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A Column Collection

Originally posted November 20, 2015.

My semester as news editor is over. My semester as news editor is over. Oh, that wasn’t a typo, it just felt really good to say it so I figured I’d do it again. I’ve obviously been neglecting this blog, yet again, but I have certainly been writing.

The past 13 weeks have been a blur of writing, editing, studying and whatever bits of my real life I could fit in between. I wrote lots and lots of news articles, but on three occasions I also got to write my section’s opinion column. Well, technically I assigned it to myself and then reluctantly agreed to do it. But in the end, I enjoyed writing these three short pieces as much or more than any of the others.

Something I took away from all this time spent in front of computer, is that what I love about writing is not necessarily the words, it’s the personalties and experiences of the people those words are attempting to portray.

I was able to spend a significant amount of time with really every upper-level administrator at this university. As well as, a number of intelligent and interesting students and members of the faculty.

Working with my staff this semester and having those encounters — is the draw for me; those are the things that make writing enjoyable.

My staff were by far some of the best people I have met on this campus. Don’t get me wrong they all have their own unique… um… “personalities” — I feel is an appropriate word, but I’m certain they would say the same or worse of me. I found that, within the confines of a Christian university, you can only include so many f-bombs while giving instruction and feedback to a group of 19-20 year olds, without the topic of “sensitivity training” coming up now and again. But screw that noise, I’m sensitive as fuck.

With all of that being said, these are the three columns that I wrote. And if you want to see every over damned thing I wrote this semester go here.

Words of Worth, Words of Wisdom

Not everyone had the chance to hear Marcus Luttrell speak at Elkins last week, which is unfortunate. His message of perseverance, humility and integrity was simple yet powerful. And those who attended gained a little perspective on what it means to endure and overcome.

For those who don’t know, Luttrell is a former Navy SEAL who transitioned into motivational speaking after he was medically retired. He was the only survivor of an attack in Afghanistan that resulted in the biggest loss of life in Special Forces history. He wrote a book about the experience titled “Lone Survivor,” which was later adapted into a film.

One of the key themes in Luttrell’s inspiring speech was the importance of keeping one’s word. This was an immensely important point to make.

Luttrell made the point that you don’t have to be the best or the smartest person in the world. Even after you’ve been stripped down to bare bones, and all you have left is your word, sometimes that’s more than enough. Character is cumulative and, like dependability, it takes a lifetime to build. Gaining and keeping the trust of others is a continuous process.

Luttrell focused on the idea of being professionally reliable. Obviously, in a gun fight, or whatever struggle you might be facing, this is important. Bringing the idea of dependability into your personal life is equally as important. Whether it be a friendship, romantic relationship or relationship with your family, the importance of saying what you mean, meaning the things you say and then doing those things, cannot be stressed enough.

General George S. Patton once said, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” This holds a similar significance to the ideas Luttrell spoke about regarding always keeping your word and the importance of reliability. As any writer knows, what is written in ink lasts forever, while spoken words tend to fade with time. Even though the physical words may not remain, the content of what is said and the repercussions of those words are attached to the speaker’s character forever.

There is a method I like to use when managing the relationships in my life. I call it the “equal effort test.” When committing time, energy and emotion to another person, don’t be afraid to take into consideration the rewards of that relationship. Am I getting something out of this? Is this making me a better person? Is my effort being matched? If you find that the answer to these is “no,” then it might be time to focus your energy elsewhere.

Speaking about advice he received growing up, Luttrell said that his father once told him, “Your most lethal weapon is your mind.”

I agree, and I also think that one of the most effective places a person can aim that weapon is internally. Focus on the content of your character, being the best version of yourself and making your words worth something — then worry about everybody else.

Fix Us First

The tragedy of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College and the narrowly avoided one at Summerville High School in Tuolumne have me thinking about the ongoing issue of gun violence in this country. My views may not be shared by most people, but they are shared. People are the problem and the solution.

The first event, at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon occurred on Oct. 1 when a lone gunman entered the school with five handguns and one rifle, killing nine people and leaving nine others injured. Then, after exchanging gunfire with police, the shooter turned the gun on himself. The gunman was described as a hate-filled individual with anti-religion and white supremacist tendencies who had long struggled with issues of mental health, according to an article on the LA Times website.

