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4th of July! Time For Reflection and Self-Awareness

I recently watched a videotape of John F. Kennedy, as he spoke the historic words: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” during his inaugural address on 20 January 1961.  It was fascinating and sad at the same time.

Mila

As someone who comes from a third-world country, I grew up admiring the USA’s emergence as the greatest democratic nation in the world as she battled the scourge of Communism, established international institutions for development, fought social injustice, and promoted a better global community.

But this is all history now.

Today, my perception is that most Americans and US leaders no longer speak, behave, or advocate the ideals and values enshrined in the US Constitution.  It is very difficult to believe that the US embraces the ideals of equality and freedom, along with those of respect and enforcement of sacred individual rights.

The US today increasingly resembles a “Fourth World” nation — declining into homelessness, poverty, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, racism, factionalism, high crime levels, and lawlessness – led by mostly corrupt political leaders.

In the “land of the free” there can be no freedom if you could not walk without being robbed, mugged, raped, or killed on the streets of Chicago or New York, when compared to walking the safe streets of Singapore, Prague, or Belgrade.

On my first visit to the United States, I was nearly kidnapped.

According to FBI statistics, more than 609,000 missing person reports were filed in the United States in 2019 alone. The vast majority – 99.7% – are found.  But some of the people are never found alive and the cases remain unsolved.

In 2016 I traveled to San Francisco to attend a conference.  I was ecstatic, as it meant visiting the United States for the first time.

I worked with a small tech startup company that could not afford to pay for a reputable hotel, therefore I stayed in a hotel just two blocks away from the infamous Tenderloin district.  I didn’t care.  I was in San Francisco!

To those who are not familiar with Tenderloin, let me visually describe this place: heroin needles, piles of excrement between parked cars, yellow fluid oozing out of large plastic bags, and faux-Persian carpets dumped in the corner.  It’s a scene of detritus that might bring to mind any variety of developing-world squalor.

But it is San Francisco, the capital of the nation’s technology industry, where a single span of Hyde Street hosts an open-air narcotics market by day and occupation by the drug addicts slumped on the sidewalk at night.  There are many other streets like it, but by one measure it’s the dirtiest block in the city and I was staying just a few blocks away from it.

I stayed as far as I could from my hotel and always dreaded coming back after the conference ended its day.  At night, I used my luggage to buttress the front door in an effort to block the entrance, just in case one junky tried to burst in.  That is literally what it meant to sleep in fear.

As a conference attendee, most of my days were spent in the Financial district with my colleagues.  On the last day, I received an invitation to go to Palo Alto to test the new Virtual Reality Kit which was developed at Sony.  It was a dream come true!

That morning I was very nervous as I was about to meet the “big” guys in the tech industry.  I booked an Uber ride share; it took around 50 minutes to get to Palo Alto.  I spent more than three hours talking to the all-male product development team at Sony.  As I was leaving, they asked if they should call me a cab; I declined.  There was no need.

I am an independent woman, and I can take care of myself.

Outside, when no one was looking, I took some selfies with my phone.  I wanted to remember the day I visited Sony.  However, looking back these pictures could have been my last.  I could not connect to my Uber account; my internet data ran out.  I was frustrated but not too worried.

I stopped a random cab.  As I entered the shabby-looking taxi, I didn’t get any “creepy” premonition.  Everything seemed normal, even though the taxi driver was dressed in very worn-out clothes and his hands twitched often.  I ignored all that.

He asked me a lot of questions about where I was from and where I work.  I was polite and answered them all.  Surprisingly, he asked how much I earn and if I am working in one of the billion-dollar tech companies.

I told him I earn only $500 per month and that I am visiting San Francisco with my husband.  Obviously, I lied.  I don’t even have a husband!

About 30 minutes into the ride, I realized ‌that I was taken to an unfamiliar area.  The driver was on the phone talking to someone in a foreign language.  I started panicking.  What is he talking about?  Where are we headed?  I tried to re-engage with him in conversation.  This time, he seemed uninterested.

Finally, he parked the car in an area resembling Tenderloin.  There were homeless people, drug addicts, and hookers everywhere.  I asked him why we had stopped.

