Month: February 2014

“I Am”-the documentary that will change the way you think about the world

I Am documentary poster

[Photo Courtesy: Google Images]

If someone were to ask you these two questions,

“What’s wrong wrong with our world and what can we do about it?”

What would you say?

These are the two questions Tom Shadyac(director of Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura) poses in his documentary titled I Am(2010). The film brings us along his personal journey to find the answers to these two questions. He decides to seek out the truth behind life after a cycling accident where he suffered a severe concussion and struggled through a long depression.

I watched this film Tuesday night for a class assignment and immediately after felt impacted by it. Here are the most significant ideas I took away from the documentary and wish to share with you:

Consumerism has taught us to value competition when instead, we should value cooperation

Specifically in the United States, we are taught to spend and buy things because things make us happy. Many of us are told to study a field that will land us a high-paying job-why? Because the more money we make, the more things we can buy and the more things we can buy, the happier will be. The truth is money will only provide temporary happiness. In the movie, Tom talks about buying his first house in Beverly House and remembers sitting on the steps in his living room after the movers leave, thinking to himself, “Well, now what?”

We value competition by seeing who can make the most money and then we praise these people and label them as “successful.” Yes, I agree, they are successful but that doesn’t mean they’re happy. Sure, Bill Gates has billions and billions of dollars but does he actually need that much? Instead of competing to see who can make Forbes’ Billionaire page, why don’t think about helping those who don’t have enough to afford food? Or those living on the streets because they can’t afford to put a roof over their heads? We should instead remind ourselves of community and cooperation and help those in need instead of only worrying about ourselves.

Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature

Whenever we think about Darwin, we think of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest.” The truth is, Darwin really only mentioned “survival of the fittest” twice and mentioned “love” 95 times in his book The Descent of Man. As humans, it’s in our nature to feel joyful when we see a father reunite with his son or sad when we see a little girl crying because she lost her mom in the mall. We are sympathetic creatures. We feel emotions even when we’re witnessing an experience rather than experiencing it. I think this idea from the film goes along with cooperation. If we can help someone and affect him or her in a positive way, the rush of happiness is going to flow from head to toe inside us. We’re meant to care about others and we should.

Smalls acts change our lives and the lives of others

Last year, I lived in the dorms and I happened to be in the bathroom brushing my teeth while a someone was showering. Then, all of the sudden, I heard the water stop for about 30 seconds and then it continued running. I thought to myself, “Why’d he do that?” My friend Jesse stepped out of the shower and I asked him and he simply said, “Oh, I do that to save water.” That small act I witnessed made me realize, “Why am I not doing that?” That small act affected me in a significant way and made me try to change a daily habit and save water.

Here’s another example: About a week ago, I noticed trash on the ground around campus and thought, “What if everyone picked up trash on the ground and threw it away every time they came across it?” I decided to take that small act upon myself because I realized it’s really not that hard to bend down, pick up a candy wrapper and throw it away. Sure, I don’t stop and pick up every piece of trash I see but I tell myself that if I can pick up at least one per day, it’ll make a difference. The other reason too is that if someone sees me do it, maybe they’ll pick up a piece of trash too. It’s these small acts that build up over time that can change the world in my opinion. Slowly, but surely, we can make a difference step by step. 

Nothing in nature takes more than it needs

The last lesson that impacted me the most is this one: nothing in nature takes more than it needs. If a lion is feeding his family, he will only kill enough for them. A redwood tree doesn’t take all of the nutrients from the soil. It only takes what it needs- that’s it! This is idea is so simple yet so powerful! Why do feel the need to take more than we need? This goes back to the idea of love, community and cooperation. We should love our neighbors and think about the needs of others. It’s not only about us. Sometimes we(including myself) forget that. We just need to constantly remind ourselves to care for others. If we have more than we need, why not be selfless and recognize the power we have and help those in need?

Hopefully this post wasn’t too long or too wordy. If you can’t tell by now, this documentary has important messages that we can all learn from. Here’s a link where you can watch it for free(thanks to filmsforaction.org)! It’s 1 hour and 16 minutes long but well worth every minute 🙂

What are some small acts you do on a daily basis that others might benefit from?

