To Opine

This is going to be a short and sweet post since I’m currently sitting on my couch on a Sunday night stressing about all these work emails I just received, but dammit I committed to a post every Wednesday so I’ve gotta kick out this draft now.

Do me a quick favor and think about one of your most recent conversations. Did you talk about how you’ve been doing, and what you’ve been doing? Or maybe did it veer into likes/dislikes or maybe even heavier topics like current events? I basically covered every topic of conversation just now so unless you were having an intense philosophical interaction then your answer is yes. Chances are, you also shared an opinion at some point during that conversation. It may have been small like “Oh ew I could never eat that, cauliflower is disgusting,” or it might have been something heavier like “Lax gun laws in the United States are perpetuating a culture of violence and preventing accountability for violent actions.”

Sharing opinions is something that I have observed to be integral to United States culture in particular. Sure, people share their opinions in every other country as well, but the United States is obsessed with our first amendment, and thus our supposed right to say whatever we want, whenever we want.

Since I’ve had the opportunity to live in a couple different countries, I’ve noticed that no other culture is quite as aggressive about sharing their thoughts. You can get into a heated debate anywhere, but Americans seem fixated on their ability to share their opinion, ANY opinion, more so than others.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, people who don’t have strong opinions tend to bore me. PICK A SIDE PEOPLE. But that might just be my American showing. Personally, I immensely enjoy having conversations with people who have definite opinions because I have definite opinions.

Additionally, I would go so far as to say that nothing ever gets done by people who don’t have strong opinions. People in leadership positions often have polarizing personalities because they have strong ideas that maybe some people don’t agree with. Passive people rarely cause change. If you don’t even feel strongly enough about something to talk about it in normal conversation, you’re never going to shape the world to fit that ideal.

However, there is a limit to this opinion drenched, soapbox endemic that the American people love to court. Many people love to spout their opinion but don’t love to back it up. We’ve gotten lazy under the protection of free speech and we don’t bother to research and conduct our due diligence on our opinions.

In the end, I’m an American, and I am grateful for free speech. But I’m also grateful for the people in my life that taught me free speech is a responsibility and that I better know what I’m talking about.

Waiting for your opinions

Where is Your Passport?

I was going to write about my personal travel bucket list this week, but a few days ago a colleague brought an extremely troubling statistic to my attention. He told me that only 10% of Americans have valid passports. I was confounded by this and immediately looked it up. That’s way too low, right? Well turns out that even though the number isn’t quite as dire as 10%, there are still only 41% of Americans that have valid passports. Not horrible, but definitely not great. That means that out of 325 million people nearly 170 million of them don’t have a passport and have thus probably never been outside the country.

I recognize that I may find this surprising because I grew up relatively privileged, with a passport since birth so that I could travel to Greece to visit my dad’s side of the family. I used to think that the people who didn’t travel simply didn’t because they were too scared or too unsure about how to plan or afford it. And while I do understand that there are financial and emotional burdens to undertake in getting a passport and in overseas travel, I also know that those obstacles only account for a fraction of the 170 million who don’t have passports. This number has to include people who don’t even have a base desire to go anywhere outside their home country and that is unimaginable for me.

Obviously, I am a travel nut. I love to see new places, experience new things, and explore different cultures. I think an inordinate amount about dropping everything to become a travel blogger and am constantly updating my bucket list (and by ‘updating’, I mean ‘adding to it’). It is incomprehensible to me that there are people out there who have no desire to see other places. Even my most homebody type friends have at least one far away place they’d love to see someday.

The reason I believe this is important to discuss because I learned some of my most important lessons about myself and about the world from travelling. Travelling to different places is an exercise in perseverance, and most importantly, in empathy. Depending on the place you’re going, there are certain obstacles to overcome: language, transportation, etc. which all enhance problem-solving and personal creativity by figuring out ways to survive that you wouldn’t normally have to use at home. However, the more important skill, in my opinion, is the practice of empathy. It is easy to sit at home, watch the news, and believe everything you see about the rest of the world. But it is quite another to actually travel to a place, and experience it for yourself.

For example, for many people, all they know about countries like Afghanistan are that they are war-torn terrorist hotbeds. But if you look at travel blogs and videos from people who have visited, they will rave about the food or the kindness of the people. I truly believe every single place on this planet has SOMETHING to offer and it’s a terrible waste that there are so many people out there who have no desire to experience something new.

I am probably at a loss with this concept because I don’t really know too many people who do not have a passport. I know I sound like a spoiled brat, but I honestly can’t imagine having never experienced anything outside my own country. If you or someone you know doesn’t’ have a passport,  I would love to know what their reasons are for not having one or for not travelling. Since nearly 60% of Americans don’t have one, there’s gotta be a reason, right?


