Cupid’s Smartwatch

Imagine this:

You’re in a crowded bar with a few friends and a lot of strangers. Almost everyone is wearing a smartwatch, and these watches are all equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC). This technology allows your device to communicate directly with other devices—most importantly the other smartwatches.

NFC technology has existed in Android phones for some time now, but when Apple added it to their iPhone 6, the technology really took off.

You have a new social media app on your phone. And so do a lot of other people in the bar. It does a couple cool things:

Someone catches your eye in the bar, and you walk over to her. You don’t actually make personal contact, but you get your watch close enough to her watch that it activates the app. A picture of your face and some basic information pops up on her watch. She takes a look and decides she is interested. So she swipes right and your watch indicates that she’s interested. Her face and name also appear up on your watch. You then find the girl again and approach her, but this time making direct contact and starting a conversation.

If your face pops up on her watch and she’s not interested? She swipes left, you’re informed she’s not interested and you forget the interaction. If you’re out and you don’t want people bothering you, simply turn the app off.

Imagine something else: In a bar with 100 people, a few dozen have turned an app on that indicates they are interested in meeting and mingling. You’ve indicated your gender preference and as you walk through the bar, you’re notified if you come close to someone else who has also indicated they’re interested in mingling. Her face appears on your watch and you approach her (in a very gentlemanly fashion, of course).

Maybe she’s interested in you once you meet and maybe she’s not. But before you approach her, you at least know she is interested in potentially meeting someone.

These are certainly not deeply emotional apps. And I’m not saying they don’t have potential downfalls. But this could be the future with wearable technology.


The New Balance of Power

This is a guest post from Jonathan Padway, an American currently serving in the Peace Corps in Rwanda. It was my pleasure to contribute my thoughts to the piece as well.

In the 19th century,the pattern of diplomacy was dictated by a balance of power between states: Europe to be geographically precise. The major players understood that if they allowed one state to become too large in power and influence, that state would dominate the globe. Various medium powers, throughout the 19th century, shifted their power to the weaker side to balance the power spectrum within Europe to ensure that no one state would dominate the rest.

The rise of the German empire in the 19th century, resulting from the late-blooming of an industrial revolution, enrolled Germany as a major player in the balance of power. Otto von Bismarck used Germany’s position to maintain a balance within the system through treaties and alliances within Europe.  World War I was the eventual result of these diplomatic tactics: Germany became too large for the others to contain and a new dynamic was the result.  

Woodrow Wilson, in his 14 Points, outlined the evolution of diplomacy and relations between states. He proclaimed that America’s duty was to promote democracy, intervene where injustice was rampant, and enforce the tenants of the constitution as rules for global citizens. Before the Great War, America’s diplomatic tactics of isolation allowed the country to avoid Europe’s quarrels and stood as a beacon of light for democracy. Wilson’s proclamation however ended that era of “isolation” (discounting the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt’s Corollary, and the Manifest Destiny: anything related to America’s sphere of influence). The 20th century was dominated by American will and influence. The balance of power system established by the, at the time, dominant European powers had been replaced by the American vision of democracy, good governance, and free will.

Post-World War II Europe placed America at the forefront of diplomacy. The United States used this opportunity of flexibility to impose a world of diplomacy that mirrored American wishes. The formation of organizations such as the UN, NATO, Bretton-Woods, and an influential role in economic policy, such as through the Marshall Plan, embedded the American style into global relations between states. International organizations formed under the auspices of the American government, with their style and influence embedded in their bureaucracy. The Cold War pitted American-styled democracy against Soviet-styled dictatorship. Even so, the pattern of influence and imposition of “a world safe for democracy” by United States diplomats ruled the day.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the technology revolution of the 1990s spawned a challenge for this style of intervention diplomacy. No longer was American meddling in foreign affairs perceived to be promoting democracy, but as an intrusion into the affairs of sovereign states (The Afghanistan and Iraq wars and drone attacks stand examples). Not that this wasn’t the case before the 1990s, but there was no longer a “Red Menace” to combat. The technology revolution allowed for mass information to be shared among the world’s population, creating a major base of educated persons. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States had no force to focus their diplomatic efforts against. The dynamic of global diplomacy had changed overnight and the American sights had no target to set upon.


