Monday, December 21, 2015

The Biggest Problem Facing World Right Now: A Multi Generational Perspective

Recently I asked my youngest brother and mom if they'd be willing to write a short piece to be featured here on "What the greatest problem facing our country" was, and that I would contribute as well if they were game. I figured having three different generations (I am 46, my brother Wesley 24 and my other is...over 60) offer opinions on a question that could have infinite and complex answers would be a intriguing exercise and indeed it was. With my submission I chose to borrow a good deal from an earlier post as it answers the question posed in this piece precisely, so I am sorry for the mild rehash.

Here are our submissions, unedited for content, and in an "age before beauty" order ;)

Mary Andrea Abare - 

OK, so so my son asked me to write down what I believe the biggest problem facing our world is today. Me? Oh I know there are a multitude of critical issues I can think of off the top of my head, who can't, but what's THE most important one. I wracked my aging brain for awhile and finally it became so's the demise of the Good Humor man!!! Wow, that was easy...and before you laugh me off as just a deluded, demented old fool, hear me out. 

Some of you may not even know who or what the Good Humor man're too young. But there's sure to be many of us "older folks" reading this who do. This was the guy driving his charming little truck into my neighborhood every sultry summer afternoon with that welcoming GOOD HUMOR" printed on the side (along with a picture of a mouthwatering ice cream bar beckoning me) .The musical tinkling tune of his trucks bell beckoned me from the house starting around the age of four and affirming to me that life was full of joy, love and FUN! Always dressed in a crisp white outfit and accompanying white cap, I was never afraid to just run out the door (and neither was my mother) to scoop up the flavor of the day (usually toasted almond covering creamy vanilla ice cream on a stick).  I was never afraid I could possibly be molested; I never feared he might have an AR15 rifle hidden under the seat and I certainly wasn't suspicious of the grin he greeted me and my friends with each day because it was genuine. This was all part of my small world, everyone's small world in those days...a world where neighbors knew and cared about neighbors, where a five-year-old girl like myself could safely walk a mile down a city street to get to school, where a shooting of any kind was front page news for its rarity. 

I guess older people always talk about "the good ole days" but the truth is I'd give anything to be transported back to that small, safe little world now. With the advent of social media EVERYTHING has changed. Violent images, both real and produced, have bombarded our lives for decades now. Sad to say, that even the Internet, and sites like Facebook and Twitter have caused relationships to become less personal, even enabling the "bad guys" to hide behind them for nefarious purposes. Our brains are overloaded with violent stimuli and the media thrives on propagating fear. Being overloaded with these horrific stories and images, our brains, not unlike machines, have gone "TILT"!! "Too Much Information" is a truism. We have become a world of "haters" rather than "carers"(if that's a word), whether it's for religious, racial or political reasons. Everyone is now out for themselves and God forbid (interesting term) you don't hold their same beliefs! Shoot up a school must be the solution to the nervous breakdown so many people and cultures are experiencing. I guess I really have to admit the Internet and the media, to me at least, are the biggest causes for the worlds problems. That and religion, which I'll get into another time. For now, I'll just say "We need the Good Humor Man"

David Abare -

What is the biggest problem facing the world today? For me it's as easy as a five letter word we're all intimately familiar with though often estranged from: Truth.

We often hear people say "It's my truth," when referring to a particular religion one believes in or when describing someone's moral code, etc. but those statements are nonsensical. There is no subjective version of "truth"-something is either true/factual, real or it's not. We can believe whatever we choose to but that belief does not in turn make it true. The chemical composition of water is in fact comprised of Hydrogen and Oxygen; it's a true statement. Claiming that drinking 8 glasses a day is the reason you are smarter than all your friends is your truth, and not a factual declaration. However people do this every day, making statements and attaching the word truth when it has no place being associated with what they've said. Yes, I understand this could be semantics and that when someone claims "It's my truth" they in fact may be using the phrase in a way that's meant to represent what they believe, vs. what they know is supported by logic, reason or evidence-I am not trying to split hairs here-but I feel something as vital as truth shouldn't be subject to individual definition.

