Tag Archives: Health

Hip-Hop Helps Reconciliation in Northern Uganda

Today, there are young people who did not experience the war. Together with national and regional artistes, we can motivate the young generation and improve their talents. We believe that hip-hop can unite everyone no matter what their age

~B Boy Skater George


After over two decades of war,

Northern Uganda Hip-hop Culture (NUHC) is working to foster reconciliation amongst indigenous communities in the northern part of the country. With outreach activities, NUHC uses hip-hop to promote harmony and understanding.


  • NUHC is a non-profit organization which coordinates, educates children and adults in the community.
  • Northern Uganda Hip-hop Culture (NUHC) is an association which unites rappers, break-dancers, graffiti artistes, art and fashion creators, producers and young farmers from the northern region.
  • It was founded in 07th June 2010, with the aim of transforming the lives of young people in northern Uganda, an area which suffered greatly during the civil war, which left the region lagging behind other parts of the country.
  • NUHC offers free lessons and uses the Kitgum Youth Centre for training. Its members regularly conduct community outreach activities in various parts of northern Uganda.

Finance and Materials are needed for:

  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Cameras
  • Computers
  • Speakers
  • Microphones
  • Carpets (for Break Dancing)
  • Miscellaneous Supplies

The funding and materials raised for NUHC

will be used to help them continue and extend their work. 

NUHC hosts events during the year

and the organization requires funds to rent venues and sound systems,

for T-shirt printing, and hosting performers and artists.

I will be collecting the money and supplies that are donated.

To donate money for NUHC please follow this link


and note “#NUHC”

To make a donation of supplies please email me at


and I will provide information on how and where they can be sent


Northern Uganda Hip-Hop Culture (NUHC) Background and Mission


nuhc-2At NUHC, young learners are taught classes in break-dancing, skating, rapping and graffiti. Through yearly events and weekly classes, participants develop leadership and communication skills. Stories are shared about the war as well as the organization’s aims of peace, unity and love in the communities, villages and throughout the entire world.

“Many people’s hearts and minds are still scarred by their experiences in the war. Music can help to bring everyone together. That is why we are using these activities to spread the hip-hop culture to the young generation,” said Okurut George (aka B Boy Skater George), who teaches break-dance, and is one of the NUHC organizers.

We tell stories about the war because many people still hold hatred to their friends, relatives, brothers and sisters in their hearts. Expressing their feelings helps the healing and hip-hop music can assist this process,” B Boy Skater George added.

During the war, communities and families were displaced, famine was widespread, outbreaks of diseases and people had to live in, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps. These were camps that protected people from rebel attacks. Thousands of people died during the war period. Homes, farmland and animals were abandoned which lead to bitter land disputes. Children dropped out of schools and were forced to join rebel armies. The children who refused to join the rebel armies were killed. Girls were forced into early marriages, raped and/or defiled which resulted in large numbers of young mothers. The level of education in the northern region has been significantly reduced for all children.


Alcohol in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Northern Uganda


Studies among people living in camps in wartorn northern and eastern Uganda indicate that alcoholism is a common problem among the internally displaced populations (IDPs). While most of the pers
ons consuming alcohol are men, it is reported that, increasing proportions of women and adolescents are also drinking alcohol (Barton and Wamai, 1994)8. Women and girls who brew alcohol often ask young children to sell it, thus introducing children as young as 8 years to the drinking alcohol. This is facilitated by mothers giving alcohol to children as medicine because of the cultural belief that alcohol cures coughs and worms among young children. A recent report by MacDonald in 2007 on substance use in conflict-affected areas and IDPs in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts9 highlights a situation of serious alcohol use in the IDP camps of northern Uganda. This situation is attributed to the 20-year insurgency in Acholi land, the lack of security, social displacement, and confinement in cramped, crowded and unsanitary camps and lack of employment. Such conflict-related factors as well as associated problems like HIV/AIDS and other STIs greatly increase the possibility of substance misuse. Macdonald noted that the main gap in service provision for substance users and affected others is the lack of capacity of healthcare and social service providers in the camps to effectively reduce risk taking and facilitate harm reduction services in community settings. Problems of substance abuse, particularly alcohol-related sexual gender-based violence (SGBV), are acknowledged in the camps but very little is done to address these issues or develop interventions relating specifically to the excessive consumption of alcohol.

nuhc-4Oryema Geoffrey (aka B Boy Message), who works as a teacher with George explained, “Although the war ended in 2007, the memories still haunt people. That is why we are using hip-hop to spread a culture which shows that peace, unity and love can lead to success in everything. We may have lost our homes, family members and friends during the war, but now is the time to move on from the past and learn to forgive each other. Being in a long period of strife does not mean that your life and dreams are over.”

 Alcohol and young people

The patterns of alcohol consumption among the youth show signs of cultural influence. Most tribes have a culture of brewing alcohol in homes thus exposing the youth to alcohol at an early age. As young people reach adolescence, alcohol consumption increases due to
peer pressure. The study revealed that young people prefer strong local spirinuhc-5ts which are easily accessible in miniature sachets at very low prices. Young people also engage in binge drinking during public events and parties, at most of which local companies sell alcohol at discounted prices. By age 21 many young people stop drinking, because there is a lot experimental usage before this stage. Limited information about harmful use of alcohol, desire to indulge in sexual activities, peer pressure, stress, poverty and unemployment have caused many young people to continue drinking. This is at times sporadic and may result in accidental poisoning or drowning at beaches as has been reported in the local press.

Today, there are young people who did not experience the war. Together with national and regional artistes, we can motivate the young generation and improve their talents. We believe that hip-hop can unite everyone no matter what their age

~B Boy Skater George


 To Contact the Organizers or See More about NUHC


WordPress: https://nuhculture.wordpress.com/


Video: Northern Hiphop Camp 2015

In the News:


The Culture Itself May Be Unjust

If there is a reasonable alternative to an inequality that causes undue and preventable harm, regardless of whether that injustice is a result of economic or political, social or institutional systems, structures, or pressures, then the reasonable alternative should be selected to achieve a more just and fair world. The hierarchical structure of our society that as a strategy for survival, however inadequate that strategy proves to be in reality causes unjust inequalities that lead to unjust health inequalities and neither are necessary conclusions. Therefore, as a society we should seek to implement a reasonable alternative, which entails a decentralization of decision making power to distribute control of our lives more broadly because lack of control is the greatest factor contributing to the unjust inequalities in our society.

