Walk in this world

While attending a week-long training at the library in Medford, Oregon and during a break I was standing in the window, observing the scene across the street.

 

Across the street is a small Italian pizzeria and outside on the sidewalk were two people with a table set up and were offering some paraphernalia. I could barely discern the word “stressed” on their display, accompanied by a picture of a suited person sitting at a table with mer head in zer hands and the body posture of someone who was overwhelmed by the world.

 

What intrigued me was that the local parking enforcer was taking a picture of the car, parked near the table and outside of the designated area. The car, it turned out, belonged to one of the two persons at the table. I was now quite interested to see how this person, offering some answer to stress, would handle receiving a parking ticket for a shoddy job of car placement.

 

Though I could not hear the dialogue through the plate glass window and across the distance between us, I watched as the attendant appeared unmoved, nor unconcerned with the somewhat anxious and stressed body language of the car owner/stress reliever. Zer face was pensive, zer hands and feet close together, and ze leaned slightly forward at the waist. This interaction is not what I was waiting to see. Only the enlightened among us can maintain our saintliness while we watch and are handed a parking ticket. I may do this once in a while, but much of the time I am annoyed.

 

Instead, I was waiting to see what happens next. I was quite curious as to how this person would handle things after zer interaction, what ze might do, zer behaviors. Would ze use the answers and tools to stress that ze was providing to passers-by? Fairly or unfairly, I was now ready to judge table of information based on zer actions in the next few moments.

 

Ze got into zer car, moved it forward 6 feet into the correct space, and got out of zer car. Zer companion appeared to take a conciliatory role, which morphed into co-accuser. For ten minutes I watched as these two people points to different cars along the street, moved their arms in gestures that seemed to go along with an angry diatribe, and generally appeared as though they were still stressed.

 

I continued to sip my coffee and watch for another ten minutes. Three people came up to their table and it appeared to me that the story of the unfair “parking ticket” was told to them. Now this negativity, which earlier lived only in the minds of the two people, were now spread to the minds of the three passers-by. The interaction between these two groups were formed from the starting point of the negativity fostered by the woman. After fifteen minutes I did not see any indication of zer using any skills to alleviate stress.

 

The Enchiridion

5 Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus, death is nothing terrible…the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible.

 

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II, ii, 259

 

I read, in some philosophy book somewhere (and I am looking to find the source), that if one is to study philosophy, once is to practice philosophy. Think about this for a moment, philosophy is from the Greek word philosophia, meaning love of wisdom. Can a person study, contemplate, and gain wisdom without seeking to apply it? To do so is to not act with wisdom. It is said, instead of explaining to me your philosophy, show me how you live your life.

 

This then brings up a difference between a value and a virtue., at least as I am beginning to understand it. There are different definitions of both terms, used interchangeably, along with belief, conviction and other words. I am still researching these terms. However, I do note that there are values that we may ascribe as importance, but have yet internalized into our character. Without structures, we may stray from them. Without police watching we may tend to speed on the highway. We may have reminders to act according our values, but when life becomes difficult, we lose our restraint and our deeper values and beliefs come out in our behavior. Our true character, or our tendency to behave in certain ways, is shown.

 

But who among us are perfect beings? Nobody that I know, though there are some who seem to act in a manner of virtue more often than not. I feel that the person they are is of a sort, that when they act with less than virtue it is an exception, not the rule. How did they become this way? We're they born this way? Many philosophers would argue no. The soul, or psyche, or character of a person requires constant, daily practice. I sometimes speak of developing virtue as similar to developing into a musical maestro on an instrument. I find this helpful, not only in teaching, but for my own internal dialogue as well. It aids me in remembering that virtue isn't an all or nothing quality, where one either has it or ze doesn't. Someone with this dichotomous view, when made aware of their failing in acting with virtue in a situation (think of any time you did not act as your best self) may have the thought see, I am a lousy person. What follows then may be shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger and withdrawal, lashing out, avoidance, rationalizing, and other behaviors.

