Thursday, December 31

“The reason of a resolution is more to be considered than the resolution itself.” Sir John Holt

Three guesses as to why (no pun intended - read on for that to make sense) I chose this one for today's post, and the first two don’t count.

Of the W5 questions, I consider ‘why’ to be the most important. It isn’t in journalism, of course, and that’s fine, but to me why is the question. Our motives inform our actions far more than the other way around, some would say entirely (I’d be more on their side), so the quest to understand the why of a choice, an action, a motive, even a resolution, can tell us far more about a given situation or ourselves than any clinical understanding of the facts; the who, what, when or how. When we understand why, we understand something at the deepest level.

I remember, when I was involved in the church, that my pastor considered this concept somewhat subversive. I had suggested that god, a truly loving and caring god, in god’s infinite wisdom and omniscience, would understand the why of us, of our actions, of our thoughts, perceptions, actions and motives, and that, if god, a truly loving and caring god, were even inclined to judge us, that god would do so based on the why regardless of the outcome of our imperfect how or when or what. Apparently that was slightly heretical on several levels and it marked the beginning of a slow exodus out of organized religion for me.

I don’t embrace atheism any more than I embrace a specific theism these days, mostly because I see the concept as, a) too unimaginative, b) contrary to my own anecdotal experience, and c) as rigid and intractable as any of the major religions themselves. I prefer to stay open to the possibilities a bit more than that. I also can’t say as there is any one belief system that presses all of my happy buttons either; I mistrust any and all institutions, for the very act of becoming an institution is a corruption of the natural state of change that marks the character of the world around us. Instead, I prefer the pick-a-part, do-it-yourself method, eclectically and optimistically assuming some truth in the blind-guys-feeling-up-an-elephant explanation for all of the similar yet different versions of faith that sprout up around the world. I assume that most (though definitely not all) seekers have and are looking for an explanation for the unexplainable, and so assume that most (though definitely not all) have caught some piece of the truth even if just by accident. I spend my time sorting through the Olympic-sized pools of murky bathwater looking for whatever pieces of the baby I can find. And that works for me.

This time of year traditionally involves an often comical and almost always ironic tradition of making resolutions that are designed to improve our lives in some way through the next year, sort of a pin the tail on the donkey kind of goal setting and self-improvement. I’ve never been a big fan, admittedly because I have a very, very mediocre success rate at keeping to resolutions. And I’m okay with that too. I’ve learned (and am learning) that my best goals are my simplest ones and that, converse to traditional thinking, they work best when set with very little structure but extremely profound intent. I focus first on the why, then the what, and finally the how and when. (I’ve learned to never try to include any who’s but me in any of my goals – it leaves me wiggle room, and I apparently need wiggle room.) By focusing first on the why of a thing I tend to ensure that if I choose to do something, it will be for the right reasons. I may fail utterly at the what, how and when, but I will know going in that my why was pristine. For me, that self-trust is intrinsic to everything else.

So my resolution is the same one as last year: To continue my search for a perpetually more profound understanding of why.

I’m not suggesting you do the same, but if you like try asking yourself why you are making the resolutions you are making. See if you’re happy with your reasons, if they are the kinds of reasons that make the sacrifices worthwhile making. See if this tiny exercise changes your understanding of the choices you are making.

Monday, December 28

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Attribute this one to my stodgy and stubborn refusal to abandon some semblance of a belief in destiny. There; I said it. Now I’d better explain before my claims of rationality are all thrown back in my face.

When I say ‘destiny’, please understand that I don’t mean that we are all somehow fated to be superstars and have profound and world-altering affects on the global zeitgeist. I’m not saying that god is calling all of us to be the next great prophet. I’m not saying that we, each of us, have within us the predestined mandate, or even the opportunity, to be the ‘next great thing’.

I do, however, believe that each human being has a potential and a talent, and that this potential can be developed to what ever degree it can be made manifest by hard work, diligence and good fortune. That it is our opportunity and perhaps even responsibility to chase after it, figure out what it is, and ‘make the most of it’ in whatever time we are given.

I also hold with Emerson that without listening for that whisper, discerning what that whisper is trying to tell us, and then grabbing onto it tenaciously for the rest of our lives, we will never realize whatever potential we hold within us. This may require some sacrifice, maybe a little idealism, perhaps a re-evaluation of priorities, goals, the definition of what is needed to be whole and free in our world, and perhaps even how we define ‘friend’ and ‘family’. But, if we choose to own ourselves first and commit to becoming whatever it is we have within us to become, then it’s worth every drop of sweat we put into it.

I’ve known people who have found this whisper early in their lives, who were encouraged to find it and taught to guard it. Others I have known were drawn to it like a pigeon heading to its home, somehow grasping an intuitive urge to seek an unknown place inside them with a single-mindedness that was undeniable. They are exceptions and, by definition, have become exceptional. If you are one of these, you have my admiration and maybe a little bit of my jealousy, but mostly my admiration.

More often, we get sidetracked in life. The nurture required to encourage that kind of free-thinking truth-seeking, or the innate drive to find that one thing early in our years, is absent. Instead we are encouraged or bullied into seeking safer journeys, more comfortable goals, and often we never, ever get out of that mode. I fall into this category unequivocally except that (I hope) I have finally (better late than never) committed to breaking free of my mistakes and asides and foibles to find the true “me” and, hopefully, a measure of whatever potential I have within in me in close proximity to whatever that ‘true me’ turns out to be.

I’ve been close to this ‘path’ before, in my teens and in my late 20’s, but somehow got sidetracked both times. My bad, but I don’t have much time for self-recriminations these days. I’ve found that they, too, are self-defeating. So I try to learn from my mistakes and press on, listening for the whisper and setting the compass by that weak signal rather than get distracted again.

 Oh god, I can get easily distracted. If you’re a fan of the hilarious and subversive 90’s cartoon ‘The Tick’, you may remember the episode where Tick and Arthur go to Vegas. Within seconds, Tick spots a slot machine, mumbles something about “free money” and is completely hooked, abandoning the mission that brought them there faster than it takes for him to pull a slot token from out of his leotards somewhere. I feel like that sometimes, easily distracted by the idea of comfort rather than money, of the warm embrace of daydreams rather than the cold reality of actually doing what it is I mean to do. It’s one of the major foibles that I consistently have to battle against.

So, with my foibles (or at least some of the major ones) fully known to me, I’ve managed to find the whisper again and, in spite of the climb up to a place where I can hear it being more of a scrambling, two-steps-up, one-step-down kind of dance than not, I intend to stay committed to the whisper from here, ‘here’ being about ten months or so ago, on in. I don’t know what kind of excellence I have within me, but whatever it is, I’m not getting distracted this time. I’ll chase after it until the day I die, and it will be the chase that motivates me, not any kind of self-delusion regarding catching anything.