“I need to meet up with a friend.  We need to change the car.”

He left and locked me in.  What?! I can’t describe the panic.  I knew this was it.  I will be abducted.

Luckily the car was old, and it had a manual window crank.  I quickly lowered the window.  It took me seconds to climb out — I ran as fast as my legs could carry me.

I ran into the Bank of America.  I spotted a security officer outside and told him what happened.  Without hesitation, he called the police.

When the police arrived, I was told that I was in the neighborhood called Hunters Point — notoriously crime-ridden and one of the most dangerous places in San Francisco.  I asked the police officers if they found the taxi driver.  They only found his abandoned car.

On the way back to my hotel, the police officers told me ‌I could have become a victim of an express kidnapping.

The police reassured me that what I did was correct, as there was no other reasonable explanation as to why the taxi driver would have locked me in his car and left to meet up with someone in order to exchange the vehicle.

That night I didn’t sleep.  I just wanted to go home to Europe.  I left for the airport with my business partners five (5) hours earlier than necessary.  I didn’t want to miss my flight.

Upon my return to Europe, I never told my family what happened in San Francisco.  I didn’t want to worry them.  What actually happened?

Nothing.  There was no abduction.  I was the lucky one.

How many weren’t so lucky?

Since 2017, I have had two (2) more invitations to go to America.  Both times I politely declined.  I hope that there will come a time when I can return; when the US is a bit different.

Many Americans (especially people who do not identify as White or Caucasian) have a high risk of getting shot or killed in a drive-by, subjected to systemic racism, or stopped by the police because they are non-White (especially Black/African American).  So many people live in poverty – and are subjected to homelessness and unemployment.   To add insult to injury, many Americans have fallen victim to subtle rulings and restrictions on freedoms that were explicitly promised in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

What is the US Celebrating Today?

What is America celebrating on its 246th Birthday?  Dreams of a “free and equal society” unfulfilled?  An independent, divisive, unequal, and class-based society favoring elites, rich, and powerful?  Are we following our own healing path?

Or are we following Narcissists leading us off a cliff for their own personal egos and interests?

Americans are responsible for America.  America reflects the character and personality of her people.  American leaders must set themselves up as personal role models and examples for the state of the modern USA.

One of America’s greatest virtues is its freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Another important freedom is the right to vote in democratic elections.  Unfortunately, voter suppression runs rampant in majority-Black areas throughout the country.

The New Mindset of Freedom

Let’s think about freedom as a mindset.  Mindset is the foundation of everything in your life.  Your mindset shapes your values, beliefs, and thoughts.

If you believe that you’re trapped in your life in one particular way, then this fixed mindset will keep you down.  But if you adopt a growth mindset, you can change how your mind works.  And, most importantly, you can break free from whatever is holding you back.

Express appreciation

Gratitude is freedom.  Focus on what you have and be grateful that you’re no longer held down by negativity.  Try these activities:

  • Keep a “Gratitude Journal”
  • Thank someone
  • Count your blessings
  • Meditate
  • Engage in self-reflection
  • Recite affirmations — these are powerful because they influence both the conscious and subconscious minds

Repeating these positive activities can literally change your mindset.  

Feel freedom

Freedom is an experience, a feeling, an emotion!  When you really think about this, it’s absolutely true.  We have no control over our narcissistic ex or a toxic co-worker.  You do, however, have full control over your mindset and thoughts.

Each one of us needs to decide to change our mindset and thought patterns to become free.  We can choose to allow our mindset and thought patterns to define us and establish a positive lifestyle with freedom from victimization.  Finally, only we can decide to allow freedom to inspire us toward strength and independence – away from those people who would take these rights away from us.  Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to feel freedom – taste it, sense it, listen to it, feel it, express it.

Share your freedom

Unfortunately, many people don’t open up and share – even with their closest friends and family members.  What if – today – you give yourself the freedom to share?  Let go of all your burdens that have been weighing your down.  Try it, today. Just perhaps you might like it and you will do it again.

At Partners in Men’s Health (PMH), we encourage you to share your stories.  We invite you to speak up, celebrate yourself and your loved ones, and give yourself the freedom to become your authentic self and share your survival and recovery stories.  Why?

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