Waiting for the Barbarians…or the Islamic Terrorists

The Muslim ban executive order signed into law by Donald Trump on Saturday has alarmed and enraged people all over the country over the past few days, myself included. Trump and his cronies of course have a problem with people calling this what it is and what it was intended to be: a Muslim ban. Of course we have plenty of reason to believe that a Muslim ban is exactly what this is, since a large part of Trump’s presidential platform was a ban on ALL Muslims entering the United States. And on Sunday he tweeted that we should be concerned about the Christians being killed in the Middle East, even though Muslims have been killed in far greater numbers. His order also gives preferential treatment to Christians attempting to enter the U.S. from these countries. There is also good reason to believe that the Muslim countries not included in the ban were excluded because of Trum’s business ties there. So let’s not beat around the bush: this is a Muslim ban.

Now that we have established that, the question is why is this happening? Why has Trump continually emphasized the danger that “radical Islamic terrorists” pose to this great free Christian nation? In thinking about this issue over the last year or so, I find myself drawing parallels to one of my favorite books, Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. The book is about a great unnamed Empire threatened by an indigineous group of barbarians who are plotting to overthrow it. The barbarians are frequently painted as less than human, and though as a whole they demonstrate no ill-will towards the Empire, they are singled out as the enemy and the potential downfall of civilization. Of course, the Empire has actually invaded the natives’ land and attempted to force their culture and civilization on them. The Empire labels the natives as barbarians in order to justify their imperialism and to give its people a feeling of purpose and a common enemy.

It’s not hard to see the parallels here to the United State’s relationship to the Middle East. For decades we have invaded its lands, stripped these countries of their natural resources, overthrown their governments from the inside out, and attempted to force Western democracy on them. In doing so we have created terrorist organizations within the region whose main purpose is rebelling against Western influence and seizing power in instable countries that are vulnerable. Their aims have little to do with Islam, and much to do with the human instinct to seek and retain power. Make an entire region feel powerless and ruled by an alien external force for years and you are bound to create people whose sole aim is to take that power back and wield it with cruel intentions. Of course, I am oversimplifying the problems that have created so much instability within the Middle East. I couldn’t possibly write a post long enough to detail all the factors that have contributed to the instability in the region, and I don’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to do so. But, my point is that the U.S. has played a decisive hand in this instability and bears the responsibility for much of the chaos that is driving people to seek refugee status in more stable Western countries. Coincidentally the other day Trump said we should have kept the oil from Iraq after we withdrew our troops, because the oil was the only reason ISIS was able to financially support itself. He also suggested that the next time we invade a sovereign country, we will be sure to take all their resources so there is no wealth left to prop up any kind of a successful government or terrorist organization.

Now we have people fleeing from the terrorists that we created (and in some cases armed), and we will deny them access to our great free country because they pose a threat to it. And to top it off, rather than acknowledging the nuances of terrorism and its relationship to Islam, we now have a president and a large group of Americans who claim that the problem is Islam, not the terrorists who have corrupted it and twisted it to justify their actions. Muslims are being painted with a broad brush, as an enemy of Christian America, as people who seek to do us great harm. It seems to me to be no coincidence that after a particularly disastrous first week in the presidency, Trump attempted to draw our attention back to our common enemy: Muslims. In claiming that Muslims from this region pose a great threat to the safety of our country, Trump creates an atmosphere of fear, chaos and mistrust, primed for the consolidation of power and wide-spread approval of his actions that seek to “protect” America.

As in Waiting for the Barbarians, America is awaiting the barbarians that we believe to be Muslims to strike, only to find out that the barbarians are here, within our midst, masquerading as saviors. Make no mistake: turning our back on refugees fleeing the terrorism and instability that we helped to create, is barbaric. What we should have learned from ISIS and from the recent executive orders and from the entire history of war and persecution, is that cruelty and the seeking of power has nothing to do with religion. The dark side of human nature can flourish wherever there is suffering and chaos. Attrocities and injustice can be commited falsely under any God’s name, in the haze of fear and instability. Many attrocities have also been commited in the name of Christianity. The actions of few do not justify the condemnation and persecution of an entire group of people. Just as I hope that the rest of the world does not condemn all Americans for the actions of the ignorant, hateful demogauge that is currently running our country, I refuse to condemn all Muslims for the actions of a few. The act of pitting Americans against Muslims is nothing more than the desperate attempt to unite a fractured country and distract us from the real problems that we face such as poverty, climate change, gender inequality, racial ineqaulity, and the high cost and low coverage of our health care system. These are problems which this administration is unlikely to find solutions to, or to even address in any meaningful way, and they know this. So their solution is to distract us with fear and mistrust of foreigners and the rest of the world. It is important to note, that this tactic is not only manifested in this administration’s policies towards Muslims from the Middle East, but also in their policies towards Mexican immigrants. While we are waiting for the barbarians, our country is crumbling. How long will it take this country to realize that our threats come from the inside, not the outside?

