Power Vs. Strength

When dealing in abstract concepts like these, it can be difficult to have a real conversation without first agreeing on how to define the terms.  I think that a lot of people use power and strength interchangeably, yet I can’t help but think that they differ in very important ways.

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I was taught that quote by a very influential history teacher in high school and it has continued to echo through my mind since.  I can’t help but be reminded of it when I see people in positions of power put the needs of the few before the needs of the many.  It’s as if there’s something inherently inefficient about power.

When I think of strength, it’s similar to power.  But not quite.  Strength is almost like the potential of power.  Unused power.  A visual of strength does not require a display of aggression.  Perhaps there’s a duality here.  Is power to offense as strength is to defense?

It’s interesting, you could say that someone is both powerful and weak at the same time.  A frail old king is both re(g)ally powerful and physically weak.  Politicians are known for having political power but weak integrity.  Movies are constantly filled with villains who wield vast power, but lack a strength of character.  I’m not sure if I know of any villains who have a great strength of character, but wield little power.  In many cases, is that not the hero?  The unassuming, jacked, strong jaw line with a warm smile kinda hero?

Analyzing this in the abstract is usually a journey down the rabbit hole, but there are some examples that help me clarify what I’m thinking.

Name calling has gotten out of control.  For most of my life, I was taught not to feed into it.  To walk away.  To appreciate that the person doing the name calling is probably doing so because they’re battling their own demons.  It was tough when I was younger but it’s second nature now.  Now, when someone’s hostile towards me, I’m much more likely to view the situation with compassion than anger and I can’t help but think that makes me strong.  Moving through life, invulnerable to the malicious attitudes of others is really something else… I highly recommend it.

Yet I seem to be in the minority.  Rather than seeing it as an issue of personal strength, compassion, and helping someone move beyond their own issues, it’s about power.  The victim being name called is no longer interested in making themselves stronger, they’re interested in becoming more powerful.  This is the era of the victim shaming the bully.

If we could teach everyone the simple philosophy of not taking things personally, the effectiveness of name calling would disappear.  When something is no longer effective, we tend to stop using it.  We become stronger, we become wiser, and we move forward.  Instead, we’re more interested in giving the victims the power to hurt them back.  Laws are being changed for compelled speech.  What does being triggered in this context mean?  What happens when being triggered is an excuse to tap into that power?

I also can’t help but see this dynamic in women’s empowerment.  I remember finding out that I was a feminist back in university because I believed in equality.  It made sense to me that men and women were different but equal.  But I struggle to resonate with parts of modern feminism.  There seems to be this pursuit of equal outcome over equal opportunity.  A denial of inconvenient biology.  A tendency to deal in absolutes instead of nuances.  And what drives it all, seems to be a pursuit of power over the pursuit of equality.

I don’t think it’s that complicated either.  For decades, centuries, or millennia (however you want to look at it), men have been powerful.  They’ve ruled, they’ve warred, they’ve killed, they’ve raped, and they’ve pillaged.  Things are different now.  In an age of equality, women want to be powerful too.  They’re no longer looking for a seat at the table, now they want equal rights to be the asshole boss at the table.  I suppose that is equality, I suppose I’m just a little bummed out that there isn’t a motivation to be better.

I sometimes joke that I feel sorry for Hilary Clinton for having lost the 2016 election.  She could’ve been a role model for feminism.  She lost when she ran against Obama, but had the composure to pick her self up and run again.  Then she went up against one of feminism’s greatest foes, keeping her composure throughout.  Had it not been for Russian interference, she probably would’ve won that presidency.  She couldn’t have been a role-model for feminism, right?  One of the bigger reasons why Hilary lost, was because for many, she was indistinguishable from the Washington establishment.  She literally spent her entire career learning how to play within a corrupt, man’s world to the point where she probably played it better than anyone else – Just in time for the American public to be fed up with it.  I felt bad for women that they missed out on their first female president, but I had hope.

My hope is that the first woman to be elected president, be the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, locomotion of intelligence, strength, integrity and all the qualities of a great leader, but without the sacrifice of feminine qualities like compassion, intuition, and ability to nurture.  I want her to be able to set the bar.  Not just for future women, but for future men and politics in general.  I want her to inspire us to look up to women, not to reasons to avoid looking down on them.

