Day 24: Bonum Sine Ratione

Sorry, I accidentally sat on my keyboard for that title but…wait a minute…that actually looks like it might be close to the Latin for “happiness without reason”…Let’s run with that.

We do like to have fun here, don’t we? But seriously now.

I saw this phrase written in some language on a shop sign the other day and it made me think about happiness. Why do we always need a reason to be happy? Conversely, why do we need a reason to be sad, or upset, or scared? Sometimes we just feel these emotions, and that’s ok.

We often try to dampen our emotions under the pretense of being professional or making other people feel comfortable. But what if we normalized showing emotion? How wonderful it would be to share our happiness with others, making them feel a little better. Or, for that matter, share our sadness, lessening the burden on ourselves.

We’re not living in ancient Sparta where emotions are a sign of weakness. We now understand what a source of strength they are and what power we can derive from them. I’ve written before about the importance of controlling our anger, but that doesn’t mean we need to completely eliminate it. In fact, if we started eliminating emotions, regardless of how negative they may feel to us, it would probably lead to a very different, much bleaker world. What would be the point of art or free time without the emotions necessary to appreciate these things, for better or worse.

Anyway, I like that topic. I’ll leave my laptop open on my chair more often so that I can sit on it and generate another free write.

CIAO!

Day 23: So, Tell Me About Yourself?

No, I haven’t lost my mind like an old man at the deli by asking this question. But it’s always interesting to hear the responses. Invariably, (after stating their name as if they’re presenting a new line of Lee Dungarees to a group of investors) people describe their job or what is currently filling up most of their time. “I’m a doctor”, or “I’m a student”, or “I’m between jobs”, or my personal favorite that I heard recently: “I’m a serial entrepreneur” (become a cereal entrepreneur and we’ll talk…).

Why is the way in which we make money the biggest part of our identity? There is no doubt that this is an important fact about us. It’s a big part of our lives and it partially helps tell our story. But to be one of the first things that we tell people about ourselves before we talk about our family, friends, and interests…It’s a bit sad that this is the convention.

Also, for those who are stay-at-home parents or taking some time off from an official job, there’s almost an apologetic tone expected by the questioner and conveyed by the answerer. It’s as if when someone isn’t producing something that can be measured in monetary value, he or she is worthless and should apologize to society for existing.

If you’re proud of your job, that’s wonderful. I’m sincerely happy for you. But I think it’s important to know why. Is it just so that you can measure yourself against others and against yourself? So that you can say: “I did this incredibly interesting thing at work today and it was so interesting that I got paid extra for it.” Or is it because you think that your dedication to your job is the only way your family will be proud of you?

Is there nothing else in your life you can even consider worthy of talking about?

Perhaps this is a big statement, but personally, I think we’re reaching a mental breaking point as a society, and our reliance on money as an ends instead of a means is a big reason why. There are more people than ever on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs and I don’t think that the pandemic is fully to blame,.This has been happening for years. Whenever I’ve seen a new client over the past 10 years, I’m astounded that there is maybe 1 out of every 10 that isn’t regularly taking a medication for anxiety reduction. This includes kids, athletes, parents, lawyers, doctors, retired people….every type of worker and person you can think of.

There is so much expected of us at all times and we pass this pressure onto everyone around us just as they pass it on to everyone around them. And truly: “There is only so much heat a pot of water can take before it boils over.”

I don’t know what the right way to address this issue is, however, as always I think if we just took a step back and realized that everyone is worthy of respect, even if they make less money than us or have a less noble career, or have no career; we would all be better off.

This would also probably lead to more interesting conversations that aren’t about 401k plans and how efficient the new excel update is.

Day 22: B Students

In my role as a physical therapist, I have been lucky enough to work with students from time to time. I was also, obviously, a student myself for many years.

Through these experiences, what I found was consistent: “A” students are generally terrible at the important things. Yes, they are good at taking tests. Yes, they probably know how to derive the quadratic equation from a banana. Yes, they’ve probably memorized most of Shakespeare’s plays, even Donkeytown (pronounced like Donkeetun) which was one of his lesser-known works.