The New Balance of Power that emerged from the technology revolution of the 1990s and dissolution of the Soviet Union, coupled with the coming of the EU, does not allow for a unipolar world of diplomacy. The rise of competitive sovereigns to the United States calls for a new outlook on American diplomacy. A new variation of balance of power politics. World leaders must now not only take into account the superpowers and economically dominant states but they must also cooperate with emerging supranational institutions and what I call the “global citizen.” The balance, as newly defined, exists as such: global superpowers, economic hegemons, supranational institutions (conglomerations of states), and the global citizen. All of the voices inherent in each of the above players represent concerns from legitimate sources with power behind every voice.

The 19th century’s balance of power relied on measuring the relative powers of Europe against each other and checking them to ensure that no one power would emerge dominant. The 21st century’s balance of power must also incorporate this, but on a global scale. The relevant players may be the United States, China, India, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. This list is not by any means exhaustive. If we are to have a solvent diplomatic balance, the players must account for everyone’s wishes and make certain that no one power exceeds the rest. It is imperative that it be a system of cooperation and diplomacy rather than the force and realism of the 19th century. This is not to say that the United States should weaken their voice and military might but, in a world where a delicate balance exists, we must recognize that a bull in a china shop is not the solution to the game of diplomacy. The new players (supranational institutions and the global citizen) present the field with such delicate dynamics as mentioned. The will and voices of these many outweigh the strength of any amount of firepower. We must see each other as a global community rather than a fragmented society of aggressors.

Emerging supranational institutions will inevitably play a role in the new balance of power. The European Union, the African Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and MERCOSUR (South America’s trade bloc) represent examples of these emerging bastions of power. They vary vastly not only in purpose but also in structure. This does not diminish their potential effect on diplomacy’s evolution in the 21st century. These must also be taken into account by diplomats when discussing, forming, and implementing policy. The growth of these supranational institutions is leading on a path of collective governance, responsibility, and power. The European Union stands out as a striking example of the growing importance of these institutions. As a united front, the states of Europe have increasingly more legitimacy in global affairs due to their combined voice.

The rising “global citizen.” This term is defined by the world populace. It is based on the premise that a global conscience exists, voiced through the internet. We have seen the existence of this body whenever civil unrest is prevalent in a country. The internet ignites in support for the suffering victims of a country’s ill-management. This has been witnessed innumerable times: the Arab Spring, Venezuela, and Ukraine as recent examples. Concerned global citizens voice their unease and disapproval over the forum of the internet which sets off a media frenzy, placing the issue front and center to diplomats and policy-makers. This body did not just emerge overnight, but it was lent a hand with the spawn of the internet and the tech revolution of the ‘90s. The internet is a tool beyond anything the world’s history has ever seen. Not only can vast stores of information be accessed from almost anywhere on the globe, but the ability to communicate to almost any population is now available to the general public. Through this medium, a common voice has arisen among people. An appreciation for general rights has been recognized and that common voice rallies against suppression of those rights. With the internet as a tool, the ability to rally support and pressure bodies of governance through online petitions and awareness is becoming more commonplace. The global citizenry speaks in force to change the tide of politics, society, and the like, to what is in their favor.

In accordance with the 19th century balance of power, the intentions of many players must be taken into account in order to create a functioning diplomatic system in the world for this new century. However, as a departure from that period of history, the players are no longer only states confined to Europe, and realism is contrary to the functioning of the New Balance of Power. This system for the 21st century must rely on cooperation and bargaining. The playing field is no longer reserved only for states, it has been opened to emerging powers, up-and-coming supranational institutions, and the rising “global citizen.”



Some simple advice from a recent college graduate

It’s been only a year since I flipped the tassel to the other side, and I still have a lot to learn myself, but I’ve also picked up some valuable lessons in the last 12 months. Everyone has a different situation, but I hope most can relate to these few simple suggestions.


1. The fun does not stop.

Will you ever have more fun than your college years? Perhaps not. Do hangovers get worse once you graduate? Absolutely. But don’t think that the fun ends when you enter the real world. In fact, it can really be a blast.

Weekends are still great, and sometimes you can even treat yourself to a weeknight out. There are no more papers. No more reading assignments. No more midterms. I hope your job allows you to go home most nights and relax. It is an incredibly fun part about having a real job. Your budget for fun also expands.


