Browsing the blog archives for June, 2012

Slaying Emotional Vampires

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, June 12, 2012

Emotional Vampires are drawn to people with positive energy, insatiably soul-sucking your words and energy. They’re toxic and you do nothing positive to help them or yourself when you succumb to their insatiable needs. Detachment is good for you both.

It was a chilling question from the person who asked if I would get real and talk about slaying the emotional vampires in our lives. Slaying conjured up images of a drone attack or a video game. It conveyed an aggressive hostility that is at odds with detachment.

I responded by telling a story. When I first arrived in the United States I knew that I could not return home to South Africa because of my refusal to serve in the military that enforced apartheid at the time. For my own well-being I understood that I needed to create an extended family from scratch in my new home.

Shaun was one of those whom I believed would be part of this new family. My proactive engagement with him brought with it a slowly dawning consciousness that his energy was life-sapping. On my weekly calls to Shaun I would listen to a litany of complaints about those who had wronged, injured or offended him in some way that week. I would unthinkingly move into rescue mode and offer suggestions for how he might engage differently with the world around him.

After many months it dawned on me that the phone calls were unidirectional and that Shaun had little interest in making different choices in his life. In a moment of new awareness I realized that not only could I not save or rescue him but, all importantly, that was not my job! His toxicity was poisonous to me and my well-being as much as it was to him. I was in the presence of a soul-sucker.

Almost thirty years ago, it became my first intentional experience of detachment. I offered our acquaintanceship and the intention for Shaun’s well-being to the Universe. With love I released this relationship hoping that he would in time seek his highest good. It was a liberating moment for me. I later learned that it was for him too, free at last of listening to my well-intentioned advice!

There was a companion detachment. I detached from my own single-minded need and focus on creating extended family. With new awareness I discovered freedom in becoming mindfully aware about opportunities for organically extending my new American family. Instead of clutching at an idealized goal I was free to be embraced by and embrace the life-giving energy of those with whom mutual bonds of relationship occurred more seamlessly.

Two decades later Shaun and I reconnected. He observed a new ease about who I am. I discovered a man who had done equally important interior work resulting in his anger and distrust of others making way for a more expansive, generous way of life.

Instead of slaying emotional vampires, detachment allowed room for each of us to flourish and cultivate our own well-being. It is easy to understand the reactions of those who respond to the emotional vampires in their lives with umbrage, anger, ridicule and pain. Those feelings are real but in choosing to nurture them we imprison ourselves by connecting an IV line of life-draining energy to our own lives.

As I recounted this experience my questioner’s perplexed look gave way to an insight – “I don’t have to choose to do battle with the vampires do I?” she asked rhetorically. Indeed not! The mindful choice to detach is an infinitely more courageous, life-affirming choice. For all involved.

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Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore


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Discovering a New Way to Be Human and Polish the World

This blog interview appeared on the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation website on June 11, 2012

We don’t often stop to think about how the way we choose to manifest our unique humanity impacts ourselves and the world around us.  We are not conscious of the limitations we place on ourselves by old ways of being.  Yet we live in a world that needs our courage, creativity and imagination.

In his best selling book, A New Way to Be Human, nationally recognized speaker and author Robert V. Taylor explores the question of how we can each leave a footprint of compassion in the world by tapping into our personal spirituality and innate values.  We had the opportunity to talk with him recently about his ideas for more fully realizing our human potential.


DTPF What motivated you to write A New Way to Be Human?

RVT To invite readers to be happy and change the world. The sense of helplessness and disengagement that so many people feel about the world – “My voice doesn’t matter; my actions don’t really count” – leads you to clutch at life. There is another way! To live into the fullness of being human; to discover your magnificence and the truth that the world needs your active engagement as much as you do. The book invites readers into a more fulsome, happy and engaged new way to be human.

DTPF You speak in your book about connecting with stories – our own and those of others. How do we know which stories are the most important to share?

