Friday, April 20, 2012

Earth Day - How It All Came About

April 22 is Earth Day, a movement that began in 1970 in the United States, imploring individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments to participate in the development of a healthy, sustainable environment. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and thereafter the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act--a landmark set of strategies that designed water quality standards, compliance monitoring parameters, and enforcement measures for the protection of surface waters.

The EPA has since put into practice rules and regulations relating to the governance of clean air, clean and renewable energy, chemical safety and control, climate control, forest and wildlife protection, environmental cleanup, and recycling programs. The EPA has also contributed to environmental justice by promoting awareness through citizen outreach and partnership programs.

Earth Day went global in 1990, elevating environmental issues onto the world stage and helping mobilize worldwide support for environmental efforts. As a result, everyone from athletes and artists to trainers and teachers have become environmental activists, committing to green living, promoting environmental visions, concepts and experiences, and inspiring others to become involved. Today, the Earth Day network partners with over 22,000 activists in 192 countries, and empowers the participation of over a billion people in Earth Day activities each year.

The premise of Earth Day 2012 is to call upon local, national, and international leaders to suspend fossil fuel subsidies, embrace renewable energy technologies, improve energy efficiency, and facilitate universal access to energy. Earth Day 2012 has been designed to provide citizens and organizations an opportunity to wield "personal responsibility," to take steps toward protecting and preserving the environment using vehicles such as petitions, the Billion Acts of Green, school and community campaigns, and other events. The organizers of Earth Day 2012 will present their accomplishments at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012.

Become involved. Commit to the future you want. Echo your voice. Share your vision and support. Visit the Earth Day Network for more information.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Does Social Acceptance Equal Self-acceptance?


Social acceptance—the need to fit in with those around—has always been central to human existence. It affects both genders and people of all ages, races, and faiths, regardless of rank or class.

Self-acceptance is the concept of loving and being happy with who you are now, in spite of deficiencies.

The Upside?

Validation is vital to an individual’s existence as an independent entity. Most humans have three acquired needs based on sensory contact (through the six portals of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, and thought) with the external world:

  • Identification with a group
Language, culture, rites, rituals, communities, religions, political parties—all exist to nurture people’s sense of belonging, to create a forum for expressing shared views and experiences.
Social integration is great in that it provides opportunities to learn about other races and cultures, promoting harmony and peace. Acceptance of social issues and practices such as adoption, mental illness, oppression, gay rights, and disability rights has the power to erase erroneous thinking, discourage discrimination, encourage tolerance and conformance, and help appreciate differences and diversity.
  • Identification with an individual
Mutual love and respect is the key to a relationship’s success. Between husband and wife, parent and child, boss and employee, teacher and student, between siblings or friends—the craving for each other’s approval and acceptance, and the satisfaction derived thereof, usually dictates the stability of the relationship.
  • Identification with ego
Satisfying the ego is a principal reason for social conformance. Nobody wants to live in exile. Everybody wants to belong and to feel important. Popularity and influence, in addition to money and power, have shaped and molded legal, cultural, social, and political views since ancient times, enabling individuals—on both personal and societal levels—to embrace change, break free of holdups, honor commitment, defy boundaries, confront adversity, challenge inadequacies, and resolve problems. 

The Downside?

Money and power are primeval prime evils. Elitism and social class division, a derivative of economic stratification, have existed since ancient times and afforded special privileges to their members, with blatant disregard for the rest of the community.

Today governments, organizations, and corporations around the world are beleaguered with fraud and endemic corruption stemming from individuals’ insatiable hunger for money and power. Diverting food aid away from its intended recipients, child labor, influence peddling, electoral fraud, embezzlement, nepotism, outright bribery—corruption and fraud can take various forms. A decline in values such as accountability, transparency, commitment, and an escalation in exploitation and other injustices have contributed not only to social, economic, and environmental decline on a massive global scale, but also to the conditions that have lead to global crime and terrorism.

