Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page
Before Timothy Leary died 16 years ago today, he said:
“Words are the freezing of reality”
Words are a snapshot and I capture an idea with my words. I have peeled it and presented it to you. For you, I have created something. I took what wasn’t there and made it whole. So these ideas, pop, I project them aloud, sending air vibrating, invading your brains. My idea, becoming your idea, a viral delivery that can now spread. Because although you may not embrace it, it is there. My words, your words, have that power, over the air or we paint them onto a digital canvas, smeared in bits and bytes, moving from computer to computer, mind to mind, until they find a dynamic equilibrium, shooting back and forth across a literal web, spiralling out through our culture.
A freezing of reality, indeed, but more… it is a freezing, thawing, and mass digesting at the speed of light, rearranged into something new, and then frozen again, ever spreading.
If only you could see what has happened to words, Mr. Leary. We, the people, we don’t have to just listen anymore. Now we can have a conversation. Now we can create something big.
If we want to.
When he popped open the stuck car hood, I let go of the handle and smiled in amazement. “Yep,” he said, “Next time, just try to pry it up while the handle is pulled, have someone help you.”
I nodded. “So, when are you due in court?”
He shook his head, “I’ve got a jury trial in September. It’s going to be self-defense. Everything looks good.”
“That’s good,” I replied.
“See here,” he showed a picture on his cell phone of a guy with a cut over his right eye. “I didn’t even hit him on that side.”
“Yea, stuff gets crazy in a fight,” I said. “Well, would you do it again?”
“I don’t know…”
“It was avoidable, right?”
“Well, yea, it was dumb.” he said.
“So, let’s get your car jumped,” he said. He looked under the hood. “Your battery bolts are loose. That’ll make you lose charge.” He quickly tightened them. “They’ll come loose on older cars, but don’t tighten them too much, there’s a lead bolt inside them that goes into the battery that will get stripped.” He pulled his van around and hooked up the cables to his engine and then to mine. “Wow, hear that? Your battery is sapped. My engine was struggling after I hooked up the cables.”
After a moment, I put my key in the ignition and my car started without a problem.
He said, “Don’t worry about it, since you helped me, we’re even.”
“Thanks,’ I said. “I made something you’d like. Wait a second, I’ll be back.”
I returned and handed him a brown bag. “What’s IPA?” he asked.
“India Pale Ale” I answered.
As he drove away, I reminded myself to always try the obvious solution. But even if you don’t, you’ll probably learn something in the process of fixing it. And maybe help someone in return.
Memorial Day is not only about respecting our troops, but knowing why they are (and were) doing what they’re doing. If we don’t ask the “Why?”, then our respect and our support for their actions is so narrow that it is meaningless, and in fact, dangerous.
Respect also requires empathy, and empathy for our troops includes a feeling of the sacrifice they are making, and perhaps making that sacrifice ourselves. Memorial Day can be treated as a holiday, but true empathy doesnt get released from a pod in short bursts once a year.
The counter to my observation would be, “You’re complicating a simple idea: Our troops are willing to die for our country. Let’s honor that.”
And this is a valid point. It reminds us to appreciate what we have in this country. Memorial Day commemorates a simple, obvious idea. So why do we need to be reminded to honor this powerful sacrifice if it’s so obvious?
You can see that it all leads back to the “Why” and “What” our troops are doing.
The intoxicating smell of comfortable warmth and movement and change. Of sun rays beating down, of future acts, exciting unknowns, shirtless, of liberation from consumption by creation. It smelled of possibilities.
I stopped thinking of what I had to do today. The urgent stuff that wasn’t truly urgent. I sat down and embraced this small area where I would bang out my 1000 words for the day. This would be my bunker. I put the thoughts of everything else out of my head. I willfully -albeit with quiet kicking and screaming- entered this solitary confinement. In this quiet, I stopped holding. The energy of my thoughts moved onto the digital canvas. I knew I hadn’t moved, but I was changing things. What had not existed, now did. People acting, realizing, feeling, and growing. My characters and I took turns leading. When the words were spent, I emerged from the dark cramped environment. I felt liberated. I immediately thought ahead: I must go here, and check this to buy, and then go here and have them fix this, and then I need to go the gym, and then…and then.
And then I stopped the planning. and just as I had when I crawled into my foxhole, I started thinking, “What if?” I started thinking, “Let’s see what happens.” Because life isn’t a series of situations. Life is what I choose. It’s what I create. And my creation started off quite well today.
The summer smells good.
I was at the Nelsonville Music Festival this past weekend, at what may be the most underrated music festival in the whole of our United States of America. Under glorious clear skies, I walked around watching everyone sharing the campgrounds. There was no harassing, no thievery. You met others, shared what you had, and enjoyed yourself. There was a feeling of trust. A trust that is missing in many of the places we live.
Trust is powerful. It allows us to flourish. Trust builds friendship. It allows us to talk with others and expect to be respected. It gives us patience with life. But that’s just the start of it.
Trust makes you do the right thing
When you trust that others will do the right thing, then you will do the right thing regardless if that doesn’t do much to change the big picture, like if you choose to abstain from eating animals when most everyone else does not. Or being honest with the company expense account while others skim a little. Or moving your money out of Wall St banks when most other continue to use them. Or voting for a third party while most do not because they think it’s “throwing a vote away”. If everyone doesn’t trust others to do the right thing, then everyone will continue doing the wrong thing.