Me in Peru exactly a year ago where your passport is needed for everything as it’s your only form of ID


Silence is Not Golden

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks, you know that racist tensions in the U.S. have yet again come to a head, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’m not going to go into the whole story of what happened in Virginia, you can read about that event here. Instead, I want to talk about how that event, and events like it, is perpetuating a state of intolerance in the U.S., and what can possibly be done to combat those feelings.

Anyone that knows me already knows that I sway towards the liberal side of politics, ESPECIALLY when it comes to social justice issues. However, I don’t have to tell anyone that the events that occurred in Virginia were awful, but what I do feel the need to say is: what did you expect?

SO many people think racism is dead in America. They think there are no more marginalized groups, they honestly believe that discrimination and prejudice are ideals of the past. And then events like Charlottesville pop up, and people are SHOCKED that something like this could occur in their country, and you know what? THOSE are the people I’m most appalled at. Unlike those people, I knew that racism wasn’t dead, I knew that there were alt-right extremists out there congregating and planning because I paid attention.

While I absolutely condemn white-supremacy and anybody who decides it is their right to decide that certain lives are worth more than others, I also want to take this moment to call out those Americans who have committed a different kind of act worthy of condemnation: Willful Ignorance.

Too many Americans have decided that these issues don’t concern them, too many Americans have decided not to educate themselves on current events, and WAY too many Americans base their viewpoints on perception and false rhetoric rather than facts and information.

Racism in America is an issue in which it is not acceptable to not take a side anymore. You can’t just say ‘Oh I never gave it much thought’ because events like Charlottesville are plastered EVERYWHERE. You don’t get to pretend hatred and intolerance don’t occur in your very own backyard, and you certainly don’t get to pretend that you’re not a part of the larger issue. In case you were wondering what this kind of pretending looks like, take a look at how our woefully incompetent, PR disaster of a president responded, here.

Not all issues have the ability to feed on indifference, but unfortunately, this one does. Because as a white person, if you stay silent on these issues and think to yourself ‘Well this doesn’t affect me’, even if you’re not a white supremacist, you are helping their agenda. Because by staying silent, you are no longer standing up for what is right and what is just, and what America is SUPPOSED to stand for. You either believe every person has the same rights as every other person, or you don’t. There really isn’t an in-between section on this one.

All I would like to ask each and every American to do is simple: educate yourself. And educate yourself on both sides of the argument. Don’t get all your information from one source, and don’t believe authority figures just because of their position. Check your work, check my work, check the media’s work. Ignorance is how we got in this mess of a presidency in the first place, don’t let it become part of the fabric of our society. Don’t let extremist rhetoric, and outlandish opinion pieces dictate our views. Do the research and make up your own mind, it’s not that hard.

“You are NOT entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your INFORMED opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” — Harlan Ellison

Shoutout to my sister for the title of this post. To watch her video on the same topic, click here!

Can Disney help fight Islamophobia?

My sister and I were on the phone the other day talking about the Trump travel ban on certain countries and the current state of the U.S. with regards to attitudes towards Muslims. It’s not a new phenomenon for a group of people to be so intensely stereotyped within the U.S., but she and I agreed that Muslims might be bearing the brunt of it lately due to the U.S. populace’s lack of exposure to people who practice Islam and the media. People growing up in rural or less diverse areas of the U.S. probably never come into contact with a Muslim apart from the terror attacks they see on T.V. And although it’s unacceptable, it’s not actually that difficult to see why they are so guarded.

However, having been fortunate enough to grow up in a diverse area and go to school and become friends or classmates with many kids who are Muslim, my sister and I believe in the popular theory that the problem is rooted in learned stereotypes people gain from the media and their communities.

Perhaps it is too late for bigoted adults to be saved in this regard, but it’s not too late for children. So, I threw this idea past my sister*: Could Disney Channel help?

You guys remember Hannah Montana?  That’s So Raven? Kim Possible? The Suite Life of Zack and Cody? Well, I know that Disney has a whole new crop of overstyled preteen shows to fill their network roster now, but these were some I grew up on. And one thing the new and the old shows have in common is that there is a protagonist (duh), but there is always, ALWAYS, a silly best-friend character.

This best friend character is usually silly, quirky, and helps the protagonist through their various G-rated schemes, and sometimes gets to be the focus of the episode with almost as much purpose and screen time as the protagonist.

Now bear with me, WHAT IF that best friend character was Muslim? WHAT IF, it was a character who participated in traditional dress of Islam? Think about it. Kids eat up Disney shows like Halloween candy and Disney churns out new shows and new child stars almost as fast as Trump tweets his idiotic musings. Furthermore, Disney has been taking slow steps towards becoming more inclusive of different minority groups. So I’m not reaching for the stars here for them to make one best friend character Muslim.


