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Lessons From Mr. Miyagi

By: Karen J. Allen
Co-Publisher, On the Gay Horizon

Do you remember in the “Karate Kid” when Mr. Miyagi had Daniel stand on that stump for hours practicing the Crane? Besides being a set-up for the kick that took out his opponent at the end of the movie, this was a way for Daniel to learn balance. He also did a seemingly endless series of chores, like paint fences and wax cars, designed to train his muscles --- “wax on, wax off”.  Ann-Marie talks about the importance of muscle memory, as it relates to fitness, all the time.  


I have a pretty small apartment. How silly do you suppose I would look practicing the Crane out on my second floor balcony? Hmmm…..perhaps I’d rather not have anyone’s response to that.  


But I am definitely feeling the need for some balance. To me, it seems like the world is tilting out of control and I think this muscle memory concept has a lot to do with it. Our responses to each other have become so conditioned that we don’t even have to think. We simply react.  It’s more like fencing. Thrust! Parry!  We’ve lost the inclination, if not the ability, to communicate with each other. Instead of sincere, genuine discussion and exchange of ideas, conversation has become nothing more than talking points. 


And you know what the worst part of all of this is? I’d like to say that it’s Republican obstructionists in Congress who are preventing people from getting the medical attention that they currently can’t access. Or the relentless crusading of the religious right as they travel state to state, attempting to undo any progress made by the GLBT community. Or the racism of our ancestors that seemingly won’t die as evidenced in the vitriolic outpouring of simply awful rhetoric and slogans at rallies all over the country.  


Yeah, that’s what I would like to say. And don’t get me wrong, everything I listed is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but I’m afraid the answer to my question is just a wee bit closer to home. 


The other day, I was sitting in this small insurance office trying to wade through all of the forms required to transfer my car insurance to South Carolina and to obtain some sort of health insurance before my COBRA period lapses. Ugh! I hate everything about insurance. But I liked the folks at this agency. I was there for quite awhile and was really enjoying talking with them. Then I glanced at this notice on one of their bulletin boards and I recognized an annoying post that had circulated online about Democrats being responsible for all of the ills of society. Yikes! I was practically bonding with Republicans! And, in a heartbeat, my entire opinion of them changed. Instead of being open to learning who they were, I, all of a sudden, knew everything I needed to know and that was “are we done, yet?”   


Now, to give myself a smidgen of credit, this reaction happened in a micro-second and I caught myself. I like to think that I’m a fairly decent person and that I try not to be judgmental. But I have to tell you, my conditioned response was immediate, and it got me to thinking about muscle memory. Isn’t brainwashing pretty much the same thing? Being fed the same doctrines over and over until they feel like truth? Throw in peer pressure and crowd mentality and its not that hard to see why our world is tilting in the direction it is.  


I just finished Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol. Not to worry, I won’t give away the plot (weak as it is). But one of the things that it talks about is the power of our thoughts. Not just as presented by philosophers and theologians, but by scientists and cutting-edge research. I find all of that incredibly fascinating and could talk about it for far longer than you would probably wish to listen, but what grabbed my attention is how this applies to the deepening schism in our nation and the world. 


As we listen to one side or the other make the same arguments over and over, extolling the evils of the other side, we start to accept what is said as fact. Especially because we tend to only listen to one side. We, in turn, repeat it. It grows and snowballs. Pretty soon it takes on a life of its own and huge numbers of people are thinking the same thoughts. The more energy put into thought the more effect it has. This can be a good thing if large numbers of people are focused on something like world peace or saving the planet. But when it’s directed against something --- or someone --- it becomes something else entirely. Add to that the fact that a tremendous amount of what is being put out there is contrived and manipulative, consciously designed to play on people’s fears and vulnerabilities and it becomes very dangerous. 


Oscar Wilde said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” 


Not long ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was basically ridiculed for drawing parallels between the rhetoric being used to vilify President Obama today and what was being said in the 70’s right before the assassination of Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Just this week, New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, compared the current campaign by the far right wing, intent on destroying the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, to the attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s character right before he was assassinated.  


