Positivity Day 4: Giving Machines

When I think of the typical vending machine, I think of a machine where I can make a frivolous purchase of unhealthy food. They are usually filled with candy bars or sodas and located in places where a person might reasonably want to stop and use them for such a purchase.

But in 2017, giving machines redefined what a vending machine can be.

This program, which has expanded each year since it began, enables people to make a donation for someone in need through a vending machine. Essentially, the person selects an item from the vending machine list, such as a meal for a family or a basketball; and receives confirmation that their donation went through.

Giving machines aren’t complicated, it’s essentially something that could be done through the computer. But they do provide a new fun way to reinforce the need for giving to those less fortunate.

If you’ve got some extra money lying around this holiday season, track down a giving machine in your city. Or, alternatively, just consider helping someone in need from one of the many established charities out there.

Positivity Day 3: More Environmental Ingenuity

Johnny Appleseed has returned to our time!

A fashion designer recently developed a shoe that can grow into an apple tree once the wearer has worn it out.

In a completely unexpected development, these shoes contain an apple seed encased in fertilizer, hidden within the sole. Once the shoes have run their course, instead of throwing them out, all one needs to do is plant them in the ground. Most of the material will biodegrade as the seed takes root and grows into an apple tree.

This is the type of design that is so ingenious it’s almost hard to imagine. It’s very unlike an invention where you smack your head and wonder “how didn’t I think of that?” Rather, this is an invention that very few people could ever imagine, let alone bring to life.

If you’re interested, check out the Kickstarter page and secure your pair!

Positivity Day 2: New Ocean Cleaning Efforts

We’ve all seen the depressing images of garbage island and marine life trapped by plastics and other waste. Ocean pollution is a serious problem and one that can sometimes seem insurmountable.

Luckily, there are people who never give up on these problems.

Recently, a group from Indonesia presented findings on their project to clean up the oceans through the use of sound waves. Through testing, the group determined that their prototypical method was able to filter out microplastic particles from both seawater and freshwater at nearly 60% efficiency. With further tweaking as well as the backing of larger groups and governments, this technology can improve in efficiency and may lead to a realistic means of cleaning the plastic out of our oceans.

Reading anything about climate change or pollution can make it seem like we have no hope and no chance to overcome the challenges facing us. To be fair, giving up is certainly an option. We could just ride this out for the rest of our lives and “come what may”.

Fortunately, there are many people who will never stop trying to improve the world. There are researchers who have dedicated their lives to fixing problems such as ocean pollution. Furthermore, there are many people at a local level who encourage recycling and reuse efforts. In Pennsylvania, Hard to Recycle Drives are frequent occurrences that keep pollutants out of landfills and oceans. No matter where you live, a quick google search will lead you to a similar event in your area.

We can fix the man-made problems of the environment. All it will take is some creative problem solving and some slightly extra effort on each of our parts.

Positivity Day 1: The Early Pandemic Days

One of the greatest things I saw early during the pandemic came from the most unlikely source: Twitter.

That’s right. The website where we slowly gained insight into the questionable political views of celebrities. Where we saw reposted videos of cats getting stuck inside turkey carcasses. Where we watched many of the older members of our society post a steady stream of caps locked messages or random punctuation marks as they tried to respond to a tweet by Hugh Jackman.

But Twitter provided people with an outlet during the pandemic, especially early on. It was a way to stay connected with friends, family, and even strangers.

One of the greatest things I saw on Twitter during this time, was this thread: https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1242631908598611968

If you refuse to click links you’re uncertain about because you think I may be rick-rolling you again, like I used to do back in the day, I understand. I’ll summarize below.

LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow fame, tweeted about his desire to read over live-stream for children and families who needed a distraction from COVID-19 woes.

He mentioned that he is having trouble navigating the legal issues surrounding using many stories, and therefore needed to resort to using only those stories in the public domain.

But then, renowned and extremely prolific author Neil Gaiman responded to Burton’s tweet by giving permission for LeVar to use any and all of his stories for the reading project in question.