2. You are not locking yourself into a career.

Still having doubts about that degree you earned? Not sure about the job you just accepted? That’s OK. In fact, it’s very OK. At my last job, I worked with a man named Bill. He went to school for pharmacy, completed the program and then worked a few years as a pharmacist. But it wasn’t at all what he wanted. So he left healthcare altogether, went back to school for landscape architecture and is very successful (and happy) in his field.

Your first few jobs may in fact lead you into what you really love. And at the very least, those first few jobs are going to teach you a lot about professional practices and skills. Work hard and don’t worry if you think there might be something completely different in your future. It’s very possible.


3. Retirement is not the only thing you have to look forward to.

None of us can afford to wait until we’re 65 (or 70… or 75…) to finally enjoy life. And we don’t have to. Think about how valuable the next 45 years of your life are to you and then consider if you want to drive yourself into the ground working, or enjoy life as well. I hope you find room for the second.

In a recent TED talk, David Brooks discussed building your resume versus building your eulogy. I hope your eulogy is a long way off, but now is the time to consider how you want to spend your very finite time on this Earth. I hope you have a lot of fun before retirement.


4. Start saving now.

I know, I know. I just told you to stop looking toward retirement, but this time in life is very important if you are going to be able to enjoy life after 65 as well. It’s really important to start putting away money in a retirement account now. And here’s why:

  • If you contribute $75 per month for 10 years between the ages of 25 to 30 – and nothing after that—you will retire at 65 with $98,000. (An $89,000 gain)
  • If you contribute $100 per month between the ages of 40 to 65, you will retire with $78,000. (A $48,000 gain)
  • If you contribute $300 per month between the ages of 50-65, you will retire with $94,000. (A $40,000 gain)

Because of compounding interest, it incredibly valuable to start saving as early as possible. I cannot personally recommend $75 per month right away, and it is also very important to pay off debts. But consider the little bit you can do now to set yourself up for many great late years. (I’m also not a financial specialist, so those above numbers are slightly made up, but generally realistic.)


5. Know your resources.

If you’re like me, you didn’t strike a jackpot salary right out of school. There are a lot of resources for low income residents though that can help stretch your paycheck. Check out low income rent in your area. In Madison, for instance, those making under the low-$30,000s can be eligible for reduced rent. And many times these low income units are within new developments. Developers can collect nice payments for offering a percentage of low income units. They are often the same exact units, but just hundreds of dollars less per month.

Many cities also offer great services like tax filing assistance, which could be great if you have never filed taxes on your own before.

Facebook isn’t going anywhere soon, but it’s slowly killing itself

People like attention. Even shy people enjoy the idea that others appreciate them and their work, especially when you can engage comfortably from behind the walls of the internet.

We all might like varying levels of attention, but when we want it, we are going to try to put the least amount of effort into gaining as much attention as possible.

That’s what made Facebook great for so long. A simple post could garner a slew of likes and comments within hours. It paid to put effort into regular updates because you could gain the satisfaction that people paid attention to you by liking your material.

facebook-graveyard-imageBut as Facebook algorithms have changed in recent years, so has the attention. On a personal level, you most likely have seen your likes and comments go down. On a professional level, organizations have seen their reach drop tremendously.

The figures have gone from a 16% reach in Feburary 2012 to 6.5% in March 2014.

There should be no surprise it’s about money. Both personal and professional pages now have the chance to pay money to promote their posts. It’s incredibly effective and can boost the reach of a post tremendously. But it’s not organic, and the system is forcing out un-paid content.

Money is important, but Facebook is taking short-term gains that will play out into long-term disaster.

Here are a few likely thoughts from the common personal Facebook user:

Huh, my likes and comments are down….

…People must not be using Facebook anymore. I better find something new.

…I guess my material isn’t as interesting as it used to be. No point in putting more effort into my bunk content.

…My life isn’t as interesting as it used to be. Clearly no one wants to hear about it anymore.


Any three of these scenarios lead to the same result: people spending less time on Facebook or simply leaving altogether.

So while the social media pioneer has astutely found a great opportunity to make money by offering more views in exchange for cash, there simply are not going to be any eyes to see that paid content very soon.

As people leave, disappointed that they no longer receive any attention (because their organic posts are drowned out by paid users), there won’t a market for advertisers and the money will dry up. What Facebook will be left with is a site devoid of both organic users and the paid machines.


A Great Example of the Broken Algorithm

Recently I watched with unbelieving shock as my alma mater advanced to the Final Four. It wasn’t surprising that just about every Badger fan I knew took to Facebook to proclaim their love and joy.

