All posts by Matthew Vasko

Author, Speaker, Educator

TRECK: The Journey toward Redemptive Love

On Saturday, May 19th, at the wedding for Britain’s Prince Harry and American Actress Meghan Markle, Bishop Michael Curry gave a meaningful and uplifting sermon about the redemptive power of love. I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon and the exuberance with which Bishop Curry gave it. And it has had me reflecting upon the principles of tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness – which together make the acronym TRECK. If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you know that I’ve been writing for months about how I believe that this particular set of principles could help set our world right if we all applied them towards all people.

First, Bishop Curry’s sermon reminded me of how I grappled with the concept of love and whether or not to include it in TRECK. In a way, I did include it, because the way that I think of kindness is the same as the way that the Dalai Lama talks about kindness, as in Loving Kindness. I believe that the type of kindness we should give to one another is a type of deep, caring kindness, based upon love.

Second, and most importantly, I believe that through reaching out to one another with tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness, we put ourselves on the path to true and abiding love. This is the kind of redemptive love that Curry is promoting. I believe that true love needs to come from somewhere and be based upon something. Tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness can all be contained within love, but true love, healthy love, lasting love, cannot exist without these five elements.

Yes, the world needs love. But love needs a foundation. It needs to be built upon something. And that thing is TRECK.

Can there be love without tolerance? Bigotry will surely stand in the way of love. We must first learn to see all people as equal in order to truly love them.

Can there be love without respect? Love without respect is not truly love at all. Love that is built without mutual respect will quickly erode and fall away.

Can there be love without empathy? Certainly we must learn to see through the eyes of another and understand things from their perspective if we are going to be able to love them.

Can there be love without compassion? Caring deeply for the pain of others can sprout into love. But love without deep regard for the suffering of another is hollow and meaningless.

Can there be love without kindness? Cruelty in the name of love is not really love at all. Certainly love must be kind in order to be pure and uplifting. Love and kindness go hand-in-hand.

So, in the end, if there is to be love, then there must be tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion and kindness. We must learn to have global TRECK for all people if we are to love them. So, keep practicing the principles of TRECK and surely we can achieve a truly redemptive and lasting love.

Words Matter: Immigrants Are Not “Animals”

Yesterday, during an immigration roundtable at the White House, President Trump referred to certain undocumented immigrants as “animals.” Specifically, he said, “These aren’t people. These are animals.” He said this in reference to specific undocumented immigrants the government is working to expel from the country whom he feels are particularly bad people. He said, “…you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are.”

My problem with Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is that it is another in a growing list of ways he has disparaged immigrants and people of color since announcing his bid for the presidency. By calling a select group of undocumented immigrants “animals” he is acting to further create an us vs. them mentality in the American people toward undocumented immigrants and people of Latin descent. He is fomenting rage toward a class of people who are already having a hard time being seen as whole, worthy, and just people by some Americans.

I suppose one could argue that the President was merely playing to his base, as many who voted to put him in office probably already hold these views toward many undocumented immigrants. But the fact remains, our President’s rhetoric toward immigrants and people of color is bad and is not improving. For me, this comes down to respect. Our President seems to lack a proper amount of respect for many people in the world – be they American citizens of citizens of South American countries, South African countries, or others.

Once again, I am calling upon President Trump to cultivate within himself respect for all people – regardless of race, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. It is never too late to change. Mr. Trump needs to learn to empathize with people who are different than himself, just as we all need to develop our ability to do this.

Perhaps President Trump is providing us all with a learning opportunity. We all can learn to grow our tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness towards all people, especially those who are different from us. In the end we are all human beings. We all have essentially the same needs and desires.

Immigrants to the United States, regardless of legal status, come here seeking what all human beings desire – safety, security, the basic necessities of life, and the opportunity to become their best expressions of themselves. We are all human. We all desire to be loved, accepted, and respected.

Let’s all work to make this a nation and a world we can be proud of. Let’s all strive to treat one another with tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness.

Act with Tolerance / Speak Up Against Intolerance

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Here in the United States, we’ve spent the last couple of years watching what happens when tolerance begins to decline. Sometimes referred to as “The Trump Effect,” we have seen a rise in hate crimes, and minority individuals are reporting increased hostility towards them – especially Latinos/as and Muslims.

We need to do all we can to reverse this trend. I believe that white men play an especially important role in increasing tolerance here in the U.S. as we tend to hold power and it is largely white men who are responsible for increasing acts of intolerance. So, white men who are tolerant must speak up. We must share the truth that all people are equal and deserve to be treated with respect.