RVT Listen for the ones that make you feel alive, along with those that scare you. Pay attention! When you know your story and can be compassionate about every part of it – the wonder, regret, shame and joy – you tell it knowing that eternal wisdom and truth is revealed through you story. You then find yourself listening compassionately to the stories of others, attentive to the eternal truths and wisdom being revealed. Not every story is safe to share with just anyone but you will know that intuitively. Sharing your story you discover common ground with the most unexpected people. As you share who you are – not just what you do – your stories remind you that we need one another in order to be human. It’s a life-changing way of living each day and claiming your voice in the world.

Archbishop Tutu & Robert V. Taylor

DTPF One of the ideas you discuss in A New Way to Be Human is the limitations – enclosures – that we allow ourselves and others to place around us. What is the best way to recognize the enclosures we experience in our lives so that we can address them?

RVT Become aware of the things that you resist doing or think you’re not good enough or loved enough for. Beware of choices that are driven not by your passion and desire but by the needs of others or the habit of pleasing them. Each of those things constrains you, holding you back from your magnificence. They squelch your voice and cramp your compassion. You serve no one’s good by hiding behind whatever encloses you from being fully alive, happy and engaged. The book offers practical tools for stepping beyond what encloses you from your fullest self.

DTPF You talk in your book about reflecting the imagination of the Holy and “polishing the world?” What exactly to you mean by that?

RVT Our greatest failures come from a lack of imagination. When you chose to embrace your imagination life is different. Instead of looking at the world and accepting it the way it is you imagine the way it can be. That’s engaging and enlivening! Every seemingly small action that you do to make something better in the lives of others, in your community, school or in world helps to change and polish the world. What you do matters! Your actions allow the humanity of others to flourish. Lives and communities have a new shine to them!

DTPF One memorable story in your book has to do with your friend Joe who had stopped following the news because it ultimately made him feel helpless. This is something that many people experience today. Can you tell us how Joe was able to turn that deeply felt negativity around in his life?

The Los Angeles launch of A New Way to Be Human at LACMA

RVT Joe heard the challenge of a good friend to stop being disengaged and to see in the news an invitation to be part of changing the story line from bad to good news! Of course there are lots of terrible things in the world. But when we sit back we give them power. We are hard wired for love and compassion and we know it when discover life-giving energy by choosing to do something. As Joe responded to his friend’s challenge he found that he was drawn to stories about girls and young women denied education in many parts of the world. The bad news of those stories led him to learn about people and organizations doing something to give women access to education. It is probably one of the most transformative changes imaginable for the human family. So Joe got involved in an organization working in partnership with local organizations to provide that access. It’s changed his life. He’s no longer a helpless victim of life. He’s become an active participant in change and says he’s more fully alive because of it.

DTPF Many of us grow up being told that to think of others is virtuous, but that thinking of one’s self is not. How can your book help us better understand the difference between looking inward with love to learn who we are versus just being egotistical?

RVT Loving yourself is the greatest lesson and gift you will ever receive! You develop tenderness for yourself – warts and all. When you love yourself without conditions you want your own well-being. That’s where you discover happiness and how to be happy. With each step you take you become more compassionate about yourself. But none of this is a personal treasure to hoard. You discover that other people are loveable too – with all of their quirks. You can’t help but yearn for their well-being too. You desire happiness for all people. Loving yourself is the exact opposite of being egotistical! It makes you more fully human and alive because you realize that we need one another, that we’re inter-connected. Self-love becomes a generous outpouring of love for others.

DTPF You share a great quote in your book related to “limitless imagination.” You shared the story of a woman, Zelda who, because of the demands of her corporate career, was denying the “invitation to let go of the pause button” on her imagination. How can each of us learn to let go of the pause button on our own imagination?

RVT Listen to the tweets that your passions send you! There may be just one thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you feel alive. Pay attention – it’s the Universe inviting you to live life fully with whatever your gift is. That’s where you discover limitless imagination. When you choose to not listen to your passions and imagination you hit the pause button on your life. Imagine if any of your heroes had paused their imagination – the environmental, civil rights, gender equality, LGBT and other movements exist because of imagination that is alive and engaged! The world needs your imagination at work every day as much as you do – it’s how change happens.