Either inequalities are just or they are unjust. Inequalities are natural phenomena, so it cannot be the case that they are inherently unjust. For example, the day is naturally warmer than the night, as is the day also brighter than the night, and both are the result of the unequal distribution of the sun shining on different parts of the planet at different times. Gorillas are stronger than chimpanzees as a result of their natural physical compositions. Men can neither give birth to a child, nor can they carry a fetus to term because they lack the necessary physical components to do so. On the other hand, women, by natural physical composition are the sex of our species that bear the burden of both carrying fetuses to term and suffering the pain of giving birth. None of these examples are inherently unjust, because there are yet no reasonable alternatives to them and as such, there is no choice available to augment the distribution of inequalities.  So, if inequalities of themselves are not unjust, then there must be other factors that commingle with inequalities, if people feel they are unjust.

Inequalities are unjust, if they are unnecessary and they are a cause of preventable harm. There is nothing moral or ethical about the day-night dichotomy described above. It is merely a description of what is. The mere fact that gorillas are physically stronger than chimpanzees, or for that matter one human as opposed to another, is also simply a description of the differences between them and as such, there is nothing immoral about the inequalities; in fact, they are amoral. The physical differences between men and women are not of themselves immoral or unjust, they are merely descriptions of what is. However, when natural difference lend themselves to alternative options, such as, who has control of if and when a woman is to carry and bear a child, then morality and justice come into effect. For instance, women in the United States were at one point considered by law as the legal property of the men they were married to, who also had claim to the woman’s reproductive capacity. Women had to fight a long and arduous battle for the right to control their own reproductive rights; i.e., for women to control the decision of if and when to elect to have a child, when to use contraception, and when to have an abortion. The unfair and biased control exercised over women’s sex difference by men was an injustice to women. Since men are not the ones who have to either suffer the pain of carrying a fetus to term or to suffer the pain of birth, and furthermore, since men have no claim to a woman’s body because it is not theirs, men have no right or justification to impose upon any woman that she must bear these burdens against her will if she elects not to suffer them.  The redistribution of decision making authority from men to women over their own bodies was a just redistribution of control.

It is not the existence of physical differences e that makes the circumstances unjust, similar to the fact that natural inequalities are not inherently unjust, but rather, that when as a result of social interventions that exploit those differences and lead to unfair situations wherein harm occurs is what identifies situations as unjust. Therefore, because that which is unjust results from social interactions wherein there are reasonable alternatives that do not lead to harm or lead to less harm, we should obligate the actions and decisions that limit harm, and hold responsible those who violate those obligations and cause harm, while seeking as a positive duty to limit the unfair and unjust harms that occur.

Sex however, is not the only pertinent social factor that leads to unjust inequalities; class and social status are also relevant social considerations that lead to unjust outcomes and situations. Another example of unjust inequalities is one that results from the social hierarchical structure of our society as one of the consequences of the economic system, was revealed by the Whitehall Studies conducted in London.[1]  Michael Marmot, the author of Social Causes of Inequalities in Health, who analyzing the longitudinal Whitehall Studies identified that a person’s belief of a lack of control over their environment was one of the leading factors to diminished health. Marmot found that there is a gradient of mortality when the society is based upon a hierarchical structure of organization wherein each lower stratum has a higher mortality and disease rate than the stratum above it. [2] The Whitehall Study tracked men in white collar positions, none of whom were impoverished and all who were gainfully employed, and this is where the pattern was identified. The pattern was also consistent for the control of one’s living conditions and was exacerbated by economic constraints such as poverty, which reveals that social class; i.e., the social stratum of an entire group of people is vulnerable to this pattern.  After analyzing trends of the identified pattern and how it shifts over time, Marmot correlated these shifts with governmental policy and suggests that: “[i]f it can vary, presumably as the unintended consequence of government policies and other trends, it should be possible to vary it as an intended consequence.”[3] This reveals that the health inequalities observed in the Whitehall Studies are not necessarily inevitable, and because they are not necessarily inevitable that means there may be reasonable alternatives to the socially caused factors for the disparities and as such could be unjust.

It could be argued that the data is wrong, or that there are not reasonable alternatives to select from.  Marmot however, is not the only one who has identified class differences as a relevant factor of health disparities and inequalities, Norman Daniels, has done so as well. Daniels, in the book, A Theory of Justice, in the chapter, “Three Questions of Justice,” identified that class was a greater determinant of health status than race.[4] Given that there are reasonable alternatives to the manner in which health is distributed along economic lines, which is exacerbated by racial and gender factors, Daniels proposes this theory of justice: [5]

Failing to promote health in a population, that is, failing to promote normal functioning in it, fails to protect the opportunity of capability of people to function as free and equal citizens. Failing to protect that opportunity or capability when we could reasonably do otherwise…is a failure to provide us with what we owe each other. It is unjust.

One of the major issues in the manner in which health care and health in general is distributed across and throughout a society is that access tends to be delineated by economic capacity to purchase; that is, spending power. The problem with this as Daniels asserts is that it causes us to “treat health care as a commodity,” as something that is not of “special importance” to society, but that is not the reality.[6] However, Daniels observes that as a society goods, such as jobs and education, are distributed “very unequally across subgroups that differ by race, ethnicity, gender, or class.”[7] One’s position or stratum in the hierarchical structure directly correlates with one’s ability to control one’s environment and the circumstances of the conditions of their environment because success in the economic structure of the market is dependent upon one’s ability to purchase. This market structure however, fails Daniels’ theory of justice because the economic bar to access limits the opportunity for people to function as free and equal citizens.

Margaret Whitehead has also observed health disparities that directly relate to the social stratum people belong to. In Whitehead’s article, The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health, it is noted that “there is consistent evidence that disadvantaged groups have poorer survival chances, dying at a younger age than more favoured groups.”[8] One of the reasons for this difference that Whitehead identifies is that there are inequalities in access and quality of health services and that “those most in need of medical care, including preventive care, are least likely to receive a high standard of service.”[9] Whitehead lists seven “differentials” that will help to clarify whether inequalities are unnecessary and unfair, or simply are inequalities:[10]

(1) Natural, biological variation.

(2) Health-damaging behavior if freely chosen, such as participation in certain sports and


(3) The transient health advantage of one group over another when the group is first to adopt a

health-promoting behaviour (as long as other groups have the means to catch up fairly soon).

(4) Health-damaging behavior where the degree of choice of lifestyles is severely restricted.

(5) Exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions.

(6) Inadequate access to essential health and other public services.

(7) Natural selection or health-related social mobility involving the tendency for sick people to

move down the social scale.

The first three Whitehead suggests are simply inequalities or are acceptable and I would agree as it is similar to what I have argued above. However, the last four differentials all share relevance to the type of unjust inequalities that can be distinguished among the social strata of the hierarchical structure of society.  In particular to Marmot’s discussion is (5), “exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions” because it pertains to the lack of control one has the capacity to express over their environment that leads to health inequalities.