-S

Is This What Great Looks Like?

Donald Trump has only been in power for 9 days, and I am already shaken to my core about his legacy. This goes so far beyond party lines and politics. Trump is attempting to change the very fabric of this nation. Do you feel great yet?

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If this is what ‘great’ looks like, I want no part of it. I am ashamed of this leader (it feels wrong to even call him a leader), and I am terrified about what the next 4 years are going to look like. I can’t quite process what I’m watching unfold, between the blatant lies (alternative facts are LIES), and the executive orders being passed, based purely on fear and hate (except the ones that benefit Trump’s business). The fact that his ban doesn’t include places where he has business ties should TERRIFY everyone. Clearly he is not using the Constitution of the United States as his key decision-making faculty, but rather his own self-interest. That’s also clear in his orders around the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines.

How dare he think he can stop 500,000 LEGAL residents from coming to this country. How dare the GOP not publicly condemn this. How can we be so scared, that we would position ourselves to repeat some of the worst human rights violations (take a look how Nazi- Germany came into power) of the western world? How can we, a country of immigrants, feel so removed from our roots and the world, that we think banning a religion is something to campaign on? How can we sleep at night? I want to make it clear that I do not share this view. In the fight against terrorism, we are far more powerful as a unit.

Trump tweeted, ‘Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!’… No, you numpty-headed, egotistical monster – people are being executed and suffering in large numbers. The second we start categorizing people into these groups we naturally start pitting ourselves against one another. We naturally start ranking groups in our ‘us vs. them’ mentality.  It’s why George Washington warned us against political parties, and it’s why we need to focus on the fact that we are all humans who value the same things (saftey, a strong future, the right to live free of discrimination) before we get lost in our differences, and allow them to divide us.

I have been slightly calmed by seeing the ‘resistance efforts’ spreading across the world. I am proud of the Americans who protested at airports, and the lawyers who fought through the night to protect legal residents of this country, I’m proud of the judges who are refusing to allow this executive order to stand as it is in direct opposition to what this country stands for, I’m proud of the men, women, and children who are marching. I’m proud of those with different beliefs than me, who are engaging in civil discourse to try and bridge the gap in this country. I’m proud of the foreign leaders who are taking a stand against Trump. Bullies only respond to strength, and we are getting a hell of a lot stronger each day.  Even as I find myself exausted by the state of the world, I know the only way to change it is to keep the fire in my eyes, and my heart as strong as possible. This knot in my stomach is more manageable when I’m taking action.  I know who I am, and I know what is right. I am prepared to do what I can to be on the right side of history. I want to be on the side of decency and support. I want to be on the side of love, not hate- the side of strength, not fear.

In the last few months, I’ve donated to the ACLU, PP, and the resistance at Standing Rock. I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m writing to my senators and representatives on a weekly basis. I’m trying to do as much as I can as a private citizen to make it clear that America is more than this vitrolic mess.

Trump has made it clear he thinks Lincoln was the pinnacle of presidental, so may I remind Trump what Lincoln said, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ 

I, for one, am not ready for that time to be now.

Framing Your Way to Happiness

I listened to a great podcast the other day on TED Radio Hour called “Simply Happy” which got me thinking about the nature of happiness. The premise of the combined TED Talks was that happiness is actually not as complicated as we make it out to be and that the human brain is actually wired to be happy. Happiness in the human brain is kind of a homeostatic state; regardless of our varying moods, our minds eventually settle into happiness, or at least into contentment. The podcast referenced a study which showed that even people who suffered very traumatic experiences returned to their previous baseline state of happiness within 2-3 months. They started diving into why this is the case, and it all boils down to our brain’s ability to frame things in different lights. So when we experience negative things, our brains attempt to frame them in positive lights, or at least to not dwell on them. This is more a survival instinct than anything; our brain wants us to be happy and so it allows us to frame things in a perspective that allows us to be happy. So in part, your brain does the work for you in creating and returning to happiness. But we also are responsible for this process, and this is the part that really got me thinking about what we can do to affect our own happiness. Though I used to groan at the cliche of “you create your own happiness” as I get older I find myself buying into this theory more and more.

