A Dual-Classification of Antisocial Individuals

In 1993, Terrie Moffitt posited the theory that juvenile delinquents as a population of study are comprised of two distinctly different types of individuals: the life-course-persistent antisocial individual and the adolescence-limited antisocial individual. Moffitt's theory provides a number of insights into the nature of delinquency, as well as important implications for juvenile justice policy and procedure.In order to best understand the implications of Moffitt's theory for juvenile justice policy and practice, it is best to begin with an overview of the differences between the two types of antisocial individuals presented and the difficulties inherent in distinguishing between the two groups. In summarized form, life-course-persistent antisocial individuals are those whose behavioral problems begin in childhood, remain consistent through adolescence, and persevere through adulthood. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, however, go through a temporary, situationally behaviorally problematic period that generally occurs between the time of pubescent maturity and young adulthood. It is important to note that, according to Moffitt (1993), adolescent newcomers to antisocial behaviors, despite a lack of prior experience, equal their preschool-onset peers with regards to the variety and frequency of laws broken as well as the number of times referred to juvenile court. Therefore, based on the commonly used indexes of adolescent delinquency, and when viewed through cross-sectional studies by researchers, the two groups become indistinguishable.With regards to distinguishing between the two groups, especially as related to the way in which antisocial youth are seen by the juvenile justice system, it becomes imperative to obtain knowledge of an adolescent's behavior from early childhood through the current time-frame. Without such knowledge, a differential diagnosis between the two types of antisocial individuals is impossible, and successful intervention and treatment then becomes less likely depending upon the type of offender and the sanctions imposed. As an example, many adolescence-limited youths will receive sanctions that will serve to maintain their delinquent behaviors instead of providing them with opportunities to “age out” of their delinquent behavior, such as incarceration, an interrupted education, the formation of a drug habit, or teen parenthood. In addition, interventions with life-course-persistent adolescents are typically met with lackluster results due to their proclivity to turn positive opportunities into ways in which they can maintain continuity with their antisocial behavior. An example of this behavior includes turning residential treatment programs into opportunities to learn from and associate with criminal peers.Further exacerbating the need to gain knowledge of an adolescent's pre-adolescent behavior when taking into account juvenile justice practices, Moffit explains that adolescence-limited youths' antisocial behavior is normative, not abnormal. In fact, Moffitt references a study by Farrington, Ohlin, and Wilson in 1986 in which it is stated that four fifths of males have some contact with police for a minor infringement during their adolescent years. Based on self-report data, it is statistically abnormal to refrain from engaging in some type of antisocial or delinquent behavior.The aforementioned data points provide interesting insights into the nature of delinquency among adolescents. Approximately five percent of offenders have been repeatedly shown to be responsible for around fifty percent of known crimes. Moffitt's taxonomy suggests that this five percent is primarily comprised of life-course-persistent adolescents, and that these youth act as the gateway to delinquent behavior for adolescence-limited youths. It should be noted, however, that the theoretical causes for delinquent behavior between these two groups is quite different. Life-course-persistent antisocial individuals exhibit a number of characteristics that suggest psychopathology, with the root causes being related to subtle or underlying cognitive or neuropsychological deficiencies that become problematic through physical, social, and environmental influences. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, on the other hand, develop problematic behaviors as a result of a lack of socially ascribed maturity at a time when they develop biological maturity, and look to delinquent behavior as a way of achieving mature status.Taking into account the summarization provided, juvenile justice policies and practices must be flexible enough to account for two distinctly different types of antisocial individuals when considering sanctions. Such flexibility can only be achieved by successfully compiling data on juvenile offenders from as early in the life course as possible, preferably using multiple types of risk assessments from different sources, such as parents, caregivers, and educators. In addition, to truly intervene successfully in the lives of potential life-course-persistent antisocial persons, possible social, environmental, and physical influences must be identified when assessments indicate possible neuropsychological or physical deficiencies that have been shown to be linked to the development of criminal behavior. Such assessments would provide historical data regarding the levels of antisocial behaviors exhibited in youth across their developmental years and into adolescence, and would assist the juvenile justice system greatly in forming intervention and treatment plans that prove most successful without increasing the likelihood of antisocial continuity.SourcesMoffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behavior: A Developmental Taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674-701.

