“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”

manwithblinders cartoon

Nick eats eight meals a day. He has little containers of food that he brings to work. He goes to Sam’s Club to buy the big bags of broccoli and diapers.

Kevin takes long bike rides with a group. They stop at a buffet after their rides.

Rick has 2 dogs which he misses every day when he comes to work.

So my story is… these people. Their stories become part of my story. The story of our lives is the background in our lives. The stuff that gets blurred out as we acclimate to the noise or don’t bother to ask.

As we get more focused on getting from point A to point B…apartment to house, house to bigger house, less pay to more pay, this partner to that partner, single to married, searching for the cool place to go and hang…we miss all the infinite points between. Those points are the people, places, and opportunities. They form the canvas of our life. When they’re connected, they become our life drawing.

That’s why when our actions are made without context, without others, without a why, without looking around first, then those actions become indefinite, their borders hazy, and after years of this, our life ceases to be meaningful.

The aim is not make a straight line. The point is not to hit each point, each milestone, checking the box, then seeking the next one. The point is to expand over our canvas, not stay isolated in our office, career, home, or family. The intent is to learn, and absorption doesn’t work unless you’re listening and putting yourself out there.

We do need goals. But what are the goals? Career, personal life, family life…how much effort to spend in each bucket? The tangibles can be met fairly easily, especially here in the US, but what happens when you realize that you’ve lost years of experience, potential friends, lovers, and new places, because your goals became your life, and living the moments fell off the list?

“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”
– Geoffrey Wolff

Choose carefully, but just make sure you choose. The tangibles are easy to measure. The intangibles are not. Thing is, we’re here for the intangibles.

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Lose your clothes, find your self

AUNDERWEAR1

My morning started like most others. I woke up, qued up my yoga dvd and quickly sat down to follow the instructor before I got distracted. I finished the session, and by the time I made my food for the day, I was pressed for time, and scuttling about for my socks. After a few minutes, I grew frustrated and stopped looking for the lost blue mate to the one in my hand. I was irritated. I might even say I was suffering. Bourgeoisie suffering.

When I wear pants that sit just right, with a fitted shirt that looks, well, fitted, instead of looking like I’m swimming in it like a small child, I feel good. I’m sure you feel the same when you get something stylish, sexy, and professional. It doesn’t seem right if we don’t look right, and there’s a gigantic market of stores with lines of clothes that are going to make our day. I will feel better in those pants. You will feel better in that dress. And that’s the curious part.

Why do we like dressing well? It would seem it’s for others, to look good. But really, it’s not. We dress a certain way, because it makes us feel good. Not because anyone else is going to give us a high five, or an appreciative nod, or even a compliment (at least from my experiences this is an uncommon event). And if we are dressing fashionably to get some sort of of external recognition, well, it’s still being done so that we will feel good.

You might be saying, “So what, Captain Obvious. Of course we do everything to make ourselves feel good, we don’t do things to make ourselves feel bad.” And you’re right. (Although that argument can be critiqued, given how many people end up in situations of suffering, with all their starting good intentions to be happy.)

My point here is, if we’re dressing a certain way, if we can’t leave the house without matching socks, what else are we prioritizing, more specifically, what else are we de-prioritizing? Time or money spent shopping or picking out clothes or searching for a matching sock is time/money that’s not used doing something for ourselves. I mean, our self, that soul inside, under the layers of the mind that want these clothes, this house, this car, and that perfect dinette set from the Pottery Barn catalog, picked up after perusing so many dinette sets, and asking, “Which one of these defines me as a person?” (Hat tip, Fight Club).

What does your self need? Maybe nothing, and if so, kudos to you, my friend, because you are truly enlightened. You’ve accept the world and all its randomness, and your faulty self, your big ass, big nose, or small boobs. You have gratitude for what you have and a curiosity for what you don’t know. You have friendships that support you and which you give back to, you have creative endeavors that promote you, and a job that stimulates you..and if you don’t, you’re well on your way to those things. Why?

Because you’ve put your self-development over form development. You may very well be looking good, too, fit and dressed to a T, (and truly, I hope you do, because I definitely prefer seeing stylish fit people rather than a swath of blue jeans and obesity when I step outside.) Regardless, you have your priorities in place. You know your personality will trump even the best looking outfit. You know that being confident, making something useful, and showing interest and care to others are much more important than what silly fashion you’ve covered your meatbag with. You know that the finite form is nothing more than a facade, and any happiness it may bring is as fleeting as our short time on this earth…a short time spent worrying about making more money or finding matching socks.

So I picked up that black sock and put it on, staring at my blue one on the left, and the black one on the right. I wiggled my toes and evaluated them, and then I smiled. Maybe I could flip my priorities more towards building my self over my form, and this would be a step in that direction. One comic, vulnerable step toward the organized chaos of happiness.

If we criticize Chick-fil-A, should we criticize ourselves?

The three of us got to the bar and ordered some beers. Proper beers, mind you, because we are men of taste, or at least openminded. The sun was setting, the temperatures dropping, so we found a table outside on the patio. It was here where I demonstrated how seeing the big picture is just as important as having a set of ideals.

We got our food. I abstained from ordering meat, explaining my moral and environmental values. We talked and ate. The sun set. We talked and ate some more. Soon, we settled our tab, and stood up to leave. Sage asked Nate, “Aren’t you going to eat those?” motioning to the couple chicken wings he had left. Nate said, “No, you want them?” Sage shook his head, so I grabbed one and started to eat.