Part of the reason I am more convinced by the day that we can control and create our own happiness is because I have seen the ways that it has worked in my own life. After I graduated college I had, as most people do, a very rude awakening. I had to get a job and support myself. I had to enter the “real” world which seemed like an onslaught of responsibility, chores, and just generally things I didn’t want to do or deal with. And for a while there I was really in a slump. I felt drained by the responsibilities of adulthood and I couldn’t fathom how anyone could be happy while having to pay a utility bill. (I fully recognize now the extent of my privilege that this felt so inconceivable to me). I dragged myself to work and then home and then to work again. I dragged myself to the gym, and to clean the house and to go out and do fun things. I had this mentality of “everything is hard.” And then it became too much effort to keep up this charade of misery. I realized that I was the reason that I was unhappy, and that it had nothing to do with my environment or with external circumstances. It all came down to the way I was thinking about and framing my life. And it was actually really hard work to constantly think about things in such a negative light. Since that difficult year after college I have made a point to be very careful about how I think about things. If I find myself wandering through the darker corners of my mind, I pull myself back out. I don’t sit around thinking about mistakes I made in the past, and I don’t dwell on negative things that I can’t control. I’m not trying to make this sound easy, or like I have all the answers, because it’s not and I don’t. But I do think that learning to train your mind to think in certain ways can make a world of difference in your outlook on life and your day-to-day happiness. And I think that when you start learning to control your mind, you realize it’s not really an uphill battle. Your mind doesn’t actually want to think about your ex-boyfriend, or that time the other day when a stranger waved to someone behind you and you thought they were waving to you, so you waved, and then realized their wave wasn’t meant for you and you wanted to die a little. Our minds really don’t want to dwell on the negative things in our lives, we just force them to.

So though it makes me sound like a crazy hippie yogi, I’m going to say it: When you control your thoughts, you control your life.

 

-S

 

Disclaimer: When I talk about happiness and our control over it, I recognize that for some people with clinical depression or other mental health issues, this is not the case. My theories on happiness only relate to people under relatively normal circumstances, without any kind of mental health issue.

One Nation Under…

Today is the day, people. Donald J. Trump is officially the 45th President of the United States of America. I obviously had a lot of feelings throughout the inauguration ceremony and Trump’s speech (wtf was that about discovering the ‘secrets of space’ and eradicating all disease in four years — good luck with that).  I was also taken back by the new White House website (which has some pretty interesting omissions – there is currently no mention of climate change, technology, or LGBTQ rights). BUT, what I want to write about doesn’t actually have anything to do with President Trump.

I want to talk about the role of Christianity in our government. Before I jump into my discussion, I want to lay a foundation about the make-up of this country. Despite shifting demographics, America is still home to more Christians than any other country in the world. According to Pew Research in 2014, 7/10 Americans identify themselves as some form of Christian (I’m including Catholics here, fyi).  Approximately 23% of American’s are not religiously affiliated (agnostic or atheist). The remainder identify with non-Christian faiths.

The founding of America  had a lot of roots in the Judeo-Christian faith. Well before the Revolution, the pilgrims colonized here to practice their Protestant faith free of persecution in 1620. The Spanish built missions and preached Catholicism up and down the West Coat, while the French established Catholic institutions in Louisiana.  The vast majority of our founding fathers were very active in their respective Churches.

However, many key founding fathers (Jefferson & Washington) tended towards Deism (basically God exists, but doesn’t get involved with humankind, with a big emphasis on  the importance of reason and logic). The Declaration of Independence uses religious references to justify the colonies right to self-govern free of Britain. The iconic ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ portion of the Declaration claims those rights are ours because they were ‘endowed [upon us] by the Creator’. While the  majority of that document was used to tear into King George, and list all the grievances of the colonies, Jefferson ties it back to be grounded in Christian roots.

The Declaration is obviously important in establishing America, but it is not a legal document, and the Constitution is. The only mention of religion in our Constitution (1778) is the ‘No Religious Test Clause’- ‘but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States’. Basically, you can’t be excluded from holding office in our government on the basis of religion. Three years after the original Constitution was ratified (1791), we amended it to include the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’  The first two pieces of the First Amendment prohibit the establishment of an official church, and protect citizen’s abilities to hold whatever faith they’d like. Additionally, in 1797, President Adams signed a treaty into law which contained the following, ‘As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion’. 

So why am I going on and on about the historic significance of religion in America? Maybe it’s because I classify myself in the 23% of non-religiously affiliated citizens, but it seems to me religious symbols are rampant in our Government. Obama’s farewell address ending with the following, ‘God bless you.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America,‘ while Trump said the following in his Inauguration Address, ‘The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.‘ The very nature of these statements promote exclusivity to anyone who doesn’t share belief in God or the Bible. These statements are meant in a positive way, I’m sure, but the role of the President and of the United States Government is not religious. The role of our government is ‘To form a more perfect Union; To establish Justice; To insure domestic Tranquility; To provide for the common defense; To promote the general Welfare, and To secure the Blessings of Liberty.’