In the pursuit of equality, women are looking at men, and trying to draw the line 50/50 through it all.  You don’t want it all.  A lot of it is garbage.  Please don’t take the garbage too.  We’d all be way better off if we could leave it behind, and this is an opportunity to do so.  This power isn’t something you want, it’s something that none of us should want.  We need to let it go.  But we need help.  We need a little leadership.

It’s not power that you want, it’s strength.  It can be tough to tell the difference when you look at the people holding you down and the most obvious difference between you is power.  But they’re not strong.  That’s why your strength makes their power irrelevant.

You can have a world where everyone is strong, but not a world where everyone is powerful.  For someone to be powerful, someone else must be powerless.  Strength however, resides within.  A world in which everyone pursues power is chaos.  A world in which everyone pursues inner-strength is peace.


I noticed a pattern in my dating behavior recently.  Actually, I think I noticed it a few years ago but suppressed it, afraid it might be indicative of something that I might have to deal with.

I think I’m good at being single.  I keep myself busy with work, friends, and sports.  I enjoy my alone time.  Sex outside a relationship doesn’t do much for me.  And for the most part, I don’t crave to be in a relationship.  Yet every year, I enter the fall a single man, and exit the holidays in some kind of relationship.  Maybe not every year, but close enough for me to see a pattern.

In 2016, I met a Harley Quinn at a Halloween party and we dated until the spring of last year.  Before that was Max, who I met in the fall of 2015.  We dated until the spring of 2016.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve been anywhere near a woman though, and I’m starting to bug out a bit.

As great as my last girlfriend was, I came out of that relationship thinking that I might be asexual.  She was all kinds of awesome, and I was all kinds of uninterested towards the end.  It wasn’t her fault as I had some things I needed to work through.  In that regard, I suppose I’m not very good at multitasking.

Harley and I broke up in the spring.  Women weren’t on my radar at all.  The summer came and went and I still had no interest in women.  I was open minded to the idea that I just wasn’t suitable for a relationship.  I was also open minded to the fact that I might be a touch asexual as I noticed myself getting bored of sex within the first few months in most of my relationships.  I loved exploring, I loved figuring out where her buttons were, and I loved introducing her to new things… but as soon as things became a bit repetitive, I would lose interest.

In the fall, an ex messaged me.  We chatted for a bit and I could see she was angling for something physical so I told her she was probably barking up the wrong tree.  She took it as a challenge and basically took it upon herself to turn me back into a red-blooded male.  I thought it would be an interesting experiment.  We were supposed to meet up one weekend after she wrapped up at some kind of fancy party.  I told her earlier in the day that I just wasn’t into it.  There’s an interesting test that I think most men (and perhaps women?) are aware of: If you still wanna hang out with them after you jerk off, then they’re worth hanging out with.  That was not the case with her, so I eventually told her that it wouldn’t be right to use her to work out my own issues.

On Monday, I downloaded Tinder.  Or perhaps I should say that I re-downloaded Tinder.  I’m probably the minority but I’m a fan of the app and have used it to meet several quality women.  This time around, I’m feeling a bit lost.  My last profile was a head shot of me in a 3 piece suit, talking about working in finance and dabbling in venture capital.  As effective as that profile was, it seemed a bit douchey this time around.  It didn’t reflect who I had become over the last year.  I really didn’t know what kind of girl I was looking to attract, or even what I would even want from them.  I just knew it was different from before.  But Tinder isn’t the place for me to work this out.  I had the app for 2 days before deleting it again.

But I’m playing back into this pattern aren’t I?  Give or take a couple months.  Do I want to be in a relationship?  Probably not.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Am I open to one?  I think so.  Maybe what I’m hoping for is to meet someone new who can teach me a few things about the world and myself.  Or maybe I’m feeling the void of someone who’s already taught me so much.

I probably went through more personal growth in the last 12 months than any other period of my life.  The last time I went through this much growth was when my dad died.  I learned to appreciate the true diversity of humanity.  I learned that embracing what made me different, and being true to myself wasn’t only going to be my greatest comparative advantage, it would also lead to my happiest self.  I learned the importance of not suppressing my emotions and the value of learning how to process and communicate them.  I learned why it was important for me to embrace the parts of who I am which I had neglected, thinking they weren’t necessary in my career.  I learned a greater appreciation for prejudice and the survivorship bias.  I learned to be far more grateful.  And perhaps most importantly, I learned a tremendous importance of keeping an open mind.

