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.

Day 14: Intentions

The next time you have a few minutes to sit and quietly ponder, think about the intentions involved in a given situation in your life that had a poor outcome. Both your intentions and the other parties involved.

Let’s provide an example scenario:

You run a successful startup: Barter with Bees. In essence, your company has figured out how to communicate with bees, which has allowed you to negotiate honey and pollination deals in return for bee currency: bennies, bickles, bimes, buarters, and bollars. They have a sophisticated society about which we knew nothing until your company unearthed this potential (the job is incredibly stupid but it doesn’t matter for our scenario).

Your cousin comes to you and is very excited to tell you about an idea for the direction he thinks your company should pursue. He outlines his ideas in a presentation and at the end, you determine that while it seems like it might work, you’re not willing to take the risk. So, you pass.

He becomes irate. He slams down his little laser pointer thing that people who give presentations love and storms out.

You feel bad, but you think that you still made the right decision.

What were your intentions?

  1. You wanted to hurt your cousin’s feelings because he stole your wife 3 months ago;
  2. You wanted to protect your employees after determining that the risk was far too high as compared to the reward;
  3. You want to steal the idea and give your cousin no credit.

I think many of us would argue that option two is a virtuous reason for turning your cousin down. But what if the real reason was number 1 or 3? The outcome would have been the same, does it really matter in the end?

You will have to decide this for yourself, but my answer would be yes, it does matter. If your reasons for turning him down were immoral, then you acted immorally, regardless of whether the outcome would have been the same with the improved moral intentions inherent in number 2.

While slippery slope arguments can sometimes be fallacious (meaning based on a fallacy, get your minds out of the gutter), approving of actions just because the end result doesn’t change is a waterslide I do not want to ride. We should be thoughtful in our actions and do things because they are the right things to do, not because the end result will be the same regardless of our intentions.

Day 13: Omniscience

Being all-knowing seems, on the surface, like it would be completely awesome. Say you just randomly woke up one day and you knew everything there was to know: You could know how every process in the world works, whether or not one of your favorite crime show suspects was guilty or innocent, what your friend was thinking when they pushed you into the cheese fountain at that upscale wedding, how many aliens have visited Earth in the last two weeks (it’s 14 cargo-loads by the way. Alien cargo-loads hold about 45 aliens each, so you do the math.), and literally everything else.

Questions and answers would no longer be relevant for you, you would just…know….everything.

But if you knew everything there was to know, what would day-to-day life look like for you? Would there be any reason to intervene in the affairs of your peers? Would you be so horrified by some of the realities of the world that you felt the need to take action against certain injustices? Or would you be so far removed from humanity that you wouldn’t even be able to effectively communicate or interact with anyone at all?

It’s interesting that the wisest person in his time was Socrates, who claimed to know nothing. If he knew nothing, and was the wisest person around, what does that say for the person who knows everything?

We can never be certain whether knowing everything would be a blessing or curse. What we can be reasonably certain of is that no matter how much knowledge we gather throughout the course of our lives, no matter how good we get at our jobs, no matter how many Shakespeare quotes we can drop casually at our niece’s QuinceaƱera; we will never know everything. And one way or another, we need to become comfortable with that reality.

Day 12: Being Present

It’s amazing how often we think about the past or the future. It seems to be a universal truth that we would rather think about anything else but the present moment. The interesting part about this phenomenon is that the present is the only thing we have any power over or ability to enjoy.

Sure, it’s very likely that you’ll eventually witness the death of everyone you’ve ever known in your lifetime, unless of course you die first, or we start cryogenically freezing ourselves like Austin Powers and Ted Williams.

It’s also possible that you’ll watch the collapse of civilization due to some environmental catastrophe. You may be left to farm roaches in an apocalyptic wasteland where you barter with the alien race who has taken over half of our planet (if this happens, sign me up as a pet. I can curl up into most small places and all I really need is food and water).

So thinking about these future possibilities may occupy most of your time.

Or, on the flip side, you may think about the past. What position would you be in now if you’d accepted that job in Ontario? Would you still be making balloon animals for “CEO’s and Balloon Fellows” adult birthday parties?

Whatever you dwell on: the past or the future, you need to hear this: you cannot enjoy life if you reject the present moment. There is nothing you can do to change the past. You can plan all you want for the future, but none of us has any idea what will happen 20 years from now, let alone 10 minutes from now.

The only thing you have even the slightest control over is this present. So you are free to use this moment and every subsequent one to think about the past and/or future, but why would you? Breathe in the fresh air, imitate a rhinoceros, try to organize a flash mob; the future isn’t promised and the past is already gone. So enjoy the present moment, it’s all we really have.

Day 11: Rewards

Think back to the last time you did something for someone else simply because it was the right thing to do. Things that you were able to leverage into a career or monetary gain for yourself don’t count. I mean something that helped someone else, that you didn’t tell anyone about in anyway afterward.

If you’re having a hard time thinking about an example, it’s probably because either

  • You’re a sage who has completed so many random acts of kindness that you can’t pick a single one;

Or

  • You have never done such a thing.

If you’re in the second camp, you’re not alone. We all do things for the reward. We win a tournament, we get a trophy. We do extra work, we get a promotion. We finish the “Boss Hog Challenge” at Marco’s Seafood and Pork Restaurant, we get our picture on the wall.

It’s how our brains work. Some type of feedback is necessary to let us know whether what we just did was a good or bad thing.

It’s important to note though, that we already get that feedback internally. We feel good when we help somebody or win a game or complete a goal.

Why do we always have to have extrinsic rewards? Why do we need something tangible that we can point to and admire? Why do we need to have something we can list on our resume to show what a great person we are?

What if instead, we did things for the intrinsic reward?

If we did the right things just because we know it’s the right thing…I’m not even sure what that world would look like. But I’d sure like to see it.