I’ll enjoy the road this time and try not to stray off of the path, and that’s enough for me.

This, to me, is the definition of success: to not give up, and to persevere in a worthwhile cause with no mind to necessarily complete anything, or to ‘win’ (whatever that means), but only to chase after it, to make the journey the goal and see where it leads.

AFTERWARD: A couple practical notes. One of the most important activities I use to stay on track is a little exercise I call looking in the mirror. You’ll have heard of it, I’m sure. I essentially try to take stock of all of my limitations and weaknesses, not so I can feel bad about myself, but rather so I know what to avoid doing, what parts of my behavior I need to address, recognize, change or avoid in order to be the true me.

I also need to constantly remind myself that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters. I have no delusions that I’ll ever reach enlightenment, but I’ll chase after whatever that is as best I can for as long as I can, and I’ll be happy knowing I’m chasing. I want to be that dog that chases cars, and who gives a fuck if I ever catch one; I’ll deal with that if it ever happens. In the mean time, I’m gonna love the chase…

Saturday, December 26

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” John Maynard Keynes

Capitalism and the free market system are held up as the cornerstones of the democratic system, the key to our advanced and sophisticated way of life. True believers in the free market system will tell you that the competitive impulse provokes in us the root of drive to create amazing technology, the advances we are responsible for as a race in the fields of science, medicine, math and even the arts. They suggest that greed is a positive impulse in that it motivates us to achieve and strive. That inequality and social stratification is a natural state created by the impulse to surpass others.

They aren’t entirely wrong. Capitalism and the representative perversion of democracy that we’ve lived with for the last 250-400 or so years has been extant during a period of unprecedented advances in technology and in our scientific understanding of the world around us. That system has allowed, and even in some ways inspired, those advances. That’s just simply the truth of it.

To say, however, that it’s the whole reason for those advances, or to suggest that the system works, and then to try to support that assertion with circumstantial evidence of those advances, is to paint a very incomplete picture. Rather than give capitalism credit for the positive things that have happened in the last few hundred years, I’d posit that we have done many of these positive things in spite of capitalism, not because of it.

In truth, capitalism generally only takes advantage of innovation when it occurs outside of the capitalist system. Rarely do truly positive innovations take place within the machinery of capitalism. Most great innovations that truly benefit mankind have been made in the environs of academia or by independent inventors and are then co-opted by capitalism in order to make them profitable. Once new technology or medicine or art makes it into the capitalist system it is monetized, its intrinsic value commuted into a means for revenue generation, often at grossly inflated rates, and the innovation then generally stagnates, turned into variations on a theme to prompt future revenue generation. Sometimes the original innovation prompts new thought, usually outside of the commercial system, and a new innovation is spawned, only to be co-opted again.

Consider electric vehicle technology: The means exist currently to replace almost every surface vehicle used for personal and light commercial use with vehicles that run entirely on electric power, yet we still use primarily fuel-based transportation with small, recent nods to hybrid vehicles that still use fossil fuels, but do it slightly more efficiently. Electric prototypes exist that can run for 1200 kms at 200 km/h on a single charge with a 4-hour re-charge time, and that technology isn’t all that new. In fact, innovations in battery technology have been being bought up by petro-chemical and auto manufacturer companies for years where they sit on the shelf. They’ll come out eventually, when it becomes less profitable to continue to exploit carbon-based fuels than to retool for electric transportation. And that dynamic repeats itself with medicine, computers and all other technologies in the same way.

In essence, capitalism holds us back from truly taking advantage of new innovations, the innovators corrupted by the huge sums of money thrown at them by the commercial giants.

Consider politics: The system we use is generally thought of as democracy, but it isn’t. It’s a version called representative democracy that, when it was developed back in ancient Greece, was the only way to facilitate a system of democracy. We don’t all have one vote except during elections and rare referendums. Instead we abdicate our true democratic ‘rights’, electing representatives to cast votes on our behalf in Parliament or Congress. The technology exists to convert our system to a truly democratic system. Computers exist in more North American homes than not, and most of those have frequent if not continual connection to the internet and secure websites, yet we still vote the old fashioned way, and still vote away our rights to democratic say in how our countries are run. We complain about how our politicians betray us and act in anything but our best interests, but they aren’t the problem – we are. We have voluntarily given up our right to democracy in favor of the lazy comfort of not having to pay much or any attention, in order to enjoy the ironic pleasure of complaining about our elected officials’ performance, and in service to the divisive nature of partisan politics.

So I won’t be saying that capitalism is responsible for any progress we’ve made. The best I can offer capitalism is a sarcastic nod for allowing some of the good things that have happened, and that, in my opinion, is far outweighed by the damage it does.

Today is Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day of the year in Canada. I’ve had the TV on a bit while writing this and watched the same commercial for a major retailer play several times. In the commercial, a family is rushing to leave the house in order to take advantage of some amazing sales that started this morning at 7am. As they run out the door, they leave their infant child in his car seat in the forefront of the picture. Dad closes the door and then, a second or two later, runs back in to grab the car seat and baby. The message? The deals are so good that you’ll forget your family, and forgetting them is okay, cute even. Nice, yeah?

In another one, this one for a cellular network, a law enforcement team is thwarted in their chase to find a criminal by the subject’s use of their more advanced and pervasive 3G network. The message? Use our service because it’s good enough for criminals! Wow… inspiring.

Consumerism is the true foundation of our capitalist/representative democracy. “Bigger, better, faster, more” is the motto. This day, this week, more than any other in Canada and on par with Black Friday in the US, is the symbol of the consumerist and capitalist system. This is the real legacy of our free market system; that we have abdicated our dignity in favor of a vain pursuit for nicer stuff, and hopefully more of it than our neighbors, and if we’re really fortunate and work hard maybe so much money and stuff that one day we won’t have to work any more or will be able to join the truly rich.

Mmmm-mmm, makes me want to go set up a tent and be the first in line with a big, happy ‘Go Capitalism’ t-shirt on to show my pride. Just kidding… You got that, right?

Friday, December 25

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” Arthur Schopenhauer

I mentioned the other day that one of my favorite things about this time of year is that people tend to think more charitably, more compassionately about each other. We apply this especially to friends and family; those that love us back. But this is also a time of year during which we expand our compassion to include some that we rarely think about. This is a good thing, so I appreciate it in spite of disliking much of the commercial co-opting of the seasonal celebration or the religious manipulation that is embedded in the modern mythology.

I also suggested in the last entry that the best thing we might take out of this season is a commitment to carry this greater awareness of the world around us, and our heightened sense of compassion, of empathy, towards everything around us that compromises our world. And so this quote from Arthur Schopenhauer jumped out at me today.

