What is Social Security?

Social Security has often been called the third rail of American politics; you touch it and you die. Well, today, we are going to grasp it with both hands so that we may better understand it so that we may better improve it for future generations.

In this week’s video, we look at the origin of the entitlement program and how it is funded. Next week, we’ll look at it’s current status and the future of the program.

Focus on This Moment

Life Lesson Of The Week
Don’t be afraid of the future. This very moment was once the future, and you’re doing just fine.
-Tony M’s Life Lesson from Mason City, Iowa

Focus On It
In Proust Was a Neuroscientist, we find that “every limit is an beginning as well as a ending.” Two weeks ago, the lesson was all about living your passion.

Tony is right to say that we shouldn’t be afraid of the future. The future is littered with possibilities and we must be willing to enjoy the journey towards that unknown.

You are doing just fine.

The Kindness Commodity

This post first appeared on Medium.

The value of kindness on the open market

Growing up on the rolling hills of Iowa, I was constantly surrounded by kindness. It is a commodity that is in short supply in the concrete jungle that is New York City.

This past weekend I spent hours walking the paths of Central Park, a 778-acre oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Some areas were quiet and provided solitude, and others were crowded and loathsome. It is difficult to find peace and escaping from the city is not an option.

New York City

When you’re walking down 5th Avenue at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, no one — and I mean no one — will pay you a passing glance, let alone help you in any way. People who live here pass it off as just the way things are. But go to the Bow Bridge area on a Saturday morning and you will find a different New York City. If you were there last Sunday, you would have seen a wedding proposal with 16 pugs.

Here you’ll walk up to a stranger and his girlfriend and ask them to take a picture of you and your boyfriend. They will happily oblige. You’ll say thanks and you’ll go your separate ways. Then five minutes later after sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, that same couple will return to ask the same favor of you. All four of you will share a laugh in the irony of the ask, but more in the kindness of strangers.

And it is that kindness that you miss from your childhood roots. That is what is missing from the day to day movements and the ping-pong interactions that come with New York City. People bounce from one thing to another, barely looking up from their latest iPhones that they slept on the street for two days to purchase at a cost higher than the majority of the world makes in a year.

Growing up where I did I obviously became spoiled with this thing called kindness. But it doesn’t have to be scarce. If corn and soybeans and cotton trade on the commodities market, surely kindness can trade on the streets freely and in public view. It can trade in back alleys and conference rooms. It can trade in the subways and in the local coffee shop.

My day in Central Park gave me hope that kindness has not become too expensive for us. I have been reminded that it is right there if we want it.

Newsletter: Home Again

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It’s trite in American politics — the idea of a “New Beginning” — and yet it is used by someone during every election cycle. Don’t stop reading! I’m not going to bore you with the tales of the election that has just past.

Instead, I believe I will regale you with a short story about finding a new beginning.

Shane Bitney Crone is a wonderful young man. He grew up with a strong family. He had American values. And he fell in love. All of those characteristics are a part of the American Dream. But what the world was not ready for us to find out was that Shane fell in love with a boy, Tom. They traveled the world together. They were living the American Dream. Until, one day, Tom tragically died.

Perhaps the greater tradgey is that Shane was never completely open about his sexual orientation while he was with Tom. Certainly they were open in public and didn’t lie about their love, but Shane did not see the point in fighting for equal rights or standing up to discrimination. That all changed when he was barred by Tom’s family from attending his funeral.

Since then, Shane has worked tirelessly, and openly, to tell their story which resulted in a documentary movie: BRIDEGROOM. I have yet to see it, but I encourage you to do so. It’s a story of love. Not gay love. Human love.

And what does any of this have to do with a new beginning?

Shane lost the love of his life.

Back in 2003, when I lost my campaign to become Mayor of Mason City, Iowa, I was gutted. Of course the campaign had been stressful and a victory would have changed the course of my life forever, but I was okay with that. When the numbers came in and I had indeed lost to Jean Marinos (now a friend), my sense of direction was lost. I no longer understood my place in the world and how I could have the same impact winning the election would have provided me and the campaign.

I grew to dislike the “game” of politics and I walked away.

Sometimes that has to happen. Sometimes you have to lose completely and publicly to be able to find your way home again. I can’t tell you what I’m working on right now, but I have been consulting with a number of people here in New York City on a new political venture and I can’t wait to tell you more. It took me ten years to find my way home again. To my own, New Beginning.

Elton John has a new song out called, Home Again, the lyrics of which seem appropriate: “If I’d never left, I’d never have known.” He is right. I had to leave to know.

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Fearful and Ready

When this year began, I had no idea that I would write another book, or that I would now be sitting on the couch injured after a stupid mistake at the gym. A gym I might add I have been to at least once a week in 2013 as it was my New Year’s Resolution for your information.

writing pad

But I have. I had not been a member of a gym for years and to be sitting here with arguably the best body I have ever had, I know I have defeated the fear.

Now that my book tour is winding down, I am torn about what to write about.

I was chatting with a fellow writer friend of mine yesterday and we both mentioned the fear we have in putting pen to paper and fingers to keys. It’s a dreaded unknown. For an artist, it is in that unknown where the bright beacon of freedom rings.