Day 10: Why are We Pushing People Back to the Office?

In the past few months, when really compelling news stories have been absent from the headlines, I’ve heard an interesting confluence of ideas from both right and left wing media. To be more specific, I should state that it’s really just an “idea” and not “ideas”. We’re not quite there yet; the agreement is only with one very specific stance.

This stance is: “Every worker should go back to the office”.

And I truly, madly, deeply (name that band) don’t understand why this is such an emphasis.

To be clear, I obviously understand that for some jobs to exist, they have to be performed in person. I’m not saying that I don’t understand why emergency surgeons and other workers need to be available in the flesh.

What I can’t grasp is why we are pushing so hard for people to go back to the office who are happier and more productive while working from home.

I heard an interview (I wish I could find the link. It was Morning Edition on NPR, I believe. That’s all I’ve got. But it also could have been a podcast…or another radio show. I know it wasn’t TV…I think.) where the interviewer was talking to a person who was adamantly opposed to businesses extending work from home options. It went something like this:

Interviewer: “Why do people need to go back to the office?”

Interviewee: “Steve (maybe?), we are finding that babysitters and childcare centers are struggling to stay open because parents are at home with their kids more. More children are being diagnosed with mental health issues. Restaurants that were usually frequented by workers during their lunch break are having to lay off workers and only open during dinner hours.”

The interview went on from there to talk about other things and pretty much just let those points stand on their own. Granted, I’m probably not doing these people (whose names I can’t remember) justice by paraphrasing their words, but I have so many questions:

  1. Why is it a bad thing that parents are spending more time with their kids?
  2. If more kids are being diagnosed with mental health issues, couldn’t a possible reason be that their parents are actually able to spend more time with them and recognize the signs that might otherwise have been missed if they were at the office for most of the day?
  3. Restaurants seem to be notoriously difficult businesses to keep afloat, don’t changes in consumer habits drive how these restaurants have to operate and respond?

Now again, let me clarify:

  • I feel horrible that any workers and businesses such as daycares, babysitting services, and hospitality workers would fall on hard times and have to make adjustments. I know that must feel scary and it must be really hard to make the decisions they’ve had to make.
  • Mental health issues increasing in children could be caused by a variety of factors and I could be completely wrong that parents being home is only improving diagnostic capabilities.

That being said, am I crazy in making the statement below?

“Workers who are completing their assignments on-time, with the same level or even improved quality of work, who are happier, who are leaving a smaller environmental impact on the world by reducing their commute times, and who simply WANT to continue working from home, should be able to do so.”

Is there anything in that statement that you disagree with?

Day 9: Quantity or Quality?

When I first started thinking about this concept, I thought, “Obviously it’s quality. There’s no real deep reason that pure quantity would ever be better than quality.”

I thought long and hard about the subject and then thought even deeper about it (but not as hard as Robert Pirsig…Where my Pirsig fans at?) and I couldn’t come up with anything that I thought would be better in mass quantity instead of less of it with excellent quality.

Food: obviously quality is more important.

Exercise: Quality.

Sleep: Big quality

Time with family: Q to the u to the a to the….

But then, as we were visiting our friends last night and meeting their daughter for the first time, it hit me…

Diapers: Quantity.

Day 8: Ownership

I recently read a book written by two lawyers about the concept of “ownership”. Their contention is that with almost every issue in the world there exists an ownership dispute in one way or another.

When they made this claim early in the book I thought: “Hmm, that can’t be right”.

When I read further and they gave more and more examples I thought: “Well, maybe MANY issues can be tied to ownership…”

Once I finished the book and started listening to the news on the radio with the concept of ownership in mind I thought: “Holy moley…Everything is related to ownership.

Think about it: immigration, bar fights, arguments over seat saving in movie theaters…. small scale, massive scale; the list goes on and on.

The concept of ownership has been in my mind ever since. Do I own too much? Do I own too little? Why do I even feel I own these things to begin with?

It’s blown my mind and I challenge you all to randomly look on a news site (millennials) or look in a random page of a newspaper (ancient readers who are accessing this by telegraph) and find a single article where you can’t, in some way relate the issue to ownership. If you can find one that doesn’t have to do with ownership in any way whatsoever, I’ll eat a hat on camera.

Day 7: Anger

Think back to the last time you felt really angry. What was it that made you feel this way? Did someone act unjustly toward you? Did your embarrassment of having failed at something lead to anger? Did you try to disguise your sadness as anger?

If this anger you experienced was allowed to run its course, uncontrolled, it’s likely that you would have hurt someone, said something you’d later regret, or broken something. This is not uncommon, as any movie about a down-on-his-luck boxer climbing the ranks of the middle-weight division will demonstrate. The destructive response to anger has also been a noted phenomenon even as far back as ancient Greece. In his famous work De Ira the Stoic philosopher Seneca stated, “Anger, if not restrained, is often more harmful to us than the insult that provoked it.”

Some people may argue that anger can be a good reaction to certain situations. In high stress situations or competitions, isn’t ok to see red?

I would argue that it is not. Anger blinds us to the possibility of reasoning our way through a situation. The emotion can only lead us to one final destination: destruction. There is no bad situation that can’t be made worse by becoming angry.

This is not to say that that the initial reaction of anger can or should ever be completely snuffed out. It’s probably not even possible or at the very least extremely difficult to do. What I and many of the stoics would offer is that one should attempt to control and restrain the reactionary feelings of anger we all experience.

There are many ways to do this: meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and many others that may work for a given person on an individual basis.

Whether you implement anger control methods on your own or seek counseling/therapy is up to you. But whatever you do, strive to regulate your anger. We only get to experience this life once (possibly). So don’t deprive yourself or others around you of a fulfilling existence by letting your anger run wild.