But they had no idea how to effectively work with people. They had no social skills. And they often fell to pieces whenever something went wrong.

“B” students, on the other hand, knew how to talk to people, were able to have a balanced life outside of work and school, and constantly messed things up, so they never got upset with a bad grade or constructive criticism.

But “B” students rarely get into elite programs or get the highest paying jobs. Higher ups in companies would rather have soulless machines that firmly believed in the “only A’s are acceptable” illusion. They’d rather have the “A” student who would sell her grandmother into slavery for a promotion rather than the “B” student who would hold the door open for the old lady and make himself 2 minutes late for an appointment.

“A” students are better for businesses, and that’s the one of the most important and valued things in society.

But if you’re a “B” student, just know that these others will never experience the joy of kicking back and relaxing on a Thursday night or helping someone just because it’s the right thing to do and not because it may lead to a letter of recommendation later on.

Keep B’ing who you are, we’re all gonna be buried in the same ground, frozen in the same cryogenic chamber, or burned in the same incinerator some day.

Day 21: Simulation Theory

Simulation theory is super complicated, super interesting and I’m not going to attempt to outline it or claim I fully understand it. There’s a pretty good description of the argument on wikipedia with the counterarguments and sources you can reference if you want to learn more. Additionally, on the Philosophize This podcast, episode 95, it is very well-explained.

Basically, the author of the theory, Nick Bostrum argues for three likely possibilities regarding simulations. He makes a case that if the third of his outlined possibilities is true, then we are almost definitely living in a simulation.

I think it is a comfortable theory for many of us, because we have trouble seeing a world where we are not the most important piece of it. So many of us are so concerned with how we are affected in a given situation that we literally cannot even fathom how someone else is also affected by said situation. The exception being perhaps a shared experience where we can directly relate to what someone who was with us at the time saw, felt, and heard.

If we’re in a simulation, our actions also have no consequences, which seems to be how many of us live our lives as well. “If this other person is just an NPC (non-player character) it doesn’t matter what I do to them. Eventually, the simulation will be turned off and we’ll return to the ‘real’ reality.”

As interesting as this theory is to explore, I also think it comes with an element of danger if it were to become widely accepted. It would logically lead people to become more selfish, always putting their needs first without any regard for those around them, as the other people in their world would not be real anyway.

We DO NOT need people to become more selfish. I have a hard time even picturing some of the people I know becoming more selfish. This might be a good philosophical quandary to explore: “How does one become more selfish if they are already as selfish as they can possibly be?” Turn up the selfish volume to 11, Spinal Tap style.

But in some ways, we need to make a wager. Whether we’re:

  1. Just a brain in a vat with electrodes hooked up to us,
  2. We’re playing a fully immersive video game,
  3. Or we’re living in a normal reality as we know it;

it’s worth betting on number 3. If number 1 or 2 are true, and we live exactly how we want to, with no regard for anyone else’s needs or the consequences of our actions; nothing happens. Eventually the simulation will end and we’ll wake up in our other reality.

But if number 3 is true, and we act only in our own interests, we ruin everyone else’s chance at happiness and fulfillment to further solidify our own standing. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m willing to take that bet and attempt to live a life that puts others’ needs first or at least equal to my own.

Day 20: Take the Good with the Bad

Every person you’ve ever known has had some absolutely horrible qualities and done some horrific things. This includes your dear writer and all of you, dear readers.

Some famous examples include:

  • MLK Jr. is said to have had multiple affairs (by some accounts more than 40).
  • Walt Disney is said to have had many racist, sexist, and anti-semitic tendencies.
  • My neighbor Steve often steals my parking spot.

But while these famous examples may push us to be mistrustful of anyone we meet, wondering if they have a dark side we don’t know about, they should instead encourage us to celebrate the fact that everyone is flawed. And for this reason, people should not be memorialized, but rather ideas. We don’t need to have an absolutely perfect person develop a philosophy, to have an excellent philosophy.

This fact should further encourage us to know that all these imperfect people have great qualities as well and have done great things (with the possible exception of my neighbor Steve).