Trends in Juvenile Delinquency and Justice

Author's Note: I started graduate school, so a lot of my writing time is impeded by having to actually write for classes. Once my essays are complete and graded, I'll post them here so that you all at least have something to read if I do not get to write other pieces for fun for a little bit. Enjoy!


Public perception and concern over the emergence of a new breed of juvenile delinquent, namely the violent predator, fueled Snyder's analysis of the Maricopa County juvenile population in 1998. This study resulted in some very interesting findings, especially with regards to the effectiveness of the system and the types of offenses committed by youths. In addition, Snyder's findings help shed light on ways to reevaluate, and potentially improve, the policies and practices of the juvenile justice system.The Maricopa County study looked at the “graduating classes” of officially recognized juvenile delinquents from 1980 to 1995. These cohorts were identified by using the entire youth population that turned eighteen and aged out of the juvenile system in their respective years. In all, 151,209 youth were identified as officially recognized by the juvenile system during this timeframe, which accounted for a combined 325,259 referrals to the court. Three categories of offenses were used to identify each juvenile career type: nonserious nonviolent offenses, serious nonviolent offenses, and violent offenses.In order to best understand what Snyder's findings mean, it is important to note some of the key statistical data that provide the basis for interpreting the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system and the potential ways in which reevaluating policy and practice are affected. The average age at which a youth's first delinquent offense occurred remained fairly constant across all sixteen cohorts, and ranged between 15.2 and 15.8 years of age. The average number of referrals to the system increased from 1980 to 1995 by approximately 55%. It is important to note that this increase in referrals is greater than the increase in the size of the groups, which means that the 1995 cohort had more referrals per career than the 1980 cohort. Finally, a large majority of youth referred to the system, approximately 60% in fact, were referred only once.While the preceding data alone does not present a complete understanding of Snyder's findings, it does provide a baseline from which further analysis yields interesting insights. In examining the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system the rate of recidivism provides the most important data point. In addition to noting that the majority of youth were referred only once, only 1% of the population studied was referred more than once for violent offenses. This indicates that successful intervention by the system early in the career of an offending youth is absolutely critical in preventing further delinquent activities. Snyder also found that each referral to the system increased the likelihood of an offender being referred for a violent offense. This further emphasizes that early, successful intervention is crucial in lowering violent crime among the juvenile population, and provides a clear goal in reevaluating the practices and policies related to intervening in the careers of juvenile offenders as early as possible.As noted earlier, the number of referrals from 1980 to 1995 increased, with the proportion of chronic offenders averaging 13% in the eighties and 17% in the nineties. The records show that this increase was a result of more chronic offenders, not more active, serious, or violent offenders. This increase could be explained by the expanded reach of the juvenile justice system, as Snyder mentions, but could also indicate a growing trend of unsuccessful intervention the first time a youth is referred to the court. Since chronic offenders of any type (nonserious, serious, and violent) only made up 14.6% of the entire population studied, or 22,112 of the 151,209 cases studied, and the proportion of chronic offenders averaged 17% at its peak, the explanation that a larger number of juveniles involved in repeat referrals as a result of an expanded reach of the system makes the most sense.These points illustrate that rethinking intervention strategies in an effort to lower the number of referrals among juveniles should be an ongoing process. One flaw easily recognized in understanding the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, however, is that no clear data is available on how many juveniles are not referred to the courts or who are referred directly to the adult justice system due to changes in policy and law. In order to best understand whether the juvenile justice system is actually largely meeting its goals as Snyder indicates, another study that tracks these same cohorts across the rest of their careers up to the present is necessary. In addition, analysis of intake records for the adult court system over the same time-frame should be studied to ensure additional juveniles were not overlooked in the original study.Overall, Snyder's findings indicate positive trends in juvenile justice and delinquency. Continued expansion of programs designed to intervene in the lives of at-risk juveniles, as well as expansion of programs designed to intervene at the point of first contact with the juvenile system, are cornerstones of an effective, proactive approach to lowering both initial referrals and repeat referrals to the courts. It is clear, however, that sufficient data on juvenile delinquency does not exist at present.Sources:Snyder, H.N. (1998). Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders—an assessment of the extent of and trends in officially recognized serious criminal behavior in a delinquent population. In: Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (Eds), Serious & violent juvenile offenders: risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Relationship Strength