But so much excitement encompassing an entire community broke the algorithm. Facebook become a cycle of people liking the same sentiment from the person who had just liked their nearly identical post. Which is fine for a few hours. But this went on for days.

Facebook, through its infinite wisdom, collected these popular posts and continued to recycle them through my news feed for days. New content barely had a chance to gain a foothold. And suddenly I was reading the same material days old.

Eventually, the situation ironed itself out, but more than ever over the last months, I find posts 24 or 48 hours old appearing at the top of my news feed. In a day where more of us are becoming addicted to Twitter, a few hours is already often too old.


What Can I do?

You have a few options when it comes to Facebook:

  1. Post only the most fantastic news. Make sure people comment using the word “congratulations,” because that’s a positive trigger in the algorithm.
  2. Become an anarchist. You have the option to click on a tab within every advertisement or sponsored post that allows you to tell Facebook to stop showing that content. Go through every one of these posts and tell Facebook you don’t need it. Then when they ask further, tell them it’s spam or indecent. Just see what happens.
  3. Constructively repair Facebook. Also within every tab is an option to “Make News Feed Better!” Only issue is… I’ve been attempting to load this page for an hour without any luck. So I’ve given up on that.
  4. Leave Facebook. Go find something else that makes you feel more appreciated.


Is Facebook Done?

Certainly not.

But it’s well on its way.

Over 1.2 billion people are on Facebook. That’s over 17% of the world’s population and over 50% of all internet users worldwide. Those are staggering figures, and it is going to take a long time for Facebook to kill itself. But it’s on its way, and we’ve seen before how quickly a social media site can crash and burn. (RIP Myspace)

Facebook had strong potential to become a permanent fixture in modern technology. And it still does, but not if it doesn’t change its operations. Mark Zuckerberg has a couple options: Return Facebook to its prime and live in the glory of having created a communications platform that will last for generations. Or make a few billion over the next decade before watching his creation die. No one can blame a guy for taking the cash, but Zuckerberg could have been the modern Edison or Ford.

Parties Need to Diversify Ideologies

The United States national political scene is hopelessly a two-party system.

It is unrealistic to imagine the emergence of a viable third national party within our lifetimes. As long as elections are determined by a simple plurality or ‘first past the post,’ it will be incredibly difficult for a third party to gain seats in Congress or win a Presidential election.

But the two-party system is not necessarily to blame. The issue lies in both parties creating homogenized ideologies over the last half century. Individuals say what the party says and a gridlock between just two ideological camps is born.

But it certainly has not always been this way. Political blogger Ezra Klein explains a world where party affiliation did not necessarily predict ideology.

“In the mid-20th century, the two major political parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats in the South were often more conservative than Republicans in the North. The strange jumble in political coalitions made disagreement easier. The other party wasn’t so threatening because it included lots of people you agreed with.”

So how do we break apart the parties? Caucuses could be the solution.

Congressional Member Organizations, often formed as caucuses, are officially recognized factions of Congress. They are governed by a few rules pertaining to funding and staffing and must register, but otherwise the groups are free to form around just about any topic or ideology.

Some caucuses contain members of just one party. The Blue Dogs are more conservative members of the Democratic Party. The Republican Study Committee is a subset of 170 Republicans.

Other caucuses reach across party lines, such as the Congressional Pro-Trade Caucus, the Senate Oceans Caucus or the U.S.-China Working Group. These groups bring together like-minded individuals from both sides of the aisle.

Both partisan and bi-partisan caucuses have the potential to blur the lines. The Senate Oceans Caucus allows for coalition building on marine issues. A coalition of like-minded Senators from both sides can provide another alternative on specific issues to the traditional ideologies of the two parties.

And partisan caucuses can break apart a party as well. The Tea Party Caucus was formed in 2010 and had 66 members. Although it has officially gone dormant, the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is alive and well.

The 2013 federal government shutdown came to an end when moderate Republicans broke away from the Tea Party and formed a compromise with Democrats. The eventual compromise bill received support from every Democrat in the House and Senate but divided the Republican Party.

In essence, you had three groups fighting for a solution. The party had been broken and compromise was struck.

We may never break away from the two-party system, but it is insane to think that every member of a political party should have the same ideology. It’s time for elected officials to think for themselves and find others who also think like them, even if they have a different letter next to their name.