There was no talk of money, credit, or anything that usually follows from an event like this. It was just two people, with huge platforms and unique abilities, who came together to try to help others feel better in a small way during a difficult time.

It’s one example of how just asking a question with pure intentions can lead to a happy outcome for everyone involved.

Until tomorrow,

Seacrest Out!

30 Days of Positivity: I Need Help With Topics!

Greetings, my millions and millions of loyal readers. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long.

Recently, I have noticed that I’ve become more pessimistic about many things in the world. In all honesty, I think this point of view is warranted, and necessary in some ways. However, it does not always lead to happy conversations (or pieces of writing).

Therefore, throughout December, I’m going to write a piece a day about something positive.

That’s where you come into play, my faithful, literally billion readers. I need help with positive news stories, personal stories….or whatever else is making people feel good.

So if you come across something that makes you smile, if you have something in life that has made you happy or restored your faith in humanity (and you feel comfortable sharing with me, who will post it to the 6 billion people who frequent this blog. We’re going to get that last billion soon, I know it!); please send it my way.

Until then, entire world. Buh-bye!

There are Such Things as Right and Wrong

When it comes to a dilemma, decision, or question of any kind, there are right answers and there are wrong answers. The easiest way to look at this concept is through math. 2+2=4. 2+2 doesn’t equal 5. Nor does 2+2=a delicious elderberry pie. 2+2=4 and we can prove it through examples, logic, mathematics, and probably other ways that I can’t even imagine.

However, it’s possible that someday, we will learn that 2+2 does not equal 4. Maybe a more advanced alien race will come down to earth and show us where we made an error in our math rules. We might learn that 2+2 actually equals “molten lava”.

Once we get our proof that 2+2=molten lava and not 4, we will now realize that 2+2=4 was wrong. It looked right. It seemed to add up. But we now have much stronger evidence that 2+2=molten lava.

This now rock-solid proof of 2+2=molten lava would show us that, even though we were pretty certain that 2+2=4 before, we now see that the slight room for error was justified. We can also see that things we did based off of the belief that 2+2=4 were wrong. We were operating off of a faulty elemental belief.

That example is a little bit insane. It does, however, provide a solid foundation for slightly more abstract points in the discussion of right and wrong, which is where we will go next.

“Racism is always wrong”. I think (I hope) that most people would agree with this statement. But when it comes to more sociological or abstract items, some strange things happen in the brains of many people.

I think almost everyone you meet will agree that racism is wrong, but many of those people probably participated in racist acts at some point in their lives. For example, a white person may have dressed in blackface for a sketch or costume 20 years ago. At the time, this person may not have had any intention of acting in a racist manner. But either way, he did. He acted wrongly. Even though this person was wrong, he will many times try to find a way out of admitting fault: “it was common back then” or “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings” or “it was meant to be funny, not racist” or other common defenses often come up in these situations.

As hard as it is to accept, there is right and there is wrong. We may not know what the right answer or action is, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a right answer or action. Our lack of knowledge does not absolve us of our mistake. Even if there was no possible way we could have ever known that we did the wrong thing, we still did the wrong thing. Unfortunately, instead of taking responsibility for our mistakes, many of us try to push back, redefine terms, or lie.

Luckily, there seems to be a movement where the average person is acknowledging the existence of right and wrong. Where apologizing earnestly and without qualifiers is a common practice. Even those who acted with the best of intentions, but made a mistake, are starting to realize the weight of their words and actions.

It’s good to see, but we still have a long way to go.

Can You Create Something From Nothing?

“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

“They always win, how in the world can they lose? Ooooooo They never lose, never lose. BecauseĀ the rich get richer. And the poor keep on getting poorer.”

One of these quotes is from the Bible and the other is from an O’jays song. See if you can guess which is which. The answer may surprise you…

The original question, “can you create something from nothing?” can be examined in a number of ways.