Our Presidents are sworn into office on a Bible. This seems a little misleading to me. Why are we placing a religious text in this position in our government? Don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking religion or any private citizens right to practice their faith, and uphold those principles how they see fit. I am questioning why a public servant to the United States of America swears to uphold the principles of a secular country on a religious text. The oath of office states, ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ Why is that oath not being conducted with the Constitution or at least the American flag? Those are the symbols that matter in that moment, for that role, on that stage.

As the President (not as a private citizen), you are beholden to the Constitution of the United States above all else. It seems to me, that swearing to protect the Constitution on the Bible sends a mixed message. It seems to suggest Christianity is more important than the Constitution, and certainly more important that all other faiths. Which is not the most unifying message. That message is also at odds with the very fabric of what this country was set up to be. Symbols matter, and it’s my belief that we should use symbols in our most important ceremonial moments to reflect the role of Government.

So while we may not be one nation under God, we are one nation. We may not all be Christians, but we are all Americans.

-K

Put It On Pause

Yesterday, I texted Sarah that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this week. I have a lot of ammunition in the political arena, but I wanted to step away from talking about our soon to be President and his petulant and dangerous behavior for a minute.  Sarah asked me what I had been up to recently, and the honest answer is not very much. I had my life on hold for the past few weeks while I recovered from surgery.

I essentially spent an entire week in bed at my parents house, not being able to speak, not really being able to eat, and sleeping an average of 3 hours a night. I wasn’t reading or watching anything for the first few days. I literally was just staring at the ceiling, and to be honest, my ceiling isn’t that exciting. The second week was slightly better, especially towards the end as I started to be more active, and my voice and appetite started to return. It’s kind of like looking back at a dream now that I’m back at my regular life, albeit an insanely painful horrible dream.

It’s a little discombobulating to fully drop out of your normal life for weeks, and then to re-enter it seamlessly. It’s not like I was embarking on some life changing adventure during my recovery and expected things to be different. But, it is odd to go from being in so much pain and being a totally useless person, to being able to go right back to your normal life and job without any real struggle.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful my recovery went well, and that my job was able to accommodate me, and that my friends were super supportive, and that my parents put their lives on hold to take care of me, but it does kind of make you wonder what kind of a real impact you are making on the world around you. Would anything really be different if I stayed on pause? Don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t a depressed rant bitching that I don’t think I matter or that people don’t care about me. I know that isn’t true- I have a great life and I’m content with it. My point is more about questioning where that life is heading and what do I want from it. Would I leave an impact or any kind of a lasting legacy on the world? Honestly, the current answer is no.Capture.JPGAnd that’s fine. I think I still feel a little lost when it comes to what I want from my life, and what kind of life I want to lead. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. I’m conflicted when I think about the different paths that I could take. There is no one future that really calls to me. While I love feeling that the world is laid out at my feet and I could run in any direction I want, there is also something paralyzing about that kind of freedom. When you have numerous choices in the world, it’s difficult to commit to one. Opening one door usually goes hand-in-hand with closing a different one. That’s not to say that you can’t have it all, but life is full of choices that act like puzzle pieces, bringing you closer to the completed picture of what your life is and who you are really are. As I’m writing this, I keep ruminating on the lyrics from ‘Wait For It’ from the incomparable Hamilton.

‘I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait.’ 

I wish I felt that comfortable in my convictions. I wouldn’t say that I’m dissatisfied with the frame of my life currently, but I would like to feel like I am working towards something. I think I’m feeling a little listless and restless all at the same time. I’m scared to make the wrong choice, but I’m also terrified of standing still. I want to be free to fail- I want to be open to opportunity- I want to be focused on the future while maintaining a presence in the present.

There’s no real conclusion here as this is simply a snippet of what has been running through my mind recently. I’m not convinced I have a solid plan of action to institute a change in the way I live my life, but I’m excited about the prospect of that change. So, with that being said, I’m going to quote another song far more poetic and poignant than I am, and ‘keep your head up, and keep your heart strong.’  (Oh Ben Howard, how I adore you!)

-K

P.S. I really do want to thank my parents for being so incredible while I was so out of it the past few weeks. They were amazing while I was… less than amazing.