It is for this reason that I am changing my philosophy of principles for a better world from RECK to TRECK. The acronym TRECK stands for Tolerance, Respect, Empathy, Compassion, Kindness.

Essentially, it comes down to this: I believe that in order for some people to learn to respect others, they must first learn to view everyone through a lens of greatly increased tolerance. Only by accepting that all people deserve tolerance will they discover that respect too is possible.

I hope other white men will join me in speaking out. When you hear intolerant speech by your friends and family, call it out. Stand up for minorities behind closed doors so that in the public sphere we can see an increase in tolerance, equality, justice, and peace.

I believe that the majority of people believe we should live in a world where we accept people of all races, creeds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc. as equal. We just need to be vocal about it so that we can drown out the fringe of intolerance.

Future generations will judge us by whether or not we stood up for marginalized populations now.

This is the time to act.

We can make a difference.

Join me in treating all people with tolerance, respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness.

Peace.

The Dystopian Future is Now

Imagine a future in which elementary schools are attacked by men with guns who have lost even the most basic respect for human life. These men, so warped by the violence depicted in the news, popular culture, the internet, and even video game, take to playing a sick game of their own in which they prey on the lives of the most innocent among us in savage attacks. In this future U.S., society has become so plagued by random acts of violence and mass shootings that some cities are considering placing emergency tourniquet kits in public places in a desperate attempt to save innocent lives. This future, rife with misery and near-daily news of despicable, horrible acts, is now.

This week began with news of another mass shooting. This time at a Waffle House in the Nashville. Just a few weeks ago there was news out of San Diego that their city council is considering posting tourniquet kits in public spaces so that they can be better prepared when these seemingly inevitable mass shootings occur. These are dark days in the United States and we have no one to blame for them but ourselves.

For decades, we have been celebrating violence as a nation through our television shows, movies, music, video games, and sports. We have attached violence to masculinity as if the one was inherent in the other and inseparable. We’ve created gun laws that are less strict than driving laws. We have desensitized ourselves to violence and made the tools for violence readily available. And now we wonder why we have a problem.

If we want to leave the dystopian future that is now, then there is not just one thing we must do, there are many. But all of these things – from enacting common-sense gun legislation to improving mental health services to calling for a reduction of violence in media – do boil down to a single thing: restoring respect for human life.

We must relearn holding life sacred. We must recapture the desire to love and be kind to one another simply because it is the right thing to do. We must teach our children to be sensitive and gentle – yes, even our boys. We must care for our mentally ill. We must encourage compassion. We must sow the seeds of peace as we once sowed the seeds of violence. We must work toward a brighter future.

I hope you will join with me in pledging to treat one another with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. Together, we can transform the U.S. and the world. Real change is possible. We just need to want it badly enough to be willing to improve how we treat one another. I love you. Please love one another.

Here’s to a better tomorrow.

When Jesus Visited the USA

The following is a parable.

Jesus Free Use

In the days after Jesus’ Resurrection, He walked the Earth. It’s a little-known fact that before He arose again to Heaven, He traveled across the seas and through time to visit the United States of America in the modern day. You see, being God, He could do this.

Jesus stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, like so many great orators before Him. Soon, realizing that it was The Risen Lord standing before them, a crowd of thousands gathered. Then, Jesus spoke. He said, “Come children and sit at my feet, for you are the most precious members of my flock.” And the children came and felt the comfort of His presence. Jesus continued, “My dear Americans, I visit you at a most tumultuous time. Your country is in chaos and there is a great deal of grief and strife. I have come to share with you again the same simple message I shared with others what probably seems like so very long ago.”

People crowded closer to Jesus, for they were sure that He was going to tell them how to cure their nation’s ills. He said, “Here is my message to you all in this place, at this time: Love one another.” A murmur spread through the throngs of gatherers for they were certain they must have misheard Him. Surely, His message could not be so simple for such a complex time. Jesus said, “I’ll repeat that again: Love one another. I look around your country and I see the same problem playing out in place after place… you have forgotten to love one another.”

Jesus said, “When you are wondering how to resolve the issues you are facing today, don’t ask ‘What would Jesus do?’ Instead, ask this: ‘Which choice is more like loving one another?’ For that is the true message of My life and My work. Love one another as I have loved you. Love one another despite your differences. Love one another even when you can’t seem to find common ground. And through your love you will find the right path forward.”

“Don’t fight. Don’t argue. Work together for the common good. Only through getting to know one another and realizing that you really aren’t all that much different will you be able to see how to fix your problems. Be kind. Forgive. Make peace. Know that My Father has made you all in His image and We love you all equally. So, love one another equally as well.”

