Our Most Sensible Division

I do a lot of thinking in the car.  It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative.  Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.

The western world is clearly divided right now.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Blue vs. Red.  Left vs. Right.  Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division.  I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side.  One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently.  One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately.  Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation.  And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.

With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it.  When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find.  More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear.  And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way.  Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety.  In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger.  In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us.  As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.

This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist.  Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics.  While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.

Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress.  If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed.  Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different.  Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress.  Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress.  Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.

If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo.  Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it.  Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation.  Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?

I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist.  I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress.  Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why.  The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely.  If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge?  Sounds like chaos.  Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order.  Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.

When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense.  The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo.  The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo.  Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same.  And yet both were and probably are necessary.

One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion.  I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left.  It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers.  This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life.  If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo?  Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success?  Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion?  But what if you leaned more towards compassion?  What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income?  And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others?  And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?

The political division of our species sucks.  It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind.  Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not.  There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical.  Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment).  When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.

If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.

 

Compelled Patriotism

There have been times where I’ve felt more patriotic than others, but generally speaking, I find it a little strange.

The times where I identified as a patriot, were times where I felt good about how my country was impacting others, and felt aligned with the values my country had displayed.  That doesn’t happen so much these days.  These days, it’s difficult to understand what a patriot really is and whether anyone should want to be one.

The NFL looks to have passed a new anthem policy.  From what I understand, if you’re on the field, you have to stand for the national anthem.  The president’s remarks were something to the effect of, ‘if you don’t want to stand, maybe you shouldn’t be play.  Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.  If you’re not proud of the country, you shouldn’t be here.’  I’ve often said that Trump was going to be one of the best things to happen to this country.  Not because he leads or inspires, but because he’s forcing us to ask questions which weren’t being asked.

What if you’re not proud of the country?

Google defines a patriot as a person who vigorously supports their country and is ready to defend it against enemies or detractors.  Seems pretty straight forward.  So where’s the nuance?  I suppose it would be in how you define supporting your country, and who you determine to be the enemies or detractors.

Some people support their country by displaying the country’s branding as often as possible.  Maybe I should’ve said flag or colors instead of branding, but which is more accurate?  Some people support their country and defend it against enemies by joining the military and fighting overseas.  But how did you know who our enemies were?  Some people defend the country against detractors by protecting the commander and chief.  But what do you think the commander and chief should be protected from?  It seems as though patriotism has more to do with manipulation than it does with national pride.

I’ve struggled with the concept of pride recently,  When to have it, why to have it, and when it’s too much.  I grew up around ‘Azn Pride’.. it was kinda like white pride but Asian.  More often than not, it was about screen names and gamer tags but from time to time, it meant more than that.  It reminded people not be ashamed of where they were from or what they looked like, and gave them a sense of confidence and community among their peers.  But there were also times where Azn Pride was about showing dominance over other groups.  But what are you really proud of at that point?

Personally, I don’t think you can have patriotism without nationalism and nationalism never seems to work well out for anyone.  Nationalism really is a game of us versus them on a global scale.  Not only did we not have a say in where these lines on the map were drawn, we have no choice as to which side of the line we’re born to.  Yet these lines are enforced vigorously.  We are told that the people inside those lines are our brothers and sisters, and that the people outside those lines are potential threats.  And yet our country was built upon those who came from outside the lines.  And is under attack from those who were born here.

Perhaps patriotism is inherently flawed.  Right now, it encourages us to protect our enemies and betray our communities.  We’re told that we’re not patriotic when we don’t follow the direction of our president.  When the values of our people, country, and president are no longer aligned, who deserves our loyalty?  If patriotism is defined by a loyalty to a country, is that better understood as the people of that country, or those who are running it?  People in government demanding loyalty  sounds awfully undemocratic.  In a democratic country, where democracy literally means government for the people by the people.. the answer seems rather obvious.

So what does democratic patriotism look like?  Maybe it’s not necessarily an oxymoron.  I think it looks like a celebration of the people.  It’s a celebration of our diversity rather than a celebration of the red, white and blue.  It’s building monuments to the people who are making the world a better place today rather than arguing over old civil war statues.  It’s marching together for no more wars, and it’s marching together for no more police violence.  It’s not just about celebrating our accomplishments, but about acknowledging our darker moments in arriving here.  And you’re damn right that it’s about being able to take a knee during the national anthem to show your support for those the country has failed.

