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.

 

Truth & Reality, and why it matters (Part 3)

This marks my third attempt at trying to tackle a subject that I started over a month ago.  Part of me feels like it was a failure that I couldn’t do this in one try.  Another part of me feels a bit foolish for thinking I could create any semblance of a summary on the topic (regardless of attempts).  And yet another part of me appreciates that I took a crack at it and for having learned a few things along the way.

For over a month now, I’ve been asking myself why truth and reality matter.  I’ve been reading other peoples’ interpretations of the matter.  I’ve watched TED talks on it.  I’ve talked to friends about it.  And I’ve even revisited uncomfortable conversations where this was the theme.  I keep coming back to the same thing:

If truth and reality don’t matter, what does?

That’s the answer that popped immediately into my head the first time I asked it.  I thought it was a novel response, but also a bit of a cop out.  Answering a question with a question is always a bit cheeky and I was looking for something a bit more concrete anyways.  But I kept coming back to that.  Finally, I thought to explore that direction a bit further.  And as is usually the case, while in the shower, I made progress.

It comes down to this frustration of mine.  When people feel that we’re all entitled to our own truth and our own reality… that we don’t all share a truth and a reality… I lose the ability to connect with them.  The example that comes to mind first is talking to religious fundamentalists about the age of the earth.  The scientific consensus is 4.5 billion years old while various religious texts suggest only a few thousand years old.  If you were to approach one of these individuals and suggest that the earth might be much older than they believe, they might tell you that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.  If you were to provide them with evidence which challenged their belief, they might respond by saying that god put that there to test their faith.  If you were to provide them with logic which challenged their belief, they might respond by saying god put you there to challenge their faith.  No matter what you might do or say, it only confirms their narrative.  Rather than continuing to try and understand the reality which we all live in, that person has committed to their tribe’s interpretation… one in which I struggle to find common ground.

I suspect this theme is well understood by those who work at mental health institutions with more extreme disorders.  When someone shares a reality with you, there’s an alignment.  With an alignment, things like communication, empathy, intuition, and chemistry are possible;  and can even become effortless.  When that alignment is absent.. I’m picturing a therapist trying to communicate with someone who has severe dementia.  They exist in two different worlds.  Both have a genuine belief that their world is real, but the two exist in vastly different interpretations of the same reality.

Without a shared reality, we lose the ability to connect with one another.  If we were chess pieces, reality would be our chess board.  If you’ve decided that you’re a checker, we’ve likely lost the ability to interact in a meaningful way.  And if too many people start to think they’re playing checkers, we lose the ability to play chess.  Chaos.

But how do we know we’re chess pieces and not checkers?  Isn’t it important to explore alternative explanations?  Is that not a primary purpose of freedom?

The hard truth is that we’ll probably never know for certain whether we’re playing chess or checkers.  The way in which our minds sense, interpret, and then hallucinate our realities, there always exists the potential that this is all a grand dream (or a simulation being run by advanced aliens).  And the hard truth we must accept is that this possibility will always exist and we must understand it to move forward.  Yes it’s a possibility, but one which has only ever existed in theory.  Everything we’ve ever observed would suggest that our reality is real.  Technically it is still an assumption, but it’s the assumption that all other assumptions are built on.  If we can’t agree on this, nothing else that we might agree on would have any basis in reality (because we couldn’t first agree on reality).

I often look at the universe through the lens of building blocks.  Matter has building blocks.  Math and physics have building blocks.  Even logic has building blocks.  When I’m thinking about connecting with old friends, things are seamless.  The building blocks of trust and familiarity are already there.  If I presented a new idea, it would be received fairly.  If the information was good and the logic was sound, my friends would look at that as an opportunity to learn and expand their understanding of the universe.  If it was bad information and faulty logic, they would make fun of me relentlessly.  Either way, this requires us to understand that we all live in our own interpretation of a shared reality.  What truly exists in my reality also exists in theirs and vice versa.  None of our interpretations are entirely accurate or complete, but some interpretations are more accurate and more complete than others.

If I were to try and have a conversation with strangers in which I was challenging their beliefs, one would hope that we would still agree on the basics.  Basics like the laws of physics, the value of logic, and that we all exist within a shared reality.  I would go so far as to say that if we all had a deep understanding of each, we’d be far more constructive in resolving conflicts and learning about the world around us.  Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.  Instead, I’ve found that people prefer to maintain their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence or reason.  And that’s where you start migrating away from the reality which we all exist in and start to build walls around the interpretation of reality you’ve created for yourself.  While potentially harmless at times, I can’t help but think that this, as a way of life, is deeply counter-productive to humanity’s goals.