There have been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (and another few thousand) of articles about building and maintaining strong relationships. Typically the same rhetoric is involved (trust, communication, social circles, etc.) and the article praises the merits of maintaining these key traits in order to survive the apocalyptic world of separation/break-ups/divorce. While there are some pieces in each of these articles that are based on solid advice, the portion that each article typically lacks is the most important part: the how/why.

Before delving into the topic any further, one other piece must be understood: what makes a relationship good? Simply stated, a good relationship is one where the couple has a strong sense of each of them as individuals, as well as a strong sense of the two of them as one unit. Further, a good relationship is also one wherein the couple shares a feeling of connectedness, of safety and security, and a desire to make the other happy while maintaining the distinct understanding that each person is responsible for their own feelings (an observation that often goes ignored, with significant others blaming themselves for the way their partner feels).

To summarize further, a good relationship is one where two people feel connected to each other, feel safe and secure with each other, and share a desire to make each other happy.

This leads to the question of "how do we form such a relationship?" There are three basic pieces that every successful/strong relationship must possess, otherwise it will not last: trust, commitment, and vulnerability. For the sake of clarity, each of these is defined briefly here:

  • Trust - the feeling and knowledge of relying on another, and knowing that person is honest, caring, and supportive of us.
  • Commitment - the simple understanding that no matter what happens, we are in this together.
  • Vulnerability - the openness and sharing of the genuine, emotional self.

Trust

Building trust, especially when a person's past is full of situations or scenarios where trust has been broken, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Try not to target the big topics exclusively and remember that often the small things accomplish more than they get credit for. For instance, the simple act of calling or texting a significant other when running late, regardless of the reason, lets that person know that you understand their desire to make certain you are safe and that you want to alleviate fear. Taking a moment to send a message during the day letting your significant other know you are thinking of them is too often overlooked as a method of reassurance.

Maintaining boundaries that the two of you agree upon is also vital, such as being alone with a person that your significant other might view as an uncomfortable arrangement or scenario. This one can be tricky depending upon the dynamics of the relationship and the societal norms you and your partner hold, but the idea remains consistent: if it causes unease or uncertainty between you and your significant other, it is not worth placing yourself in the situation. The clichéd examples of being alone with a member of the opposite sex by heterosexual men and women fall into this category. If it is a long-standing friendship in question, talk about it with your significant other and make certain they are comfortable with the relationship before it becomes a source of uncertainty or unease. Understanding commitment, and having that knowledge and security that comes with true commitment, goes a long way toward generating and maintaining trust.

Commitment

All too often commitment is forgotten as a necessary and vital part of forming, maintaining, and enjoying a strong relationship. Marriage is supposed to be our ultimate expression of commitment to another, and yet in today's society it is often ignored or tossed around as a buzz word instead of being an honest and heartfelt decision. To make a commitment, and thereby to be committed to another, means that two people have decided that they will proceed through life from a specific point in time until one or the other is no longer present. In short, "we are in this together, no matter what happens."

