences of others you respect. Get yourself a smart blanket and wrap up tight! You’ll be better off for it. We all will.

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