 

One practice of the Stoics, and others as well, was to carry a handbook. This handbook was filled with short sayings, easily placed into one's train of thought, held in the mind as one moved through the day. The stoic would often flip through the book, refreshing the well of the mind with such maxims as know thyself, nothing in excess, to thine own self be true, good is evil that virtue lacks, among others. These become like automatic thoughts, when repeated often, and more and more begin to shape the flavor of our thoughts.

 

One of the goals of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – is to become aware of the pattern of thoughts and to decide which ones are helpful or harmful and to begin to make changes in them. We all have patterns in our thoughts, the question is what are they?

 

By attending to our thoughts with the knowledge that this is the only thing we can learn to gain control over, by daily, moment to moment practice, we develop our skills and, over the course of our life, become maestros of virtue.

 

PTSD is NOT permanent

Look at the different criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Pick one that is without a doubt permanent without chance of healing? In criteria B, C, D, and E, perhaps “Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories” is a candidate for permanence, yet I want to point out three thoughts with this.

1: intrusive memories and thoughts can be worked through and the emotional connection lessened so that they lose their power

2: a judgment on the morality of a memory is not the same as an emotional reaction to a memory

3: and this is important, a memory or ability is NOT the same as an intrusive negative memory

To follow the thought of some people, PTSD is permanent because one always remembers the injustice or horror of the event. Think about this deeply and without an agenda for a moment. If you are unable to test positive for criteria C, D, and E, with nothing left but just the ability to recall the autobiographical memory of the event, does this item alone meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD? No. If so, this is a misdiagnosis.

Note, this is not the same as diminishing the history of the person, nor their worth as a person. If you listen carefully, it appears that, other than sloppy logic, there is a (understandably) fierce defensiveness to affirm the history and abused rights of the victim. This is sometimes in response to society that says the suffering is not real, or that it is the victim's fault. So, again, this is understandable, but it is bad science. Don't confuse understanding and testing the model with devaluing the experience of the victim. They are not the same.

Now look at Criterion F: duration: Persistence of symptoms (in Criteria B, C, D, and E) for more than one month. What if someone has symptoms that last less than a month or less? What if they last six months or six years and then they are no more?

Criterion G: functional significance: Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational). Regarding this, what if there are no longer any functional distress?

Can a person have PTSD if they no longer meet Criteria F and G? If so, then what is the use of this diagnostic tool? None.

I utterly reject that PTSD is permanent. I hear people say that “it is forever” all the time. Not only is it poor science but this perpetuates a hopeless victimhood. What's the best one can hope for from this?

 

What’s with Positive Psychology?

I read from a variety of sources and it is often the case that someone will write about Positive Psychology as being “focused on positive thoughts” as though thinking positive will make you happy. A cursory glance in our direction could lead the person to assume that our field is concerned with making happy people who are bright-eyed optimists, always upbeat and chipper. This is a gross misunderstanding on so many fronts as to be tragic.

First, the topic of writing. An honest investigation of research studies, presentations, classes, and books by Positive Psychologists will show much more than mere happiness. But let us stick with this for a moment, what is happiness? Is it a transitory state? Is it an overarching condition of one's life? Would we ask for appraisals of affect and average over time? Would we distinguish between simple pleasures and more meaningful ones? And once we start to narrow down different types of happiness, what conditions and habits enable it? Money? Work? Purpose? Relations? And should we concern ourselves with happiness at all as a goal? Aren't there better things for humans to pursue, such as achievement? All of these and more are the subject of happiness studies within Positive Psychology as well as other topics as virtue, grit, fortitude, perseverance and more.

But I will take a stab here at the confusion over the word “positive”. It is automatically assumed by many that this refers to the thoughts of the person. It seems that people have a misunderstanding that Positive Psychology can be summed up as “the answer is to think positive thoughts”. If we pause and think about this, it clearly becomes absurd, for could an entire discipline of science be built on “wishful thinking”? No no no, a thousand times no.

Instead, let is start with a Bell Curve. Take a population of people and measure them on something and you'll have a Bell Curve distribution of scores. Psychology, outside of Cognitive Psychology and especially in Clinical Psychology, has looked at the left side of the curve, the negative side. It has looked at those individuals who are 2 or more Standard Deviations from the Mean on the negative side and have worked to move them toward the Mean. The Mean, also known as the Average, also known a Normal. Once the depressed person, for example, is no longer depressed and is normal, then the clinician's job is over. Other than the occasional treatment to prevent the client from sliding back into the negative, the person is cured and expected to live their life the same as the rest of us, a life mixed with work and family, worry and joy, grief and accomplishment. Once the client is *cured of depression (or whatever other malady they have), they then are told to find their own way in life.