 

I think I’ve made a case for why reality matters, but truth isn’t necessarily the same thing.  I’ve been grappling with the difference between a true statement and a universal truth.  Coming up with definitions we can all agree on is important to conversations like these.. otherwise we’re using the same words but talking about different things.  It’s important to have that common ground.  While there are nuanced differences between a universal truth and a true statement, I think that from the right perspective, they’re both the same.

A true statement would be something to the effect of looking down at your shoes, seeing red shoes, and then saying that you are wearing red shoes.  But what if your shoes weren’t red?  What if you had a genetic variance that caused you to see your green shoes as red?  You would see red, meaning that it was a true statement.  But if everyone else saw green, are the shoes not green?  I think this is the nuance between a true statement and a universal truth.  A true statement is an honest recollection of your interpretation of our shared reality while a universal truth is something which is true for everyone, whether or not they realize it.  And I can’t help but think that they are still the same thing.  Something to the effect of when someone makes an inaccurate ‘true statement’, it’s an act which occurs in reality.  If something occurs in reality, that action is true to everyone; ergo, the statement is false but the action is true.

And perhaps therein lies the monumentally confusing feat we’ve been struggling with.  With all of our genetic and cognitive differences, we’re bound to interpret our shared reality differently from one another.  It’s like we’re photographers, all taking pictures of the same scene.  While only one scene exists, we’ll produce a variety of pictures.  Some will be a difference of perspective, some will be a difference of equipment, some will be a difference of technique, and some will come up with their own wacky shit.  That’s not just OK, that should be encouraged.  But we must remind ourselves that our pictures are not the scene.  Our pictures are glimpses of the scene, just as the worlds which our minds project are only glimpses of the world we all live in.

Logic is how we find truth.  Truth is how we find reality.  And perhaps finding reality is a good start to understanding our place within it.

The Religion of Self-Help

A few weeks ago, I attended my first self-help seminar.  I resisted the invite but a good friend insisted that if I went in with an open-mind, I was bound to learn something.  I told him that with an open-mind, you’re bound to learn something no matter where you are.  He said there was a money-back guarantee.  He said that if nothing else, he was very interested to see how someone like me to would behave in an environment like that.  I agreed.

I went to PSI Seminars: Basic which was a 3 day seminar with about 70 other people at a middle-tier hotel in the burbs.  The group was diverse but seemed to be weighted more towards newer immigrants and the middle-class.  I also noticed that while many came in with a healthy dose of skepticism, they also came looking for help in facing their own personal challenges.

The curriculum introduced several valuable concepts like game theory, personality science, and why it helps to stray from your comfort zone.  It also included classics like the law of attraction and self-love.  The 3 days were largely a mix of lectures, group exercises, and personal exercises.  There was a lot of clapping.

When I wrapped up the weekend, I asked for my money back.  It just wasn’t for me.  I think that when you ask for your money back, they follow up to try and figure out why.  They sent my group’s ‘micro-leader’, a 20-something nice kid who I got along well with.  In our conversation, he asked me what I learned at the seminar.  I told him that I learned many things, but perhaps most significant, I learned a great deal about religion.  I don’t think that’s the answer he was expecting.

I grew up without religion.  Both my parents went to church when they were young but they had fallen out of it by the time they had children of their own.  My earliest understanding of religion was that it was unnecessary.  It was easy to see that you could be a good person without religion, and that you could be a bad person with religion.  I also knew that many religious teachings hadn’t aged well, leaving their supporters with out-dated values.  More than anything, it seemed like religion was holding back the natural progression of morality.

As I got older, I became more spiritual and started focusing more on the intangibles of the universe which connect us all.  On that journey, I started noticing that much of what I was discovering for myself already existed in religious texts.  These epiphanies of mine weren’t new ideas, they were ancient ideas.  They were ideas that resonated so strongly with their audience, that people built entire organizations around these ideas.  This was the root of religion.  Things started to make more sense.  Where I once resisted religion, I was now in a place where I could understand it.

