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.

There’s Something Below the Surface

How many times have you argued with someone and come to the conclusion: “we aren’t going to reach common ground. Let’s agree to disagree”?

I would contend that much of the time when we reach this conclusion, it’s because we are staying on the surface level of an argument. The surface level is what we build up to using building blocks in the form of our past experiences, our morals, and our understanding of truths about the world

Therefore, when we argue about any given topic, if we don’t get into the underlying principles that have led to our conclusions, there’s almost no chance that we can ever understand the other person’s opinion.

Let’s take a topic that is often hotly debated (but not too hotly, I’ve only got 1000 words at my disposal): vegetarianism.

Alan is a vegetarian.

Deanna is on the carnivore diet.

Alan makes the claim: “Everyone should be vegetarian.”

So let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that both of these people are reasonable. There are some unreasonable people in the world, who doggedly cling to their beliefs no matter what. But let’s put them aside for now and say Alan and Deanna are reasonables.

Even for these reasonables, if they debated the question as stated, and didn’t dive below the surface, this topic could quickly devolve into name calling and insults. Deanna could be called a murderer (she was actually a convicted murderer, but that is a red herring that doesn’t factor into this situation), Alan could be called weak and privileged.

But in discussing this point, let’s say that they eventually come down to two very basic, yet deep thoughts about the topic:

Alan:

  1. I believe that animals are distinct from plants and should not be killed for food;
  2. All of the nutrients that humans need to survive can be obtained from plants, they cannot be obtained by strictly eating meat;
  3. Factory farming is the only way we can currently meet the demands for meat in our world.

Deanna:

  1. Animals are lower life forms than humans and we should be able to use them as we see fit, including eating them exclusively;
  2. All of the nutrients that humans need to survive can be obtained from eating meat, they cannot be obtained by strictly eating vegetables;
  3. Animals can be raised sustainably to fill our current demand for meat in the world.

Let’s leave point number 1 for both Deanna and Alan for a moment.

Let’s assume points 2 and 3 could be researched and the actual truth could be determined. Because Deanna and Alan are reasonable, no matter which way the truth points them, they will accept it. So, points 2 and 3 will be researched, the answer is some third possibility that neither of them considered, and they abandon these points.

But number 1 needs further investigation. This isn’t something that can be easily researched. Is it religion or experience or something else that has led them to feel this way? We then journey even deeper into the topic of morals: what is the underlying basis for their morals. What are the differences and similarities? From there, each person can gain a better understanding of why the other person feels the way that he or she does and they can build back up to the surface issue again, perhaps modifying their initial stances based on improved understanding.

I think this is the only way to proceed within our divided society. We need to immediately abandon the assumption someone is racist or hateful or misogynistic because he or she feels a certain way, or says something as a one-off comment. Why does he feel that way? Why does she think that’s the case?

This is the only way we can possibly have debates that actually discuss issues, platforms where people are allowed to make mistakes, and a world where people actually think about why they feel a certain way. I can’t see us remaining this divided forever. It will come to an unfortunate breaking point unless we all do our parts in attempting to understand one another.

How Far Do Our Morals Extend?

I ask this question with a very specific purpose in mind. But let me preface this by saying that whether you are right wing or left wing when it comes to politics or sides of a chicken matters little to me as long as you’re a reasonable person. I say this because I firmly believe that reasonable people, on both sides of the aisle, agree on almost everything. It’s the very minute details that lead to heated arguments and tipping toward one side or the other.

Don’t get me wrong, these minute details are incredibly important. they can lead toward a vote that will change the lives of millions of people for generations to come. So, no matter how small these details may seem, they are important.

But back to what most reasonable people agree on. I would go as far as to call these our shared morals. Things that we just kind of accept as the right thing to do or say and with which all other reasonable people feel the same way. I would argue that one of these things that all us reasonables agree on is that we shouldn’t kick someone when they’re down, friend or foe (metaphorically and literally speaking. Except for sanctioned MMA matches).

I was shocked to see a very distressing thing happen on Facebook (I know distressing and Facebook rarely go together…): a Facebook group of which I am a part, that has very partisan leanings, posted an article about a politician from the opposing political party that has to step down from his post due to a cancer diagnosis. It was right there in the headline they posted: “BLANK Steps Down Due to Cancer Diagnosis.” But the person who posted this article didn’t JUST post the article. She went on to mark it with a caption that had celebration balloons and a question of whether or not there was anyone from “our” party who could run and take over the seat.

Hoping to see that maybe someone, anyone would respond in the comments and at least acknowledge that this person, who is dealing with a life-changing disease, remember, is deserving of some dignity and that celebrating this was in poor taste. Instead what I found was that not a single person pointed out the fact that this politician was soon to be dead and maybe the tone of the post should at least include some perfunctory condolences. Instead they excitedly brought up potential candidates and moved past the issue as if the person didn’t exist. I sent out some messages to the people involved in the matter asking their thoughts, but did not hear back. At least not yet. But it does look like the original poster at least removed the celebration balloons.

So, here’s my unreasonable take on the matter: if you can’t accept that all people deserve dignity, no matter how much you disagree with them, you are not reasonable.

