Are we encouraging and applying critical-thinking skills in our personal debates of public issues?

We’ve been too inured to hearing and seeing probably at least 50 (Maybe a lot more! Check your number of media friends and following!) falsehoods or misleading information every day that somehow a portion of our global and local communities may not only be gotten used to it, the people have also unwittingly put walls between them and the facts. Sometimes it’s ridiculously painful to watch people defend a cause using an array of inaccurate viewpoints and hoaxed information. The sad part is that I see this growing phenomenon of societal indoctrination of lies and misleads being fully embraced even by people who I believe are somehow reasonable and good-hearted.

How to have better political conversations

The motivation to strongly defend at all cost a personal value outweighs the morality and the integrity of the truth. The truth becomes a million discombobulated pieces to a puzzle game. The thing is, navigating through a plethora of information isn’t actually difficult, only time-consuming and requiring of a pair of objective senses.

The danger of getting sucked into the phenomenon of falsehood is that the conversation is deflected from the real issues to the ridiculous. And often, instead of having the parties from opposing stances come together to search for the truth, the communication now becomes a tribalistic debate of proving which position is right.

Take the topic of vaccination for instance. A vaccine is not 100% effective and it’s not without side and adverse effects which may include anaphylactic shock. No manufacturer or pharmacist following the legal mandates on drug production and dispensary will say otherwise. A vaccine is not intended for people with allergies to any of its components. It may be argued that some of the science behind the corporate medical practices and pharmaceutical industry is driven by profit goals. However, instead of pushing an advocacy that presses the pharmaceutical industry and medical field to improve patient care and the safety, cost, efficacy, and application of the vaccines, the discourse has now on a total abandonment of vaccinations for preventative care.

Association Between Vaccine Refusal and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States Safety of Vaccines Used for Routine Immunization in the United States

There’s a segment in the community that aims to discredit the factual and proven historical successes of the drugs. The group has taken a broad brush approach to vaccinations and have even made an opinion-based stand on advocating against existing policies.

If you look closer, the issue against vaccines is mostly about people’s trust in science exacerbated with a very low level of scientific knowledge and lack of motivation and ability to research for unbiased information.

Can We Trust Science?

We’d be living in a world inundated by smallpox and polio sufferers if the science community, the government, and the community-at-large hadn’t employed the use of vaccines. Let me definitively say, based on the World Health Organization reports, NIH, and individual public health records, and unending studies and researches that vaccines do work, and by and large, are guarded by safety protocols and guidelines.

Questions and answers on immunization and vaccine safety

WHO vaccine reaction rates information sheets

The Facts Behind Vaccine Safety

Time and time again, the reputable organizations, based on irrefutable evidence, have released comprehensive reports debunking any link of vaccines to autism. Also, there’s no proven evidence and factual basis to the suspicion that the cumulative exposure to vaccines lowers children’s immunity.

“Among children from 24 through 47 months of age with emergency department and inpatient visits for infectious diseases not targeted by vaccines, compared with children without such visits, there was no significant difference in estimated cumulative vaccine antigen exposure through the first 23 months of life. “~ Original Investigation March 2018

Deaths following vaccination: What does the evidence show?

The vaccine court’s data show that bona fide vaccine injuries are rare.

Vaccines on trial: U.S. court separates fact from fiction

The shift from the fear of disease to concerns about risks of the vaccines themselves.

And then we have had debates on the ACA (Affordable Care Act) that started and continued to be contentious not so much because of its content but more so because of political disputes and likely biases. It didn’t help that this healthcare policy, although not ideal but nonetheless run on a framework of a universal right to healthcare, was nicknamed the ObamaCare when the political discourse was already polarizing.

Healthcare is everyone’s business because it affects all. The premise of “why should I pay for other people’s care when I have nothing to do with them” is not only simplistic and shortsighted, the mindset also furthers the polarization in the debate. I would argue that although not everyone is convinced that healthcare is a universal right and everyone’s responsibility, there’s no argument, regardless of where we identify in the political spectrum, every one of us agrees that the economy is important to every household. If this is the case, why are we as a critically thinking public not expanding the conversations to include the causal relationships between productivity and healthcare coverage, or how discriminating against preexisting medical conditions potentially affect the labor market? Or how has the Affordable Care Act affected work and wages?

The ten essential health benefits of the ACA

ACA timeline illustrates how the health law has been changed since the 45th US president took office

How will the Trump Administration’s Upcoming Rules Change the ACA Marketplaces in 2019, and What Will the Changes Mean for Consumers Who Rely on the Market for Insurance?

The general public’s predilections to lean towards identity politics may be too much of a barrier to overcome. That instead of being motivated to journey towards what’s universally real and accurate, the individual will most likely contain his analyses towards how best to advance his identity-driven values.