I make a semantic distinction in my own life between ethics and morality, mostly because our culture seems to make a distinction as well. Not that there is anything wrong intrinsically with the concept of ethics; it’s a fine concept when you take the word back to its etymologcal and philosophical roots. But our popular culture has co-opted the word to become something linked to the law, to a subjective approach to ‘right’ or just behavior, and that definition allows those who enjoy manipulating the law or codified ethical standards to their own ends in order to circumvent what is ‘right’. If it’s not illegal, they argue, then it must be okay.

This isn’t the fault of the word ‘ethic’ of course, and discussion of systems of ethics in the world of academic philosophy are still often very pure, but I don’t live in that world. Because I don’t, I prefer the term morality in that it has a different connotation. It refers to an over-arching sense of what is right and wrong in the absence of loopholes and with a more limited subjectivity. And that appeals to me.

Not that morality doesn’t have connotative quandaries of its own… When we think of morality, we often immediately make a connection to religion and, if you know me, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I believe in religion not at all. But I’m more willing to tackle that semantic paradox than I am to try to explain the etymology of the word ethics. And I like the way it ‘feels’ more too. It feels more organic to me, more easily internalized.

So, all of that babble behind us, we come to the quote itself; that the foundational cornerstone of morality is compassion. In other words, if we are capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, if we are motivated to act according to what is ‘right’, it is because on some level we are compassionate. That is to say, we are willing to think of other humans, of other creatures, of our environment and biosphere, as beings or systems at least as worthy of our consideration as ourselves. Perhaps even more worthy in some instances. That is the essence of compassion: To understand that the ‘other’ is worthy of consideration in any calculation in addition to our own considerations.

That’s the power of compassion. It doesn’t over-rule self-consideration or even suppose that doing that would be appropriate – it just suggests that all of the agents in a given system are worthy of consideration when we are interacting with them. Compassion suggests that we think of others whenever we make choices that might affect them.

What we are generally not taught to think about in today’s competitive society is that compassion can be very profitable for all of the agents in a given system. Compassion tends to promote an atmosphere of cooperation, a desire to seek a win-win solution to any problem. American Nobel Laureate, mathematician and economist John Nash (see the movie A Beautiful Mind)  won his Nobel for a mathematical theory and proofs that showed that a cooperative approach involving mutual compromise and cooperation was ultimately more profitable for all involved, including the agent that might have ‘won’ in a more competitive scenario. It just plain makes sense.

And if all of the logical reasons don’t do it for ya, just try it for a while and see how much better you feel about yourself. Use the ‘feel good’ excuse unashamedly. Acting out of a place of simple compassion feels damned good in spite of the minor sacrifices it might entail from time to time, and those sacrifices diminish quickly as you get into it. One of the things that most people enjoy about the Christmas process is giving gifts to others as opposed to getting them. Imagine being able to give consistently, in small and large ways, every day. This doesn’t mean making yourself broke doing it (although I highly recommend that if you want to be really daring), but it can be as easy as the concept of giving dignity to people by treating them with respect.

So please, consider making compassion the cornerstone of your moral, or ethical, system of behavior. Think of others when you have to make a decision; just be aware of how your actions might affect the world around you. Embrace compassion as a way to see the world and watch the world change within your eyes.

Wednesday, December 23

“Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Somewhere along the line over the last ten years or so I seem to have picked up a reputation for being a Scrooge. I happen to not agree with this characterization, but I understand where it comes from. You see, I don’t believe in Christmas any more in the same way that I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, peace on earth, or Martians. And at the same time I do believe in it the way I believe in all of those things.

When I was growing up, I was taught that Christmas was the time when we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus and also that it was a family holiday, marked by the extravagant exchanging of expensive, colorfully wrapped gifts, supplemented by the delivery of even more presents by a big white European guy in a red suit who somehow managed to squeeze his corpulent body down our six-inch chimney pipe. I wasn’t sure what these had to do with each other, but okay, for a good twenty-five or –six years I bought into a varying amounts of our family’s version of the myth.

Especially as an only child, I had a pretty damned good thing going, after all. I rebelled against my parents having too many friends over, partly because my mom went into paroxysms of anxiety over having everything just right, which seemed to me to be at odds with the whole quiet reflection and family themes, but also because it interfered with my whole ‘new toy’ time. So yeah not completely happy, but only children get spoiled, let me tell ya.

I don’t recall a time when I actually believed in the Santa myth. My parents recognized early that I had a propensity for sniffing out the BS, so they rarely tried to pull any wool over their eyes that they didn’t already have pulled over their own. Like the Jesus thing. I think it was the sincerity of their beliefs that led to my acceptance in such a wholehearted way.

There are very few scholars out there who would suggest that a historical Jesus would have been born on the 25th of December, or anywhere near Christmas time, considering that the Romans conducted their censuses in mid- to late-spring. I’d figured that one out by the time I was twenty-five or so, a late realization that I attribute to the level of indoctrination my upbringing subjected me to. It was even later that I started to put the pieces together and realized that Christianity as it is propounded by the major sects is simply a rehash of even older theological mythologies, names and dates changed to protect the sanctity of the new institution that Constantine and what would become the Catholic sect were putting together.

And then there’s the whole consumerism nature of the holiday. I am fair and consistent in disliking almost all of the major Western Culture holidays for this aspect, and have been for years. We propagate holiday seasons that include major material purchase requirements all throughout the year, making the purchasing more and more a requisite to properly celebrating the season, even going so far as to suggest that not spending loads of money on gifts and decorations is somehow unpatriotic considering that, if we abstain, we are potentially doing irreparable harm to the economy. Especially in dire times like these. Even when I was getting tons of cool shit as an only child this struck me as somehow empty and contrary.

Perhaps my least sensible and paradoxically largest peeve is the competition to see who can make their house look gaudiest. Oh my god, what a waste that is. A few lights, something tasteful, doesn’t press my buttons, but anything involving inflatable Santas and an energy-sucking over-abundance of multi-colored lights makes me shake my head.

I was also struck early on by the hypocrisy of the seasonal message; that for this brief window of time, each year, we would unite in celebrating the birth of the Christian god to the exclusion of every other religion, then drop the sentiment as soon as New Year passed (am I being too generous by giving the season a whole week of influence) and go back screwing each other over for money, money, money. Assuming, of course, that you ignore the whole concept of  seasonal consumerism as a de facto screwing process in and of itself.

So, yeah, I can see why I get the Scrooge label.

There are things that I always have and do like about the season though:

- I like that it brings families and friends together, reminding us of the ties that bind us.
- I like that people think a bit more about things like those less fortunate than themselves and peace on earth.
- I like that we try to take an extra day or two off from our busy work lives to visit and rest.
- I like that we often spend a day or two outside around this time of year, enjoying the snow, breathing in a lung or two of crisp winter air.
- I like that it inspires us to be reverent for a moment or an evening, regardless of the reason or religion or context; just to be reverent and thankful.