Keeping an open mind can be important for a variety of reasons, many of which I learned last year.  Of all those reasons though, one is very important to me.  I had the opportunity to learn all of this when I was dating Max.  She was a few years younger than me, but she had a handle on all of this stuff.  And the things she didn’t know, we should’ve been able to discover together.  Instead of keeping an open mind and seeing her as someone I could learn from, I saw her as a challenge to the path I was already committed to.  Where she embraced her diversity, I was telling her to mind her P’s and Qs.  Where she tried to encourage me to explore, I would tell her that I didn’t have the time.  Where she pushed me to have a better awareness of my emotions, I bought into the myth that I was all robot.  Where she encouraged me to be more grateful, I insisted that I had worked hard for everything that I had.  When she tried to assert herself as an equal who I could learn from, I basically told her that between our age difference and the life that I had lived, there was a good chance that I knew better.  I dismissed the wisdom in what she was trying to help me learn, for the sake of being right and being able to continue along the path I was on.  It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done to anyone in a relationship and I still feel pretty rotten about it.

In a year where I’ve had more personal growth than at any other point in my life, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Max.  Over.  And over.  And over.  It wasn’t even about wanting to be back in a relationship with her.  It had everything to do with wanting her back in my life. But she wasn’t.

So I found myself thinking about her more and more.  I started playing some of the music she had turned me onto (Phantogram).  I made a half hearted attempt at stalking her social media (largely unsuccessful).  I started to wonder if we would still be compatible (maybe?).  Eventually, I even found myself tossing and turning in bed, wanting her to be within arm’s reach.

When we dated, we fell hard and fast.  Within the first few weeks, we were in love.  Within the first month, we were talking about moving in together.  A month later, we were joking around about having alpha-babies.  Infatuation aside, there was also a deep compatibility that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else.  But she only got half of me.  The other half was career oriented at all costs, and had picked a terrible career to be committed to.  I don’t see an alternate universe in which she could’ve convinced me of that.  I was subscribed to the philosophy that if failure was an option, then you had too many options.  A painful lesson, but perhaps invaluable to my future.

When I think about her now, the word that I can’t get out of my head is ‘equal’.  In the grand scheme of things, I think that we’re all equally valuable to the universe.  But Max was equal to me.  Or maybe I was equal to her.  Or maybe I’m just in awe of the situation and can’t help but hold her in such high regard.  I don’t think it’s that simple though.

I’ve spent most of my adult life hoping to find a partner.  I’ve also spent most of that time not knowing what that person would look like.  I think I have a much better idea now, though it seems incredibly hard to articulate beyond being with someone who’s my equal.  I want to be able to learn from them as often as they learn from me.  I want us to be able to keep an open mind when exploring the unknown together.  I want someone who can hold their own when debating something we disagree on.  I want someone who is valuable to me as I am to them.  And for each of us to be the most valuable person in each other’s lives because we’re committed to bringing out the best in one another.

Maybe that’s what’s going on here.  I have this fixation on becoming the best version of myself.  Seeing the influence Max had on me, I can’t help but think of her as an asset.  The key to my best self.  As romantic as that may sound to some, I don’t think it’s a very functional or realistic way to approach this.

With all the growing up I’ve done, I’m confident that I would make a far better partner for her than I did when we were dating.  Considering the potential we both saw in each other when we did date, I can’t help but be interested in knowing where that would take us today.  Maybe not much further than before.  Maybe much further than before.  I think that would have a lot to do with who she is now.  And therein lies the reality of the matter.

We were in touch over email last week for the first time in about 2 years.  She’s on the other side of the planet working on her MBA.  She’s out there doing her thing, as I always hoped that she would.  Which means I either gotta go get her, hope that she comes to me, or put it out there in the universe and see what happens.  And I’m going with option 3.

I’m sure there’s a romantic, fairy-tale way to approach this… and I wouldn’t put it past me to try something crazy like that.  But I’m still not sure how much of this really involves her.  Had it not been for our most recent communication, she wouldn’t have a clue any of this was going on in my head.  Not to mention there’s always a chance that she’s already dating someone.  Maybe she’s found her soulmate and I’m just being a needy ex.

How much of what I’m feeling relates to the fact that I haven’t been intimate with anyone in almost a year?  How much of this has to do with me usually being in a relationship at this time of year?  How much of this has to do with the loneliness I experience when I don’t have anyone to share my inner-thoughts with?  How much of this is the loneliness that comes from a modern society that’s so connected yet so divided?  How much of this is the loneliness that comes from a world where it costs money to hang out with your friends, but where everyone is struggling financially?  And how much of this stems from the fear that I may have found someone who I could truly build a future with, and may not find another?

