The lenses through which I see Thriving

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Ted Murphy

My nickname is Hawkeye. Because I see what many cannot.

I train my sight on Thriving. These are the lenses that focus my sense of purpose and clarity.

I see the past trauma of generational persecution color everyday life

My family lineage on both sides stems from Odessa in modern-day Ukraine. But I wasn’t born in Ukraine - I was born in the Soviet Union. 

As Jews in a staunchly antisemitic country, our fates were sealed the moment anyone saw our surname. Every member of my family has stories of bigotry, hate, and rampant racism impacting their education, professions, and daily life. My grandfather was once recommended for promotion to head a fabrication facility, but the elevated profile instead landed him in the crosshairs of the KGB. Only his distinguished integrity and unbridled respect in the community kept him out of a political prison where few returned. 

When I was 9 months and barely walking, I mischievously grabbed the lip of a bowl of unknown delights set on the counter. My giggles of joy transmuted into a blood-curdling wail as I received a full-body bath of scalding oatmeal that seared to my skin and left second-degree burns I carry to this day. When my family rushed me to the hospital for emergency care, my parents couldn’t get the nurses to wash my shriveled body and treat my glowing burns without a continual drip IV of bribes.

The wounds of hate rarely fully heal.

When I was 9 years old, already in the United States, my grandmother once proclaimed, “You’re wearing your Star of David necklace! Will you not get attacked if all can see?” No Baba, not here.

When I was 12, my grandfather admonishingly lectured me that, “You must work 10 times harder, score 10 times higher, and be 10 times smarter than everyone around you because you are Jewish, and they will never let you forget that.” But Deda, didn’t we leave they behind?

When I was 18, my parents asked in a quivering voice, “You wrote your college admission essays about being Jewish, but doesn’t that mean they will instantly reject you?” Mom & Dad, you wrapped your wings around your children precisely so we could have the freedom to spread our own.

My chest carries a burn scar, but my lineage carries a much deeper scar. I see that same scar in others with life paths very different from my own. I humbly bow to that trauma. I honor the colors it adds to our human experience. And I recognize its limiting stories of fear that can hold us back.

The wounds of ingrained trauma rarely fully heal. Rarely. But not never. And I have the wings to prove it.

I see the America full of potential, opportunity, and self-growth

When our family of four landed in the United States, we had a suitcase, a camera, and $2000. Our first apartment was in the depressing inner-city of crack-era San Diego where my brother and I couldn’t play near the swings because of all the used condoms and broken needles. Welcome to America. Good luck.

My father, a civil engineer and a respected foreman at a large construction manufacturing plant back in Odessa, landed in the US and picked up a shovel. Shoulder to shoulder with day laborers, he dug our family out of the dark hole of poverty. My mother, also a trained civil engineer, sampled soil under would-be freeways and high rises until her fingernails cracked and her knuckles bled with familial devotion. My parents never complained. They never looked back. They poured every ounce of themselves into their work and our family.

Over time, they retooled and retrained. My father started a successful general contracting firm and my mother learned to sample databases (and get manicures). I watched my parents lift our family from dismal ghettos to dizzying heights. Where many deride today's broken America, I see an America that creates unbelievable opportunities for those able to pursue them. I see an American Dream that rewards diligent hard work and depth of care with upward mobility, security, and stability. More than see it, I live it every single day.

I recognize that these opportunities are out of reach for far too many. I honor that our skin tone, our education, and our drive set us on a particular path. I do not take for granted the people and the systems that quietly supported my family, consciously or not. 

Still, I celebrate the incredible potential woven into the very fibers of American culture. 

With care and precision, I see how we can lift more families. With humility and respect, I see how we can systematically create more opportunities for individual and collective empowerment. With nurture and support, I see how the light of America’s promise can outshine the darkness of its past failings.

And that gives me feathers I know I can use to help others fly.

I see the divine sacred as a devout skeptic

I am a spiritual skeptic. Or is that a skeptical spiritualist? 