Some psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson, and others, wondered what science could do to inform us about moving from the mean toward the right side of the Bell Curve, the positive side. Take one person from the far left side of the curve and one person from the far right side, and compare them. Would there be differences in outlook? Habits? Social support? How would these two respond to a negative event, such as being downsized from a job? Perhaps the person on the left side would respond with withdrawal from supportive family, exhibit aggressive behavior, blame other people, and begin drinking heavily. Perhaps the person on the right side of the curve would respond with reaching out for support, networking for opportunities, take self improvement classes, and spend some the new extra time in the gym. Who is likely to rebound from the negative faster and healthier? Here is an interesting question, which one was disappointed and worried when initially downsized? Both? Which one ruminated on the negative and which one sought out avenues of influence?

This is the focus of Positive Psychology. What enables a person to not only survive a horrific event, but to find purpose and meaning, and to come away from the event stronger than before? Is there a connection between time spent driving in traffic and stress and heart attacks? Yet some people don't respond negatively, but instead are energized by their commute time. What are the differences? Traditional psychology moves people from the negative side of the curve to the middle by healing the illness, fixing the broken, mending the tone, adjusting the maladaptive. Positive Psychology is a strengths-based approach where to move from the middle to the positive side of the curve we look at what makes one stronger, more resilient, to thrive and flourish.

And here we are at a very important point, one which Positive Psychology does not deny, that life, the human condition, involves both the uplifting and the tragic, healing and building. Positive Psychology doesn't seek to supplant Negative (Traditional) Psychology, but instead to bring balance to Psychology as a whole.

 

Exercising Calm

I get off of work for the military and travel an hour north to do another job. I am usually early to the second job and have some time to kill and will stop by a Starbucks for a little bit to work on one of the many projects I have going. Seeing that I shouldn’t change out of my uniform on the side of the road, I am usually in uniform until I arrive at my final destination and I can change. Now this particular Starbucks is well known to me. I’ve stopped here on most Tuesdays for a little over two years now. The peopel that work here are nice and it is one of my favorite Starbucks.

I am sitting at a small table, I have my laptop open and am focused on a variety of things on my computer. Which projects are stalled, which ones are progressing, and I am also looking through a writing project I am working on, opening up a program for research, and so on. I am near a window and have a great view of the world around me. I am aware of the barista, a long time regular here, emtying out the trash. It is one of those trash cans that has a large cover that hides the actual trash can underneath. She picks up both and is emptying them, changing bags around, is five feet away from me, when the empty aluminium can drops onto the floor.

BOOM!

I am ripped from my concentration with the things before me, I half stand out of my chair, both arms are up in a fighting position, fists are curled, and I let out a muffled grunt sound. The two teenagers to might right are only slightly alarmed, but go back to their biology studies. The barista smiles at me while continuing to change the bag. She never slows her movement, smiles a little, and I grunt to her “I don’t like loud noises like that”. She never says anything but continues taking out the trash.

Now, I consider this, thus far, a major win. I used to have a very large, very pronounced startle response. In the past I would have likely spilled my coffee, knocked over my laptop, jumped out of my chair, and yelled curse words and obscenities. But I didn’t here, because I’ve done the work over time to get here.

I brought my hands together, closed my eyes, and just breathed. At first I was not aware of anything with my body, my attention was focused on what was outside of me, my thoughts were interpretting her smile as a smirk, that she never said anything to me as her non-caring. I ignore all these negative thoughts and focused only on my breathing….

In….

Out….

And I started to pick parts of my body that I was aware of. It started to dawn on my that my arms were very tight. I loosened them. Then I noticed that my legs were tight, then my chest, then my back, my stomach… back to my breathing. I started moving around my body, eyes still clsoed, and consciously feeling and releasing tension. I’d come back to a body part that I had just relaxed and would find out that I had only relaxed it partially. It took me several sweeps to relax my self. I noted my heart rate was quite high, but that it started to settle.