DTPF How would you describe being “at home in your heart” to a group of young people today?

RVT Listen to your heart! Science reminds us that our heart and brain are connected and when we only live in our head space we miss out on our heart pointing us to happiness, purpose and meaning. Celebrate the people and places who make your heart space alive and detach from the toxic people whose energy limits your ability to be at home in your heart. Allow your heart to feed your intuitive response to the people, places and causes that make you at home by filling you with life-giving energy.

DTPF What is the most important idea your book can offer a young person who wants to better their lives and those around them?

RVT Love yourself and share that love! Be kind to someone today, speak out on something you care about, take an action to make the world a more just place. Love – it’s in your DNA. Love like it’s the best day of your life.

Post your comments below or join the conversation about this interview on the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation website

Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore


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Gay Pride: Contagious and Mainstreamed by Obama

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post June 5, 2012

Gay Pride month is contagious! It has become fearlessly mainstream thanks to President Obama’s unequivocal support of the view shared by increasing numbers of Americans about the freedom to marry. Together with the seismic shifts in public acceptance of LGBT people this year’s Gay Pride month is approached with new lenses.

My grandmother and her friends used the word gay to describe people who were happy or having a good time. In the Buddhist tradition happiness is about seeking the well-being of all people. In the Jewish tradition “shalom” is understood not as the absence of conflict but seeking the economic, emotional and spiritual well-being of others. It is about being complete and whole.

Pride month is a reminder of the desire to claim and seek the well-being of LGBT people. It also points to a wider, more fulsome desire for the well-being of all. In the era of identity politics, pride in our own identity is only as proud as the desire to acknowledge our need for the magnificence of each person to shine through about who they are. Anything less plays into the hands of those who for political or religious reasons seek to demonize and sow discord. Pride points to a higher truth of inclusion.

In the ethnic and cultural festivals celebrated in American cities communities proclaim their heritage, invite others to experience their culture while creating bridges of understanding. They invite the wholeness and well-being that results from new awareness about our inter-dependence.

A few years ago I stood among the hundreds of thousands lining Fifth Avenue in New York for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. It was a grand celebration of pride in claiming their place in the fabric of the life of New York and the United States. Although no one in my family is Puerto Rican I felt gratitude for the way in which my life in New York was enriched by that heritage. I was proud to be embraced by their pride and celebration.

While the annual observance of Black History Month is a celebration of the life of African-Americans it serves a unique role in inviting reflection on the history of an entire nation whose culture has been enriched by African-American even in the face of egregious injustices that still affect the national psyche. Pride is intermingled with the nuances of celebration, regret, recognition and remorse. Those reactions are given new meaning when there is a resolve that the past will give way to a pride-filled inclusion for the well-being of all.

President Obama’s historic endorsement of the freedom to marry has shifted the ground of what Gay Pride means. It marks the mainstreaming of LGBT Americans. It also plays catch-up with how Gay Pride has transformed how we think of ourselves as LGBT people and how our families, colleagues and neighbors view us.

To be sure, homophobia and discrimination still exist. The persistence of bullying of LGBT youth is insidious. These realities do not do anything to further the well-being of LGBT Americans. For many, Pride celebrations are a reminder of the legislative and community actions still required to end such ignorance, hate and discrimination.

The President’s statement reflects what Pride has accomplished. When individuals organize to express pride, often across lines of division within the LGBT community, they declare a healthy self-acceptance that also point to accepting difference within their own community. But Pride is not just about those of us who are gay.

Pride gives permission to others to come out of their closets and acknowledge that they have pride in a gay child, family member, colleague, classmate or neighbor. When LGBT people and those in their circles declare enough self-love about their own well-being by coming out we are all able to view each other though lenses of appreciation. In that moment the scary factor of the unknown “other” is replaced with a new normalcy.