So what does patriotism look like when the lines between us and them disappear?

 

 

Mindset of a Champion

I’ve been a big fan of mixed martial arts for a very long time.  I even had a brief career as an amateur fighter.  I credit so much of what I’ve learned about life to what I’ve learned in the gym.  Including the mindset of a champion.

Before I pat myself on the back too much, it’s important to concede that I was never a champion-caliber fighter.  I did well on the local scene, won a few tournaments and probably could’ve gone pro, but I knew that wasn’t my path.  When I refer to the mindset of a champion, I’m referring to a mindset that can be learned in or out of the cage, and applies to champions of any walk of life.

I was watching the fights last night and I was reminded of this dynamic again in the rematch between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Thug Rose.  In the first fight, Joanna thought she was unstoppable.  She thought that she was the boogy-woman, someone who was so far above her peers that she could not be beat, and that she was destined to retire undefeated.  Then you had Rose, who had losses, been through a tremendous amount of adversity (personally and professionally), and had found her calm within that storm.  In their first match, Joanna did what she could to get in the head of Rose, but Rose stared right through her – reciting the lord’s prayer no less.  That fight ended up in a first round knock-out for Rose

(Thug Rose! Thug Rose! Thug Rose!)

When she gave her post-fight interview, I instantly became a big fan.  It’s one thing to throw bombs in the cage, it’s another to do it with the presence of mind of being a good human being.  In the age of inactive fighters throwing dollies through bus windows, Thug Rose shines bright.

Leading up to the rematch, I was very curious how things would play out.  Joanna was one of the most accomplished and dangerous strikers in her class.  She also had incredible takedown defense.  If she was able to make adjustments for the second fight, and not get knocked out in the first round, things could play out differently.  In the fight game, anyone can get clipped, anyone can get caught.  If you run the same fight back 10 times, you’ll get 10 different results.  Predicting how fights play out is something that I’ve done for a long time and I’m not half bad at it.  While there’s a lot to consider in making those predictions, few are more important than state of mind.

After Joanna lost the belt, her reality had fractured.  Before that fight, she had an *absolute belief* that she was the best in the world and that she could not be beat.  It was this supreme level of confidence that helped her get into the head of her opponents as well as helping her perform as well as she did in the cage.  But after that fight, where she had been viciously knocked out, she had to find a way to reconcile these two opposing realities.  One in which she was unstoppable and would never lose, and one in which she had been defeated, by knockout, and where she was no longer the champion.  I find that how we face these hard truths largely determine what we’re able to learn from them and what we learn from them largely determines how we grow as individuals.

Coming into the rematch, Joanna kept saying that she was still number 1, that she was a dominant champion for a reason, that it was a bad weight cut which left her susceptible to the knockout, that she needed to replace her nutritionist, and that it was a fluke KO.  She had a choice of embracing a new reality in which she was no longer champion and had been beat by a fighter who was better that night, or rationalizing why she could remain in her own reality where she was still the best.  One reality provides the raw materials for an exceptional moment of growth while the other provides the comfort of not needing to change.  One is the mindset of the champion and one is the mindset of someone who has peaked.  Rhona Rousey might know a thing or two about this.

This is one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Thug Rose.  Coming off that win, coming off becoming a 25 year old champion in one of the world’s most unforgiving activities, she was just as humble, aware, and open-minded as ever.  She entered into this fight with the mindset of a champion, who was competing for a belt she didn’t yet have.  Some might say, ‘but she was the champion’.  Well, what is a champion?  Someone with a decorative belt?  That’s just hardware.  The best?  Anyone can be beaten on any given night.  The one who everyone perceives as being the best?  Public opinion is fickle.

So what is a champion, and what exactly is the mindset of a champion?