Day 30: We All Need to Write

Many people are horrified by the prospect of writing. However, I think it’s important that we all write in some capacity, daily.

In no way am I suggesting that we all need to become full-time writers. The world couldn’t function that way. What I’m advocating for is that everyone write something, anything, every day.

It can be something creative, funny, impassioned, nostalgic…whatever you like.

But when we leave this earth for whatever awaits us after death, the staged pictures and videos of us aren’t going to leave our friends and family with any way to speak with us. And no, I’m no lunatic who thinks that in a Harry Pottersian way we can talk to books and they will talk back, of course not.

But with well-thought-out words, we can comfort our loved ones, and really anyone for that matter, whether we’re still on this astral plane or not. And in this we way can communicate no matter where we are physically or spiritually.

For example, I still randomly come across these old text messages, Facebook posts, tweets, and other written things that my dad had posted before he died. It’s fun to read them and it’s much more of an experience than is looking at old pictures of us (although that can be fun too. I didn’t forget about you, photographer lobby).

Additionally, I’ll occasionally stumble upon old letters or notes from others who have passed, such as those from my grandpa. And him being the incredibly practical person he was, it always amazed me that he had gifted me the following framed pictures with this caption on the back

:


On a bigger scale, we can see how much we value writings from people like Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Greek stoic emperor who wrote in his “Meditations” daily. There’s no way that he would have written the things he did so that other people could read them, they were clearly intended for his eyes only. But looking back at these passages, we can see that even the most powerful person in the world at the time sometimes didn’t “have the energy to get out of bed” and had to remind himself frequently of “the beauty in the world” just to keep on living. This shows us how anyone, no matter how important or valuable, can become depressed and has to search for ways to deal with it in order to get through the day.

But it all comes back to writing. If we didn’t have the work of Ann Frank or other key historical figures, would we have the knowledge we have now?

If I didn’t have these aforementioned messages to look back on, I’d probably quickly forget the influence of those who had come before me. For example, I have no idea how my great-great-great granddad viewed the Albanian tax system he had to deal with, but it sure would be fascinating to read about. If only he’d kept a diary…

So, whoever you are, no matter how small you think your role in the world is or your influence on others, know that your writings could one day help someone who is struggling with the same things you are. Or they may lead a future script writer toward a key portion of history for a period piece they’re working on. Or these writings might be immediately consumed in a fire after you go. But either way, you’ll have written down your thoughts and even if you’re the only one who ever reads them, at least one person will have become better through your writing.

So ends my 30 days of daily blogging. I might keep going every day, or I might go to once a week. I make no promises. But I’ll see you all soon on here in one way or another. Thanks for stopping by!

Day 29: Assigning Value

The other day I was watching my favorite Scottish Vlogger, Dale Phillip to find that he was once again on one of his many trips to India. On such trips, he samples the local fare, interacts with the people who live there, and generally soaks in the environment of that beautiful country.

But every time he buys anything, he always shows the exchange rate at the bottom of the screen. Often, he’ll be able to get a considerable amount of food or a nice-looking article of clothing for less than a dollar or for a few dollars at most.

For example, I watched a video where he ordered a humungous plate of rice, meat and veggies and it only cost him the equivalent of 30 cents.

The vendor who sold it to him looked thrilled to receive a 2 dollar tip.

Setting aside the fact that these currency exchange rates probably necessitate an in-depth discussion of economics, world politics, and philosophy to fully understand (mostly because I probably wouldn’t understand or follow the discussion very well); I was simply struck by the fact that money has legitimately no value as a physical object. It can’t be used as a tool, it can’t be eaten…it is simply used to place value on something else that has actual value.

And yet, we spend our entire lives trying to accumulate more and more of this money. We spend extra time at the office causing us to miss time with loved ones, vacations, and celebrations all just to make a few extra dollars.

Many of our conversations are centered around the price of things and how we can or can’t afford to do something.

I literally can’t imagine a world where money didn’t exist. I’ve seen these movies set in medieval times where they barter and trade, but it honestly seems like a fairy tale, like things never could have been that way.

I’m also, by no means, advocating for us to go backward in time to a bartering society. I don’t think I’d do very well as a fish monger who has to barter seasonally with the tailor, old Tom, to get my son a new pair of pleated pants (although I would enjoy changing my LinkedIn profile to reflect that I’m a fish monger. And I would enjoy getting to know this “Old Tom” I keep hearing so much about).

I just wonder about how we assign value to things and if, because moments with friends and family can’t be assigned a monetary value, we have few qualms about neglecting them for activities that can generate more wealth. If we were forced to assign a monetary value to something like “an hour with family”, how much would it be worth in USD?

Anyhoo, we’re winding down this 30 for 30 blog edition tomorrow. I’ll continue posting, but I don’t know if it will be with as much frequency. We’ll have to see about that.

Tune in tomorrow for the finale, it’s gonna be a doozy (assuming I can come up with a topic that is indeed, a doozy).