It does not appear as though the data is incorrect since similar data has been identified by multiple sources and they draw very similar conclusions, so the remaining objections to the inequalities being unjust will fall upon the reasonableness of the alternatives. To deny that there are alternative social structures is to deny the reality of the world in which we live because not all societies have such stark hierarchical structures.  In addition to that, it is possible to craft social and economic policies that will have the effect of leveling-up the least-well-off, the lower strata, and to raise their standard of living and personal control of their environments to a more equitable distribution.  It would further be possible to augment the capitalist structure of the political system so that more participation from a broader spectrum of the population would result in a greater sense of control of their lives. A system of collective ownership with collective bargaining could be instituted for how companies organize themselves, thus providing people with more control over their working environments.  In fact, Whitehead recommends “decentralizing power and decision making” as one of the core actions to be taken to mitigate unjust inequalities within society.[11]

If it is argued that these recommendations are unfair because they suggest a shift in culture and that it is not right to seek to change culture, then the most obvious response is that culture, by definition, is a social strategy for survival. Because culture is a strategy that means it is an institution, a human creation and as such was not inevitable, but rather, something that can both grow and change. It further means, that because it can grow and change that there are potential alternatives as have just be evinced, and that because it is social it is the factor earlier identified that if harm results, is the factor responsible for the injustice. Therefore, if the culture is unjust and there is a reasonable alternative, and there is, then there is also an obligation to strive toward that alternative in order to limit the harms resulting from the inequalities inherent in the current culture.

The goal is not to create a completely egalitarian society or to rid the world of all inequalities, but rather to seek a more just society for all members.  In regard to this Whitehead wrote: “[w]e will never be able to achieve a situation where everyone in the population has the same level of health, suffers the same type and degree of illness and dies after exactly the same life span. This is not an achievable goal, nor even a desirable one.”[12] It is however the goal, to respect the humanity and the dignity of each and every human being, to honor the agency and the autonomy of every person, and to accept that we all need to feel as though we have control over our own lives. The reality is that we all have a shared interest in seeking to achieve the greatest possible aggregate health because that is something that is necessary for us all to flourish, which is what I believe the true definition of justice is. Conversely, that which intervenes in the best possible, or the greatest potential for the flourishment of all people is unjust if there is a reasonable alternative to select. Many of the inequalities that exist today, when measured by the differentials proposed by Margaret Whitehead reveal them to be unjust. Thus, we as a society should seek to limit their impacts by reducing the impacts of the hierarchical structure of our society.

[1] Marmot, Michael “Social Causes of Inequality in Health.” In Public Health Ethics and Equity, edited by Sudhir Anand, Fabienne Peter, and Amartya Sen, 37-61. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marmot, 41

[4] Daniels, Norman. A Theory of Justice. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Daniels, 20.

[7] Daniels, 13.

[8] Whitehead, Margaret, “The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health,” Health Promotional International vol 6 (1991), 218.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Whitehead, 219.

[11] Whitehead, 223.

[12] Whitehead, 219.

I made a sound #Environmental decision this morning that also promoted my physical #health, as well as my #memory: I rode my bike to school. White Center to University of Washington.

That means a total of 11.4 miles of travel that I did not have to consume #FossilFuels to accomplish; so a definite plus for the environment there. Physical endurance and cardiovascular training both of which are massively important to maintaining health. What is the craziest is that the #hippocampus, which is associated with memory storage and acquisition is stimulated, enlarged and enhanced by cardiovascular activity. Conversely, a lack of cardiovascular activity will have the adverse effect and actually limit our ability to store and to access memories: some no student wants to have issues with.

So, my decision to do my part to limit the#Tragedy_of_the_Commons and help out the #environment, also simultaneously keeps me healthy and improves my memory so that I can be more successful in school.

Right on!!!

Divest University of Washington

The Function and Mechanics of the Elegy

Death is perhaps the most common and well known element of human existence, but how we choose to conceive of, deal with and grieve death and the embodiment of loss are not. Many, if not all religions have developed interpretations and explanations of death and what happens after death, and every culture has developed some form of ritual surrounding death. Death is a shapeless form, a depth that seems to have no bottom and though we have sought to understand and interpret its farthest reaches, to penetrate its darkness as if it were a mirror that would reveal to us who we truly are it has remained an enigma. Death has been despised and worshiped, feared and celebrated for millennia. Death has fascinated human beings since we have been able to question our own mortality. And it is our mortality which makes life so precious. Nothing seems to define the boundaries of life more precisely than death. So, it is arguably the void that was left in the wake of death that stimulated society’s desire to seek an understanding of it, and at the heart of this evolution of thought surrounding death have been religions, authors, poets and the elegy. Kelly S. Walsh the author of The Unbearable Openness of Death: Elegies of Rilke and Wolf states that “With absence, death and the finitude of human existence recognized as insuperable facts, the modernist poetics nevertheless possesses an irrepressible compulsion to give some figure to what has been lost” (Walsh 2). According to the Encyclopedia of Death & the Human Experience, the poetic form of the elegy emerged in the ancient Greek civilization and has continued to evolve as it has been assimilated throughout the centuries by different cultures (Dennis). The primary function of an elegy is to process love, loss, longing and grief in lyrical form, but there is also a secondary function; to cultivate these emotions in their audiences. However, for an elegy to achieve its primary and secondary functions there are two conditions which must be met; the author must be captured by the thought of death, and the author must utilize language in such a way as to instill the feelings of love, longing and grief.

Many people and cultures throughout history have held to the ideal that a life is a narrative, and as such the story of one’s life is of vital importance. Humans as a species are relatively young on the evolutionary scale so far as our biological structure is concerned, but the human constructs of culture and society have continued to evolve for millennia. The essence of the story is perhaps the sharpest defining feature of human existence. Without stories, the transmission of what had been learned from one generation to the next would prove nearly impossible, especially given the complexity of human culture. Because we group together for survival, and because we remember the stories of our lives and the lives of those we share our lives with, we have had to develop ways to deal with and process, the loss and longing wrought by death. This is in part both how and why the poetic form of the elegy has evolved over time because paralyzing effect of loss. Through the lamenting process of an elegy poets have sought to find and bring closure to the narrative of one’s life so that grieving can come to fruition and their story can be passed on with meaning.

The shape of this story has evolved to meet the needs of the culture and the times of the poet. A short sampling of authors such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Wilfred Owen, Federico Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, Anna Akhmatova, and Virginia Wolf will reveal this to be an accurate assessment. For instance, “Lorca in his Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” decided that it was better to focus on the story of the individual’s life rather than to convolute it with any imaginary interpretations of what the afterlife—which he rejected—would hold for that individual (Lorca 582-83). While Rilke in “The First Elegy” explored what life would look and feel like for an individual after death as he compared his new life to the life he had lived as a human (Rilke 5-11). And Wilfred Owen in his “Dulce Et Decorum Est” focused on the imagery and emotion felt at the moment of one’s passing into death, not pretty but painful and grotesque (Owen 188-89). The similarity that all these elegies share is the importance of the story. The story helps us to understand the life of an individual or a people, to gain a sense of the times at their death, to remember the trauma of their passing, and to cope with the loss, which all helps to bring closure to their narrative.