These are good things, worthy things to enjoy about this time of year. I wish that we could carry them with us all year long, mind you, but if we can only manage them for special occasions… well, I’m a pragmatic idealist after all, so I’ll be thankful for what I can be thankful for.

If I’m preaching to the converted, then enjoy the season in the way only you can – as an extension of a mindset you’ve carried with you all year long; grateful and generous. If not, try something new. Take the best parts of this season with you throughout the next year. Practice reverence and generosity, empathy and integrity through all the seasons. Recognize that the most precious gift you can give to anyone is yourself, your best self.

Buy less, see more, consume less, but be more generous with your most valuable commodity – your self. Consider it a Christmas present from you to everyone that loves you, including you.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Boisterous Bodhi, Rippin’ Rammadan, Festive Festivus, Kickin' Kwanzaa, Super Solstice, Happy Holidays… whichever one works for you, enjoy, be safe, love and be loved.

Tuesday, December 22

“Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” Henry Kissinger

I have a problem with this quote, but I’ll come back to that later.

I actually looked for this one specifically because it so seemed to fit with my feelings in regards to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change last week. The activist and eco-sensitive communities are pretty much untied in their opinion that a) nothing very much worth doing got done inside the conference (although there were some pretty funny protests facilitated outside), and b) politicians are useless at anything that actually requires backbone or common sense, but have a seemingly limitless ability to get stuff done that favors big business and makes no sense whatsoever.

For me, the highlight (and paradoxically, the lowlight) of the conference was the awarding of the 2009 Fossil Award to Canada for Mr. Harper’s continued resistance to anything that smacks of even a hint of ecological responsibility. Canada, former bastion of all causes green, is now the scourge of the free world, mired in as entrenched and myopic a position as is possible, while the ‘third’ world countries, those that would seem to have the most to loose if industrial standards of polluting behavior are actually tightened in any meaningful way, are suddenly the champions of taking the high road.

Harper is a joke, a puppet of the most serious order with less integrity than your average lawyer. Oh yeah, he is a lawyer.

Let’s be clear: The means to move to a more sustainable system of energy utilization, industrialization and transportation already exists. The technology is extant, but it’s less profitable for these buffoons to move towards it in a meaningful way now because it would require a retooling of their industries. Once that retooling is done, there will be more profits than they could shake their canes at, and the process of developing even more responsible technologies would require R&D loans and prompt business startups that would make a huge difference in our stagnant economy. But the profits might not go to the right people, so damn the torpedoes and stay the course, they say. Who cares about climate change, what kind of influence our actions are having on the speed of that change, and what our inaction might result in? There are profits to be made now, dammit, and being responsible or cautious will get in the way of that.

So our politicians line their pockets with our tax dollars while they suck at the tit of commerce and industry, stealing our money now and knowing that a fat appointment to the board of a major corporation awaits them at the end of their ‘public service’, just when they start to receive their monstrous pension payments at the expense of our pension plans and medical coverage.

Any one else feeling ill yet?

Maybe all of those lawyers at the bottom of the ocean that constitute a ‘good start’ need some company.

Oh yeah, my problem with the quote? I think that Kissinger is too charitable in his percentage split. 99-1 might be more accurate.

Or maybe that’s too generous too…

Saturday, December 19

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

It was a driving day today on my little tour of a selection of my ‘friends who live far away’ just in time for the holiday season. Time and money have made the trip shorter than I might have preferred, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to see even a few of those that I respect and love the most. To those I couldn’t reach, Namaste to you too. J

Being a road day, there isn’t much time now to dedicate to a blog entry, but here’s what I got:

I took just about the most indirect, direct route from Red Deer to Cranbrook that I could this afternoon, down through Kananaskis country and the Alberta foothills region. While I’m still happy to be back in BC to live, this is a region that has to be seen to be believed and appreciated, and I can’t say that I saw enough today, that I’ve ever seen enough, or that it’s even possible. Rockies to the west and ranch land and forest on every side, this is truly a beautiful place to move through.

I was fortunate enough to have plenty of time, and so I was able to appreciate the moments, views and solitude of a solo drive more than usual; certainly more than I ever did when I travelled this road in a rush because I had a time restriction. It made me think about all of the times I didn't appreciate this or so many other drives, and about how I was always rushing around doing nothing critical, missing the chance to stand up and live in favor of a maze designed to keep me distracted and blind. Today, for me, was a very ‘live’ day in spite of being on the road for most of it. Tucked in my shaking, rattling, yet very comfortable ’99 TJ, I rolled through a beautiful day and languished happily in the swirl of my own thoughts.

The trip was lazy, contemplative and relaxed, and it made me think of Thoreau. Hence the quote.

I've always loved driving alone for this very feature: I can think and let my thoughts run wherever they choose too. Today I spent time just being thankful for friends and family, something that’s been a major theme for me this year, thinking about the concept of a resource based society instead of one focused on monetary and economic drivers, and blissfully daydreaming about what something a little closer to utopia might look like.

The daydream wasn’t completely unrealistic. I also sent time thinking about all of the obstacles there are between here and there, all the stumbles and leaps we’ll have to make to pursue it, let alone ever come close to reaching for it in a real way. I enjoyed the mental exercise of it all, trying to do hypothetical problem solving around bouts of simply enjoying the dream of a better world.

So, in spite of spending most of the day in a POS Jeep, I felt alive today. The world seemed vibrant and nothing seemed too far off or too impossible. I was pleasantly optimistic without qualification, and that, for me, is a holiday worth remembering.

I may not have been left with too much time to write, but the urge to pound a few words out was too strong to resist, and I have to say – that inspiration is simply one of my favorite things.

Friday, December 18

‘How hard it is, sometimes, to trust the evidence of one's senses! How reluctantly the mind consents to reality.’ Norman Douglas ‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.’ Albert Einstein (attributed)

Although this blog’s readership is small, a question that I have been asked by one of you two fine folk regards why, when the more inspirational entries are so positive and generally ‘feel good’, I consistently go back to darker and less optimistic themes?

Here is the truth of it: I do not have an overly optimistic perspective on the world we currently live in.  People will point to the accomplishments of the human species and suggest that we are marvelous, creatures of amazing ingenuity and persistence, capable of exploring and exploiting the depths and resources of our planet, able by our science, math and technology to take fledgling steps towards exploring the solar system around us physically and the universe beyond by grace of our craftsmanship and expertise. We are, by that argument, miraculous healers of the sick by evidence of the medical marvels we have wrought, and have devised complex socio-economic matrices that allow us to live in a relative state of stability in spite of the fact that we are so many on this little blue marble floating around in space.