I’m making an intentional and critically-minded decision not to be conned into choosing between religion and science. A support to science isn’t an outright lack of belief in Divine Intervention. A life guided by faith and spirituality does not necessarily constitute an abandonment of evidential reasoning. Personal biases and environmentally-acquired prejudices, in addition to a deeply-rooted aversion towards being proven wrong, makes it unlikely for a person to apply a scientific research approach in seeking objective data through a plethora of information. As a woman of faith, I’ve witnessed how readers and preachers study the scripture without regard for the historical timeline, geography, and culture of the time and then consequently take the scripture out of context. They either use the passage as a Hallmark card tagline or to manipulate the message to fit into an agenda or the desired culture of their congregation. We’ve seen how verses in the Bible and the message of Koran twisted and corrupted to justify indefensible violent and abhorrent actions.

Sometimes, if we’re not mindful, the line that separates religious beliefs from cultic predilections can become indistinguishable.

We heard the current AG referred to a passage in the Bible and shamelessly invoked Apostle Paul in an effort to justify the Whitehouse’s zero-tolerance policy on immigration. The brazen approach to use God’s word in order to deflect from the inhumane positions the government has taken against immigrants, including those who are seeking asylum is shocking but not revolutionary. The Bible will tell us that the Pharisees and false prophets had done this many times.

Can we bring people together and have a level-headed and wholehearted discussion of where we are headed as a nation and as a global community? Let’s for one moment make the time to deconstruct the universal and local benefits of a mandate that doesn’t support the protection of the distressed and the promotion of human rights. When did it become universally beneficial and moral to pluck children away from their families who don’t pose danger to themselves and to society? In a world where one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lifetime, it’s mind-boggling that anyone with a heart and soul would support a mandate that promotes isolationism and a propaganda that disregards the tenet of human compassion and God-given grace. The image and the core of the zero-tolerance immigration policy are disturbing and any attempt to justify its applications isn’t just repugnant, it’s immoral.

It’s scary how the disturbing flow of current events in today’s news cycle would bear a close resemblance with certain fictional TV series, in particular, The Handmaid’s Tales. It’s fascinating how many Aunt Lydias, Colonel and Mrs. Waterford have boldly came out in open and complicit defense of a disturbing set of beliefs. It’s astonishing to watch the characters uphold their values as if these were evidential and moral facts. Try to dig deeper into the different allegorical representations of the various handmaids in the series’ storyline. And then, connect the inferences with that of yours of the antagonists in the storyline and you’ll see what I’m so concerned about. And maybe, if you haven’t yet, you will at least consider concurring that the Aunt Lydia joke made on the WHCD was not a jab on Sarah Sanders’ looks. That’s another discussion. But watch the series, or not. When you do, take off your religious, judgmental hat and see the art and the message in the storytelling with objective, unhindered sight.

It may be that the TV series comparison I made was daring and scandalous. The real scandal, however, lies on the complicit submission to ignorance and the implicit embrace of apathy.

Making moral equivalencies, for instance, by invoking the plight or the needs of the military in the country to justify mandates that not only promote isolationism but also shows a lack of compassion for asylum seekers and their children. When you’re okay at seeing children get plucked out from their parents (especially if this terrible act is weaponized to deter illegal border crossings), know that you are advancing the virtue of the real religion you represent.

“To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.” ~

The truth is that children should not be used as a negotiating tool. To use them to forward a political agenda isn’t just abhorrent, it is immoral and inhuman.

Although moral virtues are independent of each other, one cannot stand upright in the sacrifice of another. My continuing hope is that we come together as a humane society determined to work together in our universal and specific quest for the truth.

May we realize that the real scandal of living in this day of high-speed, high-volume information age lies on the complicit submission to ignorance and the implicit embrace of apathy.

The bottom line, whether you’re advocating for or against vaccines, defending a political agenda, fighting for economic or social injustice, or invoking religious beliefs, make it intentional to journey towards the truth even if the facts lead you out of your comfort zone.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians‬ ‭5:13-14‬ ‭BOOKS‬‬

What is critical thinking and why does it matter?

“So the question you need to consider is: What do you most yearn for — to defend your own beliefs or to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?”~ Julia Galef

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Messy Reality Boxed in a Neat Packaging

Forewarning: The following post discusses an uncomfortable topic that’s hardly discussed openly. It’s one of the ugly realities hidden in a variety of neat packages. Mental Health is part of the overall wellness that’s not clearly understood by many.

Mental health as defined by “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, all of us are affected or impacted by mental illness through friends or family.

While going through a deep despair, a child of a dear friend took several prescriptive anxiety and antidepressant drugs. She was taken and confined to the hospital just in time and will now go through a form of cognitive therapy known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Not everyone’s lucky.

Just a few weeks before the school’s graduation, a fellow school festival dancer to my 18-Year-old daughter ended her life by swallowing over a hundred antidepressant pills.