And with that, Jesus bestowed a blessing upon them and left.

And their hearts were filled with the love of God Almighty. They hugged each other and cried out with joy! And from that day forward things started to improve. For Americans remembered to love each other.

The Future Has Arrived… And It’s Pissed Off!

There is a cultural shift happening in the United States. Young people are taking to the streets and demanding action on gun reform and school safety. The ones who are old enough are registering to vote. They are creating real change and it’s going to last.

The future leaders of our country are rising up. They are here to tell us that we have failed them so they are taking matters into their own hands. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take our inaction anymore.

I, for one, am glad to see it. Thank you young people for showing up and speaking up in a big way for the kind of common sense change that I’m still baffled we adults could not accomplish.

Some adults wouldn’t listen to other adults when we spoke up to try to protect you. So, hopefully they will listen to you. I hope you will help guide us to a brighter future.

Here’s my appeal to you, young people, if you are reading this. Don’t stop with school safety. Keep going. Call the adult world out on all of our B.S. Help us change our culture in ways we can’t seem to do on our own. Use your idealism to promote a future in which men and women are equal, where people of all colors are treated fairly by law enforcement, where peace prevails and love becomes the law of the land.

We hear you, Young America. Keep speaking, keep marching, keep striving to build the world you want to live in.

In Changing Hearts and Minds, Are The Golden Rule and Altruism Enough?

Why do you treat others well? Is it because you hope they will treat you the same way in return (the Golden Rule) or is it simply because you believe that others deserve to be treated well (altruism)? Personally, I think either or both reasons are valid and justifiable.

I often find myself wondering how I can “sell” my idea of RECK to the world. I believe deep within my core that if everyone in the world treated everyone else in the world with Respect, Empathy, Compassion, and Kindness, then we could create significant change for the betterment of the planet and future generations. Think of it: a world without war and free of violence and terror.

It might seem impossible, but I believe it is within our reach. We just need people to truly embrace the principles of RECK and behave accordingly. It’s a simple, but hard. Easy to describe, but difficult to adhere to on a daily basis. Still, I’m hopeful for a brighter future and I feel like RECK can help us get there.

But how do I convince others that I’m right? For me, it’s a simple matter of altruism. I believe that we all should be unselfishly concerned for the welfare of others. So, I work very hard to treat everyone with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. It can be challenging at times, but for me it’s an important day-to-day and minute-to-minute practice.

I get the feeling that many people agree with me – especially when referring to people whom they love. But what about our enemies? Personally, I try to have none. But there are certainly people in this world who have enemies and how do I convince those people to act toward their enemies with RECK? Altruism might not be enough to sell them on it. And if they treat their enemies with RECK with the hope of being treated the same way in return, there is a high degree of likelihood that they will not get the same treatment in return… certainly not right away.

So what then? Where does that leave me? How do I sell my magical elixir to the not-so-easily convinced? I suppose I could cite scientific studies or quote the Dalai Lama, but even that might not do the trick. I need to change hearts and minds. This is serious business. Should I become a minister and spend my life preaching RECK as if it were my gospel? Do I become a televangelist for RECK? Should I give up all of my worldly possessions and roam the earth working to spread my message?

What do you think?

It’s About Respect, Mr. President

I’ve spent the past week reflecting upon President Trump’s having referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations at “shithole countries.” This is the latest in a growing history this President has of racist remarks going back notably to when he announced his bid for the presidency and referred to immigrants from Mexico as criminals and “rapists.” I’ll admit that I am often shocked by such statements.

President Trump has repeatedly stated that he is not a racist, even though his own comments and actions seem to contradict him. And here’s the thing about that, I believe the President is sincere in his assertions. I believe that he does not think he is a racist.

I grew up in a mostly-white mostly-middle class rural area of the United States and encountered various people who most people would probably call racists. Yet, to a person, these people did not think of themselves as racists. I believe this is because racism actually exists on a spectrum that includes things that aren’t racism.

I’ll explain. People who hold views the rest of us describe as racist see the world through the spectrum of social hierarchy. I am willing to bet that you could poll people who have racist views about things completely separate from racism and be able to identify those people with racists viewpoints very accurately. Chances are that the people who have racist views also would say that people who drive nice cars rank higher on the social scale than those who drive less-nice cars. Taller people rank higher than shorter people. The physically able rank higher than people with disabilities. The color of a person’s skin is just one factor among many that these people use to rank and categorize others.

Such is the case with President Trump. He doesn’t think he’s a racist, because he judges people based upon the color of their skin no more than he judges them based upon everything else about them. And he judges everyone based upon everything about them.

This brings me to the title of my post: It’s about respect.