Be Vigilant, But Not Afraid

I’m not ashamed (in fact I’m kind of proud) to admit that I cried a few times during President Obama’s Farewell Address. It started simply with the crowd cheering for Obama, it got worse during his focus on resisting fascism and race relations, and it peaked during his gorgeous tribute to Michelle. To be fair, I did lose it in a fit of hysterical laughter when Joe Biden finger-gunned at the President (please don’t go, Joe!). Obama’s speech tonight was a fitting tribute to his legacy, it was inspirational and magnanimous. He was focused on the future and emboldening the youth of the nation and turning away from partisan politicking in favor of our shared values and history and goals.

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I wanted write about how moved I am by President Obama’s Address, and how while I haven’t agreed with every choice he has made as Commander in Chief, I have been proud to call him my President. I have been encouraged by what he has stood for.

As I am not the orator or the eloquent writer that Obama is, I thought I’d share my favorite  pieces of Obama’s final official speech as the President of the United States of America.

  • “So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.”
  • “Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours. But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”
  • “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
  • “So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.”
  • “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.  So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”

In closing, yes, we can. And yes we will. We will fight to continue to protect and improve this nation. We will not give into fear or hatred. We will work to continue to form a more perfect union. I dedicate myself to being the best citizen I can be, by holding the values of America in my heart, and by working to uphold those values in practice. I will not be discouraged, and I will participate in every way that I can to preserve and safeguard the America that has given me so much; I will stand up when I see that America threatened, and when I see citizens being deprived of their inalienable rights.

The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

Let’s Stand Together.

-K

 

 

Project 333: Minimalist Fashion

One of my new year’s resolutions (cliche I know) is to downsize my closet. I feel like I have a ton of clothes, most of which I never wear that are just taking up space in my closet. I also have been feeling lately like I want to detach myself a bit from the culture of consumerism. I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Minimalism: a documentary about the important things” and it really made me think about how much I am consuming on a daily basis. In America, the overwhelming sentiment is that in order to be more we must have more. We slave away at jobs we hate just to be able to afford things we don’t need, or really want. I am definitely guilty of over-consumption (of food mostly, but that’s not what I’m referring to here) and it’s something I want to work on. I think that there are a lot of reasons that people over-consume. For me, when it comes to clothes it is just because I really like clothes. I feel good when I look good. But I also feel an overwhelming need to collect clothes and when I go to throw them away find myself saying “But what if in some very bizarre scenario I want to wear a shirt that has shrunk to be two sizes too small??? What if the new fashion is shrunken crop tops??” I have also been feeling lately like this overwhelming need to buy things really has nothing to do with the things that I am buying. And so it is my resolution to be more conscious about my consumption and to get rid of things that I don’t really like. I have already created a nice big pile for Goodwill and I can’t wait to get rid of it.

So in working towards this goal I decided to participate in Project 333. The concept is pretty simple: you chose 33 items from your closet and for 3 months you can only wear those 33 items. This includes shoes, jewelry and accessories. It does not include workout clothes or wear around the house clothes. When I tell most people I am doing this they are like “Oh, 33 items?? That doesn’t sound hard at all!” Well when you have over 200 items in your closet (I counted), narrowing it down to just 33 items to wear in 3 months is actually pretty tough. I made some pretty tough choices (Do I want this red plaid shirt or should I pick the green plaid one!?!? The agony!). Below is a picture of the items that I chose:

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I mostly chose a lot of tops because I like to have variety there. I was able to narrow it down to 4 pairs of pants and 4 shoes (not a big shoe person, plus it’s winter so not a ton of options), and two necklaces. I don’t wear a ton of accessories so cutting those out wasn’t hard, because it also doesn’t include wedding rings or jewelry of sentimental value. One thing I want to add to the challenge once I do this for a few weeks is to only choose 10 or so items of workout clothes to wear, because workout stuff makes up a huge portion of my closet.

I’m about a week into this challenge and so far it is going really well! I put these items at the front of my closet and then shoved everything else together in the back. It is really refreshing when I am getting ready in the morning to not have as many options. And since I chose all my favorite things, I don’t really feel like I am missing much. It has made me realize how much crap I have that I really don’t care about. My last day of the challenge will be April 1st. Let’s hope we don’t have a crazy heat wave before then.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this is because I wanted to do something concrete to work towards my resolutions. I feel like a lot of people just say “Oh I want to be better about this…” but then they don’t put a plan in place to do that. I think rather than making a bunch of idealistic goals that don’t fit into your life very well, you have to start small. For example, I wasn’t going to all the sudden say “I’M NOT BUYING ANY CLOTHES IN 2017!” Instead I chose something a little more manageable that I know I can actually accomplish, and I put a plan in place to do so. Baby steps, people. You’re not going to change your whole life over night, but you can make small concrete changes that push you towards where you want to be.

-S