Given the necessity of a complete story the reasoning for the elegy makes sense, but the authoring of these stories in elegiac form would not have been possible if the poets were not captured by thoughts of death in the first place. Edmond Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, first published in 1759, suggests that the human mind becomes enraptured in “Astonishment” because of what he called the “sublime”, a delight in the terror resulting from the idea of “pain and danger”, which are portends of death (Burke 131-33). Based on Burke’s analysis of these particular moments and using the elegies written by Owen, Lorca and Rilke as a basis for argument, it can be derived that death has captured the minds of these authors. This phenomenon can be evinced with Lorca’s use of repetition language in the opening stanza of “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias”:

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime ready prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon. (Lorca 577).

The precise moment Lorca learned of Ignacio’s passing was burned into his mind and subsequently so it is also etched into the mind of the audience as they are brought back to that moment over and over again. Of course this is not exactly what Burke suggested by the idea of death, however, Rilke wrote “fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed/us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:/as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering/momentum/becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.//” showing that the loss of someone else was a death to the one left to mourn (Rilke 8-9). With this interpretation it can be seen that receiving news of a loved one’s passing has the power to astonish and to instill a sense of the sublime and further, that death has captured their consciences.

If, the primary function of the elegy is to help the authors grieve the loss of loved ones and to make sense of death then, the secondary function is to instill in their audience the emotions they feel. In fact, this is what Kelly S. Walsh purports in The Unbearable Openness of Death: Elegies of Rilke and Wolf. While describing the insufficiencies of language to adequately address death and loss, Walsh states “the work of art becomes both the process of reopening the wound—using the pain to make something of death and transience—and the consolation that leaves readers profoundly affected and dissatisfied” (Walsh 3). Wilfred Owen even asked us to take his place and envision death as if we were experiencing the death of a friend:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, (Owen 189).

Thus, catapulting the reader into the carnage that is war, into the incomprehensible, where no words can adequately describe the emotions felt, but emotions are felt nonetheless. At this junction not only is the author caught in a single moment, in astonishment, but so is the reader. According to Burke, the terror of the sublime can only be achieved through the obscurity of a situation and “The proper means of conveying the affections of the mind from one to another, is by words” because they force us to use our own imaginations, thus empathizing with the author and the subject (Burke 134).

The imagery that is employed in an elegy is important because as the result of the inadequacies of language, it is the imagery that the audience assimilates into themselves and relates to with their own emotions. Sigmund Freud wrote a complex analysis of the usage of some specific types of imagery that cause terror in his publication entitled The Uncanny, which will lend itself to understanding how a sense of Burke’s “sublime” can be transmitted from an author to a reader. According to Freud, the “uncanny” is something that was once known (homely), which was then forgotten or repressed (unhomely) and has now reemerged, and it is the reemergence which instills a sense of terror (Freud 134). Further, the “uncanny” emerges in the space where reality and fantasy are blurred, where the author exposes but refrains from completely allowing an image or being the full credence of existence, and is therefore left obscure (Freud 150). To Freud the essence of the uncanny stems from “Infantile” experiences, and can reemerge in the “idea of the ‘double’ (the Doppleganger)” which causes the person to “become unsure of his true self” and the self “may thus be duplicated, divided and interchanged” (Freud 141-42). Sufficient doubles are; mirror images, shadows, guardian spirits, ghosts and the soul. Thus, when we read of Rilke’s “Angelic orders” who are juxtaposed with “Every angel’s terrifying” given Freud’s interpretation it can be seen why the angels are terrifying (Rilke 5). Because of the influence of many of the more popular religions in Western culture, angels are usually thought of as being benevolent, or as messengers and guardian spirits, but here Rilke diverges from that interpretation and immediately brings into question our own fears of death and what those beings in the afterlife intend for the order of the living. Images are highly powerful and emotive because they contain all the thoughts and emotions a reader has ever associated with that image without the author having to voice them for us, thus, we see that there can be tremendous power in the obscurity of words to foster the emotions of audiences.

Once the two conditions—a captured mind and a provocative use of language—are met what is left is grieving and telling the story. The elegies of Rilke, Owen and Lorca bring to light what Walsh stated in her analysis of the elegies of Rilke and Wolf, “the conflict between what one should feel and what one actually feels” as they sought to tell the stories of those they loved and to understand death (Walsh 10). Both Lorca and Rilke notice that the Dead’s stories continue on in the lives of those who loved them. Lorca traces his own responses to the deceased, early on stating “I will not see it!” repeatedly, expressing contempt because if he sees the truth then it means the story has concluded (Lorca 578-79). While Rilke suggest with these lines: “as we outgrow our mother’s breast. But we, who need/such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress/so often is our sadness—could we exist without them?” that the living need the sorrow provided by mourning the dead in order to remain connected to the living, and thus we assimilate and carry on their stories (Rilke 11). This is the task of the elegy, it is in the writing of the elegy and the retelling of the story in a way that makes sense to the author and the society which transmits the story of our loved ones and thus, grieving is achieved. This interpretation of the elegy is perhaps best evinced in Lorca’s “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” lines 213 and 214:

Nobody knows you. No. But I sing for you.
For posterity I sing of your profile and grace. (Lorca 583).

Lorca with his insistence that the story of one’s life without adding to it “Because you have died for ever,” and there can be nothing else added, determines that telling the story of passed loved ones is the highest honor we can bestow (Lorca 583). Each life is a narrative and grieving is as much a part of the human experience as birth because death comes to all those who live so, we must, as culture evolves also transmit the lessons we have learned in how to grieve.

I began this analysis of elegies with three questions: “What is the primary function of an elegy and do the intents differ between authors?” and “What are the implications of the imagery utilized within the elegies and further, what does it represent?” and finally, “to discover how language is used in an elegy and why it is important.” I found that the function of an elegy is to process love, loss, longing and grief in lyrical form, but I also discovered a secondary function; to cultivate these emotions in their audiences. It was the latter function that became most interesting because as Rilke suggested, it is grieving which connects us to the rest of the living so, it seems that we as humans are allowed to grieve only through sharing our sorrow. A painting or a movie as Burke points out is inadequate at transmitting passion because it is only with words that the necessary obscurity is harnessed to instill and excite the human heart to the relevant point of sharing grief. It is ironic that human culture and subsequently our literature and poetry evolved through the oral and written transmission of history—the sum of lessons learned—because now we are dependent on words to fully process life and furthermore, death.