In….

Out….

Eyes still closed, hands before me, sitting at the little table, I was unconcerned with the world around me. In the past I would have felt embarassment and anger at other people seeing my reactions. But this time I did not concern myself with it. If concern did enter my awareness, between breaths, I gently told myself “let them see a Soldier in uniform exhibiting self control and gaining peace. Let them see a Soldier worthy of this nation.”

In….

Out….

After perhaps 2 or 3 minutes, I opened my eyes, felt the ease of being that I’ve worked so hard to learn how to develop. I cherish my combat reflexes, I do not want to get rid of them, the time may come to use them again. But I am not the slave to my passions, to the automatic reflexes of my nervous system, or the negative thoughts and mistaken perceptions rising from paranoid beliefs.

It could be that she didn’t know how to react to me. Perhaps she thought it best not to poke the bear with a stick. Perhaps she felt bad. Perhaps she realized that space and time were enough for me. Perhaps next time she’ll be nice (again, she is always nice). Perhaps a million other things other than where my mind wanted to go at first, and that is attributing selfishness and uncaring onto a person who has only ever done nice things for me whenever I stopped her for coffee.

And besides, had she meant to be rude or did not care or thought the affair amusing, I am a better version of my self for not reacting out of proportion. I am a better soldier for maintaining my self control.

In….

Out….

IMG_9276

Pork Trash

I try not to do things I don’t want to, and if I have to do something I try to delegate it or automate it. Cooking, for the most part is the same. I’d rather be reading or playing guitar than cook something. But I have to eat and protein shakes are not all they’re cracked up to be. So, besides the occasional meal that I go all out for, I like to streamline it as much as possible.

Fortunately the Paleo diet helps in this. When I go shopping I basically stay out of the middle of the store, hang around the edges, and buy a lot of meats and vegetables. The hard part (for me, as I’m learning) is finding good sources of fat (avocados, coconut) and such.

I also like to cook 99.9% of everything in one stovetop iron skillet. The other 0.01 percent is when I bake bacon, which is faster and I can cook more at a time. I also like to cook batches that I can then divvy up for another day or two (leftovers).

Today I had 16 ounces of ground pork (grass fed, no growth hormones, organic). So I decided to make some ‘trash’, which is just what I call it when I take whatever is in the refrigerator and toss it together in a skillet. Easy, no thinking, just mix it and eat.

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After I cooked this, I cooked a large broccoli head in a tbs of Irish butter.

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After this was cooked, I cooked a red bell pepper and Italian squash with a couple tbs of Coconut oil.

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When it was all done I added a very liberal sprinkling of himalayan salt. Seriously… don’t eat the white stuff that comes in the cardboard. Not the same.

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I divided it up into a serving for now, and 3 servings for later.

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Looking at the nutritional data, my lunch today is 400 calories.

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Proportionately it is a little high on the fat, I’ll tweak the coconut oil that I used (because the butter on the broccoli was amazing).

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But overall, not a bad lunch for just throwing something together.

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I’ll save this one as part of my regular meals. It comes out to around $4 per meal, most of which is the grass fed organic pork that I used. But the taste was great, and it is MUCH BETTER for you in the long run.

 

Courage-NelsonMandela1

Courage

Tonight I am reading some psychology text and it is mentioned that virtues are actions and happiness is a feeling and not to confuse the two.

This reminds me of Aristotle and I had to stop for a moment and get some thoughts out before continuing my tea-fueled reading.

It is common to hear someone say (and I have said is on many an occasion myself) that to be fearful and still do something, is the height of courage. In reading and thinking on Aristotle, I’ve come to believe that he took the opposite stance.

The virtuous person feels good in doing virtuous actions. Some people do them because they have a strong will, though they aren’t jazzed in doing it. They lack virtue, even though they are doing the actions. This is easy to understand in many examples, the person who gives a gift to someone, but who is thinking “I wasted money doing this”.

Take out the language and put in values of X and Y we see the formula that Aristotle laid out… that a virtuous person does something and feels pleasure in doing it.

