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The Power of Conviction

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I wholly believe in mastering the big four: Thank You, I Love You, I Forgive You, and I'm Sorry. However, these actions are almost meaningless without conviction -- that is, doing or saying it with purpose, with the belief that it is true. Given the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I've been reflecting on giving thanks and the strength of my own personal convictions.

Last night, I drove around my hometown of Los Angeles as my wild and curly hair flapped in the wind. See, when I drive, I drift into my past. I remember the things I was driving towards and away from at another point in time. I pass a number of streets I used to trespass almost daily -- to party, to date, to dine, to study, and to grow up. I pass a number of secret spots I used to go alone just to think and breathe. I laugh thinking about those times and those nights because since then, everything has changed. I stand slightly taller, I feel slightly more, and I lean into life with a bit more gravity. Is it my age, my memory, or the realness of the experiences? I still wonder.

Life was easier when I was younger. In kindergarten, if someone was mean to me or called me names, I could run to the teacher and clearly point out the culprit. "She hit me!" "He called me a bad name!" There was always a fitting punishment that seemed to restore justice to the universe of my pre-schooled mind: a timeout, a sorry note, a red card.

Then life slowly became complicated. We fell in love, discovered best friends, and learned secrets. We became much more vulnerable then the small children we were on the playground. This was called, the "fall from innocence," as my eighth grade English teacher explained to me. We learned evil and fear alongside love and happiness. We could actually be wounded or hurt, without the eight-second bounce back. We learned certain things were out of our control and that words or lack of thereof, could fill our hearts with darkness.

In a radio series for "The Moth," the Reverend Al Sharpton tells the story of the 1991 murder attempt on his life by Michael Riccardi. That day, Sharpton was leading a march in protest of the death of Yusef Hawkins, who was shot and killed two years earlier during a racial altercation in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. As the march got under way, Riccardi, the assailant, stabbed Sharpton in the chest with a five-inch knife, and was later sentenced to jail for first-degree assault and attempted murder.

In his Moth story, Sharpton recalls the moment in which he found true conviction. Upon release from the hospital, he received a call from his mother, who asked him a simple question, "Will you forgive him?" This, Sharpton says, was one of the turning points in his life. Sharpton was tasked, as we all are at some point, to be true to his convictions -- his commitment to social justice and the reverence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Sharpton recalls:

"Real drama is what you do when the drama is over and the reactions are all settled. I had to find whether I was convicted or just talented. And you never will know, until you're faced with something that you don't control and that is not scripted. You can't pass a test you never take. And sometimes, those that bring you to the point of death will help you discover the point of life. I shook his hand, I walked away, convicted -- he was the last person that it mattered to me what he thought of me."

This was Sharpton embracing true conviction -- the belief he held sacred: the pursuit of justice, by first being just with himself and demonstrating justice to others.

So I ask myself, am I convicted, or just talented? Do I give thanks this holiday season for karma's sake, or because I truly believe my happiness and prosperity come from my experiences with family and friends?

In previous years, I returned home with anxiety, to be honest -- still under parental jurisdiction, still haunted by past memories, still bombarded with utter confusion over the person I was becoming, and certainly without conviction. But now, maybe for the first time I see those trepidations as normal and necessary milestones to confirm my own beliefs.

To live with conviction is not to believe one is right all the time, but to regard one's decisions and choices with weight. My hope is that for the holidays, we young people are convicted to give thanks -- just as we are convicted to love, forgive, and apologize. Perhaps your brainwaves will experience similar fluctuations during the great holiday migration home. And that just maybe, you live deliberately.