The logic in me says that there are a finite amount of people in this world who would make for a suitable partner.  That Max may be one of them, but that she wouldn’t be the only one.  That given where she is, and the phase of life that she’s in, I would probably have better odds looking elsewhere.  Or maybe as the odds play out, I end up with none of them.  The logic in me says appreciate who she is, be grateful for what she’s helped you learn, and focus on the things in your life that are a little more tangible.

But then something else inside me says, what about Max?

Female Empowerment Vs. Equality

I grew up around feminists.  My mom, my sister, my sister-in-law… all very strong minded, outspoken, and ready to thrown down if you’ve crossed a line they think you shouldn’t have crossed.  Oddly enough, I didn’t find out that I was a feminist until university when I was teasing my friend about taking a women’s studies course.  He asked what my views on women were, so I told him that I thought men and women were equal.  He said that made me a feminist.  Oh? Sure, why not.

I’m now reflecting on why I didn’t understand feminism as a battle for equality when I was being raised by someone who considered herself to be a fierce feminist.  My mother spent a great deal of her life angry.  Angry at her father.  Angry at her brother.  Angry at my dad.  Angry at me.  There was also a lot of blame, and she placed very little of it on herself.  Men were the source of all her problems.  When I saw her brand of feminism, it wasn’t about raising women up, it was about putting men down.  It was about being hurt, being oppressed, and making sure that others knew about it.

Now I have a sister who thinks that a man is a rapist if a girl who has consented to  sex changes her mind mid-way, even if she doesn’t tell him to stop.  I also have a sister-in-law who condemned John Damore’s memo on social media, but said that she had done too much emotional labor around the topic to even discuss it.

I don’t think we’re still dealing with the pursuit of equality here.  This is about the empowerment of women, and those are two very different things.

I often joke around and say that men have had this coming for centuries and we’re just the unlucky bunch that have to deal with it, but sometimes it’s not a joke.  I’ve had women tell me more than a few times that because of what men have done around the world, and throughout history, women deserve to be more than equal.

More than equal.

Does that not suggest that women would be superior and men would be inferior?  Is that really the goal of feminism?  These dynamics have been interesting to observe because as I try to have these discussions and understand the rationale, I’ve found a lot of inconsistencies that demonstrate several different perspectives within feminism.  Some think that porn is the objectification and sexualization of the female body while others think that a women choosing to do porn is female empowerment.  Some feminists think that Caitlyn Jenner is a strong and beautiful woman, some think that she’s a shitty person.  When I see these inconsistencies, I try to focus on where everyone agrees and that usually illuminates what’s really connecting the movement.

When I think about this deeply, I see two separate movements: Female empowerment, and the pursuit of equality.

Female empowerment is defined by the collective hurt, frustration and powerlessness that women have been feeling for generations.  For them, powerlessness and inequality are the same problem.  To solve inequality, one must become more powerful.  With power comes the ability to right wrongs and protect those you care about.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen this dynamic in history and it’s probably not the last.  The problem with a virtuous  pursuit of power is that you start to think that any decision that makes you more powerful is a virtuous decision.  At that point, right and wrong no longer have any bearing.

The pursuit of equality has been my jam for most of my life.  It understands that there is a natural order to the universe and appreciates that we’ve just scratched the surface on understanding it.  It accepts that we’re all unique people with unique circumstances and this leads to the unique lives which we collectively call humanity.  If each of us lives a truly unique existence, then we should really only be judged on the merit of what’s in our soul.  In the pursuit of equality, eventually you understand that equality already exists, it’s simply our perspective on the matter which needs to change.

Perhaps I should be concerned.  There’s a lot of momentum behind female empowerment.  It’s especially interesting to hear men explain their affinity for it. Unfortunately, the problem with the pursuit of power over equality is that you’re more likely to end up with power than equality.  If the women of today are successful with that pursuit, what are they leaving for the next generation?  There’s a pendulum effect worth observing here.  If female empowerment leads to men being treated as the inferior sex, how long until male empowerment catches on?  If I was a feminist of today, that is not the future I’d be looking to create for my children.