Dennis, Michael Robert. “Elegy.” Encyclopedia of Death & the Human Experience. Ed. Clifton D. Bryant and Dennis L. Peck. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009. 401-404. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

This encyclopedic entry traces the birth and the evolution of the Elegy. Elegiac form has taken many forms as time has passed and different cultures have absorbed the form into their contemporary writing. Most notably elegies tend to focus on subject matter such as love and longing, but also on loss, suffering and grief over the dead and dying. At different times and in different cultures elegies have employed mythical and religious entities, and sought to make contact with the dead, but mostly they have been used as a means to process loss of people and institutions which were dear to the people who wrote them. The encyclopedic entry is useful for this paper because it helps to identify what the uses of an elegy are and why they have been implemented.

Ed. Ashfield, Andrew, and de Bolla, Peter. The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Edmond Burke’s “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” analyzes the difference between the sublime and beauty, providing a standard for sorting the two. The source of the “sublime” is a feeling of terror, an astonishment that captures the mind and does not let it focus on anything else. Death is the greatest of terrors. The obscurity of death and the afterlife, the fact that for most people it is something that is forced upon us and not readily embraced signifies that it has power over us and that is sublime. However, for something to be truly sublime it must be witnessed from a distance, the kind of distance that sight and words convey to us. Burkes propositions provide a basis for analyzing the language and grammar contained within the obscure stanzas of an elegy, whose intent it seems is more to instill a feeling than an understanding.

Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. Trans. David McLintock, and Hugh Haughton. New York:
Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Sigmund Freud traces the sources of The Uncanny the union of what has been repressed and has resurfaced. The uncanny thus transforms into what Burke identified as the paralyzing terror which captivates the mind. Freud identified several causes of the uncanny: omnipotence of thoughts, instantaneous wish-fulfillment, secret harmful forces and the return of the dead. Freud further suggests that there must be a conflict of judgment between reality and fantasy. Utilizing Freud’s analysis of symbolism and how these symbols spur on the evolution of the uncanny, the terror that leads to Burke’s “astonishment,” it may be possible to derive deeper meaning to the symbolism contained within an elegy.

Lorca, Federico Garcia. Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Majias. 1935. The Norton Anthology:
World Literature. Ed. Peter Simon and Coner Sullivan. 3rd ed. Vol. F. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 577-83. Print.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. Trans. A. Poulin Jr. New York: Houghton Miffin, 2005. Print.
Stallworthy, Jon. The Oxford Book of War Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1984. Print.
Walsh, Kelly S. “The Unbearable Openness of Death: Elegies of Rilke and Woolf.” Journal of Modern Literature 32, no. 4, 2009: 1-21,155-156. http://search.proquest.com/docview/201655845?accountid=36118

This is a complex analysis of the elegies of both Rainer Maria Rilke and Virginia Wolf, which seeks to divulge the meaning of their elegies by dissecting the literary techniques each has utilized in their writing. Walsh suggests that Wolf and Rilke’s elegies embody the modernism characteristic of insufficiency, and that this insufficiency is the inconsistency of grieving without end (Walsh 2). Further, that it is by embracing loss, absence, death and the unknown half of life that true grieving and healing is possible. Walsh claims that the complexity of their eulogies stems from the shortfall of language, which is inadequate to fully describe loss and absence. Thus, because of this shortfall, ambiguous imagery is utilized to blur the lines between this realm and the next. This analysis with the combination of both Freud’s “Uncanny” and Burke’s “Sublime” a deeper analysis of Rilke’s elegies will reveal deeper meaning to the elegies and to why Rilke was captured with the thought of death and the afterlife.

Small fish in a LARGE pond? Make Waves!

It is not easy jumping into a large pond with your dreams in one hand and your concerns in the other while everyone else and their mamma is doing the exact same thing. There is no reason to feel like you are not supposed to feel just the way that you feel because there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable about doing something that is new and is usually, by definition scary. So, just what is the solution to feeling insignificant? What can be done about being caught off guard by unforeseen circumstances while pursuing your dreams?  And how are these two questions and their answers related? I will answer these questions and many more.


I have never experienced anything quite so, humbling as walking onto the campus of University of Washington for the first day of class.  I finally understand the saying; “Small fish in a large pond,” because over 40,000 students converged into a seemingly endless wave flooding Red Square and classes. I just graduated from North Seattle Community College at the end of last spring and when I graduated I do not think that there were many people on the campus who either did not know me, or know of me. Now that may sound pomp, but not only do I tend to stand out like a sore thumb nowadays, but I was also on the student government and a hip hop head on campus. It is difficult not to be noticed when I do the types of things that I used to be terrified to do.


However, I have not always been popular, or as full of courage as I have been these last couple of years. In truth, I used to be a terrified, scrawny, nobody that people could forget just after I walked away. I could not stand up in front of any one and speak, could not speak to girls, and I used to lack the courage to even set goals, let alone to pursue them. I was as afraid of success as I was of failure, it was a true dilemma. There were many things that led to the change that occurred in my life, but I will start with two sayings that I have now fused themselves into my bones:


1)       “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and this was important to me because I finally reached a point in my life that I was fed up with complaining about continuously ending up in the same position.


2)      “When the pain outweighs the pain then we change,” and this was important because it means that when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of doing something different, then it becomes less painful to do something new and we may then begin to change.


These two short and fairly simple sayings were simple enough to get through the fog that was my denial and yet complex enough to provide me with some real benefit. Yet, just being sick and tired of being sick and tired is not quite enough to effect any real change. It is like going onto a diet and jumping back off of it as soon as the weight is lost, only to regain the weight again because none of the long term habits have been revised. For a change to truly take hold and remain consistent, it must not only be sustainable, but it also has to have purpose behind it. That purpose is the direction the goals direct us into.


So, in effect, what I am saying is that for any change to become permanent, there has to be a goal attached to it and further that that goal must not have a completion date to it. I know that this seems counter intuitive, because the usual interpretation of a goal is that it is something to be achieved. However, you may decide to set a goal, like I did many times, actually achieve the goal, and do like I have done over and over again, and revert back to the old behavior once the goal was accomplished. So, the goal must have an achievement date, but for the purposes of manifesting the type of change that we are attempting to make, this needs to be a living goal that never fully comes to an end.


Yet, for a goal to truly take shape, you will have to get down to the roots, the causes and conditions to set a goal that will meet the requirements of what the problem truly is. Otherwise, the goal will answer something that is not the problem, if it answers anything at all. The problem that I had with feeling insignificant was not really that I felt unnoticed, in reality, it was more that I felt lonely. You see the amount of people was not actually that important, it was the quality of the relationships that I had. I will tell you from experience, you can know everyone in a large room and still feel alone. Being a creature, a human being that derives the necessary bonds from being connected with others, that we need the connections formed through relationships. Thus, my goal became to manifest life-long and healthy relationships with people that I was truly invested into their lives.