Day 28: Planning for the Future

It seems that when it comes to future planning, there are two extreme views:

  • Extreme 1: we need to plan every detail of our lives, and for every possible eventuality;

And

  • Extreme 2: we have no control in this random world so que sera, sera.

Side note: I wonder who this Sera person was? He or she must have been quite the stunner to be incorporated into such a common phrase.

Obviously, as is the case with most things, the majority of people will fall somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum. It’s tempting to think that the extreme planner (extreme 1) will make life better for those within his sphere and that the Sera-lover (extreme 2) will make life better for themselves, but not necessarily for those around them.

However, I’d like to make the case that the planners don’t often make life better for themselves or for anyone else. Their intentions are good, of course. I have no doubt that these people plan so extensively because they think it’s the only way to guarantee that their loved ones will be taken care of to some degree when they are no longer able to provide for or help said people.

But adhering to this philosophy comes with costs:

  • These folks don’t live in the present, ever.
  • Because the future is uncertain, it’s impossible to know whether they’ve accounted for every possibility, leading to a consistently anxious state.of mind.
  • Eventually, if they live long enough, they are likely to find that the time they spent planning for some future scenario could have been better spent with friends and family, enjoying those moments that have long since passed.
  • Everyone has less access to the extreme #1 folks, leading to generally worse relationships, thereby decreasing the quality of friends and families’ lives as well.

On the other hand, our extreme number two’ers do not have any of the same issues, at least not to the same degree. Could they experience anxiety? Sure, of course. Could they have regrets later in life from not having planned for something? Potentially. Might they make life difficult for other people because of their lack of planning? Definitely possible.

But this goes back to what I referenced earlier about falling in the middle: very few issues are black or white, but rather most are grey.

You can set aside some money for your 401k or your horse’s college fund (eventually they’ll be allowed to learn in universities. The horse education lobby has been pushing for this right for years now). You can eat well and exercise when you’re young so that you’re healthy later in life.

But at the same time, you can spend 20 dollars on a movie night with the family once a month. You can order pizza and ice cream a few times a year, or skip a workout here and there.

The happiest and most successful people seem to be those that understand that life requires balance. But falling too far toward the planner side of the spectrum will set you up for a tough, rigid life. Falling too far toward non-planning could come with issues as well, which were discussed and are obvious. But at the very least, you’ll enjoy the only thing in life that is promised: the present.

So if you can’t seem to navigate your way toward the middle of the spectrum, assume you’ll probably live for awhile, but it’s possible that you’ll die tomorrow. Wear those suspenders and that rakish derby you’ve been nervous about showcasing in public. In general, cut yourself some slack. Try to enjoy this life we’re all living, one day at a time.

Day 27: Absolutely, I Am Relatively Sure…

Recently I’ve been thinking about how I view the world. Specifically, how do my morals and thoughts about how things should be relate to my underlying beliefs? After some good discussions and some introspection, I think I fall closer to an absolutist view of the world than a relativist one.

Let’s better define some terms:

an absolutist would look at a situation and the context surrounding the situation would have no sway on their opinion. For example, if a person believed it was absolutely wrong to take action that results in the death of an innocent person no matter what, they would never be ok with an innocent person dying by another’s hand, even if this meant that many other people would be saved as a result.

A relativist who looked at this issue of killing an innocent person would probably agree in 99.9999 percent of situations with the absolutist. However, there may be some situations where they would say that a greater good will be served by the death of an innocent person.

You can demonstrate these differing views with moral trolley dilemmas, other hypothetical situations, or even very real situations if you want to figure out where you fall on the spectrum.

The problem I have with a relativist perspective, is that if you bend your moral rules once, it gets easier and easier to do so as more situations present themselves.

Another example: if you feel it is completely objectionable to wear white after labor day, and you are an absolutist, you will not do it. Ever.

On the other hand, if you are a relativist, you may see an incredibly cute white muumuu that you just have to wear to the parent teacher conference. It matches your blue Chuck Taylor’s perfectly!

And then the next week, you see a white art smock that would look totally grunge-tastic for an upcoming concert where the Nirvana tribute band that also likes to make very meta references to how much older they are than most of their fans: Smells Like Teen, Can You Hear It? is playing. And slowly but surely, you stray from your code of honor and before you know it, you’re making exceptions more often than you’re adhering to your original morals.

When it comes to “white clothes after labor day”, who cares, right?

But when it comes to something serious like murder or torture…the conversation gets very real, very quickly.

So, I self-identify as more of an absolutist. What about you?

Day 26: Times, They Aren’t a-Changin’

Wouldn’t that be a better song title? Well, perhaps not. But I digress…

It’s easy to look at things in the context of them being ever-changing objects. people start to show signs of aging, blankets start to fray with use, milk cartons grow larger with advanced civilizations of mold taking hold of the territory.

But there are also many things that don’t change: wearing high waisted slacks has always looked weird and always will, malts always have been and always will be better than milkshakes, and being kind to others is the best way to go through life.

I’ve referenced it before, but one of my favorite quotes is by the famous author and philosopher Aldous Huxley: “it’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”

It was true when he said it and it’s true now. As far as kindness goes; the times they aren’t a-changin’.