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Gratitude: the ticket to happiness

joe previte and stacey fawthorp at imagine dragons concert

On Monday night, my girlfriend treated me to the Imagine Dragons concert in Phoenix at the U.S. Airways Center as her Valentine’s Day present to me. Towards the end of the show, the lead singer Dan Reynolds dedicated a song to a boy named Tyler Robinson who, he said, passed away at age 17 this past year after battling cancer for four years. Even though he was fighting for his life, Dan said he always had a smile on his face and was just happy to be alive. The story and song reminded me of the lesson just recently: the key to happiness is gratitude. 

I learned this lesson from teachers, professors, and speakers over the years but it never really hit home until I watched these two TED talk videos about happiness.

The first talk is titled The happy secret to better work by Shawn Achor. Basically, he explains how society teaches us that success leads to happiness. If we are successful, we will be happy. However, he says that studies have shown that once we reach our goal, we feel satisfied but the feeling is only temporary. Later, he explains that we can do 5 simple tasks everyday to train our brain to think differently and to be happy with life. Here they are:

  1. 3 Gratitudes (Write down 3 things you’re thankful for. Brain begins to write a pattern to see the world more positively.)
  2. Journaling (About one ore more positive experiences you have had over the last 24 hrs teaches your brain to re-live these moments.)
  3. Exercise (Teaches your brain that behavior matters)
  4. Meditation (Detaches you from multi-tasking. Increases your focus on the task at hand)
  5. Random Acts of Kindness (ex. 1 positive email thanking someone)

He challenges you to try these things for 21 days see if you feel happier as a result. From my own experience, I  try to do these things everyday after having watched this video and feel more positive and happier in life.

The second talk is titled Want to be happy? Be grateful by David Steindl-Rast. The purpose of his talk is to remind us to slow down and be grateful of everything in life. The one idea that I really agreed with that he repeated over and over is the idea that every single second in life is another opportunity to live. It’s another chance to be thankful that you can breathe and experience life. I, myself, have been taking that for granted all my life and it made me stop and remember that I could die any second. I have no idea when I’m going to breathe my last breath. No one does, which is why we should be thankful for every opportunity given to us.

The last thing I want to mention about gratitude is the expression, “At least…” that we use in English. Think about it-when do we use this expression and why do we use it? It exists, in my opinion, specifically for us to point out the positive aspects of any given situation. To look at the bright side. To stop and realize, “Hey, this could be worse.” Think about that. The next time you’re talking to someone, consider this phrase and see if you can use it. See if you can hold back the corners of your mouth stretching out into a big, wide smile after you say it and maybe you’ll surprise yourself 🙂

Why it’s important to never forget being a kid


Molino Basin Tucson Arizona[Photo from top of a mountain near our campground at Molino Basin]

This past weekend, I attended my first camp with an organization called Camp Wildcat and it made me realize something- I forgot what it was like to be a kid.

In my opinion, society tells us to grow up and learn to be mature as soon as possible. For me, that meant right around freshman year. I still acted immature obviously but that’s what I feel like I was told to start acting older because soon I would be an adult.

Now, I’m a second-year college student and after going camping with Camp Wildcat, I feel like everything is so serious. I am 20 years old and I am an “adult.” I have to act “formal” and “appropriate” just about all the time.

I’m not saying that it’s detrimental for society to expect us to act like  adults(we should, for the most part) but if society never gives us room to act like kids, then it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be one. If we reflect back on being a kid, we can remind ourselves of important life lessons that we shouldn’t lose sight of. Camp Wildcat was the catalyst that I needed to remind me what it was like to be a kid and here a few lessons I learned after reflecting back on my experience from this weekend:

Don’t afraid to losen up and be silly

After high school(and usually during high school), we’re taught to be serious and appropriate all the time that we forget to act silly and losen up. At least for me, I know I forget to be silly sometimes and the activities at Camp Wildcat reminded me to let go and have fun.

One of my favorite parts was the reactions we gave to the “skits” performed by different groups based on movies and expressions. In between activities, different groups would perform skits of random things and afterwords, the directors would ask what we thought about the skit. We responded with either some sort of expression or movie reference. My favorite was called the James Franco which was a Spiderman 3 reference from a scene where James Franco is eating pie. The waitress asks how it is and he responds, “So good.” We’d choose one like James Franco and then in unison say, “SOOO good.” They were all silly like that and it was a lot of fun. Overall, it just reminded me to have fun and losen up.

Don’t let your creativity and imagination ever die

Similar to the idea of always being “serious,” we sometimes find ourselves in positions where we aren’t asked to use our creativity and/or imagination. Yes, sometimes a project or homework assignment will have an unexpected turn and we have to be creative their but what I really mean is using your creativity and imagination on it’s own like an art.