To commit to another is not a decision or action to be made lightly, and it is something that should only be broken under the most dire of circumstances (such as an abusive relationship, or a relationship wherein one's life is threatened). Knowing that one has placed their full trust in another, and has chosen to stand with their significant other no matter what happens throughout life, is absolutely necessary for a person to lower their defenses and become vulnerable.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability, like trust, is difficult for many people to willingly pursue (especially if their trust in another was broken at some point in their past), and yet it is perhaps the one aspect of interpersonal relationships that absolutely must be present for a relationship to thrive. This is also the one area that tends to be most difficult for logical thinkers (and from a gender stereotype perspective, males) to understand and accomplish.

Being vulnerable means you are willing to tell your significant other how you feel, without placing blame or deflecting your feelings onto something else. For example, being willing to say "I feel hurt" instead of "You hurt me." In essence, you provide a window for that person to see into your heart and mind in a way that allows the two of you to talk about both of your feelings, and how to go about the pursuit of positive feelings instead of negative ones.

While none of these are exhaustive analyses, they should provide a starting point for being able to build a healthy, strong relationship. To read more about this topic, the following two articles are another good place to begin (and are the articles that prompted this exploration into what is necessary to form a strong, enriching relationship).

Sources For More Reading

Gender Discussions

Preface:

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have seen a number of comments talking about wanting to know more about women's rights, women's views, or how women are viewed with regards to the political campaigns in the United States Presidential race. I normally try to avoid referencing politics at all here, but the topic reminds me a lot of a couple of things I have discussed in the past and that, as I see it, bear repeating (I highly recommend you look at the post Ethnicity, Gender, and Privilege that I previously wrote). Note that this is not a piece where I am discussing the state of equality or inequality between any groups, be it based on gender, race, age, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, or any other descriptor that one can use. With that out of the way, I hope you'll join me for an interesting discussion.

Gender Discussions:

The key point I made in my previous post was that introducing a descriptor or characteristic of a person or group into a discussion immediately renders that discussion invalid with regards to rights, policies, laws, or other official statements. Note that general discussion is not included in this list, and that is because the understanding of a group requires examination of the differences between groups. Using the examples of the right to vote and the opposition to affirmative action, I presented the idea that these regulations were not only a source of inequality, but also reaffirmed bias in discussing these topics.

Let's take the concept a bit further today. When we discuss policies, laws, procedures, or rights, we tend to draw from our own experiences in an effort to present balanced discussion. This is normal behavior, but it also introduces an immediate lack of objectivity in the discussion. This is the reason sociologists and psychologists warn about the dangers of classification and labels, and yet we continue to approach topics as though we are all different species instead of merely posessing differing physical traits. Yes, there is a difficulty in explaining cultural and socio-cultural differences without examining those traits, but for the purposes of politics, rights, and laws these differences should be relatively negated when viewing the entire populace as a single classification: human.

Think about it this way, which of the following is actually an example of complete equality, and which ones introduce room for bias:

  • The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States who has reached the legal age of majority.
  • The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States, regardless of race, gender, or age, as long as they have reached the legal age of majority.
  • All citizens of the United States, whether male or female, shall not be denied the right to vote upon reaching the legal age of majority.

The only one that is written from a purely unbiased perspective is the first in the list. Once we start talking in terms of equality, instead of talking in terms of categories, then we might actually start making progress. Until then, welcome to continued inequalities and biases based on the labels we ascribe ourselves every day.

I get that people are concerned about the policies and issues they see as a result of someone viewing them through the lens of inequality. I understand the reason the feminist movement exists, and applaud the efforts taken in trying to promote viewing all people as equal. The issue, though, is still the same as it has been since day one: we still discuss topics through categories and labels. Until that changes, we will never have true equality.

The Religion Problem

Introduction

No title really seemed to fit quite perfectly, but the "problem" of religion is as good a title as any for the concept of deciphering the issue with distinguishing between religious beliefs, religious practices, spiritual beliefs, and life philosophies. Many describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious" or "believers in a faith, but disillusioned with the institution." There is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed when a person is forced to contradict themselves in order to describe their belief in something, and that is the "religion problem."