Trust brings about prosperity
When we work together, each with our expertise, we do great things. When we specialize in our areas of mastery, we can share the fruits of our labor equally in a collective society. Trust makes others know you will come through for them, just like they will come through for you. And the appreciation from others gives us a feeling of purpose. A reason to feel important in a world where it can be confusing to know what truly is important.
Matt Ridley makes a great observation of this in his book, The Rational Optimist: Self-sufficiency is associated with less wealth, while specialization with more wealth. And self-sufficiency takes a lot of time! The leisure time most of us have today is significant. And in a way, this leisure is more important than trust. This past weekend, it was this leisure time that allowed me to see trust demonstrated by interacting with others, by building a small community of respect and value.
How we use our leisure time is important, but it all starts with building confidence in our fellow human beings. Trust is having courage in the face of the unknown. It’s knowing that whatever happens, it’s going to be ok.
I felt that trust this weekend. I was reminded of how it made life better. It also reminded me that without it, we are likely lost.
Technology and prosperity give us many options, from what to buy, where to go, who to communicate with, and the “how many” almost reaches infinity given the internet. We have a lot of power to do more as an individual and put a dent in the universe. The one danger of techonology and access is the distraction. And this distraction could be in the form of Facebook or it could be information overload. Too much data can create an abundance that leads to redundance and overanalysis that leads to paralysis.
The simple idea with effective use of tools allows us to do more for less.
The amount of work for a task will grow to fill the time you set aside for the task, based on all the different things you can study and do in preparation. Sometimes we like busyness, because it delays the real work. I’ve done that with my writing, making unnecessary outlines and reading how-to’s when the action of writing is what I needed to get into. All the references at our fingertips certainly gives us the opportunity to stay busy.
The one thing that is clearly quantifiable, more than how much analysis and preparation is proper, is this: We will accomplish nothing if we don’t do something. And Walter was right: “Once the plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.”
Things fade into the background if they’re no immediate danger to us. The aging nuclear power plant that provides power but is not in compliance with safety regulations and sits near an earthquake fault line (like the Indian Point nuclear reactor outside of NYC). Or the cost of war in lives and money that doesn’t effect you… yet. Or the bank that continues to go into debt making risky bets because the government bailed them out by also going into debt. And without making cuts in government services…yet.
Last week the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, made an interesting announcment. The company lost over $2 billion dollars continuing their risky betting. Now, this is a fraction of their hundreds of billions of dollars in income. (Income, not profit: They have 3 times as much debt as assets.) So is Dimon preparing us for worse to come? Maybe. Or is he trying to establish an environment of acceptance of risky betting? Dimon said the investments were a “terrible, egregious mistake” but “we maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this.” Was this a PR move to instill trust in a market that is losing it?
In 1912, JP Morgan, the founder of this company, was speaking in a testimony with Congress. He was asked whether banking debt is based on money or property.
He answered that it was about character, “before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”
Do you trust a market where you buy things like a television? How about a market that buys…money? There’s a big difference that needs to be appreciated. One is in the business of creating cheap goods and services for money. The other is in the business of creating money. One is less government driven and difficult to corrupt, while the other is more government driven and much easier to corrupt. What they have in common is that the consumer decides whether to buy their goods or services.
And that consumer is you and me.
We’re speeding up. Honore has looked into this, and talks of fast education, fast parenting, and fast sex. He tells us we should slow down. At the end of this article, I will tell you how.
“Now, if you think about how our world got so accelerated, the usual suspects rear their heads. You think of, you know, urbanization, consumerism, the workplace, technology.”
Honore describes the Slow Movement. How European countries appreciate their time so much that they work less but remain in the top competitive group (not to mention their students are ahead of the US in math and science). He recollects the poster he saw at a New York City business for 20 minute yoga sessions, and in a magazine, the title of an article, “How to bring your partner to orgasm in 30 seconds”
“I like a quickie as much as the next person, but I think that there’s an awful lot to be gained from slow sex — from slowing down in the bedroom. You know, you tap into that — those deeper, sort of, psychological, emotional, spiritual currents, and you get a better orgasm with the buildup. You can get more bang for your buck”
That’s right. “Bang for the buck.”
So, why are we rushing?
“I think there’s a kind of metaphysical dimension — that speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the bigger, deeper questions. We fill our head with distraction, with busyness, so that we don’t have to ask, am I well? Am I happy? Are my children growing up right? Are politicians making good decisions on my behalf?”
Slowing down gives you more time. We often feel helpless that we can’t stop the clock. But what we may not realize is that we can stop it. Here’s how: When is it that you’ve felt like time has stopped? When you’ve been doing something that you love. You’ve directed your attention to living in the present, engaged in your passion.
When else have you felt like time has stopped? When you’re connecting with another human being. Alan Harrington describes it well: “When in love we get to co-mingle with one another like gods outside of time.”
The answer is obvious: Find something you love. Something you love to do and someone to love. A passion that doesn’t distract you from that someone. And someone who doesnt distract you from what you love to do. Live in the now. And if you’re doing something and you start to worry… Stop a minute.
And take some time.