I consider these parlor tricks. All of our accomplishments are a minor misdirection compared with what we have the potential of actually accomplishing as individuals and as a species. We are chronic underachievers distracted by a myriad of shiny objects and the ephemeral and illusory concepts of security and comfort.

So perhaps you will understand that, while I want to continually appeal to my (our) better natures, I am also motivated to address all of my (our) self-delusions and discern the reality beneath the glossy top coat that we focus on most of the time; to sweep away the distractions and get down to the reality that they camouflage.

And so I chose two quotes today because I think that, together, they form a nice concept in line with how I see the world, two parts pessimistic pragmatist and one part hopeful idealist.

Mr. Douglas rhetorically points out a simple truth: That we are inclined to deny that which we would prefer not to know; that we live in a world and by a system that is more than not perfect – it is broken. The evidence is all around us, and there are many who try to point it out to us daily, but we prefer not to hear that truth. I’m not suggesting the media here, or even most of mainstream science, and most assuredly not our political leaders, but there are some if we’re willing to look a bit, read the right books, and watch an occasional dissident documentary. Yet, for the most part, we don’t.

That’s why I tend to return to less positive themes regularly – to not do so is to deny reality. To focus on building our little cocoons of comfort, we have to actively repress the truth around us, selfishly concentrating on ‘us’ and ‘ours’, happily abdicating our power and responsibility to the less fortunate and the abject horror that constitutes most of the world around us. Not next door or around the corner perhaps, but just around the globe a bit, or even just a little closer to downtown than we usually like to look at.

That’s the reality of the world we live in. In Mr. Achebe’s words, things fall apart. The cracks get bigger and massive numbers of human lives are allowed to fall through, but we chose to buy the infotainment media lines that say, ‘Hey, it’s not perfect, but life is generally pretty good as long as we can keep the terrorists at bay and learn to survive the now-perpetual state of pandemic that the earth will be in forever and have a nice house and get our kids into good schools and buy that new car and big screen TV.’ We owe it to ourselves to be honest about these things, to face up to the truth of the ‘now’.

And then there’s Mr. Einstein with his big, revolutionary brain, cutting way past the bullshit to uncover, in fewer words and cleaner prose, the higher reality of the situation. Yes, things may fall apart; the ‘now’ may be, in truth, dismal, but it simply doesn’t have to be that way. At all.

That part of me that refuses to lie down for reality is reminded constantly that we are an amazing species; that our ability to develop new tools, greater technologies and more profound and sublime systems of empathy and compassion is barely scratched; that there are those among us who have and are capable of making sacrifices and showing the dedication required to live altruistically in service to our fellow man; and that their level of sacrifice has only been necessary because they are so few – if they were more, not even a majority of humans, but simply a significant ‘more’, a ‘we’ instead of a ‘them’, then the ability to radically change the ways and means of our selfish existence as a species would not only be within reach, e would find that it’s practically poking us in the ribs, slapping us on the face trying to get our attention.

We could end world hunger and poverty completely by spending the combined military budgets of the world for one year in a concerted effort to end inequality (but that’s not very profitable). We could end our subservience to petro chemicals completely inside of a generation if we actually utilized the extent of our available resources and technology and research and development budgets to their real potential (but that wouldn’t be very profitable either).

And most important, most significant, we could, each of us, live more generous, empathic and compassionate lives if we just chose to, just turned off the bullshit on TV and made a choice to give as much as we get, to share as much as we take: To live unselfish lives.

This blog is still about what’s going on in my head, so please understand, if the language seems to suggest that I am pointing fingers, know that I do so standing in front of a mirror. I am the first person I chose to accuse of not living up to our intrinsic potential. Like that beautiful quote I’ve blogged about by Augusten Burroughs, “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” It always starts with our selves.

I don’t foresee a specific day yet when I’ll feel comfortable elucidating on my own thoughts and can leave the quotes behind – I am still inspired by the words that better folk than me have spoken – but I am hopeful and motivated by the thought that one day I might get there. In the meantime I’ll keep Google-ing and spouting off about what the words of my betters have meant to me; how they have, perhaps, in some small way, helped me choose reality over illusion, altruism over self-interest.

And at the very least I’ll continue to know that I’m helping a couple insomniacs get their well-deserved rest at night…

(Yes, I know: The 500 word barrier is being broken more and more often. My apologies, too bad, and I've amened the disclaimer to reflect my choice to not submit to my own tyranny. J)

Thursday, December 17

“What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.” Dominique de Menil

(Things are busy right now so blog posts will be a bit inconsistent for a week or two (if you didn’t notice by now)… if anyone is still reading. J)

Edmund Burke is often misquoted as saying that, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. Burke didn’t actually say this, although it does echo some of his thoughts. But I digress…

Our world is full of atrocities. Genocide in Burma and Darfur (to mention a couple); corporate crimes against humanity through sweat shops, pollution, fraud, etc.; totalitarianism and the support dictators receive from our own governments and our banks; people giving each other the finger for some perceived slight on the drive into the city… the list could be very long. In a world full of laws, jurisprudence and litigiousness, justice is an ephemeral commodity. When it happens, it seems to be either an accident or the result of another crime. Dignity seems somewhat scarce at times.

It can be overwhelmingly depressing to think about, mostly because, since we were all kids, we’ve been taught that there’s nothing we can really do about it. We are raised to feel powerless over everything except, perhaps, our own little corner of the world, the one that exists between the walls of our home. We’re led to believe that, if we can just create that little piece of the world that is just ours, that safe, private place, then everything else can go to hell and it will be okay. We’ll be okay, us and ours, safe in our little cocoons.

Of course we’re capable of so much more. We see examples of it everyday; people who extend themselves and accomplish amazing things that nobody ever really thought could be done: Terry Fox, or that father that pushes and pulls his disabled son through triathlons, or Gandhi, or King., or Mother Theresa. They move us deeply, displaying the kind of dedication and selflessness that only heroes are capable of.

These giants would tell you that we are all capable of being heroes too. Einstein said that our responsibility as humans, in the time that we are given, is to learn to stretch out our arms to include the world rather than hide in our safe little box. That, ‘…our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’

You know - just that. That’s all…

The thought seems daunting to me, but I remember: One step at a time. I don’t ever anticipate that I will do anything as meaningful or special as some of the true heroes of the world have done, but I can start with what’s in front of me. I can start to widen my circle of compassion. Who knows where I’ll end up if I take it one day at a time, right?

Ask most people and they will agree that the world is in trouble. Some consider it a little bit of trouble, the kind that can be solved by electing the right party next time around. Others consider it to be in a lot of trouble on a scale that requires a good old-fashioned revolution. Wherever we lie on the spectrum of concern this quote will either strike a harmonic chord with how we feel or, if we only think the trouble meter is at ‘low’, perhaps prompt a modicum more thought on the subject. Either way, wherever each of us happens to be, surely there’s no harm in widening our circles of compassion individually - just a bit.