It is perhaps an ironic occurrence, but one cannot have friends if one is not a friend to others. That is why the essence of my goal was not to earn friends but to actually be a friend to others. It was not until I formed the initial goal, that I truly began to envision why I was so lonely; I had not learned how to be a friend to others. To be a real friend to another human being entails first, listening to them. This is more than just hearing them speak and waiting for your turn to jump in. It requires that you make the time and invest the energy to digest what their opinions, hopes, sorrows and dreams are, to question their assertions and respond to their concerns. Being friends with someone is not just about being heard because relationships are symbiotic in nature consisting of both giving and receiving what we need; each other.


The next component of being a friend, having friends and keeping them is the keeping of your promises. Morals govern our own actions and they also help us to govern our collective actions. And what is requisite for the nurturing of any relationship is that which is the basis of morality; honesty. Honesty entails the honoring of your promises. Without these two conditions being fulfilled, then there can actually be no relationship because without honesty we can never share our true selves or know anyone else’s true self; and without honoring our promises, then what we promise equates to lies and destroys the relationships we have. And without relationships our groups and consequentially all of society with it crumbles and is why honesty is the basis of all morality.


Society is such that we are taught and we learn how to protect that which is most venerable about us. Ironically, we tend to protect that which makes us most human. We protect that which makes us most unique and interesting to others; our idiosyncrasies and nuances, the secret thoughts that reveal our true character, our dreams. And instead of presenting this to the world we learn how to conceal this and put on a cookie-cutter-personality-face so that we can fit in the world and not stick out too much. And while this is a strategy that tends to work to help us survive the tumultuous gauntlet that is public life, it is also insanely difficult to learn how to shut it off. Thus, what tends to happen is that this front, this mask that we put on for the world, we continue to wear for our friends and they do not get to know who we really are because we are afraid to let them into our worlds. Sometimes it gets so bad that we can even forget who we really are. And if we do not know who we are, then how can we share ourselves with someone else? If we cannot share ourselves with someone else, then how can we be a friend? And if we cannot be a friend, then how can we have friends? These are important questions to consider as you think about this mask you wear for the world.


I effect what these masks do for us is to keep the world at a distance. However, therein lies the problem, it keeps the world at a distance and leaves us isolated from the people of the world, which is the opposite of what we truly want. This is the quintessential example of a paradox that we ourselves create whereby, the thing that we want most is also the thing that we are most afraid to allow because we are afraid that we will not be accepted for who we really are. We are afraid that we are not worth loving. I have found though, that when I have taken off my mask and let people know who I really am, that I have not been ostracized, I have not been laughed at, and I have actually been accepted and loved. This is how and when I started to have real relationships, relationships without the masks that I have trained myself to put on for the world so that I can fit in. The crazy part is that the world hates those masks and is just dying for us to take them off because we have been craving for contact with real human beings for so long we have forgotten what it feels like.



By this point you may be asking; “this is all fine and well, but where did you get the courage to approach others from?” And this is an important question because for many of us, and especially me, the act of introducing me to others used to paralyze me. To see me or to know me today, most people, unless they knew me when I was a teenager, would never believe that I was the shiest person you were likely to have ever met. Anyone who has ever witnessed me performing a piece of Spoken Word or a Hip Hop song would blatantly deny that I had ever been shy. However, I used to be terrified to be in front of a crowd of any size and do anything, and that includes walking to class. I used to get so worked up in what I thought other people saw, that I would trip over my own feet attempting to walk a straight line, let alone putting me on a stage to perform something that I had written myself. Nonetheless, that is precisely who I was when I was younger. I was terrified that people would see the chinks in my mask and discover who I truly was, a scared little boy crying out for affection.


Anyone who has ever felt like the all-seeing eye of the public was focused on them, like I did, may think that it is counter intuitive to assert that most people do not focus enough on others to actually notice all of our idiosyncrasies. Psychologists call this the “Spotlight Effect,” whereby we think that others notice all the little minute details about ourselves, but that is just not the case. There is just too many stimuli in the world to them focus on those minute details. For me, this was a true paradox because I felt that nobody noticed me at all and yet, at the same time I was also terrified that they noticed me too much. It is quite comical when I think about it now and I can chuckle, but back then it was the crucible of Hell for me.  What I am getting at, is that I was not the center of the universe no matter how much I wanted to be. Nobody focused on me like they focus on the sun in the morning as it raises above the horizon, no, I was just plain old average Michael.


Being sick and tired of being sick and tired, having the pain outweigh the pain, and dying for some change I let all of my fear go and threw away my masks, all of them. At first, it was weird and horrifying, and was like walking around naked. I was like a hatchling bird poking its head in and out of its shell as I broke though getting a little taste of freedom and then diving back into the complacent warmth. They say that all you need is the faith of a mustard seed. Well, all it took was that first taste of liberation and I was hooked. I was like being woke from the Matrix (I took the green pill) and the world became brand new. For the first time in my life I was able to be myself and I could not go back if I wanted to. And that is when the strangest and most unforeseen result started to happen, when the people I met loved this contact with a real human being that they could relate to, I was accepted on the spot.


So, I started breaking all the rules that I had built up in my head. I used to be terrified to walk up to someone and reach out my hand and say, “hi, my name is Michael. How are you? What is your name?” and it was something so simple, but it may as well have been Jupiter that I was trying to reach before then. People are terrified of it, but they are so dying for a connection with another living, breathing, feeling human being that some will recoil in fear and the rest will jump all over the opportunity to be free as well.


The point that I am attempting to drive home is that most people are just as terrified as you are to make that first contact that they will appreciate your making the first move. When I finally realized that, and I knew that people really did love me for who I was, not what my mask showed the world that I was, it all got real easy. And it also allowed me to set the terms for the engagements, which means that I could make the approaches on my terms. The way I learned how to make the approach to other was I just got off my ass and did it!


This is the shape that the goal I initially made to earn friends took. It started out that I did not feel so ostracized, then turned into a goal to not feel lonely, which inevitably evolved into being a friend to others, and how to be a friend. And the goal finally concluded took its full shape with the dynamic of with how to make friends.  Thus, I had actually developed a life-long plan of how to live and be a true friend, and this plan in turn has earned me the friends that I had always wanted. Today I no longer feel insignificant.


That answers my first question: “just what is the solution to feeling insignificant?” and now I will address the question of dreams. At the beginning of this discussion I mentioned that I had just begun to attend the University of Washington and how little of a blip that I was walking onto the campus. This effect can the subsequent feeling can be felt regardless of the size of the group you have just entered, but I will tell you from experience it is quite sobering to be confronted with 40,000 other students. It is true, that walking onto a campus of this size that one could feel estranged and unimportant. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with achieving a dream. Well, last year I attended a Students of Color conference hosted by several minority groups and several colleges and universities from the state of Washington and one of the primary things that they drove in was how we needed a network to be successful in a four year university.