A champion is someone who has been given the title of champion.  No more, no less.   It’s borderline arbitrary.  What’s meaningful is the path it took for the person to get there and earn that distinction.  Rhonda Rousey earned her first championship belt without a fight.  Khabib Nurmagomedov earned his first championship belt after a career of being undefeated, multiple injuries, and 5 opponent changes in 7 days.  It’s about the people.. it’s about the journey.

If a champion is someone who’s been given the title of champion, and it makes more sense to focus on the people and journey, then it’s really the mindset of a champion that deserves our attention.  There’s a dynamic here which cannot be overlooked and it’s a dynamic of confidence.  A fighter who isn’t confident in their abilities will be hesitant, and it’s those split second differences that separate the good from the best.  It’s why so many fights are won and lost in the minds of fighters before they even enter the cage.  If a confident fighter has a distinct advantage over a fighter who isn’t confidence, it starts to make sense why so many championship caliber fighters think they’re god’s gift to MMA.  It’s almost like a trick you play on your own mind, saying that you’re the best before you ever knew you were.  But then you win, and you win again, and for the 0.0001% who become a UFC champion, you’ve almost validated the lie you’ve been telling yourself for years.  And then that lie becomes your reality.  And then your reality becomes fragile.

My question is why does one have to draw confidence from a lie, when the truth is that much more powerful?  Why would you tell yourself that you’re undeniably the best when you could look at your competition and let them inspire you to be even better?  Why would you think that you’re incapable of losing, when a loss would give you more to learn from than any win?  And so I would suggest that there is a difference between someone who is a champion, and someone who has the mindset of a champion.

A fighter like Rhonda Rousey had the skills and confidence to be a dominant champion for many years, but lacked the mindset of a champion to overcome her losses.  Reconciling a lifetime of thinking she was unbeatable with being brutally knocked out in back to back fights was enough to break her.  She lacked the skills necessary to use those losses to evolve, and instead retired into another fantasy, the WWE.  At least she can be a champion there right?  Then you have fighters like Demetrious Johnson, or George St. Pierre, or countless others who have let their losses inspire greatness from within.

Realizing your place within the universe, being able to understand your situation for what it is (and what it isn’t) has to be one of the most important important qualities any person can have.  It requires a tremendous amount of courage at times, to see yourself or the world as it is, especially when you see something you’d rather not see.  But when given the choice to ignore it, rationalize around it, or rise above it, the choice should be clear.  If you can back that up with the skills to pay the bills… that’s a real champion.

EQ vs. IQ

I was reading an article the other day about hiring practices.  The article discussed how people used to hire for IQ, until they learned that it was better to hire for EQ.  An example they gave was how brilliant leaders would rarely fail for a lack of IQ, but failed often for a lack of EQ.  Interesting.  The article went on to talk about how people are now hiring for LQ, or a learning quotient.  Now they’re talking my language.  In an age where your ability to acquire knowledge is worth 10x your ability to retain it… this is the age of learning.

But I digress.

What inspired this entry was the article’s brief comparison between EQ and IQ, suggesting that EQ is a better predictor of job performance than IQ.  I can’t help but disagree with that.  And I can’t help but think that EQ, as the general public understands it, has become overvalued.

Before the Justin Trudeau ran for Prime Minister, I remember hearing all these comparisons to Pierre Trudeau, his dad who had also held the role of Canadian Prime Minister.  The one which stood out for me was from John Oliver and it was about IQ vs EQ.  Where Pierre Trudeau was intellectually brilliant, Justin Trudeau had Emotional Intelligence.  I’ve been paying very close attention to the value of EQ since and I’ve noticed a few things.

I guess the first thing we should do is define the term EQ.  Google defines it as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” It’s the first time I’ve seen that definition and I quite like it.  Actually, I really like it.  Let’s break it down.  The first part is about self-awareness, self-expression, and the ability to control your emotions.  So often, someone who is highly emotional qualifies themselves as having a high EQ but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  If being aware of your emotions and having an ability to control them is part of EQ, that makes a lot of sense.  The second part is about being able to understand the emotions of others while handling those relationships fairly.  This is where things get interesting.