A large part of the camp was performing “skits.” All camps have themes and this one that I went to over the weekend was themed Camp Disney so as you can imagine, everything revolved around Disney. Before eating a meal, the counselors made each group perform a skit with another group before they could receive their word. These skits forced us to be creative and use our imaginations.  The experience reminded me that I shouldn’t ever let my creativity and imagination die out.

Never stop wishing, dreaming and believing

This lesson is one that I believe is the most important- never giving up on your dreams, wishes, and beliefs. There are several times when society tells us to settle for a job that pays enough to start a family, start a family and live your life until you die and that’s it. Period. People tell you not to have dreams to high because you might not accomplish them or make them come true. I say that’s bologna!

At the conclusion of Camp Wildcat on Sunday morning, we did an activity called Wish Bracelets. The way it works is you and another person get together a make wish bracelets for each other with the provided string. But wait! There’s a special process:

1st- you make a wish for the other person and tie a knot and they make one for you and tie a knot

2nd- you make a wish for yourself and tie a knot and they do the same

3rd- you make a wish for the world and tie a knot and they do the same

Then you tie it in on their wrist and they tie one on yours and you two finish with a hug. You can make as many bracelets as you want too!

It’s a warm and loving activity and awakens that fuzzy feeling inside your stomach that makes you feel good.  The activity in general is fantastic because the point is to make you think about what you care about the world and reminds you to always think about others(and yourself)!

Just remember this- even though we’re told to be serious the majority of the time in life, we shouldn’t ever forget what it’s like to be a kid 🙂

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*Side note about Camp Wildcat:
“Camp Wildcat is a student-run, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization at the University of Arizona devoted to improving the lives of Tucson’s youth. Over 100 dedicated volunteers provide cost-free activities for fun, friendship and to portray college as an attainable goal for everyone!”

Sharing Arizonian culture with SUSI exchange students from South America

joel vega y thomas de bolivia y peru

[Photo of Thomas on the left and Joel on the right from cultural presentation]

Tomorrow, Joel and Thomas, two new friends, along with 18 other exchange students from South America will head to the East Coast to and to Washington D.C. for two weeks after having spent the last three weeks learning about the culture in Arizona and attending classes here at the University of Arizona.

The 20 students are participating in a program called SUSI(Study of the U.S. Institutes) for Student Leaders. They come from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay and range in age from 18-26. None of them knew each other before coming here and they all come from different places.  The programs are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with the purpose to “promote a better understanding of the people, institutions, and culture of the United States among foreign students, teachers, and scholars.” The University of Arizona regular hosts these programs twice a year. The students visited Nogales, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Sedona and a few other parts of Arizona, I believe.

I happened to find the opportunity by chance during winter break when I received an email from one of the directors of the program here at the U of A who was looking for mentors. I remembered I had signed up for the Latin American Undergraduate email list and that was the reason the email landed in my inbox.

I received a spot as a mentor and was paired with Joel from Bolivia and Thomas from Peru for the three weeks that they spent here at the U of A.

We hung out together a few times in Tucson, maybe once or twice a week. I introduced them to friends here one night and brought them to my dorm one evening to show them what it’s like living on campus.

My favorite part was showing them around Phoenix last weekend. Since my car is broken, my dad let us drive his Polaris Ranger. I brought them to my high school and my elementary school and also around that neighborhood to show them where I grew up as a kid. I think they really enjoyed it because they could compare what they saw in movies to real life and see what an “American” high school and elementary school actually look like.

I also introduced them to Arizona burritos(an extremely delicious fast-food burrito from Federico’s), horchata(a sweet drink made of rice), AND Girl Scout cookies-specifically “Thin Mints” that take your tastebuds to heaven. My mouth waters just thinking about pulling one out of the freezer at home and munching on it-MMMM!

From participating in this program as a mentor, from my own experiences and from what I’ve learned at the university, I have realized that the media misrepresents the United States and other countries around the world, which is why first-hand cultural experience is so important and valuable. By learning about a culture for ourselves, we deconstruct the generalizations and presumptions that we hold within ourselves as a result of listening to the media, or one story.

I hope the U of A continues to host these types of exchange programs so I can contribute to improving the cultural experience for the students to come. I also recommend to anyone, student or non-student, to check out the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Programs website because there several ways to get involved with these programs or to even visit another country as the exchange student. It’s a great way to open up your mind and even learn a little bit more about your culture and yourself 🙂

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