When I was younger, I came up with an idea: The Church of Good.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever typed that out because I just saw the play on words.  Anyways… the church of good was simply a church without religion.  This would be a place where people would come to hear the inspiring stories of what real people have done to make the world a better place.  It would be a place where we could learn the ideas and practices which would help us be better to one another.  It would also be a place were people could find community among others who were motivated to be good people.  It was supposed to be the best of religion without the worst.

That idea has sat in the back of my mind for over a decade now.  For most of that time, I saw religion as toxic.  But then I kept meeting people whom I admired in many ways, who also happened to be religious.  How could I admire someone who lived their life according to something which I considered to be toxic?  There was a disconnect.  The people I admired were good, decent people.  They generous when they didn’t have much, they were kind to those who weren’t kind to them, and they seemed to be more motivated by a collective good than by personal gain.   Most of them looked at the organized side of religion as a formality, traditions within their tribe.  For many of them, it was the least interesting part.  What they all seemed to have in common though, was an appreciation for the greater good and and enjoying being part of a community that prioritized it.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why religion had such popularity and staying power in the face of such obvious flaws.  Why couldn’t people see that they were being lied to?  And manipulated?  And often, for the sake of those who clearly weren’t operating in the spirit of the teachings.  But then it clicked, they were learning things at church that they weren’t learning anywhere else – Important things.

When I was fired from the bank, I was forced to leave a career I had put my everything into.  My world came crashing down and I experienced suffering.  That experience offered me lessons about myself and my journey that would’ve been very challenging to grasp otherwise.  I became a much stronger and more capable person because of it.  The last time something happened like that, it was my dad who died.  I noticed a pattern: that my greatest moments of growth followed my greatest moments of suffering.  With that understanding, my perspective on suffering changed.  Suffering was no longer to be feared or avoided, but understood, appreciated, and embraced.  I mentioned this to a friend and he told me that this was a classic Buddhist teaching.  Well then.

If we were to look at all the lessons learned from all the religions, I suspect we would find patterns of morality and purpose.  I’m not saying that everything we’d find is something which should be taught today.   What I am saying that we would find a pattern of people trying to understand how to be better to one another and a pattern of people trying to understand their place within the universe.  I can’t help but think that this is the true value of religion… an opportunity to learn about the more philosophical side of the human experience.. A deeper understanding of who you are and your place in the universe.

I knew all this going into the PSI Seminar.  I had even made some connections between religion and self-help before going in.  Experiencing it first hand was something else.

I would imagine that for those who weren’t raised to be religious, turning to religion is an exercise in finding answers.  I think self-help serves that same purpose.  The people in that room were not there because everything was going well, they were in search of a better way.  But many still arrived skeptical, perhaps like you would on your first day of church.

The facilitator (who happened to be a former church minister), took the stage with all the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker (or preacher).  And after some icebreakers, he started getting into some very real teachings.  People learned.  There were ‘a-ha!’ moments.  People were making breakthroughs.  Trust was being earned.

There were various exercises where you were encouraged to build deep connections with those around you.  Almost all were strangers who you didn’t know 48 hours ago.  It was a valuable reminder that we’re more similar than we are different.  It also reminded us that connecting with one another is a rather natural experience when we don’t let our personal baggage get in the way.  A sense of community was being built.

A few rituals were introduced.  Things like a big ‘good morning!’ response, jumping up and down yelling ‘I’m excited’, or the awkward soul-train dance party.  Part of how I picked up on it was observing the volunteers.  These were individuals who had done the course previously, and were coming back to observe.  They were on-point with all the rituals.  Culture was being established.

On the third day, PSI showed how they approached the business side of self-help.  The 3 day seminar cost about $800.  People who have taken the seminar are then heavily encouraged to have their friends take it.  The general message seems to be, ‘look at how great it was for you and everyone else here, don’t you want this for your friends?’  The PSI: Basic seems to operate as a feeder for their second seminar, referred to as The Ranch.  The Ranch is a 7 day retreat (to a ranch), and about 10x the cost of the basic.  When they made the pitch for the ranch, they also made the pitch for the course after it.  Then they offered to bundle the two together for a discounted price (about  $9,000).  They said “If you think that’s a lot of money and you’re not sure, just sign up for it.  If you make the commitment, you’ll find the money.”  Then they said this deal is only available for the next 20 minutes.

You’re doing what now?