The second was the recently thwarted attack on a high school in Tuolumne, California, a rural area 100 miles east of San Francisco. Four students were arrested for conspiracy to commit an assault with deadly weapons on Oct. 2 after the Tuolumne County Sheriff Department discovered the teens’ plot to carry out a mass shooting at the school. Once arrested the teens confessed that they were planning to “shoot and kill as many people as possible,” according toan article on usatoday.com.

Unfortunately these events, however tragic, have become a common occurrence in this country. There have been 142 school related shootings in the U.S. since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. That’s nearly one per week for almost 3 years, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The reaction to these horrific events is to point the finger at the guns themselves, but this does not seem to be working. Demonizing guns and gun owners is not the answer to this problem. In my opinion, guns can’t be the answer because guns aren’t the problem. Of course guns are designed to hurt people, but they are inanimate objects; they are merely a tool that requires a user to be effective.

President Obama has not been at shy about his aggressive stance on gun control, but during his statement in response to the shooting in Oregon he said, “We don’t yet know why this individual did what he did and it’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds.”

A few weeks before this, during the GOP debate in August, Donald Trump, in a rare moment of wisdom, summed up his thoughts regarding gun violence in the U.S. when he said, “This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem.”

What I believe and what I think both Obama and Trump are trying to say that we have a people problem first and a gun problem second. If the people closest to the shooters were quicker to adequately recognize behavioral indicators of risk, then maybe some of these horrendous tragedies could have been prevented, just as it was in Tuolumne. When behavioral triggers do arise, we must also ask the scary questions: Is the person also hateful, angry, distant or prone to violence? And do they potentially have access to a firearm?

The reality is that guns are not going away anytime soon, as they are a deep-rooted part of American culture. This means we need to take care of each other first. We need to put the burden of change where it belongs: on ourselves.

Grab an Ax

You’re not going to make it. You’ve taken on too many units, too many extracurriculars, finals are less than a month away and you’re almost out of meal points. Yes, finals are coming. Just as certain as death, taxes and Convocation. They are coming. But these sentiments aren’t completely true, are they?

I have no idea how many meal points you have. Maybe tons. (And if that’s the case, can I have some?) And guess what else? You are going to make it.

With the pressure building and things stacking up, you’re probably asking yourself, “When will I get out of the woods?” The thing is, though, you’re not lost in the woods. You’re on the trail. You’re on the path, trekking along inch by inch — and eventually you’ll make out it the other side, hopefully even in one piece.

This semester, more than any other, it has become apparent to me that we’re all busy. We all took on too many units and signed up for too many events. We all have a test tomorrow, or a project to finish, or 97 pages to read by the morning. We are all stretched thin, sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated.

Time and time again, we have taken it upon ourselves to step up or step forward. To organize, socialize and philanthropize. We have volunteered for, donated to and participated in one thing after the next, as if being a Pepperdine student also means being a glutton for punishment.

So after grinding away for the past 12 weeks, what have you learned? Have you learned the difference between existentialism, naturalism and postmodernism? How about the axioms of probability? By now you must be fluent in Chinese, Arabic or Italian, right? Perhaps you’ve become quite efficient at… you know, science stuff.

Here’s what I learned this semester — other than that a 12-oz. cup of coffee costs exactly $2.06 in the CCB. I learned that my fellow students, my peers, my friends can take the punishment. They can handle the grind. If the forest gets too thick, they will grab an ax and start chopping. Collectively, we are a smart and capable congregation.

I went to a seminar last month about novel writing and what the speaker said about writing, I think, really applies to any subject. He said if you ever want to want to write a novel, you have to keep your butt in the chair. If you’re struggling, don’t get up and make a snack or wander around the room. Keep your butt in the chair until the words come.

So next semester when your internship is consuming your life or it’s three weeks in and you still haven’t bought the textbook, remember: You have already been in that place.

The place of near panic and impending tears. The place where late-night SparkNotes and early-morning educated guesses are the only options left. The place where you are so overwhelmed you decide to go and take a nap, just to wake up to the same mess you were already in. Yeah, that place. When you get there again — and you will — this time you’ll know what to do.

There are only two ways through the forest. The first is the same path you’re on, the hard one. The second is the easy one, but that one involves turning back the way you came. So dig in, grab another cup of coffee and keep moving forward.

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