It’s why the upward curve of acceptance toward LGBT people and the right to marry continues to increase exponentially. Pride month invites celebration of the strides made towards inclusion and the well-being of LGBT people. It also invites us to actively pursue those same realities for all people.

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Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore

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Gay, Spiritual & Fully Alive

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared in LA Weekly June 4, 2102, in response to their question “What does it mean to be gay?”

I’ve discovered that my spirituality is informed by being gay as much as being an out gay man shapes my spirituality. Gay, spiritual and fully alive is a choice about how to be human.

To be out, proud and thankful for it does not come easily to many LGBT people. I recall the shame I felt as an adolescent struggling with my sexuality. Surely the messages that religion tweeted about us could not be true? The agitated righteous anger of so many religious people was my clue that religion was huffing and puffing to conceal a more generous spiritual path.

In my teenage despair I thought it would be easier to end my life. I collected a handful of Paracetamol pills from the jar my mother kept, squirrelling them under my pillow for the night when I would end it all. On the night my shame seemed overbearing I took the ten pills I’d collected and said “I hope you’ll still love me God.” I was surprised to wake up the next morning as my mother called out to ready me for school.

To be ready for school became a metaphor for going beyond my fears readying me for a different path. I’ve never forgotten my thankfulness for being alive that morning. I still had years of work ahead to accept, love and be proud and thankful for the gift of being gay – a journey whose truths I would never have known otherwise. It’s given me a lifelong passion for every person to have the love and courage to embrace their identity.

That thwarted attempt on my own life left an indelible mark of wanting young LGBT people to have role models and mentors so that they will not harm or take their own life. Even with the seismic shifts in the acceptance of LGBT people the struggle to come to terms with sexual orientation is still a minefield for young people who are bullied and harassed for who they are. I can give back by being proud and sharing the resources of truth that keep me ready to be enlivened.

I’ve learned that courage is not about the celebrated triumphs of those we lionize. Courage is about love which begins with self-love. That’s a lifelong journey for many. I began to pay attention to the spirituality of love and compassion that knew no exclusions. It terrified me at first but I intuitively knew it was an invitation to love that embraces all – even me – including our sexual identity.

My own well-being was not visible on the GPS of my life back then. My young adult involvement in the anti-apartheid movement was rooted in justice and inclusion for all. Except for myself! To discover well-being is to seek happiness. Not the happiness presented by what we consume or own, but the happiness that is discovered in eternal truths about our own beauty and purpose in life.

Along the way I’ve discovered that the arc of my own story, like that of every other person, reveals spiritual wisdom and truth. It emerges when I stop compartmentalizing my life and see that all of the wonder, shame, regret and joy of life form a narrative that allows me to be compassionate about my story and life. Our story is not a series of unrelated experiences but a vessel of spiritual insight inviting us to live in all of our magnificence.

In naming my love and sexual orientation it points me to the invitation to live an intentional integrated life in which every facet of my being is cause for thankfulness. Spirituality is not disembodied – it is revealed with each embrace of our identity.

The courage of self-love, our own well-being, the spirituality revealed in our story and thankfulness about human sexuality is not a treasure for us alone. I need others to claim those same truths for themselves – then the celebration and journey of being at one with me as a gay man makes spacious room for others. It is a generous, joyful and enlivening choice about being who you are. How will you choose?

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Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore


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Embracing Inclusion Banishes Fear

Robert V. Taylor

A version of this blog first appeared on Huffington Post, May 26, 2012

Openly gay Air Force Cadet Graduates gift us with their pioneering courage! At personal cost they point to the truth that the moral arc of the Universe bends toward inclusion. Their courage is an invitation to trust in our own imagination and voice embracing inclusion that banishes fear.

President Obama was the speaker at the US Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs where these newly graduated lesbian and gay cadets took their rightful place alongside their heterosexual classmates. How fitting that the President who secured the end to LGBT discrimination in the armed forces participated in this historic moment of the defense forces of the US once again leading the way on civil rights and inclusion just at it did decades ago in the work of desegregation.