I think that the whole picture should be taken into account before we immediately call for the deplatforming of individuals. Maybe it is best that we make it less easy for a person to influence others, but we should strongly consider the precedent we’re setting before we cancel somebody completely.

Whatever religion or philosophy you believe to be true or relate most closely with, if there is no room for a person to be redeemed, I wonder how you could possibly justify the belief in such a practice. After all, we’ve all done horrible things that we regret (with my neighbor Steve again being the possible exception. It seems that monster regrets nothing). Therefore, I think it’s important that we all take a breath and realize that mistakes are a part of life and shouldn’t necessitate us never being allowed to have an opinion on anything ever again.

Day 19: Motivation

So often, people will argue that the reason they aren’t getting something done, is because they can’t find the motivation necessary to do so.

A frequent answer to this is that it doesn’t take motivation to get things done, it takes discipline.

While I think this is true, to some degree, I also think it’s often more complicated than that. Does your discipline inform you of the necessity of the task you’re completing? Are you going for that morning run as a disciplined robot, or is there some thought that this run will benefit you in some way?

Instead of thinking it takes motivation or discipline to get things done, think about this: how will this thing that you’re trying to get motivated to do benefit you, someone else, or society as a whole? If it won’t, then reconsider why you’re doing it in the first place.

By removing the necessity of us all developing marine corps discipline or being motivated at all times like Adrian Broadhead in The Milkman Comes Home*, hopefully we can all be a little bit more forgiving towards those who struggle with accomplishing tasks. At the same time, those of us who struggle with completing tasks can hopefully not feel as bad about not finding this magic motivation/discipline combo and instead focus on why we need to finish the task in the first place.

*How many people looked up this completely fake actor and/or movie?

Day 18: Blame

Whenever something bad happens, our first reaction is always to figure out who to blame.

Why is this the case? Shouldn’t our first reaction to be solve the problem?

The reason is it is so much easier to immediately blame somebody else than to admit fault or determine exactly what happened. If we look at a problem for too long, we might even find out that we were partially responsible. And that is unacceptable.

When a problem wasn’t caused by us, we have no dog in the fight. We sit outside the issue as the omniscient, sinless judge, shaking our heads disapprovingly. Anything we do to fix it should be applauded as heroic, selfless, and going beyond the call of duty. After all, this wasn’t our mess to clean up, but we did it anyway. Where is that parade we deserve?

Combine this with the fact that people in power often say things like: “Whoever owns up to this will be punished less than if I have to find out the hard way…”

No they won’t! They’ll be blamed for something they probably aren’t fully responsible for and will be forced to face some ridiculous consequences just so everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that blame has finally been assigned. In the same way, police and prosecutors always want to open and shut cases as quickly as possible by pressuring people to confess, even when the suspect’s guilt is dubious at best.

Blame is analogous to the occasional bear who walks into a residential neighborhood: very few of us are going to even consider doing anything about it, but we’re so glad when someone finally does. (Even then the blame can be unclear. Who is responsible for that bear coming into the neighborhood? It can’t be us due to our rampant deforestation practices. It can’t be the bear’s fault. Is it the President’s fault? God’s? Oh man, another puzzle to solve. I’ll feel so much better once someone on the Nextdoor app tells me who’s responsible).

Let’s all try this, myself included: let’s take responsibility for everything, good or bad (no matter how illogical) that happens to us for an entire day. From the minute we wake up, we are responsible for everything and we will not blame anyone else, no matter what. (Philosopher William James actually performed this experiment for a full year. It’s detailed in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson).

If we saw everything through this lens, how different our world could be.

If you do try it, let me know what your experience was like.

Day 17: Compromise

Compromise: one of my favorite 10 letter words (right behind zygomatics). We hear incredibly boring people without any semblance of a sense of humor often quip: “a good compromise leaves both sides unhappy”.

Well, Martin the accountant, you’re right. Compromises, by their nature, involve both sides giving up something so that they can come to a somewhat reasonable solution. But how much are we willing to give up?

When it comes to a dinner debate, I’m often willing to step down from my level 14 spice request for our shared Pad Kee Mao Thai dinner to meet my wife closer to her preferred level of 0 spice. I can grumble about it, but I still get to eat the delicious Thai food.