And it’s not just Americans who are fed up.

“Parties need to redefine their culture by which they do politics,” said British MP Douglas Carswell in a recent interview with The Economist. “Instead of this absurd belief that every single conservative has to subscribe to the same views and beliefs, we should lighten up. We should relax. We should recognize that parties are broad coalitions of people with different views. And that’s fine, that’s okay.”


A Decade of Dissatisfaction: What’s to Blame?

The latest Gallup poll finds that 73 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction their country is heading.

While this is an improvement over figures in the high-80s during the height of the recession, it remains difficult to swallow the pessimism of 7-in-10 Americans.

And this is no recent trend. March marked 122 consecutive months in which more Americans believed their country was on the wrong path than the right path. An entire decade. These figures transcend both political parties who have each controlled the White House and Congress at various points over the last decade.


The Economy

An easy indicator of economic health is the unemployment rate. Current figures show that 6.7 percent of Americans are unemployed, an improvement from 10 percent in October 2008. The beginnings of the economic crisis pushed dissatisfaction numbers to their highest in the history of the poll. In October 2008, 91 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the direction their country was headed in. And who can blame them? Unemployment had risen two percent in the previous 12 months.

It was another year, October 2009, before unemployment peaked. But oddly, the number of dissatisfied Americans had dropped to 71 percent by then. So the economy almost certainly has played a role in the dissatisfaction of Americans, but there is no definitive correlation.


The Real Problem

I was 12 the last time a majority of Americans felt satisfied with the direction of their country. My generation has grown up suffocating under a decade of pessimism.

So how can we expect energetic and optimistic leaders to emerge from the Millennials? I worry that the hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation could be extinguished by the pessimism of the agitated country they have grown up in.

The first thing we have to ask ourselves is: why we are heading in our current direction and who is leading us there? Americans have resoundingly stated for 10 years that whatever that direction is, they don’t like it.

The second question we must ask ourselves is: who can lead us in a different direction? The answer becomes clearer with every month of dissatisfaction that passes.

And that answer doesn’t involve a change in political party. The answer does not involve the next election or a new Congress.

No, the answer involves a new type of leader. And more of them.

As members of a democracy, we all have an opportunity to lead. And true democratic citizens have an obligation to lead. Leadership is not reserved for a fixed number of seats on the city council or in the US Senate. Instead, we all have the chance to take up the responsibility to lead in our own way.


What Makes a True Leader?

Leaders do not mock.

Leaders do not scream.

Leaders do not dwell on the failings of their neighbors.

Leaders are empathetic.

Leaders are respectful.

Leaders have open minds.

Leaders want to find a solution.

Leaders are selfless.

These are qualities not easily found among our elected officials. Those who practice mockery and relish in the failures of their opponents are weak leaders. Those who lack respect, empathy and compromise are weak leaders.

It’s time for us to step up and be the leaders we want to see. In our towns and in our offices. On the street and online. And perhaps even as elected officials.

We cannot afford to suffer another decade in the wrong direction. Weak leaders are more than content to take America down the wrong path because they fail the conviction to put aside their selfish desires.

We need true leaders in every neighborhood, town and state who are willing to reach a hand out to any neighbor. We need true leaders who don’t view someone from the other side of the aisle as the enemy. We need leaders who understand that their personal agendas are small when compared to the common well-being of their country.


And who better to take up this challenge than the generation that has grown up knowing only dissatisfaction. We have nothing to lose.

A night with Glen David Andrews at d.b.a.

It was Monday night at d.b.a. in New Orleans and Glen David Andrews was putting on a performance not easily forgotten.

Every patron in the packed club, off the main drag, on Frenchmen Street, was willfully committing themselves to this possibly dangerous intoxication. Dripping in sweat and eyes in rage, the six grown men on stage seemed both recklessly out of control of the situation while also fully in charge of this new experiment.

In a city known beyond borders for its jazz, this new experiment was something out of the ordinary. And that was a good thing. In the audience, we had little clue what to do with ourselves other than fall into the trap of these sounds—only interrupted when we were asked to catch the falling lead man, Glen David Andrews, as he threw himself into the crowd to be passed around, trombone held high.

Andrews was born in New Orleans, a product of the Treme Neighborhood. He’s been wielding the trombone since age 12, performing for passersby in Jackson square for 20 years before taking the stage for his first permanent gig at d.b.a.

