Barack H. Obama
If you flip on the news these days, there’s a pretty high chance that the first thing you’ll see is Donald Trump’s face. But once the news anchor is finished earnestly dissecting the latest absurd comment that escaped from Trump’s mouth (kind of like a bat that accidentally flew out of its cave in the daytime, and then starts flapping around as it realizes it had no idea where it was going), maybe they’ll cut to a piece of actual political news, and Obama’s face will flash onto the screen. I’ve found that gazing upon Obama’s likeness, versus Trump’s, has a comparable emotional impact to the way it used to feel to watch your mom rub sunscreen on the tops of your feet at the beach, versus watching the tops of your feet disappear into a dirt mound, as it dawns on you that the dirt mound is actually home to a colony of fire ants. While I know Obama’s presidency is in its homestretch, I’ve recently found myself savoring these last months of relative normalcy, in which we continue to be protected by a deeply wise, abidingly rational and fiercely intelligent leader who truly has our best interests at heart. Bluntly put, I think Obama is the best American president since Abraham Lincoln, and I would follow him anywhere.
Over the course of his time in office, Obama’s approval ratings have hit peaks and valleys. But looking back now, from beneath the circus tent of our current political scene, past dissatisfactions with Obama’s performance seem almost comical. How did this insanity happen so fast? Just last year there was a South Park episode in which Trump was president—and it was actually funny because it still seemed like such an improbable nightmare. It’s terrifying enough that we seem to be wobbling on the precipice of genuine political mayhem, but what’s even more terrifying is that the only man fit to walk us through this is the one leaving office.
Obama has the rare intelligence and scruples of a leader that rallies support and changes the course of history—not because he seeks support with the obvious intent that drives most politicians, but because citizens will flock to a leader whose decisions are rooted in irrefutable truths and undeniable wisdom. Obama bases his decisions in fact, science and common sense—as opposed to ego—and he refuses to comply with prescribed expectations that others may have for him as president. Perhaps the prime testament to this was his whiplash decision in 2013—following reports that the Syrian government had killed more than 14,000 civilians with sarin gas—not to attack Syria after he had publicly announced intentions to do just that. As the Pentagon waited for him to push the red button, Obama became less and less certain he’d made the right call. He’d already inherited two wars in the Middle East. He was worried that Assad would place civilians on the ground near targets as “human shields,” and there was no way they could safely bomb chemical weapon targets without poisoning the surrounding regions, potentially killing even more civilians. And perhaps most importantly, neither the United Nations nor Congress had sanctioned approval for the attack. With the entire world watching, in an unprecedented move for an American president, Obama stepped back from his asserted plans for military intervention. And in that moment, he gutted the age-old stance that in order for the U.S. to retain its position of supreme power, it must always follow through on its threats. While the foreign policy establishment of Washington has always argued that America’s power depends on its “credibility,” Obama thinks that philosophy is, for lack of a better word, bullshit. In the early days of his presidency, after the Bush years, Obama says his administration’s main mantra was “Don’t do stupid shit.” And after he decided not to go through with the Syria attack, he said, “Dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”
This attitude of practical realism—rejecting the belief that just because we did or said one thing at some point in the past means we have to keep doing or saying it—has always been essential to Obama’s thought process. Back in 2005, in a college commencement speech, he said: “The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them.”
Case in point, the American prison system is one of the most ineffective in the world, and Obama has no delusions about this. He is the only president in U.S. history to visit a federal prison, and since he’s been in office, he has released (or “commuted the sentences of”) 348 people serving time in federal prison. That’s more than the last seven presidents combined. These people committed crimes that were immensely less damaging than the lengths of their sentences, which they received under outdated and cruelly severe sentencing laws. Obama understands that the American promise that “justice will be served” has failed these people, and that the very real days of their lives are slipping away as Congress bickers over the politics of repealing laws that have shattered generations of American families and communities.
Much of the importance Obama places on reforming the justice system is linked to his deeply held belief in building strong families. This is a president who sits down to eat dinner with his wife and daughters every night. Last year on a special edition of Running Wild with Bear Grylls(because this is also a president who isn’t above connecting to the world through television, or giving a frank late night interview, even with some jokes at his expense), Obama said that dinnertime with his family is the farthest thing from a sacrifice. “It’s actually my joy, my pleasure. Because if I’ve had a day of world nonsense, for me to be able to come home and just listen to the girls talk about their day it gives me a whole new perspective, and renews me.”