The National Center for Health Statistics reveals that suicide is the third leading cause of death to children between the age of 12 and 19 years. And 90% of the teens who die by suicide suffered from a form of mental disorder.

Know the facts here.

Not long ago, I had a wholehearted talk with a teen who confessed to once having thoughts of ending her life because of a deep feeling of grief and anxiety that she couldn’t explain. She said she tried to ask for help, but instead she was told that she needed to pray hard and look at the brighter side of life and that she had to practice gratefulness. That made her feel even worse and began blaming herself for her depression. Her body started manifesting the burden of her psychological sufferings. And even with a medical diagnosis, her parents couldn’t seem to accept, much more be understanding of her agony. Fortunately, they came around and supported her by finding an appropriate therapy while holding on to the faith and love that they profess. They are now realizing, albeit painstakingly slow, that it’s not just that she’ll have to go through a precariously lifelong recovery journey, but it’s also a continuous learning process of acceptance and understanding for everyone who’s involved in her life.

Although by God’s grace, my kids are thriving healthily, they too weren’t spared from mental health issues. There was even a time that one of them shared with us that an unthinkable consideration became a part of a short and fleeting thought while going through an emotional anguish. And hearing this from a kid we raise so well broke my heart and my husband’s in gazillion unrecognizable pieces. Nonetheless, now more than ever, we’ve become a little more aware of the different battles that young kids and young adults go through. It’s not easy, sometimes. It’s never meant to be, anyway. But there is hope and clear understanding of the only love that matters.

At some point in our life, many of us will suffer from varying levels of a mental disorder. Many of us would not even get an official diagnosis, and consequently, won’t get the help we need. And in some cases, even with the right diagnosis, we won’t even get the intervention that’s appropriate for what we have. And although people can recover from a mental illness, the emotional recovery continues.

Our beloved youths are not immune to mental illnesses. And it’s not uncommon that both child and adult are afflicted with psychological and mental health issues at the same time. And often, it’s not only ignorance why we missed the signals, but it’s also pride. We hesitated to consider that our kid could be suffering from a mental illness because if we did, then that probably meant that we also failed in our role as parents. We often would refuse to admit that we’re probably afflicted ourselves and thereby would not get the help we need because of fears of judgment and of the consequences of that.

The sooner we accept that suffering from a mental disorder is a possibility and that we are all affected or impacted by it, the more help we could get and the better effective our show of love would be.

The importance of embracing Mental Health and taking the stigma out of mental disorders couldn’t be more stressed in this age of Snapchats, Breaking and Fake News, Alternative Realities, and the curated reality of Facebook and Instagram.

As we encourage one another in truth and love, perhaps, we can also reassure each other by first reining our predilection to judge or to provide immediate answers. Maybe, as we take on the role of each other’s lifeline, we can also wear a lifelong learner’s hat.

And wouldn’t it be liberating to see our youths come forward and own their story while we embrace them with hope and show them a Christ-like love and devotion? But that’s far from happening if we’d remain comfortably hidden in our photoshopped reality.

In a tiny way, my family believes we can attempt to do something. It is for this reason why we chose TVCOC’s Teen Ministry to be my daughter’s charity of choice for the family’s upcoming formal hosted event. It is our hope that whatever amount we raise from the gathering would help promote a mental health discussion with the TVCOC teens. It’s not coincidental that Julia and Linda who are the event’s master of ceremonies and production manager, respectively, are huge proponents of mental health, too. They are devoted to helping the youths be their best self. In fact, starting this Fall, they will start a mental health awareness program benefitting the students of Springs Charter School in our city.

My 18-year-old teen and I firmly believe that through Kai’s and Bj’s leading, mental health will become a stronger topic to look into in conjunction to helping the teens develop stronger ties with the Lord. At least, that is our hope. Kai is the church’s lead pastor and Bj is the head of the Women’s Ministry and a mentor and adviser to the teens.

And for the adults, perhaps, we can talk more about mindfulness, practice being fully aware and being present, while also learning to curtail a high propensity towards caring for what other people’s thoughts about us.

I don’t feel okay most of the time. The times that I feel fine only mean that the pain and discomfort aren’t that bad. However, aside from a variety of medical conditions that include chronic pains, abdominal and spine issues, I also suffer from a high functioning anxiety and chronic insomnia. I’m learning how best to communicate an uncomfortable but honest answer without becoming too exhausted in the process and also without encouraging an awkward conversation that would add to my frustration. I’m learning to be more mindful and less and less caring about other people’s thoughts about me.

Here’s sharing my scripture reflection of the week as I get ready for my daughter’s formal event on Sunday, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬.

Here’s a TED Talk delivered by Thomas Insel on mental illness entitled, “Toward a new understanding of mental illness.”


