Eric Stevens

Fitness Speaker, Author & Personality

Eric Stevens is a health and fitness coach, trainer and practitioner. Eric has broadened that body focused fitness with writing, presenting and acting in order to reach people, change lives, and create dialogue.

Filtering by Tag: Moral Courage

The Middle Children of History

 “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.”  ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club 

By now it’s not news to you that we have an opioid epidemic that kills more Americans each year than died during the entire duration of the Vietnam War. It’s not news that obesity has become a pandemic across our nation killing an estimated 300,000 people annually. It’s not news that depression and suicide are at all time highs in our country with some 45,000 people taking their own lives each year. It’s not news to you that despite living in an age of unprecedented technological advances, we actually have declining life expectancy in our nation. We are increasingly addicted to our food, our phones, our booze and our prescription drugs. We even ‘binge’ watch our television. But none of that is news.

Our collective anxiety, addiction, escapism, and desperation is no longer newsworthy, for the vast majority of us are personally battling these afflictions on some level whether individually or through our circle of loved ones. What is newsworthy is that despite fighting the war on drugs, war on fat, and war on terror, none of these societal conflicts are helping us live longer happier lives. The big news story isn’t the what, but the why.

So just why are we depressed, addicted, overweight and unhappy? After all, we live in the richest nation on earth at the most prosperous time in history. Technology makes our lives so efficient that few of us have to actually labor strenuously to find food, shelter or even entertainment. The answer is simple, and yet complex. We feel separate from each other and live in polarizing times because we are separate from ourselves. We are out of alignment.   

If you watch the news and pay attention to those in power politically and economically, the answers to our dilemmas come in convenient packages with straight forward answers - Obesity will be solved by burning calories, jobs and personal safety will be protected by building walls, drug addiction will be solved by locking up drug dealers and seizing the supply of illegal drugs. But deep down, no matter where you lie on the political and philosophical spectrum, we all know this is a lie. None of these short-sided ‘answers’ really address the why’s behind the what.

The proof is in the pudding. Despite our protectionist tendencies and efforts to save our jobs, both machines and other countries continue to take our jobs at an alarming pace. Despite a decades-long war on drugs focusing on locking up drug dealers and seizing drugs, this fight has had zero impact on drug consumption and addiction. Despite more and more joining gyms fueling the fitness industry’s unprecedented double-digit growth for the past 30-years, the burning calories approach has had no impact on the amount of overweight and obese Americans. These are failed approaches because they don’t address the underlying causes of our ailments.

We need to stop addressing the ‘what’ and start tackling the ‘why’ behind these issues. The reason we are overweight, unhappy and depressed is because many of us lack purpose, meaning and a feeling of true fulfillment in our lives. Great meals, engrossing entertainment and fine wine won’t solve our emptiness. Ironically, our escapism only exacerbates our pain. No matter how fast we run on the treadmill of life, the belt keeps going and at some point we have to get off and face the pain, guilt and shame of our own emptiness.

Facing the why means waging a “spiritual war” as Chuck Palahniuk states. Or as Gandhi famously said, “each one of us has to find his peace from within.” But many aren’t willing to wage that war. We’re too distracted and comfortable to be bothered. We’re too busy complaining about the system being broken that we don’t actually organize and mobilize to find real solutions. It’s much easier to blame the left if you’re on the right (or vice versa), to blame the drug dealers if you’re a drug user and to blame the calories if you’re overweight. These simplistic narratives have proven to be failed approaches and continue to do nothing to advance our cause as a society.

More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau prophesized this dynamic. His haunting quote about despair and its correlation to amusement also contains the remedy (wisdom). “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation…A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

The time has come to reject the notions of addiction and corruption and break out of our quiet lives of desperation. As “middle children of history,” our fight isn’t a black and white one like the wars and moral battles of our grandparents and great grandparents. Addiction, depression and even political gridlock aren’t solved with walls, diet plans and simply choosing the lesser of two evils. They are solved in the stillness of our hearts, in selfless community-driven efforts and in relationship with the Divine.

We must wage new wars in fighting the powerful and corrupt while at the same time holding ourselves to the same level of accountability. We must stand up to monopolies of thought and monopolies of commerce and political power. We must fight against systemic injustices like fake food and aggressive marketing campaigns that promote massive consumption and in turn, addiction.