Allowing a person a sense of dignity is such an easy thing to do: It just requires that we acknowledge them as a person, as a human being. Maybe we open a door for a random stranger at the mall instead of hurdling them to get in first. Perhaps it could mean stopping to talk to the guy on the street that we usually ignore or throw a buck at. It could mean talking to the person that always, always sits across the aisle, alone like you, on the train or the bus during the commute. And there are always plenty of opportunities to volunteer.

If we all committed to the task of allowing one person their dignity in some small but meaningful way each day; if we all took seriously the responsibility of widening our circle of compassion just an inch by the time we went to bed; if we all just took one little step and then followed it up with another one, how quickly do you think we might find that our circles overlap?

Maybe we can’t all be heroes on the scale of a Gandhi or King or a Mother Theresa, but how much more could we do if we all did a small thing together?

Could the combined aggregate tiny good of six billion or so people make an impact on a scale that rivals the massive heroism of one of the icons mentioned above? How about ten percent of that six billion? Or one percent? If we could pull that off, maybe we could get back some of the dignity that the human race has relinquished by standing by so often.

Just one little step today, and another tomorrow, and another the day after that, not worrying about what anyone else is doing; just me; just you; just a bit more than yesterday. I wonder where it might lead…

Monday, December 14

“Make service your first priority, not success, and success will follow.” Author Unknown

This quote has a number of very interesting economic and business applications, but I’m not going to touch them today no matter how tempted I am. I’d rather focus on this quote from a more personal perspective: How we conduct the relationships in our lives.

A friend of mine was once telling me about a ‘client friend’ she had that ate up a lot of her personal resources.

I stopped her and asked, ‘Client friend?’

She said, ‘Yeah, a client friend: Someone that you are a friend too, but that isn’t really a friend to you. You’re there to serve them in some way for a time, but you know that you’ll never get any dividend other than the warm feeling from helping them.’ I loved the concept and it clarified several relationships in my life when, at different times, I’d been a ‘friend to client’ and ‘client friend’.

I’m sure we’ve all seen that chain e-mail that discusses the concept of friends for reasons, seasons and lifetimes. I think the idea of client friends applies mostly to ‘reason’ and ‘season’ friends if you’re wondering – lifetime friends tend to be ones that involve a healthy level of give and take and mutual support. That said, when I applied the concept of client friends to that platitude, I made a few promises to myself:

  • I promised that I would, if at all possible, never be a client friend. To me this means that I will give in a friendship, any friendship, in whatever way I can, so as to be a benefit to my friends in full measure (if not in the same currency) as they are friend to me.
  • I promised that I would, if possible, always give more than I received in any relationship. Not to my detriment if possible, and not as a form of competition, but just because I want to serve those I love.
  • I promised to receive freely from any friend that wished to give to me. An old folk saying goes something like, ‘In receiving a gift, we honor the giver’. I will strive to not require another’s service, but when it is offered, I will receive it gratefully.
  • I promised that I would never turn away from a potential ‘client friend’. This would be a sort of karmic service, one freely given.
It’s sort of the golden rule with self-imposed interest. It isn’t always the most materially profitable course of action, but then I have a low opinion of materialism, so that works just fine.

I tend to experience a very high rate of emotional and intellectual return though. My account balance for things like positive regard, trust, honesty, respect, love and support, the kind I know I can count on no matter what the circumstances are, is very healthy.

By that measure, I’m wealthy already. And I like that measure.

Saturday, December 12

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." Rudyard Kipling

This is one of my favorite Nietzsche quotes. It touches on a couple themes that are very important to me: Counting the cost of truth, and pursuit of individualism regardless of that cost.

Going against the flow makes for a turbulent path. It usually involves lifestyle changes that affect our views on materialism and the level of ‘comfort’ that we enjoy, how much we consume, how ‘fashionable’ we appear, how much we’re ‘getting ahead’. These are relatively easy sacrifices to make in the grand scheme, and usually this kind of cost is fairly obvious before we start on the path. It’s often why we start.

The harder part is the personal cost. If we have friends that are still committed to a more traditional lifestyle, there can be pressure from them and on them regarding friendship with someone that doesn’t conform. We learn who our real friends are. They aren’t necessarily the ones that are like us, but they’ll accept us regardless of where we’re heading just like we will accept them. Other friends may fall or drift away, and that’s sad but unavoidable.

That’s life.

How far we go depends entirely on how many and which sacrifices we’re willing to make. According to Nietzsche, no price is too high to pay that that sense of deep self-knowledge. Not everyone may agree with that. I find that the more I want to possess that sense of self-ownership and pursue it, the more I’m willing to pay, no matter how far I’ve come (not far) or how far I have to go (a long way).

It’s the journey that matters, after all. 

Update: 01.01.11 - Per the comment below, this quote appears to be from an interview with Rudyard Kipling, although it is nearly unanimously attributed to Nietzsche in popular usage.

Friday, December 11

“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.” David McCullough (1933 - )

Have you ever stopped to think about how you define success? Is it material gain? The relationships you enjoy? Or perhaps the nature and quality of your work? It is a question worth spending some time on.

When I was leading into the life changes I made last winter and spring, it was a question I asked myself a lot. What is really important to me? What are the things that I actually need to be productive and to pursue what it is I feel I am supposed to be doing with my time? If the model of success that I had been trying to horn myself into, like a foot two sizes too big for a shoe, was the wrong model, what was the right one?

Once you’ve asked the questions, if you’ve found the answers, then anything you do in pursuit of that answer is, technically, you succeeding. I don’t think that the purpose of life is to succeed according to anyone’s definition of success but the one that fits for us as individuals. So if you’re chasing after it then you’re a success already. Or as Bob Dylan once said, “What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”

Congratulations. Take this moment to raise your right hand directly in the air, bend it at the elbow so that your hand slides down behind your head, and give yourself a couple quick pats on the back. You’re already doing better than most people.

If you can’t honestly give yourself a pat, then ask yourself why. Ask yourself what crisis or epiphany it is you are waiting for. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come. There’s only today, so get after it.

Thursday, December 10

“The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it causes to others.” Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

I was watching the movie, The Corporation, again and pulled this quote from the introduction of the book that inspired the documentary.

If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the link to the right. I highly recommend it.

The premise of the book, and the primary conceit of the movie, involves the fact that, under international and federal laws, a ‘corporation’ is viewed as a person in the eyes of the law, given rights just like a person, and by the vagaries of law this classification as a person eliminates the liability of the shareholders that own the corporation. The book and movie then observe the behaviors of the corporate ‘person’ as it exists in our society and diagnoses it according to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Mr. Bakan and the film both make a convincing argument in support of a diagnosis of archetypal psycopathy.