If you are like me and have come from, or are coming from a small school where it was possible to know just about everyone, then a campus like this is a huge difference. I come from a place that just about any network that I could have desired was just a stone-throw-away from any place that I stood. By network, I mean a Social Network or rather a collection of people who are all engaged in some specific act and have shared goals. Two of the most important characteristics of a social network are the shared experiences that group members have and the experiences that can be shared about how to overcome adversities. People in these networks understand us and we do not have to explain, they just seem to implicitly know because they have either dealt with or are dealing with the same types of issues that we ourselves are going through.


I cannot even begin to try to explain how many times I have attempt to explain to a European American what it is like being an African American attempting to get an education, or the pain that is associated with it.  There are just some things that I have to deal with that group of people are unfamiliar with, but other African Americans know precisely what my struggles are. This is not an attack on any one individual or any group this is simply an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly. And the observation also works in reverse, I am either not aware of all the circumstances that European Americans face or I do not understand them all. Now this is not to say that there are not benefits to forming groups, alliances and friendships with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, quite the contrary in fact because they can be incalculably valuable. However, when I need help with some specific issue, or I need a confidant that I can express my troubles with it helps to have someone who understands where I am coming from.


Social networks have further importance as well. This is especially true if these social networks are formed around more than just race or ethnicity. Furthermore, there is no rule that states that any person can only be involved in one group. The more groups that we are linked into the more resources become available to us like; job opportunities, scholarship opportunities, events to join in, parties, study groups and the like. And perhaps most important to this discussion is that they gives us groups of people to belong to so that we do not have to feel so alone.


This brings us to the crux of this discussion, which is how not to feel so alone on a campus the size of this the University of Washington. Last week I walked onto the campus and every organization you can imagine that a campus would have; the Hip Hop Student Association, the Black Student Union; the History Honor Society; the Arm Wrestling Club, the Earth Club, and son on were tabling in Red Square and I just went up and got linked in. As I have said, I learned not to have to wear my masks in public any longer, and that people were dying to meet me just as much as I was dying to meet them, so I just walked up to the people that I thought were interesting and introduced myself. That is the purpose of tabling. They were there to meet people, so that is precisely what I did. I found out when they met and I joined in. Now that is not to say that I was not afraid, of course I was afraid, but I was more interested in making those connections and developing the networks that the people at the Students of Color Conference promised me would make all the difference to my success while I attend the university.


For example, I went to the meet and greet hosted by the Black Student Union and although I am of African American descent, sometimes I still feel out of place in a group of all Black people, because I do not speak much slang any longer and I do not do many of the things that (I think) they do, and so I feel as though I stick out. But, I do not have any more masks to wear, so when it came time for me to interact, I only had to choices; run or stay silent, or interact and make the friends that I have always wanted: and I chose to interact and I made those friends. You see, I have learned that who you are is not as important, as it is that you are.


The final component was making friends in class. Now this goes hand-in-hand with social networks because the people in you classes will be going through exactly the same struggles as you are as you are going through them. So, linking up with them will be vitally important to you meeting with success in school because they will have picked out different things as important from the material, will have notes that you missed and can help to make concept clearer for you. Plus, if you have not been to a university lecture hall you are in for a real treat, if you are an undercover nerd like I am because the lecture halls seat a minimum of 200 people. That was quite a shock to me when I walked in because I was used to 30 person classrooms where I could touch my professor. So, having a few friends in the lecture hall will turn that ginormous room into something very manageable for you.


The first thing was that I had to read my books. This may seem like an over simplification and something that need not be said. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many students come to a university and do not read their books. (Why does someone waste the $20,000 + per year on tuition if, they do not want to learn, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but it happens.) The point is to earn your degree so that we can become successful in life and in order for that to be possible, we have to learn the material and that includes reading our books, but I digress and that is a topic for another discussion. The point is, having a meager understanding of the material as I walk into class allows me to be able to have a dialogue with both the other students in the classroom and the professor before, during and after the lecture. So that when the professor asks a question, I can raise my hand and more often than not, I have the answer because I have read the material. I know you may be like, “you are one of those people,” and let me tell you what, there are more people there who want to be successful than not, so those are the people that the rest of the people want to know because if you are that person then people will want to study with you and thus, you attract the people to you.


Second, is that just like with the Black Student Union, I walked into the classroom the very first day, having completed the reading for the week and I started introducing myself to everyone that was in a close vicinity to me. I sit in the front row and that means that I have to get there early enough to get my seat. I do this because I went to a lecture presented by a man named John Vroman, who wrote a book titled; Living College Life in the Front Row, and gave a lecture on how to be successful in college. Basically what he said was that you have to get right up in the mix. The natural tendency for people that are like me, who have traditionally not liked to stick out is to find a place in the back. And this may have its origin in that African Americans were traditionally told to sit in the back, and the theory of Oppisitional Identity, which states that it is not cool for an African American to be intelligent or academically active and engaged. Thus, what I have learned is that in order for me to be successful is to shatter those negative stereotypes, break my negative perceptions of who I think and other think that I am supposed to be, and to sit in the front row. What I have found is that the other people in the front row were just as engaged and determined to meet with success as I was/am.


The result is that now all of my professors and teachers know me on a first name basis and so do many of the students on campus. On a campus of over 40,000 students I am no longer just an outlier and I am set up with some of the most profound and strongest leaders. As such, I am set to meet with success. When you are a small fish in a large pond, do not just wade in and become an outlier feeling insignificant. Jump in with both feet, Cannon Ball that SHIT!!! And make waves.


This realization came hand in hand with the realization that in order for me to have a friend, I first had to be a friend; and that in order for me to meet with success I had to have friends, I could not do it alone. That I had to throw off the bondage of my pride and get rid of the masks I was wearing so that I could truly be myself and make some real connections. And that myself, without the front was worth being both loved and appreciated. Be yourself and makes waves through the lives of the people who are just dying to meet you, the real you, and set yourself on the path to achieving your dreams.

Success is a State of Mind: Self-Worth

Valedictorian of NSCC 2013

If a person feels good about her or his-self and their capabilities, then that person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth. If a person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it may directly impact the outcomes of their actions in a positive manner. In contrast, if a person has a low sense of self-worth, then it may negatively impact the outcomes of their actions. Therefore, if the outcomes of actions may be directly impacted in a positive manner by having a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it reasonably follows that a person who wants to be successful in life should seek to increase their sense self-worth.

By definition; self-esteem is a person’s feeling of self-worth, whether high or low. There are many factors that may contribute to a person’s self-esteem, like attitude, previous accomplishments, present circumstances, or prospective future activities, which all impact the way a person feels about his or her-self. Experience has taught me that what has happened in the past, what is happening in my present, and what I think will occur in the future only have the emotional power that I allow them to have. That is, how I think about these events changes how I feel about them. So, if and when I change how I think about those events, then I also change how I feel about them and thus, their power over me also changes.