Friedman went on to write, “What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, ‘Should Obama be killed?’ The choices were: ‘No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.’” 


It is a kind of madness --- the kind that comes from group thought making the very same action acceptable one day and unthinkable another.  


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently made a posthumous apology for what happened to Alan Turing. He was the British mathematician who broke the code generated by the German Enigma machines during World War II. This very likely changed the course of history. Time Magazine named Turing as one of the “100 Most Important People of the 20th Century” for his role in the creation of the computer. But rather than honor Alan Turing, the British government convicted him of “gross indecency for having a homosexual relationship”. In 1952, the year after I was born, the punishment in England for being gay was either prison or chemical castration. Turing chose castration but then committed suicide less than two years later.  


Very powerful, the effect of mass consciousness. What was considered acceptable in the beginning of my lifetime has changed. We haven’t changed. A gay person today is pretty much the same as back in 1952. But group thought has changed. And, today, with instant communication, constant media bombardment, shifts in collective thought are taking place at an unprecedented speed. Is this a good thing?  


Sometimes. Sometimes not so good.   


It’s good when the momentum has shifted toward mutual respect and equality. We’re seeing that everyday with regard to overall acceptance of the GLBT community. But in other ways, mass acceptance of over-the-top speech and behavior has hit an all-time low. We see it in the lengths advertisers will go to hawk their products, what attorneys will do to win for their clients, what drug makers will claim to get us to use their newest concoctions and, the most blatant of all, what politicians and pundits will do for power.  


As Americans, we are so enamored of our right to free speech that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that just because we can say something that doesn’t mean that we should. Our words and are thoughts have power, and we are responsible for what they create. We may not feel like there’s much we can do to stop the swift boaters and Rush Limbaughs, but we can monitor our own thoughts and behaviors. We can recognize when our response is to a label and generalization rather than to an individual or what is actually being said. We can stop allowing ourselves to be force-fed the same party lines day after day. And we can make it clear to those in our lives that we are no longer going to participate in this polarization.  


I was living in California in 1978. I remember the candlelight vigil on the steps of City Hall. The irony of that tragic event was that Dan White’s bullet made a martyr out of Harvey Milk and significantly advanced gay rights.   


But, at what cost?



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  What's Your Healthcare Plan?


By: Ann-Marie Giglio
Co-Publisher, On the Gay Horizon


You've heard a lot about health care these past weeks, but I bet you haven't heard this. I was listening to an interview of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and when asked if he had any thoughts about the health care system, he quickly responded by saying he had one thing to propose.  "We should pass one law," he said.  "We should make it the law that insurance companies must insure pre-existing conditions."

What a fabulous idea!  Think about it.  Currently, if you change jobs, and change insurance companies, but you had recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, your new insurance company won't have anything to do with you.  But if they were forced to take over the expense of caring for you, I bet they would suddenly become very interested in preventing what is a very preventable disease.

Because if you look at it, right now, we reward people for destructive behavior.  The deal is, smoke cigarettes, eat horribly, stop moving, and in 15 or 20 years, when the sludge and muck in your body brings on its premature decline, doctors and insurance companies will work hand-in-hand to put you on what I call life-support for the next 20 or 30 years, including prescription meds, surgery, parts replacement, and whatever else science comes up with, until you die.

And who pays for that?  We do.  That's the theory of insurance.  Spread that risk out as thinly as possible.  Problem is, these drugs and treatments and surgeries are extremely expensive and show no signs of becoming more affordable.  They do not follow the law of supply and demand.  In this country, the demand increases by double digits each year--and so does the cost.

But if we change this one thing--no more exclusions--everything shifts.  The repercussions just don't stop.  Type II diabetes and much heart disease and many, if not most, cancers are preventable.

Imagine if we were being asked by our doctors--dare I say prescribed?--to exercise and move our bodies?  And get massages?  And find physical strength and balance?  And our insurance covered it?  We'd all RUN to a fitness facility.  We would be out meeting people we don't ordinarily see.  Our social fabric would expand and strengthen.  Entire wellness industries would thrive.  Children would be taught to make good choices.  We'd have alert bus drivers and pilots, air traffic controllers, construction workers, teachers.  People would function on all cylinders.