But it is in this space, this 2 a.m. what-the-hell-can-I-possibly-create-that-hasn’t-already-been-created moment where I find out who I really am.

There is no hope for my creativity without fear. I know that. And since I am scared to write — for fear of sucking or of greatness — I know something good is on the horizon. I can feel it. My fingers are ready.

Focus on yourself

Life Lesson Of The Week
Be yourself.
-Cheryl V’s Life Lesson from Manchester, Iowa

Focus On It
The best person you can ever be … is yourself.

You can’t be John Grisham. You can’t be Picasso. You can’t be Bon Jovi. You can only and ever be you.

And you are a beautiful person. Be you and be proud.

A Change is Needed

I’m gay. This is not news.

I have a dear friend who is in need of a second bone-marrow transplant.

I have long known that as a gay man, in this country I am unable to donate blood because I have had sex since 1977. Note: I was born in 1984. To my surprise, this ban still exists and the United States is one of the few countries still holding on to old outdated science. Additionally, I am not allowed to donate bone marrow either.

A change is needed.

A Change is Needed - Gay Blood Ban

Focus on Opportunity

Life Lesson Of The Week
Make the most of each day.
-Anonymous’ Life Lesson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Focus On It
There are any number of cliches that I can use with this week’s lesson. Each day is a gift that we are given and it is up to us to use it to our advantage. Recently, I saw an image that said that dads only have 960 Saturdays until newborns go off to college. The point was to make the most of each and every moment.

Our lives are short and there is no point in letting fear and worry get in the way of the good in your life.

How do we do this? Enjoy today and repeat that tomorrow.

Fears Are Imaginary

This article is not about a wheelchair. And it is not about tennis. It is about self-motivation, improvement and simple decisions to eliminate invisible barriers.

While Jamie Burdekin and Esther Vergeer’s stories are different, their lessons are quite similar.

Jamie and Esther represent some of the best tennis talent on the planet. They are connected through the game, but also the chair through which they play it.

Esther VergeerJamie was already an up-and-coming wheelchair tennis player when he injured his wrist while training. The diagnosis was not good. In order to have a chance to play again, he would need surgery. Even then, playing might not happen again his doctors told him. It is one thing to become a great wheelchair tennis player. It is another to re-learn how to be a world-class tennis player.

But for a man who has beaten the odds before, Jamie took it in stride and  blocked all of the negativity out. He even went so far as to ease the worry of the doctor, assuring him of his faith in the doctor’s skills. What would happen, would happen.

Jamie did make it back to the court, but it was slow and sometimes painful, both physically and emotionally. For a man who had been the fifth-best player in the world prior to the injury, it just wasn’t the same. And to add insult to injury, during his rehab his coach had Jamie use a smaller racquet, tennis balls made for beginners and a mini-net. It wasn’t all fun and games for Jamie. He said it was a bit embarrassing at times and people gave him strange looks, but he was back on the court playing tennis. Before the accident the landed him in a wheelchair, Jamie had never played tennis, and after his accident he started playing with a full-size racquet and on a full-size court. Having the surgery on his wrist was a risk, but also a blessing. It gave not only the coaches a chance to improve every aspect of his game but also it allowed Jamie to learn the game like children do every day around the world.

And while Jamie did not win a medal at the London Olympics, he does not fear what is next, just what he can do with what he has.

For Esther, who recently retired, she became wheelchair-bound at a young age, but did not let that stop her.

Of all the athletes, politicians, doctors, and writers I have met, Esther is probably the most humble, honest, and hardest working I will ever meet. I will never forget when I re-connected with her in 2010. I was at a tournament site when she checked in with the tournament director. She had come straight from the airport to get in a short hit with her coach. I left the site to get to the tournament hotel for a quick workout before my dinner. Who did I run into in the hotel gym later the night? Esther. Here is a woman who is the No. 1 women’s wheelchair tennis player on the planet. She was the Roger Federer of her sport. But what struck me was the fact that while all her competitors were out having dinner and relaxing, the best player in the world and favorite to win the tournament was at the gym continuing to work to get even better.

Who knew that when Esther had spinal surgery at age eight (which landed her in the wheelchair), that she would change the face of wheelchair tennis 25 years later. As an eight-year-old, she first picked up basketball, but soon added tennis, and in 1998, decided to focus only on tennis. A year later she was the best in the world. She is a woman who, even as a young child, took the unknown and embraced it. One other thing you should know about Esther, who retired in early 2013 from the game, was that she last lost a tennis match in January 2003. In that time, she won 470 straight matches and spent an astounding 668 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Jamie and Esther are living proof that limitations are choices and that those limits are just manifestations of fear.

Focus on what you can learn

Life Lesson Of The Week
Absolutely everyone has value and brings something to the table of life that no one else does.
-Anonymous’ Life Lesson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Focus On It
What value do you bring?

Fortunately, that’s not the question today. The question, and the lesson, is all about what you can learn from others who come into your life. It is amazing as I get older how excited I get to learn from others I come in contact with. I recently met Davis Mallory, of Real World Denver fame and got to listen to his story about his involvement in music and coming out and his journey to New York City.

And that is just one person. What about you? Are you listening to those around you?