Now, the same holds for the notion of courage. If a person is stands up and speaks zer mind, surrounded by antagonists, the courageous person will feel good in saying something, in acting with virtue. The person who does not feel this, though standing up for beliefs anyway, is not at heart a courageous person.

And I find that I have need to remind myself of the Golden Mean, the Middle Way, and a concept that many people have correctly said as nothing in excess (half true) but then misunderstand when they advocate for some numerically middle ground between extremes.

Golden-Mean

If a person must stand against several, it is natural to feel a sense of fear or anxiety or something, however brief. Our brains are wonderful at throwing a universe of ideas into the mix, most of which never stick to anything. For example, driving a car beside a cliff and the thought of “drive over the cliff” enters the mind. This is an absurd thought and it passes without consequence, never sticking to anything in the perception. So too the fleeting sense of anxiety in the mind of a courageous person, it comes and goes without any further ado because the person is filled with virtue.

An important part in this equation, in the balance for which we seek to find, is that of rational thought. Without this we are doomed. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose a person were to never act against the transgressions of others? It is relatively easy to see how this person is a coward. Yet in talking with people, the opposite is true, that a person who always acts against transgressions is not viewed as rash. It might be conceded that they can be a jerk, but never that they are not courageous. Herein lies part of the misunderstanding, we are confusing the action with the emotional feeling and back to the action.

It has been the case that I’ve been faced against one or more people and have felt afraid. It has also been the case that I’ve been in far greater danger and have gleefully entered into the fray. Without counting Iraq, I can count several instances where I have moved toward the sound of chaos. Shots fired, cries for help, harassing strangers, smell of fire, auto accidents, and more, I’ve moved forward. Truth be told, many times I’ve run dark streets (I’m a marathoner and train a lot) and I’ve asked the Universe that if there was a mugging, raping, shooting, theft, assault, to please let me have the good fortune to come upon it so that I might act upon it. My rational thought approaches a situation and weighs different values and questions. The mere feeling of desiring to go forward and fight someone is not courageous. Perhaps I’ve interpreted the situation wrongly and will now do harm to someone by mistake. Suppose I interpret everything around me as transgressing against me. Such we have the actions of many veterans I’ve worked with (and myself) where they are always eager to go into a fight. This, again, is not courage but instead is rash. Seeing things correctly (as correctly as we can) take wisdom, and wisdom is developed over time, with experience and thoughtful approach to each situation as it is. That is why Aristotle says:

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

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Another example. Recall the movie 300 where the Persian army is on the beach below and some of the Greeks feel despair while looking down on so many, whereas the Spartans were laughing and grinning. Both groups fought in the battle, both groups did the actions required (the miser giving the obligatory gift), yet only one group was joyous in their actions… the Spartans. The first group thought of the ensuing pain, the second thought of the glory and honor afforded to them. This is a central point raised in some discussions on heroic societies and the role of honor in that it enables the warrior to willingly, gleefully, move forward into battle… it helps to build courage.

Thus the person who trembles, but gets up anyway to declare an unpopular (but needed opinion) is not courageous. What can be said of them is that they have power of will. They didn’t want to rise up and speak, they didn’t want to cause undue attention to themselves, but they recognized something compelling them to do so (whether it is rules, strategy, politics, or other).

This is an unpopular position today, because everywhere you look there are definitions that say only the person afraid can show courage. It is in texts on military combat and PTSD, on communication books, on social justice commentary, and more. Again, I’ve used this phrase many times in my own trainings, to which I now recant.

This is not to say that the person of will is to be condemned because they do not have courage. Funny how many people take that meaning when discussing the virtue of courage but not with other virtues. Courage is connected to our sense of self mastery and we have deeply personal reflections on the term. If the person displays force of will and is able to act without courage, the doing so is necessary to develop courage. The first punches and stings from being tested hurt, yet we soon realize that the fear of pain is often worse than the pain itself. Through training, over time, and with growing experience and rational thought, courage can be developed, as can the other virtues.

Bill-Nye-debate

A fault with Creationism

I watched with interest the Bill Nye versus Ken Ham debate at the Creationism Museum yesterday.