Somewhere in the Social Media Revolution, however, truth has become pliant. Many of us began sharing "their truth" in various political or spiritual posts, passing off a system of beliefs as fact when in numerous cases truth wasn't even in the same galaxy. When questioned, some will get defensive and angry claiming others have no right to question their version of truth, which is of course ridiculous, and even dangerous in certain situations. Over the years I've seen countless links to stories on sites like Facebook and Twitter packaged with "true" headlines detailing supposed actions/statements made, which after even elementary fact checking proved to be false. These fabrications and mistruths are often shared on these same platforms, read by some readers unwilling to research the claims, which then leads to opinions that are formulated with information that wasn't accurate to begin with-garbage in, garbage out, as they say in computing. The end result is masses of individuals whose "truth" is an opinion that isn't rooted in logic, fact, science or reason.

So why is it so easy for some of us to allow truth to be something other than what it actually is? Certainly part of it is related to cognitive dissonance-the difficulty in accepting information that conflicts with previously established beliefs-however I am convinced a lot of it has to do with fear as well. All of us have elements of our personality, background, history and desires that don't reflect beauty when a light is shined on it. So we create our own version of truth about ourselves, beliefs, principles, etc., until the manufactured version is more appealing to those around us. The problem is that a great deal of those around us are doing the same thing. So your truth and their truth is all just a fairy tale, a narrative born of our need to exist in mental head space that allows us to feel comfortable and safe vs. uneasy and in need of introspection.

So why do I feel that truth is the biggest issue facing our world? Well, in order society as a whole, across the globe, to continue evolving and to heal so many of the wounds of our history that still linger we need to care about truth, seek it, desire it above all else, and most importantly define it in the same terms. When it comes to issues of racism, gun control, abortion, climatology, police brutality, immigration, crime and the economy we have to be willing to look at all the data, all the facts-no matter how inconvenient-and make decisions based on truth and not just our interpretation of that truth. That still allows plenty of room for dissection, opinion and debate but assures we are all working with the same core data. How often have we been angered by a court decision, criminal or otherwise, where the overwhelming evidence was silenced by a crafty attorney who was able to create their own narrative for the jury? Do we really want to allow that to happen in all facets of our daily lives? If we allow ourselves to believe that a hot button issue facing the citizens of our country is the most significant issue we face yet half the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water, are we being truthful or delusional? If we want to condemn a group of people-whether bound by Uniform, Religion, Color, Political Party or other yet we're unwilling to accept facts that may dispute our previously established opinions, are we being truthful?

"It's not a lie, if you believe it," said George Costanza in a great episode of Seinfeld, and sums up what I have long felt is the greatest concern we have as human beings. Unless we are willing to take a look at ourselves first, and then those around us, and demand absolute truth in all things then unfortunately I see the problem growing exponentially versing receding. I hope mankind collectively turns the corner on this, though I realize the magnitude of the problem makes it unlikely, yet as a cautious optimist I will remain ever hopeful. Ish.

Wesley Contro -

The Biggest Problem Facing Our World: No connection. 

If I were to say this to most people of the modern world they may automatically think of internet connection. It has almost become a necessity in day­-to-­day life that we get connected to the world wide web. It is a comfort to many and a tool used to get whatever we may need, just as the web of a spider acts as its home as well as its means to sustenance. But as we continue to dabble around in what is truly the infant stage of the internet era, we may eventually come to find out that we are not the spider using the web to its advantage, but the fly caught in the silken stickiness cut off from the real world around us and, ultimately, wriggling to our doom. I understand the irony of my statements as I sit here typing this out on my computer with a very strong WiFi connection. The sad reality is, though, that we live in a time where your best means of getting a message heard is through the screen. And this leads me to what I consider the biggest problem we face today: the gradual loss of true human connection. 

It seems so contradictory to think that we have created a technology that connects to just about everyone around the world, and yet we are less connected than ever before. But if you take one look at the current state of affairs, nationally and internationally, you will see that there is a widening gap. Hate runs rampant around the world. People killing each other over petty issues such as theology, race, finances etc. In this country alone, the incredible wealth gap and racial disparities have caused massive amounts of protests, rioting and even murder. All this going on, and yet so many want to turn away those being tragically affected, regardless if it is actually any fault of their own. People seem scared of one another. Where did all this distrust come from? Seems like when talking with elderly they will tell you that “back in their day” people were more friendly, inviting and kind. 