After two and a half days of learning, and appreciating, and building community… where did this come from?  At least the church focused on the collection plate.  I couldn’t sit there and do nothing.  So I piped up and asked if this was the kind of financial decision that people should probably think about for more than 20 minutes.  The facilitator agreed.

During that 20 minutes, the facilitator came back up to me and offered a different answer to my question.  I reminded him that regardless of what answer he wanted to provide, he knows that these are classic pressure-sales tactics.  He conceded.  I asked him why he went along with it.  He said that whether it was the church or PSI, there were always practices that he didn’t agree with.  That sounds about right.

When I was doing the follow-up interview with our micro-leader, I asked him what he thought about these tactics.  He said lots of other people do the same thing.  I told him he was right, that you see it everywhere from MLMs, to time-shares, to religious cults.  I asked why he wasn’t more interested in holding them accountable.  He spoke about all the good that PSI does for people.  That being manipulated into a self-help program that turns out to be really good for you isn’t really that bad.  I asked him if the end justified the means.  He said no, not really.

But he found his religion.. his tribe.. where he wants to search for answers.. and I wasn’t going to change his mind.

 

 

 

 

Equal Opportunity vs Equal Outcome in Nature

Love me some shower time… something very meditative about it.  I always seem to come up with interesting thoughts.  Just got out of the shower, and I was thinking about how equal opportunity and equal outcome present themselves in nature.  Consider this:

In a forest of trees, some trees are taller than others.  The tallest of the trees tend to absorb the most sun, allowing them to grow taller still.  The shadows which these trees cast on those around them often prevent others from becoming as tall.  Some trees won’t survive their first few years.  Others are planted and never grow at all.

Should we be upset at the tallest of trees for absorbing all that sunlight while casting shadows over others?  Should we be upset with nature for creating an environment where such inequality exists?  Is the forest that we really want, one in which all trees grow to the same size?

When I look at a forest, I don’t look at what should be, I see a remarkably complex and eloquent example of what is.  When you find that tallest tree and ask why that tree is so tall, you’ll see what I mean.  Maybe that tree had good genetics.  Maybe it was planted in just the right spot.  Maybe it was planted in a terrible spot, but a neighboring tree fell down and a terrible spot became a great spot.  Maybe someone saw it slouching over when it was younger and helped it out.  Maybe the logging company decided they’d go elsewhere.  Either way, it did the only thing that trees know how to do.  It planted roots, stretched towards the sunlight, and grew.

This is how nature operates.  It does so without any sense of right and wrong or fair and unfair.  Nature is uninterested in a forest of trees which all grow the same for the sake of equality.  Why is that?  Perhaps nature has an appreciation for the shade which we have yet to grasp.  Perhaps it’s the shade that forces us to evolve.  A tree with good tree genetics, which is given all the sunlight it needs, will only ever be a tree.  It’s the tree which grows in the shade which is forced to find new ways of being a tree.

The Digital Dimension

Remember Elon saying that there was a good chance that we were a part of an advanced civilization’s computer simulation?

And now we have all this multi-verse theory with infinite possibilities across infinite dimensions.  Aww jeez.

But how?

Here’s one idea.. a digital dimension.  Bear with me on this.

If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, is it a duck?

If you couldn’t tell the difference between your reality and a digitally simulated reality, then is the digitally simulated reality not just an alternate reality?  If they both carried the same laws of physics, same galaxies, same solar systems, same planets, same people, is there really a difference?

But what if you were to simulate a different set of physical laws, in a newly designed universe with new planets and new species? How would you classify this reality?

How can you be sure that you’re not in it now?

And how would one go about designing such a digital reality?  The idea of intelligent design, suggesting that the evolution of the universe from it’s origin to the present day was a planned out process seems unrealistic.  Too many variables over too much time.  But who’s to say that intelligent design couldn’t have been part of the equation?

If I was in the business of creating universes, this might be my approach:

  1. Design a set of physical laws which would govern the physical world.
  2. Bring all the contents of this physical universe into a single point, creating an immense pressure to expand
  3. Pop the bubble and see what happens

So who’s to say you couldn’t build this scenario within a digital universe?  Assuming the computing power was available, you could take the contents of a universe, compress them into a single point, with predetermined physical laws, and hit enter.  If that simulation were to run long enough, say 13.8 billion years, would you be all that surprised to find intelligent life within your digital universe?  Perhaps even intelligent life who had begun to understand the origins of your creation?