He’s a towering presence there, literally, standing at 6-foot-4. And he’s a connected presence in the city’s famed jazz community.  The older cousin of Trombone Shorty and brother of Rebirth Brass Band drummer Derrick Tubb, Andrews grew up with the famous brass bands of New Orleans.

“But d.b.a. was the first club to give me a residency and they have backed me through some very trying times in my life,” Andrews said. “You know, it’s more than just a gig. They wanted to see me become a New Orleans great musician.”

The club is nestled in a cozy, unassuming brown building on Frenchmen Street, a comfortable nine blocks from the nausea of Bourbon Street. Only a small sign hangs above the front door of d.b.a., letting you know you’re about to enter the most exciting three letters of your life.
We had no idea really what to expect when we walked into the club. It’s not entirely fair to describe Andrew’s performance as a show. It was an experience. It also would not be fair to describe his music as jazz. Or as blues. Or as gospel.

With a golden trombone as his weapon and raspy voice as his tool, Andrews and his band battled through every stereotype that night of what limits a traditional blues artist should recoil from and challenged all the boundaries an R&B musician should never cross. He crossed them all, creating something entirely unique.

Andrews can be found at d.b.a. (which, depending on who you ask, stands for a number of different acronyms) every Monday night. If you find yourself so lucky to be in New Orleans on a Monday evening, you hardly have a relevant excuse to pass up your opportunity to experience the fist-pumping-gospel-rave-sweat-flying-jazz that has made Andrews’ reputation.

“My music,” Andrews said. “It’s the same ingredient that’s in Rebirth Brass Band. Same ingredient that’s adopted by Trombone Shorty. A mixture of pure R&B, punk, gospel, blues and folk rock.”

Off stage, Andrews can be short-spoken, but when the lights shine bright, his personality explodes.

Andrews isn’t the type of artist to take requests, but he did have a favor to ask of us the night we stood in d.b.a. He wanted to be passed over the crowd. “Will all the strong men please come to the front of the stage,” Andrews requested. And everybody did.

As my visit to d.b.a. taught me, you never really experience jazz until you’re holding it over your head.

Andrews did everything he could do make certain we were as much of the show as he was. “Jump around!” he pleaded. “Everybody scream!” he demanded. And everybody did.

Nearly three years have passed since I first heard it for myself, but his ultra-catchy song Rockstar, still plays in my head.

You gotta be what you wanna be,
Don’t wanna anyone to know where you want to go.
Love the one who’s your girl.
Go crazy.
She want a rock star,
I’ll be a rock star.

A desperate need for acceptance

It’s time for civil discourse.

While watching a Sunday morning political talk show today, I was struck by a pretty awful realization. The round table discussion featured a liberal viewpoint, a conservative viewpoint and a few partisan-neutral opinions. The camera panned to a gentleman who I had never seen or heard of before. But below his face was a label identifying him as a strategist for a political party that holds views not generally in line with mine.

Within a split second, my mind labeled this man with disgust. The enemy. He hadn’t even said anything. But our country is full of people who are not trained to listen, but instead rush to hate. Myself included.

The political divide in the United States has become so severe, that anyone labeled as belonging to a political group not our own is an instant enemy. This is embarrassing. This is wrong.

Take a look at the following four pictures. You will recognize the first two as Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. The next two are a pair of political strategists. On the left is Ed Berstein, longtime Democratic Party advisor. And on the right is Nicholas Wolf, a GOP strategist.


The vast majority of people in this country likely would have reactions of strong dislike or potentially even hate towards two of those four individuals.

I can understand how hatred is formed for Mr. Obama or Ms. Palin. They have made policies and speeches that give you reason to form negative opinions. (And vice versa, positive opinions.)

But Ed and Nicholas? I guarantee you’ve never heard of them and I guarantee you have no idea what their thoughts and opinions on national policy are. And how can I guarantee that?

Because they’re not real.

Fake names, fake positions, fake photos that I found somewhere on the internet.

But I’m willing to bet half of you took an immediate disliking to Ed and the other half to Nicholas. Just because of their political labels.

This is a toxic environment we have been conditioned to respond to. And it must end.

We will have no peace and progress in society if we continue to slip deeper and deeper into our bubbles of ideology. We cannot continue to assume that a person who subscribes to a different political ideology is a bad person or deserves to be hated.