There are two factors I could think to attribute to this societal shift. The first being that we have slowly faded out a great deal of substantial human interaction. Interaction primarily occurs through some kind of screen these days. Research has found, that more and more students these days feel more comfortable interacting through some kind of online or cellular platform than in person. What implications does the loss of all the unquantifiable qualities of face-­to-­face communication mean for future generations and their relationships with others? The other factor would be would be the constant bombardment of the evil that exists in the world through various technological lenses accompanied by so few reminders of people’s ability for good. “Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures.” (Tolle) Compassion is the greatest human strength. But, when you are made to believe that compassion is lost or that it is actually a weakness, you begin to see the world as “us vs. them” instead of just “we”

Connection with each other is not the only thing we are losing. We have lost connection with our home, Earth. We are forever connected to this Earth. All that we are came from it, and eventually we will go back to it. Yet we live in a way that implies we are separate from it. We treat it like a constantly renewable resource that will give, give, and give as we take, take, take, assuming it will not ask for anything in return. But the great Earth and mother nature is much wiser than any of us. It has been around a lot longer and will most likely continue to revolve around it’s warm, glowing star long after we are gone. Those who think we may cause the eventual downfall of the Earth are letting the ego get the best of them. If an asteroid 36 miles wide, moving 12 miles per second couldn’t cause the demise of Baby Blue then I doubt we will really have much luck. Though that doesn’t mean we won’t make it inhabitable. There is a global conversation about the impact we are having on this Earth and what that means for our own survival in the future. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, I don’t think it is too wild to say that we all need to take time to go out and appreciate everything that this world have given us. 

The final and most profound connection that I see we are losing and the one that may just be the cause for everything else is the loss of self connection. We live in a world of constant stimulation and distraction. Being alone, truly alone, is thing of the past. Whether it is through some kind of social media or even the subconscious fear that we are being constantly watched or tracked, there is the continuous awareness that there is someone on the other side of the computer or pocket screen. We have done away with waiting and boredom. These things seemed like inconveniences, but what did they really mean to us? Waiting provides opportunity for patience. Boredom provides opportunity for action. Without these things we become apathetic, anxious and high strung. We lose connection to our internal states of being. We cannot come to know who we truly are. It is through moments of real solitude that we connect with and begin to understand our own emotions. Without this what do we really have? We stumble through life from one day to the next trying to numb anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. But to grow as people we must be able to be aware of the moments that make us feel alone, sad, anxious, apathetic, worried, and scared, accept them, and then use them to bring forth socialization, ambition, courage, and compassion. We need to take time to learn about ourselves and our place in this world. This seems difficult these days. It is tough to pull yourself away from the numbing agents and push yourself into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. But it can be easy. That is why I am suggesting that we all take a moment, leave the tech at home, go outside and sit under a tree. Close your eyes and breathe. This is the simplest way to get in touch with yourself and it has been done for thousands of years. Not only may it do YOU some good, but you may find that it helps you connect to everything and everyone else.


Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lone Bellow @ House of Independents - Asbury Park NJ

Every year or so I discover a band that becomes a bit of an obsession. They end up dominating my Playlists, being shared & promoted to my social media friends, family and co-workers and I see as many of their shows as time and funds will allow. This pattern began in my teens and hasn't shown any signs of abating in my forties, but as obsessions go I suppose it's a healthy one to endure, as music can't file restraining orders and rarely requires medication to manage. A couple years ago it was Volcano Choir, more recently the brilliant The War on Drugs and in the last month it's been The Lone Bellow, a band so remarkable I am frankly embarrassed I hadn't heard them at length prior to this year. I was at Newport Folk Festival in July and listened to several fans sing their praises, yet due to a GI system that felt like Slayer was playing inside it, I missed their set, unfortunately. 