Background

The Advanced English Dictionary defines religion and faith using the same definitions, though faith also encompasses a couple of other definitions not included for religion. How is it, then, that we have grown to use the two as though they can be (and often are) mutually exclusive? Part of the issue lies in the inappropriate use of English in general, as we struggle to find a way to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp or define in everyday language. Part of the issue lies in the use of "religion" in a manner that encompasses more than just what the definition actually entails. Yet another part of the issue lies in trying to categorize everything as either a religion or a philosophy, without accepting that a lot of things are not quite so simple to categorize. Perhaps most concerning of all, though, is the apparent issue that religious institutions have created a divide among those who share their core beliefs.

Core Issue: Manifest Destiny versus Free Will

Most debates surrounding the concept of being spiritual or religious tend to center around the difficulty with believing that our story is written, from birth to death, for us. This debate takes a number of forms, and is further compounded by examinations of nature versus nurture from the scientific realm. Generally speaking, we tend to state that those who classify themselves as religious believe in an all-powerful, all-encompassing deity who controls everything about our lives. Traditionally religious teachings emphasized these aspects of God, rendering those who questioned manifest destiny uncomfortable at best or categorized as outcasts at worst. Those who identified with the concept of being spiritual tend to accept that there is a deity who is responsible for the creation of life, but did not accept the notion of manifest destiny.

Core Issue: Rituals versus Belief

Other debates take a more intimate approach and focus on the personal beliefs and feelings of each person. These debates tend to center around the idea that traditional religious organizations have become burdened with simply going through the motions and no longer try to examine and understand the doctrine associated with their belief. We see this all too often in typical churches, where there is a default structure of service and a message based on nothing but the reading and scholarly interpretation of scripture. Again, those who classify themselves as spiritual tend to question the personal application and interpretation of such teachings, wanting to form an understanding of the writings and their meaning instead of simply accepting what someone tells them is right or wrong. This same debate is seen in discussions regarding morality and ethical behavior; as society grows more aware of other views and attempts to become more open-minded in accepting cultural differences, we also tend to question things that are "preached" instead of "explained."

Personal Journey and Interpretations

While this is certainly not even close to an all-encompassing discussion of the topics, the background above should help understand the observations and thoughts that follow.

I grew up in a traditional baptist church, and over time I explored a number of other environments when I became disillusioned with the traditional teachings and views presented. Eventually I left traditional settings behind and pursued self-study, looking at various religions and philosophies from all around the world in search of something that made sense. During that time I began to accept that I fell into the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd and tried to understand what it was that made me reject the traditional notions of any deity, and I found that the primary issues I could not seem to resolve internally lay in the realm of disagreement with moral and ethical choices throughout life versus the concept of manifest destiny.

I've often used the example of describing two different people to provide a basic idea of this dilemma: person one who lives in a manner that most accept as good and just, trying to help others and live according to the teachings of their faith, and person two who lives in a manner that most would consider vile, doing everything possible to hurt others and satisfy their desire for destruction. Person one commits a single act of violence in defense of a loved one, and feels no remorse and asks no forgiveness. Person two lies on their deathbed and asks for forgiveness, seemingly wanting to right the wrongs they have committed over their lifetime. According to traditional views, person one would be condemned while person two would be saved, and this has always been a point of view I could not accept.

While there are many ways to approach the above example, and a number of ways to justify or explain either side, the point is simply to think about what it truly means to be spiritual or religious. It isn't to attend services at an institution or to preach to others at every opportunity; it isn't to proclaim that one person is right and another person is wrong, and it certainly isn't to judge or condemn another person. The true goal of any religious organization, and therefore the definition of what it should mean to be religious or spiritual, is the acceptance and understanding of a deity and their guidance on how to make the difficult choices we face. To this end it should be fairly obvious that there exists, on many levels, a fundamental problem with religion as we have grown to define it through various institutions.