I’d like to push this out to one more thought.  Would it be possible to create a different set of physical laws that the ones we’ve observed?  Could light travel twice as fast? What about half the speed?  How would this impact all the other physical laws? Error?  How many of our physical laws are functions of other, more fundamental physical laws?  How inter-connected are they?  I would guess completely.  If so, could you change one without changing the rest?  Is there a recipe for a functional universe beyond the laws which exist here?

Hmm…

 

 

When the only thing that looks the way you wanted it to is your LinkedIn profile

A few days ago, a good friend sent me the ‘Corporate Fuckboi Starter Pack’.  2 years ago, I would’ve checked off just about every god damn box on that list.  I wasn’t big on happy hours or energy drinks, but the rest was close enough.  On the surface, things looked good.  They looked a lot like my LinkedIn profile.

I used to joke around and say that on paper, I was the guy that every girl’s parents hoped they would bring home:  Nice guy, clean cut, university educated, good job, bright future, etc., etc.  The rest was a bit complicated.

I think I grew up with the wrong idea about personal and professional development.  Rather than looking at it like an exploratory exercise or a journey to be enjoyed, I looked at it like a race that I was supposed to win.  I would pick a path based on what those around me respected most.  It rarely had anything to do with who I was, and everything to do with how high of a bar I could set for myself. And I committed myself to getting there faster than anyone else.  In the process, I learned to prioritize income, status, resources, and eventually, making a positive impact in the world.

Part of that competitive effort was building the kind of track record which would allow me to compete at the higher levels.  Enter LinkedIn.  Between my volunteer and professional efforts since 2009, my resume now read Branch Manager, Director, Director, President, Director, Investment Advisor, Vice President, Vice President.  Had I told a younger me that this is what my resume would look like at 32, he would’ve been pumped.  Would he believe me if I told him that it’s all bullshit?

What if I told a younger me that every minute spent manufacturing this impression of who I thought I was supposed to be, was a minute wasted?  Not because it didn’t get me ahead.  But instead, because it held me back.

I often think about what would’ve happened to me had things played out differently at the bank.  I was on pace to earn a 7 figure income by my mid-30s.  I was very good at my job.  My clients were very appreciative of my efforts.  Income, status, making the world a better place for my clients and then having the ability to do a fair bit of philanthropy?  That was the plan… doesn’t sound so bad does it?

But that person isn’t me.  It almost was.  Maybe it still is in a parallel universe.  But it isn’t me now.  My path will be more difficult.  My path will be more interesting.  My path will not be defined by milestones on my LinkedIn resume.  I’ve lost all interest in becoming what other people expect of me.

Trying to become the best version of what others expected of me is what got me here.  That and my competitive drive to do it better than anyone else.  I think the competitive drive is baked into my DNA so my sincerest apologies for everyone who has to deal with that.  But now, it’s time to match that drive with becoming the best version of what I expect from myself.

So what do I expect from myself?  And this is where I can’t help but pull in data from all around me.  What do my friends expect from me?  What about my little sister?  What would my dad expect from me if he was still alive?  What does the world expect from me?  I am fundamentally connected to the universe around me.  When I drop, they ripple.  Those ripples are a reflection of what I am and how I behave, but it’s incredibly hard to reverse engineer that understanding.  And even if I could, would they just reflect the giant question mark that I’ve already hung over my own head?  Or maybe I’m going about it all wrong.  Maybe there’s a different approach…

I’m starting to see these inflection points in my life where things could’ve gone very differently.  I can see an alternate reality in which I’d probably already be married.  I can see an alternate reality in which I was still at the bank.  I can see an alternate reality in which I’m no longer living in the city I grew up in.  And the variables which would’ve led to each were largely out of my control.  So how much control do I really have?

Or maybe it’s not about control.  Maybe it’s about awareness.

Maybe it’s not about choosing a future, and forcing it into reality.  Maybe it’s about understanding where the future is headed, and being aware of your place in all of it.  Maybe it’s about understanding your path more than choosing it.

My LinkedIn profile is an example of someone who thought they knew more than they did and a person who thought they could force a possible future into reality.  That person feels like a dummy.  Moving forward, I’m looking forward to seeing how my LinkedIn resume develops as a reflection of what I find most interesting and engaging.  If I’m fortunate, I’ll find a way to live the rest of my life like that.

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.