The Lone Bellow are Zach Williams on Guitars and lead vocals, Brian Elmquist on guitars and vocals & Kanene Donehey Pipkin (certainly the most fun name to say in Rock & Roll) on mandolin, vocals and bass, and formed in Brooklyn in 2011 after meeting at a Diner and thankfully realizing that the the combination of these three melodious voices results in total sonic bliss. Their two CD's, The Lone Bellow and Then Came The Morning have received sizable critical acclaim and drawn fans worldwide, and although the recorded material is excellent, The Lone Bellow are a live act, meant to be experienced instead of just heard. With some bands that means there's an "entertainment" factor present that includes visuals, stage antics, props, etc., that adds to the bands music in a live setting, but with this incredible trio it's all about the sounds bellowing collectively and independently from each member.

Last night, in the intimate new venue House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ, I was finally able to experience the impassioned performance of the The Lone Bellow and it's left me spellbound. There's always been beauty in vocal harmonies, but when it's blended with great songwriting and musicianship-as well as engaging stage presence-it crosses over from captivating to completely mesmerizing. Zach Williams' lead vocals, emanating from his "6 foot stature" (according to his mom), are where Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon wishes he could push himself, yet with Williams it comes naturally and with better tonality. He drove songs like "Take My Love" that rely heavily on the harmonies to more dynamic places with his timbre and power. He soared on tracks like "Fake Roses" and "Cold As It Is" as the band filled in the sound around him. Both Elmquist and Pipkin are exceptional vocalists in their own right, with Pipkin taking lead on the beautiful "Call to War", but it's when the three of them are in unison that you realize you are experiencing something spiritual. The singer/songwriter Marc Cohn has a line in his hit "Walking in Memphis" where he answers a woman asking if he's a Christian where he replies, "M'am I am tonight" and that's how you feel experiencing The Lone Bellow in a live setting. They aren't a "Christian band" nor do the majority of their lyrics talk a lot about God but when you're in their presence, hearing them perform and taking in the majesty of the moment, you're a believer in whatever they are preaching. 

The band closed the main set with the upbeat "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold" and from what I heard it's a reference to one of Zach's two young daughters, who were both at the show and at one point dancing in the aisle. Many of the bands songs have elements of Country, Bluegrass and Roots music but it's the infusion of rock and roll that makes songs like "Green Eyes..." and others so intriguing. It's curious to me that the band is most closely associated with Country as I haven't heard anything in that genre in years that's moved me the way The Lone Bellow has, though I know everyone enjoys putting music/bands into little boxes. Whatever label-or lack thereof-the band prefers for itself is fine as long as they continue to write and perform their music, as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps one of the best moments of the show, and certainly most endearing, was during the encore where the band prompted audience members to share in a chorus of Christmas Carols chosen at random. The only moment that could have topped that happened when Zach brought his two little girls onstage while Brian sang "Watch Over us" (with one of the girls even offering her vocal support). If there's a better living postcard of Christmastime in America I can't imagine it. 

The venue, House of Independents, just opened in Asbury Park and was an intimate setting perfect for the band, even if their immense talent and power is deserving of far bigger stages. Last nights show was full of friends and family as well as the the bands last performance of this year before they head off to Europe. My only complaint at all, other than choosing the worst possible seat to sit in based on the row being the easiest line to bar and bathroom, was that the band omitted "Tree to Grow" from their set. It's almost like complaining that your Maserati is broken and you have to drive the Ferrari, the Lambo or the Porsche instead however, as the bands set is so strong and full of exceptional music that skipping one song is easily forgiven. Having said that, (in best Larry David voice), The Lone Bellow will be playing in Northampton MA at the end of February and I am hopeful that the song finds its way back into the set list. If not, well, I'll drive the Porsche.


Full Set List was: "Take My Love", "Marietta", "Fake Roses", "You Never need Nobody", "The One You Should've Let Go", "Two Sides of Lonely", "You Don't Love me Like You Used To", "Cold As It Is", "Call to War", "Teach Me To Know", "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold", (Assorted Xmas songs, audience participation), "Watch Over Us". 

The Lone Bellow are on Descendant Records and their latest Album is titled "Then Came the Morning".

Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...