Social Karma

Karmic justice is often used as an expression of one "getting what they deserve" or "reaping what they sow." More often than not, the phrase is used when one person feels wronged by another and hopes for some sort of vengeance. While understandable how this mentality has proliferated common thought, it is a misguided interpretation at best. Karma is an elegant idea, and is perhaps best summarized in the following excerpt:

The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers all that is included in the phrase "thought, word and deed". Generally speaking, all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent. (source - http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/karma.htm - Removed direct link due to being flagged for malware by Google.)

This leads to the principle of "social karma," and applies to every interaction between people. While it may seem a bit redundant, the focus for this concept lies in the realm of social interaction, and not other deeds, thoughts, or actions that apply only to the self. This ties in with the previously posted concept of social reciprocity, but takes it a step further. In essence, the idea is to create a space that welcomes others, whether virtual or physical, and conveys the moral and ethical mindset and ideals of the creator of said space.

The challenge becomes simplistic at this point: do you convey an attitude of "people get what they deserve" in your sphere of influence, or do you convey the attitude of "this is how I want the world to be, and so this is how express myself?" In other words, do you look for others to seek you out and join in your endeavors because of your statements and actions, or do you simply state that others will reap the consequences of their statements and actions?

This approach is the way I have attempted to grow a community around each iteration of weblog that I have created. Up until now it has been quite successful. With Renegade Noble I am starting to see an upward trend in people who view the site, but I still haven't broken that magical barrier of silence from most visitors. Honestly, I'm not sure if it is really feasible to create that conversational atmosphere here, but I will not stop trying. It may be that the assorted topics here are too diverse, or that I simply have not hit upon that one topic that really draws someone in to comment. It may be that those who do visit simply read and go about their day, uninterested in the concept of conversation through a blog interface. Regardless of the root cause, I still adhere to the concept described above: I will continue to create a place wherein the expression of ideas, the discussion of topics, and the overall feeling of being able to freely converse is maintained.

I would like to request some feedback as well, especially in an effort to try to break that magical silence:

  • What draws you to Renegade Noble?
  • What topics interest you?
  • What makes you take the time to comment on something?
  • Is the site easy to navigate, and can you find what you are looking for?
  • Is there anything else you would like to say?

Feel free to comment here, or email me, or seek me out on Twitter... all of the assorted ways to contact me can be found at the top and bottom of the site, and hopefully are showing up properly in the RSS feed.

Perspectives

Introduction

Tragedy. Grief. Despair. These all seem to come in massive waves that threaten to cause a rift in the minds of many Americans, pushing us further toward a mindset that asks what has become of the world in which we live. Often we take it a step further, asking if there is any hope of a brighter, happier future any longer. It is easy to get caught up in the tales of horror, of sorrow, and of sheer frustration born of seeing long-winded, naive or uninformed diatribes concerning any conceivable topic and feel that these are the darkest of times. The world is not that simple, though, and in becoming so focused on darkness we lose sight of all the stars that threaten to break through the black veil of night.

We live in a society that is, without the slightest doubt, of our own design. We have allowed things to happen or not happen. We have chosen to speak out on matters of lesser import, and leave those massive concerns for other people. In essence, we continue to sow the seeds of discord, of blame, and of outright stupidity, and expect that what we reap is something different.

We look at others and see differences and flaws and belittle them, instead of celebrating the differences that provide us with unique perspectives and ideas. We mock or laugh at those who do not see things from our point of view, instead of taking a moment to try to understand why our views differ. We look at others and judge them, instead of accepting them into our world and finding common ground. We shun those who do not meet our standards, instead of accepting them as fellow men and women of a world that shapes us all differently.

Regardless of one's faith, religious views, political ideas, standards, thoughts, or feelings, we are all human. We are all walking upon the Earth and trying to survive through the uncertainty that life brings. In the midst of it all, we are all also making horrible choices as often as we make decent ones.