For the first 9 years of my conscious life, I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community where the boys had dangling undergarments and even more dangly curls by their temples. The girls couldn't show skin above their ankles or knees and had to pray hidden from view behind an opaque divider. At the time, I knew no other way but I couldn’t help question this world order.

The rabbis liked me and my family, but not necessarily my incessant questioning. What’s the point of memorizing scripture if we don’t understand what it means? Why do we believe concepts that are so clearly out of sync with modern science? Even as a 7 year old, the idea that “God put dinosaur bones in the ground so we think the world is older than it is” sounded downright suspect to me. I have a deep appreciation for the secular and spiritual learnings from my religious upbringing. The most potent, perhaps, was not to trust what I was told without thinking for myself. 

I see the tremendous beauty and power of religious community. When we came together as a congregation to celebrate the rites of life, from birth to marriage to death and everything in between, there was a palpable sense of timeless connection. The exact words we spoke have been recited for literally thousands of years - a deeply etched grove in the collective conscious of our people. And when members of the community struggled, as our family did for many years, the community offered caring and uplifting support.

I also see the insidious capacity of religious dogma. Of the rabbi was who indicted by the FBI for money-laundering charitable donations, and who got away with it for decades as a trusted leader of the community. Of the disengaged children who didn’t want the strict path laid before them, and reverted to numbing their pain with drugs and alcohol. Of the enforced gender norms that shamed young women into thinking their natural cycles were somehow dirty, broken, or something to hide from.

I see both sides. I revel in the glory of the divine while releasing the disempowering and destructive.

Today, I walk my own windy spiritual path. I steep myself in Zen Tea ceremony, meditation, and personal discovery within the liminal space. I marvel that there is as much emptiness between the electrons in our atoms as there are between the planets in our universe. And I dial down the opacity of the thin veil that connects us to the deeper wisdom of Life.

The more questions I ask, the more I relish the mystery of the unknown. And that gives me wings to fly far above my own experience to see our richly interwoven collective humanity.

I see the underlying systems that inspire our behaviors

In university, I studied behavioral economics - the discipline of how we make choices outside traditional models of rationality. Professionally, I am a data and systems analyst that’s created longitudinal patient records for Medicare patients, integrated divergent software systems for government contracts, and launched a business-intelligence startup for an emerging market.

In short, I make my living by asking (all the right? too many?) questions.

I question the underlying systems and how they serve the larger purpose. I query the data to see how stated objectives match practical reality. I dig down to root causes with a focus on amending the soil to help regrow a new intentional garden. In every case, it’s really about understanding the humans and our drives and choices. 

Every behavior makes sense in its context. Every context is the defined by the system in which it operates. Every system has quantifiable metrics to paint the complex picture of experience. Most important to me, how can these system set ourselves and each other up for success with clarity and precision?

Outside of work, I study human dynamics by curating inspirational artistic experiences. I nerd out on game design elements that prompt, or preclude, natural inclinations for collaboration, playfulness, and emergent joy. I’ve organized internationally-acclaimed Argentine Tango festivals, built large-scale art sculptures for Burning Man, and produced a feature-length interactive circus. Don’t get me started on conference calls with clowns …

I apply my analytical chops to every domain of my life, from tin foil to relationships to the great mystery beyond. I never stop searching for quantifiable truth until all the tumblers of my intellect and intuition lock into place. 

And that gives me talons to grasp that which others may drop.

I see the magic in the mundane

I am a magician in training. Arthur C. Clark wrote that "Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic." So I write my spellbook with ancient awareness and futurist features. I conjure new realities by interweaving vibrant fabrics from varied traditions and world views. I distill potent potions of presence to ground the untethered and elevate the bound.

I see that technology often includes racing electrons flipping bits, but that’s not the only technology I train. There is the technology of frequencies to change our neurochemitry. The technology of science to distill understanding. The technology of storytellers to hollogram images in thin air. The technology of language to build bridges and connect.

I see the magic of our shared reality, and that gives me the courage to build my nest where the earth meets the sky.

I see you, and I welcome you exactly as you are

Come, join me on my perch. The world is quite stunning from where I sit. Perhaps we can fly together.

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