Firstly, we could look at this in a prime mover metaphysical sense. For example, how could the universe develop from nothing? People often point to this question to make a case for the existence of god. These discussions are fun, but I don’t understand them well enough to effectively weigh in. So, let’s stick with slightly less abstract matters pertaining to this subject.

Looking at it from a physical perspective, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around something coming from nothing. For a tree to grow, it needs the seed which it sprouted from as well as the soil, water, and sunlight that nourished it. It isn’t just nothing and then a tree without an “in-between” phase. But is that all it needs to grow to maturity? What else allows a tree to thrive for hundreds of years and surpass the ones around it?

Let’s treat this tree like one in a story book and say it has the ability to work towards growing as well. It’s capable of putting in effort. So, it gets enough water, soil, and sunlight and it works hard to grow. It’s grown past all of the other trees and now, it is shading other trees from getting any sunlight, preventing them from growing. But our tree can keep growing forever and ever at this point, the sky is, very literally, the limit.

That tree’s hard work did not lead to its growth. The fact that it had every resource it ever needed in order to thrive allowed it to gather even more resources. The rich got richer. Or in this case, the tree got…tree-ier.

The point is, if you are successful, stop telling people you achieved this success because you worked hard. There were thousands/millions/billions of other people who worked just as hard as you and never experienced success due to a variety of factors including where they were born, when they were born, the environment they grew up in, the functional ability of their brains, and on and on.

Billionaires are now routinely flying to space for a thrill while the lowest paid workers in their company are denied bathroom breaks throughout the day.

But we keep defending these billionaires, saying that they worked hard and earned it.

They didn’t create something from nothing. They multiplied the something they were given by gathering every resource they could in excess and denying others these same resources.

So, what is the solution?

It’s really not that complicated. We know what is included in the basic elements of living: food, shelter, clean air, and I would also include healthcare (there are probably a few others that could be debated). These things, at a minimum, provide a person with dignity and the ability to continue living.

Raising taxes and allocating more funds toward people receiving these resources would solve the issue. This way, less people would have to eat out of dumpsters and sleep on park benches until they’re woken up by the sound of their boss’s rocket taking off for another trip to the moon for the fun of it.

It shouldn’t be hard for us to agree that everyone deserves the necessities of life and a little bit of dignity regardless of where they come from or how hard they’ve worked. But somehow, it seems like this is the hardest thing in the world for us to accept.

Commitments

A strange trend I’ve noticed in the past few years is the following: no one will commit to anything until the very last minute. It’s like we have to ensure that nothing better will come up before we agree to something. What has caused this shift from where people used to commit to plans, to where we are now?

My initial thought was cell phones.

Nowadays, we can instantly and immediately change plans and make new ones by sending a quick text message. Back in the day, things had to be planned in advance and people had to agree upon meeting locations, plans, etc. Otherwise, no one would be able to find each other or get together at all.

But now, with a 3 second text message, we can completely flip plans and end up downtown for an art exhibition on platypuses (platypi? that makes me think of a plate of pie. MMM..plate of pie) rather than uptown for drinks.

However, I don’t think cell phones are to blame.

I think we’ve all consciously (or subconsciously) agreed that our society should be value-driven. We prioritize doing whatever will generate the most value and we think that everyone else should accept this as a necessary aspect of signing the social contract.

For example, if we had plans to meet up with a friend for a drink, this friend should totally understand if we cancel last minute or wait to commit to this drink until the last possible second. What if our favorite band announced a pop-up tour down the street at the same time as our get together? What if our boss decided to take us all out after work to celebrate the end of the week? You should understand that! It will bring us more value than meeting up with you!!!

This brings me to unrestricted capitalism, which seems to be the direction that a large chunk of the world thinks we should push towards. I see it like this:

  1. In a capitalistic system, having more capital (money) is good.
  2. Justifying obtaining more capital is, therefore, excusable in many situations.
  3. Capital is an end in a capitalistic society, not a means.
  4. In fact, capital is the most important end.
  5. People are not seen as ends, but as means to obtain more capital.
  6. Therefore, using means (people) to get more capital is perfectly acceptable.