“Now this makes me think different about you being a vegetarian,” Sage said.

“Well, I never said I was a vegetarian.” I replied. “They’re going to throw it away.” I finished and grabbed the remaining wing. “It’s wasteful. The animals died needlessly if this goes to the trash.”

Our ideals must be in context

I thought about this when I heard about the protests against the management of Chick-fil-A for giving money to anti-gay groups. Many people, gay and straight, recognize the management’s actions as trying to prevent the freedom of gay people. But do they understand that the principle should be applied in context?

If we value liberty, we must value liberty wherever it is threatened. Is what Chick-fil-A is doing worse than what the Chinese government is doing, not allowing their people to vote? Should we be taking a stand and boycotting Chinese goods before worrying about boycotting Chick-fil-A?

Both groups are acting in disrespect. But they are different.

These two situations are different in how the motivations are acted on: China has accomplished their goal of taking people’s right to self-determination and liberty, and Chick-fil-A is trying to limit sexual freedom. If we choose to be actors in this life, we must decide, is it wrong, and if so, what do we do about it?

Life is more than ideals. It’s about the application of those ideals.

The difference between China and Chick-fil-A is important. Just as when I chose to eat meat that evening, it wasn’t because I stopped valuing animals, but because I saw their waste to be worse than not eating them.

Here in the US, most of us do not live in desperation. We have first world decisions that most of the world does not. Do we have the morals and courage of our convictions to change our lifestyles, even a little, in response to the disrespect from both Chick-fil-A and the Chinese government?

I say we do.

TED Talk Tuesday: Graham Hill says “Less stuff, more happiness”



Graham Hill gives one of the best TED talks I’ve seen. We have three times as much living space as 50 years ago. But happiness has flatlined since then. Why? Because more stuff doesn’t make you more happy. The right stuff does.

It’s all about turning our paradigm on its head. I’ve been there. I’m in the store, and that ‘As Seen on TV’ car window scrubber looks really useful. So I grab it. And I do use it. Maybe a handful of times. But then I think about how a simple towel would have worked just as well.

“We need to think before we buy. Ask ourselves, “Is that really going to make me happier? Truly?” By all means, we should buy and own some great stuff. But we want stuff that we’re going to love for years, not just.. stuff.”

Less stuff means more freedom, means more time. When I go camping, somehow my worries are reduced, which relates to having everything I own for that trip in a backpack. My day is wide open and free. (Seeing a sunset over the Appalachian mountains helps prioritize things too, of course.)

“We’ve got to clear the arteries of our lives. And that shirt that I hadn’t worn in years? It’s time for me to let it go. We’ve got to cut the extraneous out of our lives, and we’ve got to learn to stem the inflow.”

What stuff do you think you could let go of in your life?

What stuff truly makes you happy?

The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

MLK commemorative post: Dr. King fought against the majority. Today we have the same fight.

Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population. Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts. The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer. Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority. This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice.

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving them. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored. We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race. We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers.

Yes. We can.

The ant and the grasshopper

The ants worked and the grasshoppers played. The grasshoppers had a giant nest that was always stocked with food, so they spent their summers relaxing. They largely ignored the ants, but noticed that the ants would sometimes bring back shiny pebbles with their food. The grasshoppers offered the ants some of their food in exchange for the pebbles. The ants agreed. The grasshoppers grew to love the shiny pebbles, so the ants decided to collect more pebbles for the grasshoppers in exchange for their food. After a time, the grasshoppers’ nests were both finely decorated and stocked with food.

Years went by like this, but soon the grasshoppers’ food stock got dangerously low and they didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, a boy came, and curious about nature, decided to feed and observe the grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were happy again, and the ants continued with their work, gathering food and providing pebbles.
Years and years went by. The grasshoppers grew old, and so did the boy, and he started visiting less and less frequently. The grasshoppers didn’t mind at first, but soon their food was almost gone. They tried going out and finding food, but discovered they had forgotten how to hunt and scavenge. They went to the ants and asked for food, but the ants told them they didn’t need the grasshoppers anymore.

The grasshoppers were confused.

“What do you mean?”

The ants moved their feelers sympathetically. “We have found ways to live without you or the boy anymore.” The grasshoppers were still confused. The ants explained, “Whenever the boy visited you, he cleared a path through the grasses, making it easier for us go out and find food. And before, you would give us food for the pebbles. But now, we’ve found a way to grow our food. Right here.” They showed the grasshopper their nest full of food, which looked just as the grasshoppers’ nest had looked many, many years ago. Then the grasshoppers saw the ants had started their own garden, filled with whole fruits!

The grasshoppers didn’t have a choice. They asked the ants, “Please, can we do anything for you in exchange for some food?”

The ants thought about it and decided they could still use the grasshoppers.

And soon the grasshoppers found themselves an integral part in the growing careers of food service, landscaping, and housekeeping.

TED Talk Tuesday: Surrounded by people, but alone on your island



Daniel Goleman talks about the importance of noticing others.  He takes us on a journey, starting with how seminary students help a man in need, to the mind of a serial killer, to the feasibility of compassionate consumerism.

“There’s a saying in Information Science: Ultimately, everyone will know everything. The question is, will it make a difference?”

Take the time to swim off of your island. Our connection with others and the mindfulness of where our purchases come from determines whether we are a collection of privileged consumers with the information of the world in our hands, or a grateful nation of responsible human beings, with the information we need in our heads.