We all need to work to view and behave toward one another with an equal amount of respect. The fact of the matter is that human beings are all basically the same. We all desire the same basic necessities of life. Our President doesn’t have a problem with race (or at least not just with race), he has a problem with disrespecting people he sees as beneath himself in the social hierarchy. And as a wealthy white male, he sees just about everyone as being beneath him.

So, Mr. President, I’m calling upon you to respect your fellow human beings. We are all the same. Please work to treat everyone with respect and in time you might find that people will stop accusing you of racism. It’s never too late to change. Together, we can build a better tomorrow.

Respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness: These are the the things the world needs more of.

Imagine All the People Living Life in Peace

In John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” there is the line, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” That line used to make my heart ache, because it seemed so far off, so impossible. This past September, however, I proposed a new philosophy – one based upon mutual acceptance and understanding. It is comprised of four key components. They are respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness, or RECK for short. Since that time, Lennon’s classic line has taken on a new sense of hopefulness for me.

Now, each time I hear, think, or sing that line my mind opens to the possibilities of what RECK could do if I were able to spread my message and have others embrace the philosophy. It’s corny, I know, but I am hopeful. It fills me with joy, excitement, and anticipation in a way that nothing has for a very long time. And I don’t say these words lightly. After all, I have spent that past 12 ½ years trying to make the world a more compassionate place through my nonprofit Century of Compassion. And I spent several years as a student of compassion before that.

Over those years, both through Century of Compassion and before, I dreamt of a more compassionate and caring world. However, I often sensed that Compassion alone wasn’t going to be enough to get us there. There needed to be more. Many times, I would find myself telling people that they must also have respect for others and must first feel empathy before they could achieve compassion. Even the Dalai Lama himself preaches a doctrine of loving-kindness beyond mere compassion.

I spent most of 2017 feeling that Century of Compassion just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. I felt a substantial urge to both expand and hone my philosophy to include these elements I so often called upon in addition to compassion. It was from this contemplation that RECK was forged.

One happy accident with RECK is that reck is a word unto itself. It already existed. Its definition is “to have care, concern, or regard.” It’s the base word for words like reckon and reckless. I delight in the fact that my word that stands for “respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness” also means “to have care, concern, or regard.”

Through RECK we can put an end to much of the world’s plight once and for all. We will be able to encourage people to talk out their problems and work out their differences. If everyone treated one another with RECK, there would finally be no more war, murder, or genocide, because you can’t harm someone you respect, have empathy and compassion for, and treat with kindness.

True peace and lasting peace is possible. Each of us can make a difference. We really can change the world.

So, let’s have RECK for one another, everyone! And all the people can be living life in peace.

Let’s Talk About Respect

Last Friday, I proposed four key ingredients we need to cultivate within ourselves if we want to work to reduce tensions in our society and bring about a more peaceful and loving world. They are: respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. When combined, these four values become a powerful force for good.

Today, I focus upon the value of respect. I’ll begin by restating my original call for respect: “We must commit ourselves to valuing the worth and dignity of each individual being. Mutual respect lays a foundation upon which we can build mutual understanding. Without respect, people’s voices cannot be heard. When we work to respect one another, we can achieve tolerance and even acceptance of one another.”

I want to be clear that the type of respect I am referring to is the kind of respect that values each individual being, their right to life, and their sense of self worth. I am talking about respect for all people by all people.

In the wake of the horrific act in Las Vegas on Sunday night, televangelist Pat Robertson spoke about respect. He said, “we have disrespected authority. There is profound disrespect for our president… disrespect for the institutions of our government… All the way up and down the line, disrespect.” Here, Robertson is referring to an old-school style of respect that says ‘you should not question authority.’

First of all, let’s look at the fact that Pat Robertson is speculating about a horrific act being caused by a lack of respect and completely missed the point that the most basic type of respect we as human being can show one another is a respect for our right to exist. It is true that Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock perpetrated his hideous act because of disrespect, but it was his disrespect for people’s right to life. It was his disrespect for people’s worth and dignity. How Robertson could talk about respect and miss this point is surprising.

Next, I want to make a clear distinction between the type of respect Pat Robertson is talking about the the type of respect I am talking about. I do not mean a blind respect for authority. I mean respect for the sanctity of life. I mean respect for people’s dignity. I mean the type of respect that people in authority all too often deny to those they see as less than them. Respect for each and every person’s potential for good, for their right to prosperity, for their happiness.

Let’s all show each other respect. Let’s practice being respectful toward one another even when we disagree. Let’s take action in a respectful way to advance equality, justice, and peace.

Love to you all.