In other words corporations are, as the argument goes, by legal mandate sociopathic.

This might not be news to you. It wasn’t a huge shock to me when I first watched it, but seeing the argument spread out the way it is in the book and movie was a revelation just the same.  This is the defining organization of our time, the single most monolithic institution type in existence. It is what we will be remembered for by future societies (assuming we evolve past this one).

I could go on, but it would just become a sermon, and unless you see it, hear it, and recognize it for truth, anything I have to say about it is moot. Conversely, once you do see, you won’t need me or anyone else to say anything – that’s the beauty of truth; it is self-supporting. So download the movie or go rent it at Blockbuster, or go find it at Better World Books (a sustainable business model).

You may not ultimately agree, and that’s your choice, but at least you’ll be able to say you made an informed decision.

Wednesday, December 9

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” Albert Einstein

I love this quote for a few reasons.

First, I just plain old enjoy it when people known for their big math or science brains take the time to think up and say something humanistically relevant. That Mr. Einstein would come up with this tickles my sense of profundity.

One might expect a mathematician of his caliber to be focused on logic, reason and objectivity. Instead he picks three very expansive and subjective traits to describe his ideals; goodness, beauty and truth. They are good ideals, and I love that Mr. Einstein chose them ahead of, say, empiricism or pragmatism.

The real meat of this quote is in the closing sentence though. After holding up his ideals and putting them on display, he makes a comparison to comfort and happiness, two words with generally happy, positive connotations. Yet here he describes them as possessing metaphysical substance fit only for herd animals.

The imagery seems ironic and provocative considering that happiness and comfort are the primary motives of most of the people in our society. It’s hard not to conclude that he is referring to the mass of society as a herd, and the goals of comfort and happiness as hollow and vapid.

Taken in that light, the ideals of truth, beauty and goodness take on a larger dimension. They are massive things worthy of self-sacrifice and self-deprivation. In comparison, happiness and comfort become transitory; ephemeral and insubstantial.

The question I ask myself when I read this is: What am I willing to make sacrifices for? What would inspire me to gladly give up a life of material comforts and traditional models of happiness in exchange for something more profound and meaningful?

Tuesday, December 8

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions." Augusten Burroughs

I have not read any of Augusten Burroughs' books, but from what I have gleaned regarding his past, he survived a particularly horrific childhood and converted his experience into several successful memoires. I love this one line all on its own. It is simply one of the most humble and pathos-filled sentiments I have ever encountered, and it makes me both want to smile and cry.


I can only guess at Mr. Burroughs’ state of mind when he wrote this about himself, but I find it poetic as an expression of the human condition. And I enjoy the concept of intent as a redeeming quality. I like good intentions. They lead to good things...


And that’s all I have to say about that.

Monday, December 7

"Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working." Pablo Picasso

Except for the blog I haven’t written much for the last three days. I spent an evening updating the map for my novel so a friend with artistic ability can continue her project helping me out, spent today working on my TJ so it continues to run, and spent a day volunteering down at the climbing gym with 8-year olds in exchange for a bit of free climbing time.

All worthy endeavors and I don’t feel a bit of guilt, but it doesn’t change the fact that the novel isn’t going to write itself. Today I’m back on mission.

Some great writer, it may have been Stephen King (yes, I consider him ‘great’ – maybe not always, but taken as a whole, and for "On Writing" alone if need be…), said that the difference between a good writer and a successful writer is that the ‘successful one put’s his or her ass in the chair’. Every writer has their own ritual or system for getting the words out, but there is a system, some commitment to discipline that puts them, ass in seat and hands on keyboard 9or pen, or pencil, or microphone) to do the writing.

That sense of self-discipline (or lack thereof) is one of the things that I’ve had to deal with over the last seven months. I have my excuses, ones that are fairly typical for writers: fear of failure, fear of rejection, deep and abiding commitment to procrastination, yada yada… 

I call them excuses instead of reasons because I believe that once we know about a dynamic of some weakness, it stops being a reason and starts being an excuse. If we know about it, we can start to correct it, change it, and make the choices that will eliminate it. If we don’t make those choices, using a flaw or neurosis to explain not doing something just becomes an excuse.
I think I’m mostly over the excuses now. 

The writing discipline has become a good habit now more than not, and when I miss more than a day or two, I really miss it, like an ache in my bones. The blog has helped in the way a hobby can, but it’s no replacement. More like a supplement in place of a meal – it leaves me healthy but still hungry.

So tomorrow I’m placing my ass eagerly back in the chair. When inspiration comes knocking, I’ll be in the right place at the right time. I have a world and characters waiting for me, and I find that I care about them quite a bit. 

What’s your mission? What are you doing, or what should you be doing, so that inspiration can come knocking and get a warm welcome?

Sunday, December 6

“The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too.” Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972)

I was talking to a friend about this concept recently, that there is really, despite what the media might want to suggest, very little ideological difference between the right and left in North America, whether we’re talking about the USA or Canada. The differences in policy and ideological underpinnings are so infinitesimal as to be irrelevant when viewed against the backdrop of the greater ideological spectrum.

The conversation made me grumpy, so I’m getting a little political today.

I remember seeing a diagram in PoliSci 101 in the which the ideological spectrum was drawn as a circle. Pure democracy was at the top of the circle and totalitarianism was at the very bottom with the traditional delineations of ‘right’ and ‘left’ fitting onto the spectrum.

The relative ideological positions of the US Republicans and Democrats were nearly on top of each other just to the right top dead center, while the Canadian parties were stumbling over each other just over and to the left of top dead center. An inset magnifying this area of the circle was required to show the specific relative ideological positions because there just wasn’t enough room in the tight space they were crammed into to make a ledger readable in the larger view of the whole spectrum.

I remind myself of this whenever I am watching any of the infotainment channels at somebody’s house – that there is no legitimate difference between the right and left except that which the media and government magnify and blow out of proportion to give us the illusion that there is actual debate and opposition occurring in government. There isn’t.

The first step to making change is recognizing the truth. Seeing the truth doesn’t solve the problem, but knowing it’s there is a start. At least when we are aware and have taken the blinders off, we know that we have to start looking for some solution. There are some pretty smart people out there working on solutions, (and they aren’t in government) but even their hard work is useless unless we, the people, are in a place to participate when the time comes.

In the mean time we can at least open our eyes and start putting pressure on the governments that do exist to quit being so smug and to start actually working on behalf of the people that elected them instead of the people that paid for the campaigns.

Who did you think government works for?

Saturday, December 5

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” Japanese Proverb

I have some truly remarkable friends, and when I say that I’m also pleased to count my family among them. I’m not sure this is an accurate reflection of my character, but if it were the best measure, I’d be full to the brim.