The addiction to fame and to “winning” is pervasive—from athletes to movie stars to politicians—and incites individuals to engage in bizarre, and, at times, sensational behaviors. To attract attention and acquire bragging rights, people shamelessly flaunt their sexuality, dress inappropriately, trash talk, crash parties, judge others, or speak with a fake accent. One look at the news on television or the Internet illuminates the insidious nature of these types of behaviors. Far from expressing remorse and committing to change, most simply justify their odd and impersonal behaviors through blame, selfishness, resistance, deflection, denial, and overt defensiveness.

Let’s address consumerism. Gourmet dining, brand-name shopping, and luxury living are emblematic of an affluent lifestyle. The digital dawn has presented a new way for the common man to live that lifestyle: the clutch of materialism and consumerism. From the young to the old, transcending gender and spanning ethnicities, the single most popular feeling that people crave—admiration—drives them to display an image of perfection and sophistication. What better way to create that image than through the medium of materialism and consumerism?

Sadly, consumerism has spiked snobbery, disdain, hypocrisy, and narcissistic behavior, and, increased debt and disease. The preoccupation with power and prestige makes some believe that owning designer clothes and accessories will enhance their social standing, that participating in wine tasting or attending opera will give them an edge, that taking expensive vacations in exotic locations will make them appear influential. Some use the armor of social acceptance to make themselves feel secure from rejection, ridicule, and judgment. Many drink, smoke, lie, cheat, swear, self-indulge, and throw extravagant parties as a show of social superiority. The mere adoption of designer fashions and elitist tastes doesn’t make a person look sophisticated; it just makes them look pompous and comical.

Speaking of social superiority, think of the smirk on the parent’s face whose child attends a private or prestigious school, or the professional woman who snickers at your choice of being a stay-home mom, or the colleague who scorns you for being vegetarian. Ever meet someone that consistently uses sarcasm and makes belittling comments because they deem it “cool?” How about the person who talks loudly and incessantly to fulfill an innate desire to be accepted? People routinely over-promise and under-deliver, and, my pet peeve—they tell you what they want you to hear. The veneer of peace and contentment many people project is just that—very superficial. Quite frequently, it’s a contrived effort to mask the myriad dysfunctions that exist in their lives.

People fail to realize that constantly impressing others is not only exhausting, but also expensive, time-consuming, and distracting. In the foray to get ahead, people are increasingly sacrificing integrity and compassion for a life of sham and a false sense of respectability. Overall, the riptide of social consciousness is making the populace fearful, self-absorbed, ostentatious, and disengaged from “inner” reality.

Query

You gleefully flaunt your online or social avatars, but do you disguise your feelings and whitewash your mistakes? Social acceptance has widened your network, but has it also widened your sense of unease, anxiety, and incompleteness? Your reputation for exquisite taste has gone viral, but is your perception of you still wedged in the depths of your mind? Social acceptance has put you on equal footing with the community’s who’s who, but has it also helped you move past pretense, avoidance, and denial? Does social acceptance equal self-acceptance?

Questions are for you to ask; the answers will come find you. Vipassana meditation can transform human consciousness the way a dam can revitalize entire geographic regions. A conscious engagement of mind and body, vipassana meditation helps resurrect an individual’s inner manifestation by unearthing their deep well of inner reality, which helps sever the individual’s dependence on external approval and acceptance, assists them to accept and resolve dysfunction, strengthens the individual’s self-discipline and resolve, and promotes the development of their humanity.

May the force of silence be with you.

Until we meet again….

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

International Day for Mine Awareness

April 4 is International Day for Mine Awareness.

For much of my life, I wasn't even aware of the existence of landmines, much less understand its dreadful consequences. Then in 2001, I just happened to connect with a US based Ugandan organization called People with Disabilities, which was looking for volunteer writers. I decided to join them.

My involvement with People with Disabilities exposed to me the challenging, day-to-day existence in mine-infested Uganda. I researched, read, and wrote about disability following wars, the gruesome consequences of disability, the everyday struggles of disabled people—especially that of women and children, and the astounding optimism with which Ugandans live life in the face of their disabilities. My articles were among several that were published in the organization’s bimonthly newsletter, which served to elevate awareness of people living with disabilities and provide services that would help improve their status.