And that's only half of the equation.  We'd also have to clean up our food supply, because nutrition is crucial to good health.  That would require lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, picked when ripe, processed and transported minimally--which means a return to smaller farms and local eating--a movement that's already begun.  Of course, that doesn't work everywhere, but for as much as it does, it adds up to a profound impact on our diets.  And our soils.  If we return to smaller, more diversified farms we don't need to use the chemicals on our crops and animals that end up in our water supply and our ocean sea life, and us.  The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, today the size of Rhode Island, might actually rebound.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

One small change.  One enormous impact.  Like so many things I've written about this year.  I think this is the best health care plan out there.

What do you think?




  One At a Time


Fit in a Year - Week 27


By: Ann-Marie Giglio
Co-Publisher, On the Gay Horizon


I was walking the trail behind my house yesterday, and saw the same 40-foot tree dangling along a tiny cliff beside the walkway. Half the soil is missing beneath it, yet it hangs on. And each time I walk by, I’m reminded of all the tiny grains of soil shifting under the tree’s weight, one at a time, and I know one day, the last one will move, and the tree will fall. A tiny change: an enormous impact.


Wouldn’t it be great if by making small changes, we had an enormous impact on our lives?


Well, we can.


 We are the same way. We can make very small changes which seem insignificant by themselves, but will eventually rock our world. 


We can practice replacement therapy: the practice of replacing one habit with another.


Some two thirds of our cancers develop as the direct result of environmental factors: like poor diet and lack of exercise–things we can change. We can decide to move more. Or change the quality of the food we intend to eat for the next 30 or 40 or 60 years. 


If we eat the food which is as full of life as possible, most like its raw state (though not necessarily raw, just pure), we give our bodies the benefit of all the micronutrients necessary for healthy cells, and none of the foreign matter. 


Do we have to throw out our entire pantry and begin from scratch? No. We simply need to start replacing processed foods with whole foods. One at a time. When you run out of your favorite snack food, replace it with a more wholesome one. Even if it’s still corn chips, for example–find the corn chips which are made very simply of corn, non-hydrogenated oil, and salt. If you can find organic ingredients, even better. 


Choosing organic foods makes your impact even larger. First, your own cells will not have to deal with any foreign substances. Second, the planet will not have to deal with foreign substances, like excessive nitrogen or pesticides. Third, you will be supporting farmers who practice clean farming. Fourth, you or someone you don’t know, will not suffer the consequences of ground-water pollution from chemically managed farm run-off, which occurs every time it rains, or fields flood. Fifth, you will keep the food chain and the earth more pure by rejecting genetically modified grains which are developed specifically to endure more pesticide application. 


All that from a bag of corn chips! 


And gradually, over the course of perhaps six months, you will have completely emptied and replaced your pantry, one item at a time. But you’ll barely notice the doing of it. 


To move more, do we need to run out and join a gym? No. We simply need to move more. 


What’s the easiest, cheapest way to add movement to our lives? Consider replacing one television show with a walk. Yes, take a walk! Even better, grab a friend and take a walk. Walk around your neighborhood. Or drive to a large store–Home Depot, Walmart, a mall–leave your money home–and just walk. Not walk/walk/stop. I mean walk, at a comfortable pace, for as long as you can. If it’s 5 minutes the first time you walk, stay with that the first week. 


Aim for 6-minute sessions the next week you walk, and so on, until you’re walking about 30-45 minutes per session. Be really picky about the television you watch and replace any shows that don’t make the cut with a walk! 


What will this do? Burn calories. Work your heart. Move your limbs. Grow your brain. Cultivate a friendship. Make you feel better. 


In 6 months, you could be exercising–er, I mean walking–5 nights a week! 


Imagine that: healthy, wholesome food and plenty of exercise in 6 months by making very small changes, one at a time. 


And if we can replace one habit with another, painlessly, we’ll never be limited by ideas again. 


Imagine that.


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