For some of us the fearless courage of the new cadets is a given because we have made strides to live authentic, integrated lives in which we claim the fullness of our humanity. In decades to come people will look back at this moment wondering why it was a big deal. It is a seismic moment reminding us of the courage and self-love that it takes to step beyond whatever encloses us, keeping us from the fullness of our magnificence and well-being – no matter who we are.

Like many LGBT people my journey to coming out was a circuitous one. In the oppressive apartheid years of South Africa it felt physically unsafe to be out. In the years that followed in my new home in New York each step out of the closet to claiming my identity was matched with a half step back. It did not always feel emotionally and spiritually safe to be transparent. The bad advice of those who loved me, expressing concern for my welfare and employment as they urged me to be circumspect, was like a sedative keeping me from being fully human.

In a transformative moment I responded to the veiled threats of being outed and attacked for the sexual orientation that comprises a part of my identity. In my night sweats of fear about an imminent outing I discovered a wakeup call. No longer would I ever again live with the threat of denying my fullness. No longer would I freely give such power to others. Instead I made a choice to claim my story, voice and love just as these cadets have done.

It was a new moment on the road to living an integrated life. My sexual orientation would be as fully embraced as my love of cooking, exercise and mystery novels. It would become a co-equal identifier along with my Palestinian and South African heritage, my experiences as an exile and an immigrant. They would co-exist in unexpected new harmony.

My own fears were not about the people whom I loved rejecting me. They were all fears about those outside of my immediate circle of trust and love; fears of losing a job and being rejected as a community leader. In naming and befriending my fears their power to confine and define me was deflated.

The pioneering cadets who are out about who they are have probably not arrived at that truth without courage and struggle. The world needs their voices as much as the suspension of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” needs it in order to live into the promise of full inclusion without threat, fear or intimidation. Their personal struggles dealing with the dying remnants of homophobia as the institution they serve adapts to new realties will still be real. But they already know the enlivening freedom from fear.

Courage emerges from the self-love that demands your own well-being. These Air Force cadets invite others to give voice and imagination to the inclusive well-being of all.

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Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore

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Death – The Final Word?

Robert V. TaylorThis blog first appeared in Huffing Post May 24, 2012

Most Americans believe there is an afterlife. Regardless of what you believe about an afterlife death slams the brakes on the present unlocking a cavalcade of memories. In the afterglow of that impact there is an unexpected invitation to a container of wholeness. Death is not the final cradle.

As my mother navigated the final weeks of her life as best she could her resolute longing to die was striking. Not because she hated life but because she imagined rejoining my father. The kindly medical staff doggedly determined to interrupt her sleep in order to collect a myriad of data believed that if a test or procedure existed it should be performed. In her they discovered a determination to choose to avoid further indignity.

In spite of decades working with the dying and bereaved families my familiarity with end of life choices, death and grief was now staring me in the face reflecting the image of the woman who gave birth to me. The tools I’d learned and the wisdom I’d received from the dying was suddenly stripped naked by my own emotions and responses.

I turned to the resources offered by the national organization Compassion and Choices.  Well versed in the subject matter I soaked it in like a desert plant storing water. Faced by a well-meaning doctor who wished to keep my mother hospitalized for a final salvo of tests and indignities she rallied to insist that she wanted to go home to die in peace. There were worse experiences for her than dying.

With the support of her own primary care physician and her sons and sons-in-law Hospice made it possible for her wish of dying with dignity at home to be honored. In the last hours of her life death was slamming the brakes on a breath she freely wished to relinquish.

My own grief and the memories that surface at unexpected moments are not unexpected. Unexpected are the memories of others that craft a more fulsome picture of my mother which fill me with gratitude. They all reflect a common thread of a woman who made others laugh at her own expense. They speak of love in their friendship, albeit the love of a certain generation that went unspoken and unnamed. Unbeknown to her sons there was even a reconciliation of a frayed relationship just weeks before her death. As a son I knew of her love but it is in the stories of others that I realized the pride and depth of that love for her sons and their spouses.