Landmines are dangerous because even after the conflict in which they were deployed, they continue to kill and injure civilians and render land impassable and unusable for decades. Made of plastic, metal or other materials, landmines contain explosives. Some contain pieces of shrapnel. Activating a landmine is quite straightforward: they can be activated by direct pressure from above, by a tripwire, or even simply by the proximity of a person within a predetermined distance. Some landmines are designed to maim, some to kill. When triggered, a mine can unleash unspeakable destruction, including blindness, severe burns, loss of limbs, and unspeakable physical and psychological wounds. Many victims die due to loss of blood or improper/untimely medical care. Those who survive and receive medical treatment often need amputations, long hospital stays, and extensive rehabilitation. Landmine blasts can also impact victims' families, especially when it takes away their only source of income.

Landmines are not unique to Uganda. There are found everywhere from Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Kuwait, and Mozambique, to name a few.

Nations across the globe have instituted many programs over the years (a) to control the deployment of landmines and (b) to achieve the safe removal of landmines. In 1993 the United Nations passed a General Resolution moratorium on the sale and export of antipersonnel land mines. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has sought to prohibit their use, culminating in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, known informally as the Ottawa Treaty. The UN estimates that with current technology, it will take nearly 1,100 years to clear all the mines in the world!

Friends, no more landmines! Would you consider joining me in the campaign to ban landmines and restore people's right to live a decent life, like you and me?

For more information, please visit www.lendyourleg.org, where you can "lend a leg." I lent mine. My leg no. is 2711.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing a Winning Book Proposal

This is the third and final article in the "My Road to Publishing" series. The first two article are Why Aren't You Published Yet? and The Pre-publishing Checklist.

Each publishing house and literary agency has their own unique manuscript submission guidelines. A good book proposal incorporates the following elements:
Cover Letter: Write a cover letter that is informative, interesting, succinct, and has no grammatical errors or typos.
Title Page: Make it attractive, but keep it simple. Include the working title of your proposed book. Be sure to include your contact information—name, address, phone number, and email address.
Proposal TOC: Provide a short table of contents for the proposal itself.
Objective: Draft an objective statement that tells the publisher in a concise form about the premise of the book, who the targeted market is, and mentions a little about the author.
Overview of the Work: Weave together a one or two paragraph synopsis for your work that discusses in brief what the book entails.
Competitive Works: Emphasize what’s new and different about your work, your approach, or both. Compare and contrast perhaps a half dozen other titles, clearly describing the similarities and differences. Be sure to point out why your book is unlike anything else and perhaps better than what is presently available.
Audience: Research the demographics and statistics of potential readers. Describe the intended audience; discuss why the book will be interesting to them; and deliberate ways to reach them.
Publicity Plan: Discuss the kind of experience you have as an author and with the media, and how you might be able to assist a publisher in marketing your book. This could include: setting up and maintaining a website; making and uploading a video trailer for the book; writing and syndicating a blog; participating in online book clubs such as Goodreads and LibraryThing to enhance visibility; creating fan following through social networking programs such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter; and Pinterest; ideas for speaking engagements; writing and submitting print and online articles to target your readers; attending conventions, book fairs, and other events; giving presentations at local libraries, bookstores, and other venues that carry your book.
Author Profile: Write a narrative statement of your credentials, qualifications, and reasons for writing the book. Describe any prior experience you have in writing and publishing, as well as with the media.
Manuscript TOC: Settle on a chapter outline for your book and describe/include other material such as charts, illustrations, and photos that you might use.
Manuscript (Chapter by Chapter) Overview: Some publishers require a chapter-by-chapter overview. Be prepared to write a few lines about the contents of each chapter.
Sample Chapters: Carefully choose the chapters to submit as samples. They should, of course, be well-written, intriguing, highlight important components, and showcase your writing.
Proofread carefully. Avoid technical or scientific jargon. Avoid using fancy borders and cutesy graphics. Ensure that your proposal does not contain slang expressions. Use consistent font and spacing. Lastly, format your material so it looks professional.

Hope these tips were somewhat useful. I wish you the very best in publishing! See you in print.