Extrospective

This week alone has illustrated the above poignantly, but the focus should not be on any single incident or time frame. All throughout the history of the United States these concepts have been illustrated time and again, and yet we still stand complacently by while various members of our society become overly vocal. We watch as events unfold and express our concerns, our thoughts, our feelings... all the while turning inward to manage our own lives and neglecting to act on our concerns, thoughts, and desires for bettering our community, area, state, or nation.

It only takes a simple act of compassion, of reaching out, to profoundly impact a life, and yet we often just walk on by the socially awkward coworker without a word, or fail to muster up the courage to walk up to the gorgeous blonde and just say hello. All too often we get trapped in the stereotypes of the nation, and avert our eyes or path from that Muslim ahead instead of smiling and saying good day. Even worse, we fall prey to the vileness that permeates many of our societal peers, turning uncertainty and a lack of understanding into outward signs of bigotry, hate, fear, and misplaced anger.

Even in light of all that is wrong with our society, there are those who try to stand up and be heard. To be counted among the people who say they will not be silenced and will not stop trying to make a difference. We look at them with contempt, believing them to be fanatics of some sort or another because they choose to act. In short, we even do what we can to make those acts of kindness, the spreading of something good, out to be just another fad or to have an ulterior motive.

We take it even further at times, and resort to irrational arguments and name calling in an attempt to make someone appear to be unintelligent, all because they stood up for an ideal. On the flip side of that, though, all too often those people who stand up for an ideal are the ones who fall prey to the same issues already outlined above, just from the opposing perspective.

Introspective

I spent many years exploring the darkest depths of internal suffering and disillusionment with the world. I looked at things objectively and analytically, and when I felt that that perspective failed I turned to examining my life through the senses and emotions. Neither approach works independently of the other, yet both are necessary in order to effectively change. I examined religious beliefs, practices, and philosophies in an attempt to make sense of everything around me, and I explored the sciences when I felt that religion fell short.

In the end, none of the above are perfect explanations. We must believe in something, whether it is simply in the idea of hope or in the comfort of a deity, whether in the explanation of things through scientific discovery and observation or the objective analysis of the world much like one would examine a puzzle, it is faith in something that drives us forward. For some it is simply confidence and belief in their ability to touch the lives of others, for some it is a complete and unwavering faith in God, and for still others it is any of a massive range of other reasons. This is the beauty of our humanity, and the underlying difficulty with finding agreement among those with differing views. Regardless of what we believe in, or choose to place our faith in, we should all be able to agree on bringing change to the world in which we live.

I place my faith in God, yet that does not mean I feel I should blindly say that God will take care of everything. My life here is still my responsibility, and my actions and inaction, my thoughts and opinions, my feelings and desires, and the path I choose to walk in this world are all things for which I must accept accountability. I have been fortunate enough to understand that life is not only what we make of it, but what we allow others to make of it. My faith, in short, is not a crutch upon which I hope that things will work out, or upon which I can lean and say "please provide for me," but is instead the reason that I know that I have the strength to face this world and make a difference.

I mentioned, briefly, my struggles with trying to understand this world and my examinations of the darkest time of my life. Eventually I saw myself through the lens of an objective bystander, and realized that it was not who I wanted to be. I made the decision to change, and to crawl back from the depths of despair and become the person I am today. Knowing the power of choice, of belief in oneself, and of the strength inherent in us if we simply choose to believe in something, I want to challenge each of you: choose to make a difference in the life of another person.

Conclusion

I chose to write this piece without citing examples or sources for a reason. We tend to look only at the issues cited and debate the nuances around those examples, rather than focusing on the overarching issue. Further, we look into our perception of the facts presented instead of looking at the ideals examined, which only leads to further clouding the issues and creating semantic debates. It is with these ideas in mind that I challenge us all to do our part in bringing about change in our area, be it the community, the region, the state, the nation, or even the world. No focus is too small or too large unless we allow it to keep us from trying.

My goal with this post is to illuminate the things that we must focus on in order to change things, and to realize that change does not mean perfect agreement or harmony among so many varied social and cultural backgrounds.