Like many my mother was a person of contradictions and unresolved nuances. Charming, funny, engaged and embracing of life she was equally adept at seizing the moment to be obstinate, withdrawn and circumspect.

The stories that reveal her fullness illuminate the truth that she was a large personality who was raised in an era when most girls were frowned upon for claiming that truth about them. No wonder she was drawn to the personalities on steroids of people like Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana and the pantheon of star female tennis players.

Death may have slammed the brakes on my mother’s life but it was a happy day for her. Those same brakes have pushed open a host of memories revealed in the stories of others in which I discover a new wholeness and fullness to her life. Thinking about an afterlife is nowhere as comforting, surprising and life-giving as the gift of the spacious container of her life robustly cradled in the breath and voice of others. The final word is not death but life.

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Robert V. Taylor’s A New Way to Be Human is available at your Indie bookstore, Barnes & Noble and Amazon

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Upending Political Vitriol

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post April 23, 2012

Political conversation is dead in the water. The jadedness and helplessness that many people experience only result in disenfranchising ourselves and depriving the world of your unique voice. There is another engaged, proactive way that requires you taking your place at the table. Our humanity is at stake!

Our culture and political process is adept at demonizing opposing points of view and candidates. What if, instead of accepting this as the norm, we embrace a proactive response that insists on a new discourse?

Ratcheting down the inflammatory rhetoric is possible if we elevate our expectations. The alternative is to accept the social and political gridlock that benefits extremists and pundits.

When people are labeled as “Evil, Un-American or Unpatriotic” serious debate and conversation is impossible. Accepting the name calling as business as usual is more than demeaning, it gives power to those who hijack democracy with loose language and labels. Instead it is possible to engage the conversation and leaders with a proactive demand for adult conversation by conveying your expectations of civility and seriousness about ideas.

Expect a dignity of difference. Strongly held views and robust argument are possible when we dignify difference by honoring the validity of different beliefs. A policy position or policy prescription is not inherently bad because we find it loathsome. We each have the power to elevate public discourse by expecting policy implications or beliefs to be discussed with frank discussion about the implications for the lives of all affected by a specific position. Instead of demeaning difference, dignify the differences by treating them with the serious respect they demand by engaging them.

Polish the world. Politicians and other leaders share in the inherent goodness that marks the aspirations and lives of most people. Like the driving force that compels people to enter politics or assume public leadership most of us want to polish the world by leaving it a more just and conflict free place in which the well-being of all people is possible. Insist on knowing how a leader or institution expects to polish the world through the results and impacts of their beliefs and policies.

Claim your voice in the process. Our own silence, disengagement or jadedness benefits no one. The world needs your unique voice and contribution actively engaged. Instead of succumbing to the incarcerated view that you are insignificant, your own story and experiences reveal that you re a valued and rich contributor to enriching the political and cultural discourse.  Your voice and contributions enrich the political and social process ensuring a lively, vibrant and healthy democracy.  Throwing up your hands in despair serves only to cede your voice and life to shrill and life-draining voices. Choosing the life-giving way brings new life to you and to and to the human family.

The moral arc of the Universe is towards fulsome life-giving, life-affirming inclusion of all people. We’re witnessing the voices of the Arab Spring and the people of Myanmar claiming these truths. While we don’t know the results they will produce we do know that this moment of human history reveals that the old patterns of control and orthodoxy are giving way to new emergent truths about what it means to be human.

It is possible to be happy and change the world! Not the sort of happiness promised by buying a particular car or item of clothing but the happiness that emerges when you ground your life in seeking your well-being. Your own well-being results in a path of seeking the well-being of others.  In this way of experiencing life you change the world and discover a profound happiness in being alive.

In this emergent time of a new consciousness of what it means to be human and to be fully alive the invitation and power rests in your life and hands.  The divisive rhetoric and conflicts ravaging our time can only be changed when you embrace a new way of claiming your place in what it means to be human. The choice is yours – life is at stake!

Robert V. Taylor’s A New Way to Be Human is available at your Indie bookstore, Barnes & Noble and Amazon

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