The answers in these seemingly hopeless times will only present themselves if we are first willing to address the why’s behind the what. Waging such a spiritual war is not about choosing sides, but about finding a ‘third’ way and through the process of “kenosis” or self-emptying. It is only when we empty our lives that we can be truly receptive to God’s will. It is only through emptiness that we can find wholeness. It’s only by finding ourselves individually that we can band together and truly forge a path for peace collectively.

 

Moral Courage

"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."  - Elie Wiesel

My mom used to read to me at night…until I was in high school! She read children’s books to me when I was little, sports books when I was in grade school, and as I matured, she read biographies and history. One theme was consistent in the books she chose – moral courage. Moral courage is defined as the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.

I’m not sure if it was Mom’s intention to instill the virtues of being some sort of moral crusader, but those books made a big impression on me. My main take away from those readings on the likenesses of individuals like Anne Frank, Malcolm X, or Jackie Robinson is that the true mark of success isn’t defined by what assets you have, your resume, or even how long you live, but by your willingness to stand for what you believe in.

How many of us are willing to take such stands? How many of us are willing to truly stand up - to our employer, our church, our government and risk persecution, our job, and even our freedom? To many, the comforts of modern life, validation on social media, and the distractions of technology hold sway over urgent and pressing systemic problems. We are too busy being distracted and seeking comfort to be burdened by life’s inconvenient truths.

Moral courage is seemingly in short supply these days although there are glimmers of hope if you look closely enough. Ishrad Manji is the founder of the ‘Moral Courage Project’’ at the University of Southern California where she teaches students to “do the right thing in the face of four years.” Manji is a Muslim who has openly stood up for the rights of women and minorities calling for reform in her faith in her bestselling book, The Trouble with Islam Today.

A recent example of moral courage is also former NFL player Ed Cunningham quitting his lucrative job as a television football analyst because he believes that football has negative long-term health ramifications. He felt could “no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot” in promoting a game he believes in hazardous to your health. In announcing his decision Cunningham added “I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

The point isn’t whether people like Manji and Cunningham are right. Personally, I like football and though the studies on football appear to be fairly damning, I have no idea if the science is absolute or conclusive with regard to long-term brain damage and its correlation to football. The point is that Ed Cunningham quit one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his convictions. The point is that Manji stood up to her faith at the risk of being ostracized or worse and has dedicated her life’s work to furthering the movement of moral courage.

The point is also that such stands of courage are notable because they are a rarity in our times. Moral courage tends to be the exception to the rule of the day – ‘me first.’ The mantra of me first is at the root of almost every major problem we face today – disparity of income & wealth inequality, dysfunctional government run by lifelong politicians, the epidemics of addiction, crumbling infrastructure and the failing environment. And it’s not just ego and selfishness that drives these problems, but they are compounded by a modern culture of apathy, indifference, and contempt.

Said Noel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Wiesel goes on to say that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel wrote about perhaps the most glaring example of such neglect which occurred in the 1930’s & 40’s in Nazi Germany. Many protected their own self-interest - Their families, their jobs, their possessions. In doing so they contributed to one of the biggest crimes against humanity, not to mention their own countries demise and destruction. Indeed, when we put only our needs first, we neglect the moral necessities of our time.

These days there are also many who want to put their family, country or company first. While in some ways it’s natural and understandable to put you and yours first, frankly the sentiment is misguided and ultimately wrong. 'Me first' presents a self-absorbed narrative that puts blinders on the many extremely important issues of the day – poverty, failing societal health, the environment, education – things that affect us all in one way shape or form.

To right this ship, the single most important question we can ask ourselves is ‘what do you love in life more than you love yourself?’ Said another way, ‘what are you willing to die for?’ It’s a strong question, but one we all need to ask in our daily lives if we have a shot at correcting the sentiments of indifference, selfishness, and greed. Rather than responding to the issues of today with apathy, we have an ethical responsibility to stand up and ask, ‘what is going on here?’

We live in important and tumultuous times where a desperate need exists for leadership and the willingness to take stands. Even at the cost of a job, relationship, or personal gain we must put our conscious and community first. In a world of limited resources, interconnected economies, and common problems, the notion of me or even America first is archaic. As Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. My religion is to do good.” Our ultimate task is to put the collective needs of the community first and as Paine rightly stated, “to do good.”