As a country, we need to adopt an understanding for civil and respectful political debate. We cannot simply pretend that it is OK to hate one half of your fellow citizens.

So when you encounter someone of different political values, hold your judgment. Listen to them, take into consideration their existence as a humble human deserving of respect and be open to the idea that they are a good person.

I received great advice when I was younger: Never doubt that the vast majority of people in this country form opinions and make choices because they genuinely feel it’s what is best for the nation. They may have different methods and ideas, but always remember that they too simply want a prosperous and happy country.

It’s time to adopt a new strategy. So let’s be open. Let’s withhold judgment. And let us learn to accept our friends and neighbors as good human beings, even if we disagree politically.

Random Fact: The average polar bear can swim nonstop for over 62 miles.

To live in a lighthouse

It is an interesting life to have grown up in a lighthouse. A beacon of hope and reliability, there is no more reassuring comfort for a sailor out on the lake than to see the bright glow of a light from shore.

Like all beacons, the light has a unique signal. It’s identity. Four seconds of light, followed by four seconds of darkness. Even as the sky plunges into black, you know there will again soon be light. You also come to understand that the light does not last forever. Darkness inevitably always comes.

No blinds can drown out the glow of a 1,000 watt bulb. So every night while drifting off to sleep, the light floods my room. For four seconds, complete illumination. For four seconds, pitch darkness.

And that’s a the ebb and flow of life. There will certainly always be light and there will certainly always be dark. But darkness does not last long when you live in a lighthouse. You learn to trust the reliability and order of things. Of all that changes in life and of all that comes to pass in this world, there has always been four seconds of light followed by four seconds of darkness. Followed again by light. Change will happen and change is good. But we all need our reliable and our constant.

And somehow that light becomes just as much a beacon of hope on land, as for the sailors out on the open waters.

Taking a risk on compassion

I want to tell you about a time I was robbed.

Just about a year ago now, a man approached me in broad daylight outside my apartment. He told me a story about his daughter boarding a flight that morning and accidentally leaving with his wallet. He no longer had money to buy the gas he needed to get home. After soaking in a few more details, including his career as an offensive lineman for the Badgers, I agreed to loan him some money.

Within about an hour, it became pretty clear to me that I had been duped. I was incredibly embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. It made me really mad for months as I replayed the moment in my head. It still angers me today.

The story isn’t even close to believable thinking about it now, but in the moment, I had a choice to make: take a risk on compassion or ignore a man who may possibly actually be in need.

I’ll admit, I’ve been less compassionate to strangers since that day. And for more than stealing my money, I resent the man for that.

It’s true that there are people out there scamming compassionate people. But there is a growing stigma in society that has forced people to shut off all compassion to anyone who asks for help. Compassion has grown absent, replaced by an attitude that assumes all those who ask for help are greedy and manipulative freeloaders.

A television network host recently dressed himself as a homeless person and begged for money on the streets of New York City. He received a lot of generosity from people. His message was to abandon your trust in beggars on the street. The larger attitude he preached was to not trust those who ask for help. “Most people” begging on the streets are fakes, he said. It is a dangerous thought to put in the heads of a society already losing their ability to grasp compassion.

Here’s the problem with that attitude:

When we begin to tell ourselves that most who ask for help are lazy freeloaders, we close ourselves off from those who actually are in need.

Are imposter beggars and those who take advantage of the system bad people? Yes.

But who are we when we then ignore all those actually in need as well simply because a few are manipulating our emotions? Surely we too have committed a serious moral crime.

I remember a Bible story from when I was young. Christ angered the people in his village because he had dinner with the worst of the worst in society. But his message was that those people were just as in need of our help and compassion. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

The woman who asks for your money only to buy alcohol: Why do we fail to show compassion for her addiction? The guy who robbed me: Why does our compassion fail for this man who obviously has lost his understanding for morals and his own compassion for others?

Are these people not just as in need?

I’ve developed two points now, and here they are:

1) We are just as wrong to ignore all people because a few are manipulators, as those who attempt to manipulate us. When we choose to ignore all, we also choose to ignore those actually in need.

2) And those who do manipulate us, those who take advantage of our sympathy: They too deserve a piece of our compassion as well. Those were the beliefs that I was raised on.

To show true compassion is to find sympathy for all in need. Whatever their needs may be.