I’m more than willing to compromise on the number of sardine cans I store in the pantry. It’s a valid point: 10 is more than I’ll use at any one time.

But recently, I watched a clip of a local high school meeting where members of the crowd were standing and holding the Nazi salute, meeting no opposition whatsoever. I’m not sure how anyone of moderate values can compromise on that. Do we have to? Is a political agenda really worth partnering with actual Nazis?

I don’t know where I draw the line for my own compromise standards, but I’d say it’s somewhere between the acceptable number of sardine cans to store in the pantry and chatting with Nazis as if we just disagree on how our taxes are being spent.

To be clear, I’m not advocating violence, but I don’t think this type of expression should be tolerated. These people need to be shown that we won’t allow hatred to go unchallenged. Through clear messaging, reasonable debate, and respectful engagement, we need to show that hate speech is intolerable no matter which side of the political system we support.

If you consider yourself to be a moderate, this has to be one compromise you can make.

Day 16: Time Traveling

One of the most powerful quotes I can think of comes from the anthropologist Margaret Mead (It probably wasn’t her. I’ve never found a quote that’s been correctly attributed to someone): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

That quote always gives me hope and makes me think deeply about the consequences of my actions.

But there is an inherent premise in the quote that is very interesting. In saying this, Mead implies that people DON’T often think a small group can change the world. Or at least we didn’t back when she said it in… *Google searches her frantically, not finding anything to indicate whether she actually ever said it or when she did* …the period between 1901 and 1978 when she was alive.

But why then do all time traveling stories and theories like the Butterfly Effect ring so true for us? We all accept pretty easily that if we went back in time and disrupted something, even in a small way, we would change the future in incomprehensible ways.

Why should we not believe that our actions now can change the future? Why aren’t small changes “worth it”?

If we believe that going back in time and stepping on a butterfly would change the pace of our technological evolution by a few thousand years, it can’t be hard to believe that using a little bit less water, donating a few dollars to a worthy cause, or just being kind to someone will make an enormous difference in the future.

“…indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Day 15: Memento Mori

Stoicism is one of my favorite guiding philosophies for life, and especially for my career in working with the public. In the stoic philosophy, there is a phrase that often comes up in the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and the other big names: Memento Mori.

Roughly translated, it means “remember that you will die”.

When I was talking with someone about this concept recently, I was reminded of the scene in What About Bob? where Bob (Bill Murray) and the family’s son are sharing a room. As they are about to go to sleep, the son starts saying over and over: “I am going to die, you are going to die, we all are going to die” (it’s a comedy, I swear. Check out the clip here). This leaves Bill Murray’s character completely horrified and unable to sleep. And then hilarity ensues.

The stoics, for their part, were known to tell themselves every night that they may not wake up in the morning, and to tell themselves every morning that this may be their last day alive.

What the stoics were trying to convey was not that we should be worried about our legacy, or how short of a time we may have on this earth. Rather, they wanted to show how important it is to recognize that nothing is permanent. Anything can be taken away from us at a moment’s notice.

In my job as a physical therapist, I’ve had the joy of working with many patients throughout all different phases of life. Some very young, some very old. Many times the older patients would pass away from their disease or just from the natural aging process. Sometimes it happened while they were patients (luckily not while they were working with me), other times they died many months later and we’d learn about their passing in the obituary.

Today is Monday. Two days ago, on Saturday, a former patient texted me asking if I could come by and show her how to use her new stairlift and practice some transfers. We arranged to meet today.

When I arrived, I walked in and was met by a home nurse who informed me that last night the patient had slipped into unconsciousness and was not expected to recover.

On Saturday she was planning how to improve her function at home , and by Monday she was no longer able to communicate.

Perhaps these individual situations will make us sad, and it’s ok to grieve, certainly. But the fact that up until her last moments she was looking for ways to continue to progress and thrive as best she could, should give us all comfort.

If you want to do something, do it. If you have wronged someone and never apologized, do it. Live by your guiding principles, help others, keep yourself healthy, and enjoy your time on Earth. Tomorrow isn’t promised.

Memento Mori.