These capitalistic values are so strongly reinforced in our society that it has pervaded our relationships with friends, family, and people in general. Few see an issue with someone getting stomped on and removed from a job so that someone else can get a promotion and obtain more capital. Phoning it in as a student and only studying to pass the test is the norm in schools, where almost no students see the value in education for the sake of education.

So something as trivial as cancelling plans with a friend last minute may not be be devastating to our society. But our dogmatic devotion to capitalism may be.

Incentives

Has there ever been a time when you’ve truly done something just because it was the right thing to do? Or even just purely for the sake of doing it?

It’s almost impossible to think in such a way as a human. We don’t do anything just to do it.

  • We clean for a reason:
    • To make our guests feel more comfortable so that they don’t have to sit on a pile of old records and magazines while they swat away fruit flies;
    • Because we like the look of a clean room;
    • Because our roommates made us…
  • We help people for a reason.
    • It looks great on that empty section of our resumes under Volunteer Activities
    • We can tell our friends about it and make them feel bad that they aren’t helping someone else.

You could take any situation and figure out that there was some underlying incentive for performing a conscious action.

The problem is that many of us tend to only do things to receive extrinsic rewards. Our incentives are reserved to cookies, trophies, or admiration of our peers.

But when these extrinsic incentives lose their appeal, we begin to see no purpose in doing certain things: “if there is no reward for helping this person, why should I bother?”

This has to be one of the biggest fundamental faults of our society (and if you’re truly cynical: what may lead to our ultimate collapse). Extrinsic rewards cannot be enough to keep us afloat.

We need to reserve incentives to intrinsic rewards: feeling good after helping someone, knowing that we did the right thing without someone else validating us.

Ever the optimist, I hope that this can become a reality. That we can do a good job because it feels good to work hard and not because we will get a good letter of recommendation. That we will volunteer because others need help, not so that we can tell our friends about how tired we are from being so selfless.

If you are religious, good deeds for the sake of good deeds are an integral part of your religion, so do them for that reason. If you’re not religious, good deeds should be done to show religious people that goodness doesn’t need to be guided by religion.

Whatever your core beliefs are: STOP doing good things so that you can be recognized and rewarded. Instagram has enough posts about how important your volunteer work is. Do good things because good things are good…was that too many goods?

Does Technology Control Us?

Recently, I’ve started going on runs without my phone. I used to always bring it with me, even if I wasn’t playing music. It just felt like it made sense to have my phone with me while I ran. After all, if I stopped for even a second at a traffic light or because there were too many people on the sidewalk, how would I pass the time until I could run again? Or what if a client emailed me while I was out and I didn’t get to it in time?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to break the habit. I felt naked leaving the house without my phone. It felt as horrifying as forgetting to wear a shirt to the grocery store.

But slowly I came around to the idea of not having my phone in my pocket at all times, and the change was dramatic.

I have legitimately noticed an improved ability to think: I can problem solve through issues that come up in my head in a more logical manner.

I feel less anxious: I’m not worried about the work I have to get done or the things I have to do. I can look up and enjoy the sight of birds flying by, squirrels hiding their nuts from me, as if I would take them. Unless…

I’ve also noticed that my technology does not like being left home alone. That I have more notifications when I get back home. I get more news alerts, more social media updates, and more app notifications.

I’m not sure when it happened, but I think we all agreed that technology should take the wheel and we should just sit back and relax like the giant people in Wall-E.

Of course, we could all agree that we don’t want this technology anymore. We could all come to a unanimous decision that we want to return to rotary phones as our sole means of communication and horseback riding as our sole means of transport. But…We’re not going to do that. We’re just not.

So maybe technology is in control to some extent, but it doesn’t have to control every aspect of our lives.

We have the ability to leave the phone at home when we go out to dinner. We can go for a walk without technology.


Those Facebook and LinkedIn updates can wait, I promise you.