Emotions are part of the human blueprint.  To assume they don’t exist is incorrect.  To assume they can be suppressed indefinitely is unhealthy.  To be aware of, to be in control of, and being able to experience emotions seems to be the philosophy of emotional intelligence and I can get behind that.  Being able to understand the emotions of others, as a non-verbal language… I can get behind that, too.  Where I think the modern understanding of EQ falls apart is when handling interpersonal relationships judiciously.

I’m often criticized for being insensitive.  I’m also recognized as being very honest.

If you were presented with the option of telling someone what they wanted to hear and making them feel good about themselves, or telling them a hard truth and making them feel bad about themselves, which would you choose?

When people discuss individuals with a high EQ, they seem to be discussing people who are skilled at telling people what they want to hear.  It’s like a comedian walking into a room, being able to feel out the crowd, and then delivering the kinda jokes they want to hear.  When you hear what you want to hear, you feel good about yourself, and when you feel good about yourself, you tend to think highly of the person who helped you get there.  That’s what I see when I see EQ being discussed in the mainstream,and it’s wrong.

In the age of thought bubbles and echo chambers, we desperately need to move away from the people who are skilled at telling us what we want to hear.  Those who prioritize telling us what we want to hear are selfish.  For them, our long-term well-being is secondary to feeling good in this moment.  And feeling good in this moment almost always produces what they’re actually looking for.. a date, a sale, a vote.. and even a presidency.  And it’s extremely unhealthy.

There’s a 50 Cent song from back in the day called A Baltimore Love Thing.  50 raps from the perspective of heroin.  If you’d like to know what a relationship looks like when the other person cares more about making you feel good in the moment than your long-term health, that’s it.  And if you’re looking towards the other end of the spectrum, think exercise.  It always sucks at first, and the harder the exercise, the more it burns.  But the more you do it, the better you feel about and the healthier you are.

And this brings me back to my personal struggle, perhaps why this topic is of such interest to me.

Over and over, I’m labelled as low EQ because being capable of understanding and controlling my emotions is perceived as suppressing or not engaging with them.  Over and over, I’m labelled as insensitive because I’m unafraid of delivering the hard truths that help people the most.  Over and over I’m told that I’m not empathetic towards others because I’d rather motivate and inspire than offer blind support.  I’m done accepting those criticisms.

I am not without room for improvement, but I am not without EQ.

 

 

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

Walking Through Life with the Confidence of a Honey Badger

Several years ago, I watched ‘The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger” video.  As entertaining as that video was, it was also the first time I had really seen a Honey Badger in action.  King Cobras, bees, jackals.. The Honey Badger did not give a shit.

Last week, I found out that the skin of a Honey Badger was so durable, that it could withstand a machete, arrows, and spears.  I suppose there can be some real value in having thick skin.  And off my mind went…

I read a book a couple years ago which discussed the concept of not taking anything personally.  The idea is that whatever someone was saying about you or to you, was a reflection of how they were experiencing their reality, more than it was a reflection of you.  If a random stranger yelled a racial slur at you, there’s a good chance that outburst had more to do with them than it did with you.  Even if that random stranger said something flattering, the premise is the same.  The goal is to understand why something is being said, rather than to take what is being said at face value.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach.  There are times where someone paid me a compliment that I really enjoyed hearing, and instead of understanding why they had paid me a compliment, I accepted it as a true statement.  Later, I would discover that I had been misled, not because the other person was malicious in their intentions, but because I misunderstood their perspective or what they were trying to communicate.  If your priority is to have an accurate understanding of the world, you need to be mindful of the prejudice and bias of how others see the world – even when it’s in your favor.

While I appreciate how this approach has helped keep my ego in check, it’s arguably most effective as a defensive measure.  While I’m not perfect, I do my best to walk through life without fear, anger, or hate.  And I’m getting pretty darn good at it.  How?  I walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger.

I wasn’t born with thick skin.  These callouses were earned.  A lot of it was scar tissue.

I entered into adulthood understanding that sensitivity was not always a strength.  Being sensitive worked against me more often that it worked in my favor because a high degree of sensitivity would bypass my ability to think about things rationally – and I would just react.  More often than not, these reactions were extremely counter-productive.  I had to learn to handle things differently.