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Thoughts on Striving for Deeper Connections

When I read this week’s focused topic which is addressed to the family groups (Bible talk groups) on a section called Directions of the TVCOC online bulletin, I found myself guilty, on some levels, of emotional disconnect. The message talks about helping others in the family group feel a deeper sense of “family.”

TVCOC Directions, Weekly Email Bulletin

TVCOC Directions, Weekly Email Bulletin

I appreciate the nudge. It’s a healthy reminder. I also see this gentle push applies to the other relationships I have.

“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” Galatians‬ ‭6:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So what do I need to know so I could do better? Watching Brené Brown again on her first TED talk provides some clarity. It’s summed up in one word – Vulnerability.

Although I am highly aware that I have a lot to improve on, I do place pretty well on the vulnerability scale. It’s not always like that. I don’t see vulnerability and authenticity with the same pair of eyes I had when I was younger and a much more determined person to prove others of my value.

Practicing authenticity invites grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

Authenticity by BBrown

Do you remember the times when you stepped on a yucky gum and annoyingly feels stuck while desperately trying to scrape it off? Ironically, that’s how my inner-self would use to look at vulnerability – as a pestilence, and the goo in my human existence. The thing is, there’s no way we could establish a deeper sense of connection with another person and show our real authentic self without vulnerability. Vulnerability empowers us to give our imperfect self the permission to be seen even with the fear of judgment and rejection. It allows us to tell our story, use our voice even when faced with a lack of support and plenty of doubts from some people. It gives us the confidence to consider a fundamental truth that we are enough and that we are wired to love and care for each other. And above all, it frees us of our predisposition to negotiate with God, and instead, it makes us surrender wholeheartedly to His will.

Even now I still experience, although not often, moments where I fight the essence of a vulnerable spirit, especially so when the desire to be in control is higher than what’s needed in the flow of events. Being in control is easy. Being vulnerable is not easy. And it’s not supposed to be. It takes lots and lots of practice and showing up even when the going gets tough to get accustomed to it.

Let me go back to TVCOC’s Direction’s gentle nudge of the week. There’s no doubt that I love the different relationships I have in my life and that includes my family’s Family Group Bible Talk. The members fought a good fight of faith and unity for this family group. We acknowledge that the next steps we need to take would be on the strengthening of the bonds of the relationship that was established. What can we do to ensure that everyone in that group feels loved and cared for by each other? How do we maintain connected in between meetups? How do we grow that connection? What’s my role in all these?

Here’s what my quiet time has revealed to me.

While it is true that I need to fight a little harder everyday for a deeper sense of connection, it is also true that given the hurriedness, hectic schedule, and personal challenges that I have to deal with these days, it is not easy. And when you have to battle with, among other things, chronic insomnia while refusing medication indicated for it, it’s even harder to care for new relationships.

Often the daily schedules and the physical burden I carry prevents me from individually reaching out on a much more personal level to the beautiful people in our family group. Sometimes the disconnect also lies in fear that I’d be misunderstood or that I could offend or inconvenience people of my struggles, and not to mention, be perceived as intrusive of their personal life when encouraged to share how they’re doing. Maybe I hesitate to ask for help because I either don’t want to burden others or be seen as a burden. Or maybe I’m more scared that the other person will say yes because when you’re used to hearing a no, you’re lost when you start getting yeses. Perhaps, I don’t offer help as much as I want to because of rejection fears or of my insecurity that I have nothing of particular value to others. After all, it’s not uncommon to feel frightful when we put ourselves out there and allow us to be seen in a state of vulnerable nakedness. And also, there are that physical fatigues and pains that are just hard to explain to others, mostly difficult because being misunderstood or not understood adds to the exhaustion, quickly.

Let me bring back Brené Brown and her helpful insights. She talks about letting ourselves be seen – being authentic by having the courage to present our imperfect self,  loving with our whole heart even without guarantees, practicing gratitude so we could lean on joy, and accept that we are enough.

Psalm‬ ‭34:5‬, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
So, here’s a link to Brené’s TED Talk on vulnerability. She talks about being authentic and real – being vulnerably seen. I watched it probably gazillion times and every time I do; I gain fresh insights. Her research on vulnerability and shame and the book Daring Greatly were referenced many times by Todd Spatt, a minister and a psychotherapist in his couples’ address during last year’s Marriage Retreat.

Cheers to all of us! And let’s all feel – not just know – that we are well loved. We are loved! We just need to do a better job at making each other experience it on a sensory and emotional level. Also, we need to be forgiving and gracious, patient of each other’s various facets of awkwardness and social faux pas without becoming an enabler. Moreover, we have to be encouraging and nurturing of our attempts to foster closer bonds.

Most likely, we’ll get it wrong more than we’ll get it right, but having the heart and the courageous vulnerability to get back to wanting to work for much deeper connections is worth the love and the appreciation we all deserve to enjoy together.