The Proud Family: Season 3 Episode 3

By making the silliest, most likable character on the show a Muslim, kids in the U.S. would grow up with it and could begin to see the diversity among Muslims. Nobody shuns white people because one white man shot up a school. And children would learn that radical Muslims are the minority. They would learn that yes, there is conflict in the Middle East and there are Muslims that are unsavory, but that it’s no different from any other race or religion where there are bad and good lumped together.

You may have a big question here: why not the main character? Why only the side character? Wouldn’t it be better to have a main character for even larger leaps against discrimination? Yes, you are absolutely right. But hear me out. First off, that’s a big step, especially in our current climate. Say what you will, but Disney is a company that cares about their bottom line and they will not just take steps like that without seriously considering the consequences on their fanbase.

Furthermore, I honestly think it’s better to have a Muslim in the side character first. When you think about these shows, they mostly revolve around the protagonist attempting to help someone or doing something ridiculous and then having to fix a mess they’ve caused. The best-friend character is almost always assisting them and shows unparalleled loyalty and kindness, whereas the protagonist can make more morally ambiguous (albeit still G-rated) choices that could be up for debate. The character would act as a direct foil to the terrorist characters depicted in the news. Following the potential success of the best-friend character, then bigger, more complex roles would be up for a more diverse casting.

I’m aware that this is an extremely small step, but isn’t that how we get there? If you subscribe, as I do, to the notion that exposure is the best cure for discrimination and stereotyping, then it is a combination of tiny exposures and large exposures that will help eradicate this. The more people get to know other Muslims, see Muslims on TV, see them doing the exact same things we all do — grocery shopping, hanging out with their friends, working– those stereotypes gradually wear away. And as with fundamental societal changes, the best place to start is with the new generation.


You’re watching Disney Channel!! *forced smile as I botch drawing Mickey’s ears*



*My sister takes a different route with this theory in her video here:

Picture credits: Disney Channel and Disney’s The Proud Family, Season 3 Episode 3

Quit it, Don’t Hit it

I’m writing this article with the assumption that almost everyone in the U.S. is aware of the current political climate. The 2016 election is the most polarizing event that I’ve ever witnessed in my short twenty-two years of living. Demonstrations, fake news, and violence are rampant and although I am unhappy with the election results, I do think people should take a step back from politics for a moment and think about things more objectively.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. I am NOT happy with a Trump presidency. I fear for my friends of other races, and I fear for my own healthcare rights. HOWEVER, I do NOT believe shaming, or promoting violence towards Trump supporters is acceptable at ALL. Humanity in the U.S. has been dispensed with. We have sunk to a primal level of trying to debase people with opposing views, and honestly, that is more frightening to me than a Trump presidency. It’s like I can feel the country dissolving around me. Just this morning, there were two people behind me on the bus talking in abnormally hushed tones about their support of the election results and it hit me that people feel they have to hide their beliefs on the street to avoid confrontation. I realize that this has been an unpleasant reality for people of different religious beliefs or races for a while now, but the climate in this country has never been so horrible that people have had to hide their political beliefs too.

Since the election, I realized that I, as a liberal, must have been inordinately out of touch with what almost half of Americans feel like. As such, I starting devouring articles from Trump supporters or about Trump supporters describing their reasons for voting for him or supporting him. It is irrelevant that I don’t agree with their decision, I maintained that the best thing I can do is to attempt to understand where they are coming from. If I reject their viewpoint outright, they will do the same to me automatically. It is far more productive to genuinely understand their perspective rather than to simply dismiss it in favor of my own beliefs. To be clear, no one will ever convince me to become Pro-Life or anti-Immigrant, HOWEVER, if I can somehow understand the people who do support those movements, it is FAR easier to have productive conversations.

People have become so rooted in their own beliefs that they refuse to look outside themselves and their sphere to open their mind to what the opposition thinks, and more importantly, WHY they think in a different way. I fully support speaking your mind and having your voice heard, such as the women’s march, or the march to protest anti-immigrant legislature, BUT I think it is unacceptable to dispense with empathy altogether. I learned a while ago that people always act in a way that is reasonable to them, nobody intentionally does something unless it makes sense. What is the harm in learning what those reasons are? Just because they are different from my own doesn’t mean they aren’t warranted. When you look at the situation plainly, people voted for Trump for a reason. It’s that simple. All I want to know is what those reasons are so that neither party feels attacked or dismissed. Then perhaps compromise and productive discussion could follow. But the violence, and blatant disregard for other humans absolutely has got to go.



My incredulity at the present political climate