I’m not talking about the kind of friends that are just kinda fun to hang out with, although they are. Or the kind of friends that are fun to get my drink on with, although they are (on the rare occasion that we are moved to do so). Or even the kind of friends that are there to let you vent and bitch and moan occasionally, although they are.

I’m talking about the kind of friends that will extend themselves and make sacrifices to support me and help me achieve things that would, simply put, be impossible without that help. And the kind that will let me do the same in return.

Our society, by and large, measures wealth the old fashioned way – by what we earn, what we own, what we wear and what we accumulate. We are reminded from time to time, through the odd emotional commercial from the Mormons or a nice card that someone gives us or a motivational poster, or maybe even some twit that likes to post quotes, that there are other things in this world that make us wealthy, but it’s the monetary message that takes up most of the social bandwidth. But I like to remember that it’s my family and friends that are my real wealth.

Friends are a currency that never devalues based on market conditions. In fact, they appreciate when things are at there worst, providing a reserve of security that cannot be measured. And in times of plenty or poverty they are the ultimate entertainment and resource. They help us laugh and cry, they keep things in perspective and keep us grounded, or they inspire us to dream and reach for lofty goals. They help us measure the passage of time and the ways in which we grow and change, and chuckle with us when we realize that we’re moving backwards in stead of forwards, then support us when we make the changes that we need to turn things back around.

I’ve never kept many friends, preferring a few that I could trust and love for a lifetime to a plethora that drifted in and out of my life like leaves with the changing of seasons. If the Japanese proverb is correct then I have to assume that I’ve made some progress on pursuing a solid foundation to my character…

…because the friends I have are phenomenal.

Go me.

Do you have friends that will go to the wall for you? You don’t need to (shouldn’t) mention names, but if you do have them, how have they made an impact on your life? And are you thankful for them? J

Friday, December 4

In life, there are things that you need and things that you want. The secret to being happy is knowing the difference, ignoring the things that you want, and falling in love daily with the things that you need.

No quotations marks, no citation – this one’s mine, so it doesn’t qualify as a quotation per se; it’s just me babbling. I penned this one nine or ten months or so ago when I was making the latest round of changes to my lifestyle, worldview, career and goals. It may be the first and last semi-profound thing I ever say. At least to me…

At that time I was profoundly unhappy in a career that I had come to hate, in an industry that I had come to despise, but that I’d stumbled into nine years previously and then shackled myself to by falling for the standard Western civilization zeitgeist of ‘bigger, better, faster, more’. In spite of having made some worthwhile realizations in my late 20’s, I’d still managed to let myself get sucked back into a deeply consumerist mindset and lifestyle. And I wanted out.

This particular little mantra was a starting point for me; a personal crystallization of what I needed to do to get back in touch with a ‘me’ I could respect, and one that could be happy and healthy again. It was the start of going home.

I don’t have any illusions regarding the originality of the sentiment, and if I’d looked, I probably could have found a quote by someone smarter, more famous and substantially less breathing than me, but this one meant more than any of those could ever mean because it came out of my process, my angst, and my desire to find something more meaningful to me. The grammar is even flawed, but I like that too.

The idea of simplification, focusing on what’s important and trying to reduce what isn’t, is a universal concept. We think that we efficiently live our busy lives multi-tasking away, but the truth is that our brains work far better handling only one cognitive task at a time. We can multi-task, but whether we like it or not, whatever we’re doing suffers for it. The neurological evidence is overwhelming that it applies to the way people process information, but I think it also applies to other aspects of our lives, and to our overall motives, goals and worldview - I know that it applies to me in a very profound way in every part of my life.

I liken it to juggling, a common metaphor for trying to balance our busy, modern existence. Some people are better at juggling than others and can get quite a few balls going at the same time. Others have a hard time tossing one ball up in the air and catching it. Most of us are in between somewhere. But no matter how many we can juggle, I can guarantee you that pretty much everyone, even a master, is at their best with fewer rather than more.

So I’ve let go of several balls, ones I decided I didn’t need. The absence of those unnecessary balls has even allowed me to pick up one or two that I’d put aside while I was busy earning and consuming up a storm, and the revisited balls (writing and family are two) bring me substantially more joy than the ones I’ve left behind at the side of the juggler’s highway. There have been a few sacrifices too, but even those losses are well worth a simplicity that allows me to juggle the balls that are most important to me as well as I am able to juggle them.

So here I am, trying to fall in love with what I need more and more every day. And I gotta say, it’s kinda fun.

So here’s the question: Do you think that you have the right number of balls going? If too many, how do you prioritize the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, and then how do you jettison the ‘wants’ you decide aren’t important enough to hold onto?

Thursday, December 3

"The more freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we bear, toward others as well as ourselves." Oscar Arias Sanchez

The comments and dialog from the last few days reminded of this quote. It, too, is a great reminder that whatever grace or truth or freedom we’ve been granted involves as much responsibility as it does liberty for ourselves.  One interpretation is the cultural one; that in a ‘free’ culture or nation we have a responsibility to individuals or nations that do not enjoy our measure or version of freedom. That one scares me a bit.

That same logic can and has been used as an excuse for fairly overt imperialism since World War II by all of the Super Powers, so while I do believe that it is valid to a degree, I also think that we need to keep our eyes wide open to the fact that politicians use it to manipulate us. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t come to the aid of those less fortunate on the international stage, but let’s be honest and realistic about why our governments are imposing their definition of order and democracy on other parts of the world.  I mean really, we could do a lot more good in Darfur than in Afghanistan, don’cha think?

The definition I prefer for this quote, the one that means the most to me, involves a more internalized application. Whether our personal freedom is social, political, economic, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, etc.; whatever that freedom or combination of freedoms amounts to, in that regard we have a responsibility to give from that place of freedom to others.

It’s the same general concept as the geopolitical application, but the opportunity for it to be abused is dramatically lower because this is something that we monitor ourselves, that we have the opportunity to gauge and check continually based on whatever moral or ethical guidelines direct the way we live our lives.

We can call it paying it back or paying it forward, either one works for me, but I try to remind myself of what it is I’m thankful for on a fairly regular basis and give out of that. Since February of this year, when I made choices to dramatically simplify my life and go in a completely different direction, that list is pleasantly short - a list of needs with very few unnecessary clutter – but the things on it are weighty. It makes me think about how it is that I want to pay back, in the now and in the future, al the little ways I can be generous (without money) to the people I love and the ones I don’t know, and what I’d like to do in the future if I ever manage to finish and publish ‘the novel’. And I honestly get more excited thinking about that than about what new gadget or comfort I might want to buy next.

Who said responsibility sucks?

That’s not the question. This is: What is the freedom or freedoms that you are most thankful for, and how do you pay back or forward? What are the big or little ways that you give from whatever freedom you enjoy?