For example, when I was a fourteen years old I stole a van and was caught after a high-speed chase through downtown Seattle, and I was sentenced to a year in a juvenile penitentiary. I resented that I had made those decisions for years to come because not only had I hurt people, but I also thought I had destroyed my future. However, when I was locked up, I both went to treatment and started writing poetry. At nineteen, both of those acts saved my life. First, the poetry helped me see through the denial of my drug addiction, which I learned in treatment was the primary cause of my behavior. Second, the drug and alcohol treatment showed me that there was a place that I could go for help. While getting sober I learned how to make reparations for the wrongs I had done and that my experiences could help to save the lives of others. Thus, by changing the way I thought about these situations they have continued to raise not only myself, but also others from the pits of Hell and despair.

Although it is true, that it is not necessary to have a strong and positive sense of self-worth to be successful, it can nonetheless, be highly beneficial to success. This is especially true when it is understood that success is measured on an individual basis; by the individual who measures it. For me, I now understand that contemporary circumstances are just that, and my immediate thoughts neither shade my emotions, nor callous my self-esteem. My self-worth is derived from knowing who I am, not from who I was, or who I could be in the future and that translates into success.

April 2011, I had been broken by life’s circumstances. I had fallen into an industry that I never planned to be part of; construction. I actually excelled in the industry as I had started as a laborer in 2004 and by 2011 I was a partner in the company. However, after the economic turmoil hit the United States and the rest of the world in 2008, maintaining a business became exceedingly difficult because our market, the housing market, collapsed.  and it felt that my life was going nowhere.  Also, in 2008 I snapped my knee working with at-risk youth as a mentor for the program T.S.B. (the Service Board), I tore the ACL, PCL and Meniscus in my right knee. The injury never completely healed and once a week I rolled my knee out of socket on the job and worsened the injury each time. Each time I looked to my mentors, who were all forty-five years old and older I noticed that they had all suffered injuries, yet they could not stop working because that was all they knew how to do. Furthermore, no other companies would hire them at their ages so, they had to work to put food on their tables and to keep a roof over their heads. What was worse, was that none of them were happy. This was the future that I was looking into and for me it was a bleak realization, but I did not know how to escape or to change the direction of my life, I felt trapped. I was broken because I measured success in greater terms than monetary gain, happiness was the largest component of success for me, and at that moment my self-worth was negative because there was no happiness in my life nor did I foresee any.

So, after being broken in April of 2011, I made the unorthodox decision to do something I had been terrified to do for years, I left the industry and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC) as the beginning to the pursuit of earning a law degree. Instantly, the weight of despair lifted off of my shoulders. I had no idea until that moment that what I was doing was killing my spirit and shattering my self-esteem, thus making me unsuccessful. Now college was by no means easy for me and I neither have doubts, nor reservations of any form that success, may and most often is, a difficult and fearful undertaking, but fear is about the future and as such, bears no relevance to what is possible today. I graduated from NSCC June of 2013, and I was the valedictorian of my graduating class. That very week I was also accepted into the University of Washington as a History and Philosophy undergraduate.

I share all of this with you, not so that I can toot my own horn, but rather so that I can convey to you an example of what is possible when the lenses through which we view the world are reversed. As a teenager, I was a high school drop-out, a thug, and a thief whose only prospects were prison and death. As a young man, and because of the decisions I made as an adolescent, it seemed that my only viable outcome in life was to be an unhappy-manual-laborer. Yet,  when I had the courage—and in my situation, necessity was a great motivator—and I took the time to re-evaluate my perspective a whole new world opened up to me.

Success is a state of mind and it is directly related to self-worth. If you are finding that you are not in a position in life today, which you consider to be successful, then it may be helpful to try looking at your world from an entirely new perspective and doing something that you have always believed was impossible. I have found that nothing reinforces a sense of self-worth like minor successes and those successes come from taking action. These minor successes help you to build momentum, which is vitally important because the road of life has bumps and potholes all over the place, and are set there in an attempt to derail you. But with momentum and a new perspective, these minor diversions, which otherwise would seem catastrophic become still more successes that add to your momentum as you overcome them.

In closing, I will share a metaphor with you that I developed a few years ago and, which has kept me focused in the midst of the turmoil of pursuing success:

When we stop to consider a goal, it is as if we are standing on the peak of one mountain looking at the peak of another mountain. From this vantage point we can see the forests and the jungles, the valleys and the rivers, which must be maneuvered to make it to our desired mountain peak. From there we lay our best plans, drawing maps and establishing contingencies for the unforeseeable and when we are ready, we forge into the great mystery of success by departing from our vantage point.

The key is not to lose focus of our objective mountain peak. Yet, once we enter into the forests and valleys we often lose sight of where it is we have come from and where we intend to go. This is a great place to be because it is neither our past, nor our future which is important, only the moment that we are in right now. Trust your map and the direction you selected while remembering that it is not the goal that is the true reward, but actually the lessons learned, the experiences and the alliances that are gained in the process that are the true rewards. So, when we become lost in the jungle and we encounter divergent paths that would divert us, stay the course, do not become lost in the realm of what-ifs and accomplish nothing; you may always return to these other interests after you reach your mountain peak.

There will come a point when we enter into what I call the “Waterfall Effect,” wherein the terror of what the future will hold paralyzes us. During our journey we have come to a waterfall, and like many waterfalls, what is on the opposite side of the waterfall is difficult to see. The F.E.A.R. (False Existence Appearing Real) terrorizes us because the waterfall is heavy, cold and could possibly kill us. The quintessential fear is that we do not know who we will become once we have crossed through the waterfall. Where we stand and who we are is both familiar and comfortable, and we may not be ready to release them, but on the other side is everything that we have desired.

Regardless of the fear, life has the propensity to propel us onward so, we must enter the waterfall. Once we have entered the waterfall all of our fears are realized as the weight of conviction bears down on us and we are pushed under the surface. We fight with everything that we have and just when we think we are defeated, we emerge from all the pressure on the other side of the waterfall as the weight and the pressure washes away from us. We are cleansed of all our fears and doubts and after having weathered the weight we are able to stand taller and more straight. The “Waterfall Effect” signifies the growth that occurs which many of us fear, but in the end sets us free.

It is this growth, which gives us the strength and the courage to scale the mountain to our desired peak; the goal we initially had our hearts set upon. Several minor successes will have been translated into a major accomplishment, whereupon these major success begin to occupy the same role as the minor successes that provided the impetus to continue forging through both the jungle and the waterfall.

By amending our state of mind, we can re-establish a positive sense of self-worth and that can lead us in the direction to the success we desire.