Mr Ham tried resting his #Creationist position on what he called ‘historical science’ and asserted, though poorly, that because you weren’t there, you don’t really know.

If he had taken the time to unpack this argument, it does have some traction to it because it goes into what we think is causality and how we come to conclusions. However, he might have realized this as a poor strategy because what science does is assert the best answer to something until a better answer comes along.

For example… there are crazy circles in the crop. Some people (non scientists) will readily jump to “it is aliens”. Scientists will not automatically dismiss that idea, but will first ask “what is the more plausible explanation” and then test against it. In the case of crop circles… its hooligans with planks and rope.

Now, what Mr Ham has seriously erred with his stance is that his fall back position cuts both ways. If he says that all claims by science as to the age of the Earth are ultimately suspect because nobody was there to see this happen, and then he turns around and says that his position of creationism and a young earth did have someone there to witness God) (though not that one, ze is pretty cool) there is simply NO PROOF that 1: God exists, and 2: that we have proof of a record of such.

This is where he falls back onto his ultimate position, that “there is this book that tells…” Now, the question is, how do we know that this book (the King James Bible, as was referenced in the debate) is accurate? The paper it is written on, how do we know how old it is? The text it comes from, with historical accounts (witness statements) of it being transcribed under the command of King James, how do we know the earlier translations were correct? Is anyone from then alive now? Why should I take someone’s word? It isn’t like anyone has ever lied to maintain power and control before? Pardon my skepticism. Going further back, how do we know the Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Egyptian, and so forth, texts… that were a varied collection of texts by different authors, with different versions, with different ideas about the nature of God and Jesus and Mary… how do we know that any one of them is legit and which one, of all the variations and differences and disagreements between the texts, is correct? Nobody alive now was alive then? And how do we know any one of these texts that are transcribed are more than a hundred years old?

The error in using the ‘there are no living witnesses to verify an old Earth hypothesis” also work against the Creationists idea. I say it is an idea, because it does not fulfill the requirements of a ‘theory’.

The truth is that there was no one Bible that was created, but many different texts with different spins, authors, errors, viewpoints, that were consolidated 300 CE, which have been translated and changed since then. There is no proof of any great flood, many other mythologies have a myth of a great flood (read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, check out some African myths, and others), there is no proof of the Christian God, there is no proof that any portion of the Bible is anything other than written by men. Period.

What would convince me otherwise? Evidence. Creationism has no evidence. It is a myth. As long as some Christians continue to treat it as a word-for-word account, they are actually stunting their spiritual growth. Mythology has a deeply important role in the human psyche (or soul if you wish) to the extant that facts and figures do not. It is a great impoverishing to cut down the mythic themes in the particular set of myths known as the Bible (one of MANY sets of mythic realms around the world).

You can call it ‘truth’ all you wish… but it doesn’t make it so. Truth is not merely an emotional state of certainty… there are schizophrenics who are absolutely sure that bugs are crawling under their skin, or the dog is talking to them, but this does not make it true. There are people who are absolutely sure, feeling deep conviction, that their government is corrupt or noble, and this conviction does not mean that it is true. Conviction does not equal knowledge. The streets are filled with firmly convinced people of ignorance.

Many of the convinced Christian believers would be, if born in a Muslim country, be devout Muslims, or Hindus, or whatever. There is GREAT pressure to socially conform to the normative beliefs and behaviors of those around you. It ‘feels’ good when one fits in… it ‘feels wrong’ when one is outside of this system of beliefs.

Try it sometime… tell a complete stranger that you are something that is opposite your beliefs. For many of my friends who say that their anti GLBT bigotry is “just an opinion”… if this is the case, then it should be easy to show that opinion to a stranger. Tell a stranger that you are gay and notice how you feel. That feeling is the emotional pressure to conform. That is the basis of your belief… not rational thought. But don’t take my word for it… study psychology for a decade and come to your own conclusion using rational thought.

Ask questions, ask for evidence, and that will be a much better guide to finding any truth than trusting the word of one man or group of men in a religious sect. As Bill Nye made clear in his position… ‘we welcome evidence that proves us wrong’. Why? Because we are searching for TRUE knowledge, which is more than a fuzzy feeling.