Inshallah, God’s hands and South Park

The International Herald Tribune had an article today about the Arabic word “Inshallah” which is being used in Egypt like hookers in Vegas and I thought I’d say a word about it. Or a few words. First, click HERE for the article (thanks to my old friend Courtney for bringing this to my attention).

Effectively, Inshallah means “god willing” and the idea behind using it, of course, is that everything happens because God wills it. Egyptians are using this word for everything, it seems. It is the ubiquitous answer that applies to everything because everything, as life would have it, is in God’s hands. Fine for religious people, but I must say, this is not just going on in Egypt. Israelis have their own phrase for this: baruch hashem. It means, “God bless” but is used for everything in the same way that Inshallah is.

How are you?

Baruch Hashem.

Really, you’re God bless. Will we get there by 3 p.m.?

Baruch Hashem.

See, it’s as good as Inshallah, and I’ll tell you what, it used to annoy the shit out of me. Baruch hashem is not an answer to how you’re doing. It’s also not an answer to when we’re going to be there. And neither is Inshallah. I appreciate that you think everything is in God’s hands but you’re basically making speech worthless if you can’t provide a real answer. We should all walk around saying nothing but “Inshallah! Baruch Hashem!” if this is all everything is. We should lie down in the middle of the roads and say, “we won’t get hit, Inshallah,” or “that car is about to cruch my ribs, baruch hashem.” This is a silly approach to life. I appreciate that it emphasizes your piety and faith in God but it also breaks down working elements of society once it’s taken too far.

This is a point that South Park has not failed to make over the years, constantly insisting that we pay attention to the words we’re using. This is best conveyed in episode 502, “It Hits the Fan” when people are cursing too much and it releases evil forces, but also in the way the show treats our use of the words God and Jesus as common elements of our everyday lexicon. Think particularly of the episodes in the future with “Science H. Logic!” and “Science be praised!” I’ve made these points before, but in light of this article I think they’re worth throwing out again.

Inshallah we all start to pay attention to our language and recognize what its repititions and excessive use does to it and us. There’s nothing wrong with conveying the way you think the universe works, Inshallah, in your daily speech but if I constantly said, “Logic, determiner of all,” after every sentence you would get a little annoyed. I think that should be taken to account the next time an Egyptian says “Inshallah” or an Israeli says “Baruch Hashem.” Unfortunately it won’t be, but there it is.

Happiest Day of the Year

An equation that measures happiness has allowed a mathematician to determine that today is the happiest day of the year, due in part to the length of evenings, proportion of outdoor activities and nice weather, and the first day of summer and its association with positive childhood memories. Well, personally, I’m always pretty happy. I have a sweet life, a great woman and a working brain. What more could anyone want? Is this the apex of my happiness, though? Will there be a downswing from here?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Happiness, though I firmly believe it can be affected by the weather, is not determined by the day of the year, even when a meeting of these factors is in effect. It makes sense why it’s a happy day, just like it makes sense that January 15th is the most depressed day of the year. However, considering the general things that are contributing to the average person’s woes: the state of the economy, the price of gas and food, the political climate, America’s international standing, the job market (or lack thereof), etc., I doubt that most people will stand up today and declare, “You know, this is the happiest I’ve been in a while.”

And you know what? That’s a shame.

Should their happiness and its concomitant declaration have anything to do with today’s date? No. But it should have to do with positive attitudes (lame sounding, I know) and the desire every day to be happier than the day before. Make an effort to be happier. Do something that makes you happy. Life is too short to be unhappy. My life only got consistently happy when I decided that that was a lot better than not being happy and that with a little effort – and being grateful for what I had, gratitude is key – I could walk around happily all the time.

An even better approach: try to make someone else happy today. Do something nice for someone in your life. Make your significant other chocolate covered strawberries. Buy someone a drink – maybe someone you don’t even know (and who you’re not hitting on). Help someone with his or her groceries. This isn’t about that pay-it-forward crap (though I do like that), but about making a collective effort to make other people happier – or at least a little more satisfied. Let’s remind people that the human decency is still left in us all.

Today, we’re all going to make a little more effort to be happy and make others happy and not rely on the factors coalescing on this day of the year. Let’s try it every day and see how things go, hmm.

What did you do for someone else today? Did it make you feel good? What will you do tomorrow? Any suggestions for making people happier?

In the News: Immigration and the Changing Face of America

I want to talk about something that doesn’t really concern religion in the news: immigration and the changing face of America.

I recently heard that America’s population is rapidly growing but that 70%+ of that growth is going to be due to immigrants. A lot of people have a problem with this (even those who are not nativists and think that immigrants deserve a chance in this great country), and their gripes often come in the form of, “I don’t want a bunch of Mexicans abusing the system and not contributing to it.” Considering the fact that a growing problem has been illegal Mexicans using emergency rooms as doctors’ offices when they get a little cold, I can understand and appreciate the frustration. Quite frankly, I can’t blame any one of them for trying to come to this country – I would have probably tried too.

However, I’d like to steer this issue, if I may, and talk about the kinds of immigrants America should be letting in.

Our borders don’t feel safer or tighter, and to a point, I think we hardly know who we should be protecting ourselves from. No one believes that shoe and belt removal at the airport is helping anything. Indeed, I lived in Israel for two years, and I have a firm policy when it comes to airline security: if the Israelis don’t do it then it’s an unnecessary procedure. The Israelis do not make you remove shoes or belts.

Anyway, getting visas to this country is incredibly difficult and so is getting citizenship. Sure, that makes it easy for us to turn away every border-hopping Mexican but it also screws us in a totally different way. Brilliant people from all over the world want to come to this country. They want to work here, live here and contribute. And they’re frickin’ smart. These people should not be turned down. If the world is in a race for progress and wealth and success, these people are potential recruits that are getting turned down all the time. Ivy League Schools have huge percentages of international students – really smart ones – and most of those students are not allowed to remain in the U.S. after receiving their superb education. That is so dumb.

We are literally sending away (and often not letting in) smart people who will do a lot more for us as a society than the vast majority of voters. Oh, but they’re not Americans, you say.

Bullshit! Everyone is an American. We’re all the product of immigrants, which makes everyone in the world a potential America and gives them plenty of right to be here if they want to contribute and be a part of this rockin’ system. This country’s citizenship is not based on ethnicity, race, heritage or anything else of the sort. This is opposed to, say, being French. You can’t just become French. You can, however, just become American, and it’s what everyone of our ancestors did when they came to this country. They just became American. Now we have the ability to cherry-pick the world’s brightest people, causing a brain-drain everywhere else, and we turn them away in droves. And the ones that are allowed to stay for 12 or 36 months we make life very hard for on entry and exit and staying.

All I’m saying is that America is squandering an amazing chance to stay ahead, and if you don’t want to look at it like a competition, don’t. America is missing an amazing chance to hire not just this country’s best and brightest but the world’s most intelligent and capable people. Our system favors American Affirmative Action, but I’ll tell you what: never will I abide by quotas and affirmative action hiring. The best and most capable person for the job should get it and everyone else can deal with it. That should be our approach to hiring from the whole world. In this system of globalization it’s never been easier to get the best and to get the best for the right reasons – it’s time for American policies to reflect that ideal and that necessity.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you an immigrant or foreign national? Do you have a visa or visa problems? Tell me about your experiences.