In my 20s, I learned the value of rational thought.  Emotions and sensitivity became something to control, not something which I would let control me.  Someone could call me the meanest thing they could come up with, and I’d be more likely to end up at a point of compassion than of anger.  I would also have more confidence in my ability to turn that person into a friend than an enemy.  And even if I couldn’t make any progress with that individual, I could move on from the situation knowing that I handled the situation the best I could and that I may have created an opening for someone else down the road.  There was something enlightened about this approach, and yet it left me feeling invincible.

I now walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger, knowing that there’s very little that others can do to hurt me.  And it’s changed the way I see the world.  Without fear, there is no hate.  Without hate, there is no anger.  Without fear, hate, or anger, Love is a much more natural state of mind.  Walking through life, ready to love… I can’t help but think this is a far more productive approach than walking through life ready to fear.

Now in my 30s, I’m trying to incorporate a more balanced approach, inclusive of sensitivity and emotions.  These days, I understand sensitivity to be like a dial on an instrument which collects data. If you turn the dial to zero, then you’ll collect no new information and you might as well not have the instrument at all.  If you turn the dial on the instrument to 100, you better have the ability to process all that information accurately.  I suspect that most people have a hard time adjusting that dial themselves.  I’ve seen a lot of men out there who have set that dial as low as possible and go through life too insensitive to notice the emotional nuances of those around them.  I’ve also seen a lot of women out there who have their dial set rather high, and go through life overly sensitive to the actions and words of those around them.  I doubt either is healthy.

A thick skin doesn’t make you insensitive to the world around you.  A thick skin is the difference between someone wanting to hurt you and someone being able to hurt you.  And when you realize that this dynamic exists entirely in your head, as an understanding of how the world works, it really does stand out to me as something special.  Imagine a world, full of people who are never offended, never angry, never fearful.  That world often exists inside my head… but then I venture out into the real world and I’m reminded of how much fear, hate, and despair exists in the world.

I’m not entirely sure how to navigate what comes next…  But I do know how I’ll carry myself in the process.

 

Decentralized journalism

Had an idea the other day.  I think it could be a big one.

Decentralization is something I’ve paid a great deal of attention to over the years.  We’ve seen it tackle the taxi industry, hotels, and several forms of media.  Next, I’m keen to see how it tackles things like energy and currency.  In each case, the premise seems rather simple:  Make better use of the resources we already have, and let technology shoulder the workload of keeping things organized.

Every great business is a solution to a very real problem.  In this case, the solution is to the problem of modern journalism.  Currently, journalism places a greater emphasis on being first than it does on being right.  Sensationalism has replaced accuracy.  Journalism has become more about producing ammunition than telling a story.  And it needs to change.

There’s a curious link between humans, size, power, and corruption.  The bigger we get, the more power we’re inclined to have, and the more power we’re inclined to have, the more susceptible we are to corruption.  The news industry in America became tremendously powerful over the decades, and was far more centralized than most people realized.  Even today, organizations like Sinclair and Fox are making significant moves to expand their political reach.  Anytime an industry gets big and corrupt like this, it’s time for decentralization to save the day.

My idea is a news platform which would allow journalists to earn a living while maintaining their independence and their integrity.  While also holding them accountable.  I realized that while I knew the names of all these news anchors, I couldn’t name the author of a single article I had read in the last week.  The twisted thing is that I barely watch any cable news – and I real a lot of articles.  Why didn’t I know their names?  It was because they were promoted as secondary to the organization they were reporting on behalf of.  I wonder what journalism would look like if journalists were front and center for their work?

Similar to a Google news feed or Reddit, your feed would be a collection of news articles curated around your interests.  What would make it different though, is that the person behind the article would also be well profiled.  These individuals deserve to be recognized for the work that they’re doing.  By letting good journalists be closely associated with their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing and build a reputation for it.  By letting poor journalists be closely associated for their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing as well.

How these journalists would be profiled is a very interesting question.  An overall 5 star review system would probably be part of it, but maybe not.  Maybe the 5 star rating system is a better predictor of popularity than competence.  I know that for me personally, the biggest concerns in journalism are honesty and accuracy.  So maybe the first thing that gets added to the profile is a bullshit meter.  If you used alternative facts in a story you wrote, the people reading should know that and be able to hold you accountable.  And that becomes part of your profile..