When you place Obama beside Donald Trump, it’s Salvador Dali-levels of surreal that we live in a universe where these two individuals could potentially be up for the same job—the job, of course, being that of the most powerful man in the free world. And perhaps the most telling reason for why Obama has always deserved the job is the deep humility with which he approaches it. And humility is exactly what we need to practice now, in a world that’s imploding with anger and fundamentalism. We must be respectful of others’ beliefs and differences as we navigate the murky waters of international relations, and if there’s anyone who thinks they could actually prevent more terrorism on U.S. soil than Obama has, I think they will find themselves gravely mistaken once they are sitting in his chair. If true political upheaval shakes the Western world in the impending future, there’s only one man I’d get behind.
The Power Of Why
In the past, I’ve been the type of person to need a good reason to do or not to do something.
When there was a sign that said don’t run, I would playfully run.
When a stewardess would tell me to turn off my phone I would leave it on. (because it doesn’t affect the transmission)
When I questioned my teachers at school about the point of learning something and was met with “because it’s on the curriculum.” I wasn’t satisfied with the response.
Public displays of affection never bothered me + when I was with a girl who didn’t want to kiss me in public I would always wonder why.
No matter what their rationale, I never understood it. I’m not hurting anyone am I? I’m just expressing my affection in its physical form.
The argument that I had to be respectful of other people’s feelings made no sense to me. I shouldn’t have to adjust my behavior to “not offend them” they should adjust their mentality to not be offended!
I realized that unbeknownst to either of us (literally, until a month ago), it was my mother who helped me cultivate this belief system of needing evidence or good reason to behave a certain way.
My mother is extremely opinionated.
She speaks of subjective matters as if they are fact.
The frame in which she operates from can be understood from some of the things she routinely says:
“Because I said so,”
“Do as I say not as I do”
“The red grapes are for dad! He has a heart condition!”
The last one probably requires further explanation.
I really like red grapes.
My dad has a heart condition.
Red grapes are supposedly good for your heart.
My mom would take these data points and conclude that red grapes should be off limits for anyone but my Dad.
She would be happy to buy any other fruit for me. But the red grapes were off limits!
At around the age of 11 this didn’t make much sense to me.
“Why can’t you just buy more red grapes?”
My moms response would be something like…
“Those red grapes are for dads heart! Don’t you care about your father? Just drop it, okay Sorel?”
I’d bow my head down in frustration + defeat.
It was around that time that I created a firm belief system that I hold to this day.
Question everything and don’t believe anything unless sufficient evidence is provided.
What’s changed is how I feel about people with different beliefs…
I went from being frustrated that people didn’t believe the same thing as me (which invariably lead to people’s defense mode kicking in + the conversation ending)
Genuinely + sincerely taking an interest
I think there’s much more value in listening + learning from others than there is from speaking + reaffirming our own beliefs.
The Past, Present and Future
2001. I was 15 years old and proudly held the job of delivering newspapers around my neighborhood. In a few months, I had managed to save $200 in cash! It was the peak of my net worth and I felt like I could buy or do anything I wanted. My closest friends from high school came over to my house and before they left I realized three of my most valuable possessions were missing: the money, my bb gun and Grand Theft Auto CD. My heart was broken. I knew that one of them had stolen from me. I didn’t find out who the culprit was until several years later when I randomly called my closest friend from the group asked him if he knew anything about that night. To my shock and dismay, he admitted that everyone there had conspired against me and was involved in the theft. Even though it happened 6 years prior, I was crushed and stopped speaking to him until just recently. The theme of being wronged by friends and co-workers has been a reoccurring one, but this was the first experience I remember of feeling like the world was against me. If I couldn’t trust the people I considered friends, who could I trust?
In 2007, I was in the very early stages of my poker career. Pocketfives.com had me ranked as the number one online MTT player in the world and I was admired and respected by the majority of my peers. Here I was, a 21 year old kid from a low-middle income family, who randomly stumbled upon an unnatural talent that had the potential to change my life forever. I was on top of the world and nothing could bring me down. A couple months after I was cheated out of my entire net worth in a hotel poker game; I made another poor decision. I purchased the equity of a friend deep in a tournament and took over the decision making process. I won the tournament but shortly thereafter neither my friend, nor I, were able to login to our accounts. After an investigation, Full Tilt Poker concluded the appropriate punishment for our misconduct was to ban us from playing on the site and confiscate the winnings. What happened subsequently, was the harshest punishment of all: The relentless torment and ostracism by a community that I was once loved by. It was a tremendous blow to an ego that I was very much attached to and caused me to experience fluctuating emotions of sadness, depression, anger and resentment. What made this decision so bad was not the actual incident itself, but how I chose to deal with it after the fact. I would constantly go back and forth between one extreme and another of obsessing over what people thought of me to not caring at all. I simply could not get over it. Awkward stares, quiet whispers and the subtle vibe I got from people served as a constant reminder of the the person I was expected to be. I felt wronged, cheated and unfairly punished. I blamed everything and everyone but myself and being emotionally overwhelmed caused me to become weak and pathetic. I was in so much pain and just wanted the nightmare to end.