Most of our news today is delivered to us through a TV personality, quoting another news organization, using a piece of information gathered by one of their journalists, who used an anonymous source to report what they heard.  By the time you hear it, you’re not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.  Who knows by the time it makes it to you.  But what if the journalist who broke this news, had an immaculate track record with their news releases?  What if they used anonymous sources?  Would you care if they’ve always been accurate?  Personally, I don’t mind the use of anonymous sources if they’re being verified by someone who I trust.  Not all anonymous sources should be treated equally.

So we would want everyone to be held accountable to the same standards of honesty.  How that would be accomplished exactly, I’m not sure.  I think it would probably do well to partner with an existing fact checking organization, but the best solution would involve the community holding its own community members accountable.  Something I enjoy thoroughly about the comment section on Reddit (depending on the subreddit), is that the most upvoted comment is often one that adds more clarity to the article.  Sometimes it’s for calling out the article on inaccuracies, sometimes it’s by providing additional sources to elaborate on a point.  I think that a community like this would be imperative to this platform’s long-term success.

The next thing I’d like to see on journalist prifles are accuracy of speculative statements.  If you have someone who’s always telling you how things are going to turn out, it’s important to know how often they’re right.  Those who are able to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy should probably be listened to more.  Those found to be crying wolf too often, should probably be heard less.  Allowing for people to be held accountable to these speculative statements will hopefully drive more practical discussions and limit unreasonable fear mongering.

However this profile ends up looking, it’s purpose is to give the audience context about who they’re hearing the story from.  It’s to help create an informed reader, while encouraging journalistic integrity.  Especially in a climate like this, I’m confident in the value of honesty.  I’m confident in the peoples’ value of journalistic integrity and honesty, but I’m also sympathetic to their distrust of large media corporations controlling the dialogue.  This would be a big step in separating the two.

I think this would have to work in tandem with a user profile as well.  One of the biggest issues we run into in modern media are thought bubbles and echo chambers.  Perhaps a way around that is having an algorithm track your bias.  For example, if your political bias shows that you’re off center, the algorithm would include some of the most credible articles that might disagree with your views.  A balanced perspective is key, and there’s no evidence to suggest that everything in your news feed should be something that you agree with.

Another element of this platform is that it would welcome all sources of media.  Podcasts are the new radio.  YouTube is the new TV.  This is about inclusivity of talent, and allowing merit to drive the spotlight.

Now how would you go about attracting all these high quality reporters away from their existing jobs?  Promise them the flexibility and freedom to write about whatever they’d like, at whatever place they’d like to write at?  Too easy.  Tell them they get to work from where ever they’d like, as little or as often as they’d like?  Meh.  Promise them that they’ll be the one’s who are recognized for their articles and that they have the ability to build a personal brand around their craft?  Maybe.  Or maybe tell them that they’ll have a 50% revenue split with all ad revenue generated by their articles.  Bam.

People might say that democracy is dying when Trump is elected while half the American voting population stays home.  Yet we’re liking, and up-voting more than ever.  I think we enjoy voting, it’s just that there’s a bit of a cost reward calculation going on.  Putting some big up-votes behind some talented journalists who aren’t afraid to put their neck on the line to expose those big truths… we could bring them to the mainstream.  We could make heroes out of them and remind ourselves of the ideals we should be striving for.  We could give journalism the home it deserves.

So where to start?  School news papers of course.  I\ve learned that when looking to the future, look to the kids.  Go to the high schools, universities and colleges, and show them how easy it is to move their school publication on to this platform.  Instead of having to run everything through the bureaucracy of a normal news paper or site, have your journalists operate independently.  Teachers might not be into it. Some parent’s might be concerned.  But that’s the point.  And the fun.  Have the conversations that they don’t want you to have.  Talk about the things that you’ve been told not to talk about.  Dig into the real.  And imagine how real that gets at a university paper.  And imagine the power of a platform like this taking hold at an academic level, and producing the fierce, confident, intelligent, rational journalists that are capable of providing us with an honest and accurate view of the world.

Wouldn’t that be something.