What Had I Become?
“Your reputation is what you’re perceived to be, your character is what you are.” – John Wooden.
For a long time my reputation was perfectly aligned with my character. Instead of fighting to be who I knew I was, I started believing I was the person I was accused of being. Soon, I became him. There’s no other way to put it, I caved in under pressure. I wasn’t someone I respected and lacking self respect is ultimate pain. Instead of taking full responsibility for my situation, I decided that being a victim was easier. And being a victim had it’s rewards; people felt sorry for me, I received validation and most importantly, I got to be right!
Assigning blame and making excuses is what kept me in victim mode. I didn’t have to do anything different because it’s not about me; it’s about someone or something else. I was simply the recipient. But being the victim comes with a price; I was no longer responsible and therefore eliminated the ability to use my imagination, resourcefulness and determination to overcome adversity. Once I became aware, I realized that I had complete control over my thoughts and state of mind. In reality, the most painful things that happened to me weren’t the events themselves, but how I reacted to them. I allowed outside circumstances to hijack my internal state of being.
Several incidents of being robbed, cheated and wronged had made me cynical, cold, distant and emotionally disconnected. The thought of people accusing me of exactly what I had been a victim to was unbearable. Poor me, no one understands, no one cares, I can’t trust anyone. In fact, whenever I chose to trust someone, subconsciously I wanted them to disappoint me so I could reinforce my beliefs that no one could be trusted! I wasn’t happy about the person I became. I thought I had self-respect but upon further self-evaluation, I realized I didn’t. Self-respect can’t exist or prosper within someone who lacks integrity. Trying to convince people I was honest was more important to me than actually being honest. I broke my word to myself and others regularly. Poker didn’t make me this way, my parents didn’t make me this way, circumstances didn’t make me this way, I made myself this way and lacked the tools necessary to realize and interrupt a detrimental pattern of thought. I allowed self pity, regret and the feeling that I blew the one opportunity I had to run my life. I felt unworthy and gave up on my dreams and visions.
I’ve finally allowed myself to experience the gift of forgiveness. Being able to forgive others and more importantly myself has allowed me to open my heart and detach myself from the past. I cannot change the past and dwelling on the mistakes I’ve made has caused nothing but pain and suffering. I’m committed to using my experiences to redefine my values and strengthen my character. I’ve woken up, and I’m ready to be the hero in my own movie. Having integrity, being honorable, loving and passionate is no longer a struggle, it’s a way of life and a state of being.
I refuse to accept that because of my past I am condemned to the life-long sentence of having no credibility and no opinion on what’s right and wrong. My past is merely a chapter in the book of my life, one whose only purpose is to gloss over and read through to learn from the highlights and key points. As long as I’m breathing, I have the power to change everything at any given moment. What was once hurtful has become empowering. I used to have a host of defense mechanisms I implemented to discredit people’s opinions of me. I no longer take things personally. I view feedback as exactly what it is, how I show up to this person. It’s neither true nor false, it’s simply invaluable knowledge of someone’s perception of me based on their experience. I can use this information as an objective life report card of how I’m showing up to people and utilize it as a tool to insure I’m being honest with myself. This isn’t saying that I will let peoples feedback change my personality to cater to their liking, but rather It’s committing to actually listen instead of simply not talk and prepare a response. True listening is when one refrains from allowing brain chatter, interpretation and judgement get in the way and feel what the other person is saying instead of just hear it. This will allow me to experience a new level of empathy and understanding and in turn become a better person.
I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions but since I’m finishing this blog so close to the new year, I will have a go. My mom often reminds me of a story from my childhood where she bought me an ice cream cone. As soon as I left Baskin Robbins, the ice cream fell out of the cone and my response was, “Oh well, at least I still have my ice cream cone!” May I maintain the positivity, love and acceptance of the child I once was, no matter the obstacle.