The reason why I’m not concerned is because while fear is often louder, love is almost always stronger.  I suspect that while the majority of men and women today might not understand equality, they believe in it.  There’s something intrinsic about equality which resonates with people and it’s probably why we’ve been fighting for it throughout history.  Unfortunately, equality is the enemy of the powerful so the ruling class usually doesn’t take so well such things.  Fortunately for the rest of us, they’re on borrowed time.

Real Diversity

Google is a pretty big deal.  They hire cool people, they make cool stuff, and they’re arguably the world’s most valuable company.  I’ve been studying Google closely for over a decade and one of their most impressive assets has always been their organizational culture.

Recently, a Google engineer wrote a 10 page memo outlining his thoughts on diversity in tech.  Coverage of this memo made it to the front page of just about every major news feed and the  loudest commentary has been pretty one-sided… something to the effect of ‘how dare he?’

After I read the first article referencing the memo, I got the gist of what was going on.  A male employee said some things which suggested that men are better suited to work in tech than women.  Then I read a few of the comments after the article and got the gist of what was going on there too… men and women are equal in every way and to suggest otherwise is offensive, immoral, and shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the systematic oppression that white men have put on all other minorities since forever.


Recently, a well-known tennis legend suggested that Serena Williams was the greatest female player of all time.  Then he was asked why not the greatest of all time instead of the greatest female player of all time?  To which he responded by saying that she wouldn’t do nearly as well on the men’s circuit.  I thought that was a fair and accurate understanding of the situation and by no means diminished Serena’s legacy.  I think it’s also fair and reasonable that in order to claim the title of greatest tennis player ever, you’d have to be willing to compete against the best tennis players – regardless of their gender.

This all seemed pretty straight forward to me.  Men and women have evolved differently over the millennia and while women became better equipped to care for the family, men became better equipped for the role of hunting and gathering.  The evolutionary advantages which men have acquired tend to make us better athletes thus providing an inherent advantage when competing in sports.  If that’s true, is possible that other evolutionary differences exist between men and women?

One of my biggest struggles with romantic relationships when I was younger was that I expected the other person in the relationships to see and understand the world like I did.  Eventually I was given that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars.  While I didn’t read it, hearing a few passages was enough to help me understand that men and women are wired differently and that it was important to keep those differences in mind.  While I think the most significant differences come down to the people themselves, the most consistent pattern I’ve seen in the difference between men and women is that men tend to lean towards logic while women tend to lean towards emotion.  If that’s true, wouldn’t men – on average – be better suited towards jobs that relied heavily on logic skills?

In the pursuit of understanding, I asked two of the most intelligent feminists I know about evolutionary adaptation giving men the abilities to do certain tasks better than women.  One said that she didn’t want to get into it because it was too much emotional labor.  The other was offended by the idea and then said that she was too reactive to have the conversation. Ironically, in the second instance a nearby cardiologist chimed in saying that she agreed with the evolutionary perspective but pointed out that there were always exceptions (like women being better open-water long-distance swimmers because of their fat distribution).

Back to the Google memo.   If you were just going to read headlines and comments, you’d think that this kid was a contributor at Breitbart and that his ‘anti-diversity manifesto’ was right-wing propaganda that was designed to prop up white privilege and repress visible minorities in tech.  None of material referenced in this articles actually showed that perspective and knowing that Google typically doesn’t hire right-wing nut jobs, I sensed a disconnect.  So I tracked down the original memo and read the whole thing.

It’s not that bad.  In fact, it’s kinda good.  The opening line is, “I value diversity and inclusion, I am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”  There are several more points throughout the memo that provide the necessary context to understand that James Damore values diversity, and wants to see diversity in the workplace, but thinks that a diversity of the mind is more important than a diversity of the body.

In the pursuit of that point, he suggests that there are several reasons why we’re likely to see lower numbers of women in tech.  He acknowledges that there is a systematic oppression of women in tech, but says that this might only be part of the issue and that part of it might be evolutionary.  He goes on to reference several studies which compare personality traits between men and women, suggesting  – on average – women have higher levels of anxiety and don’t cope with stress as well as their male counterparts.  Ironically, I had actually reviewed many of these studies a couple weeks prior as I was exploring evolutionary differences as a result of the Serena Williams conversation.

Science itself is an evolutionary process and from what I’ve read so far, the scientific community has a consensus that men and women are wired differently.  Where it becomes more grey is in how that develops into aptitude.  I suspect that with the ground that women have covered in the last 100 years and recognizing that the female population in post secondary education now eclipses men, the next 50 years will look much different than the last 50 years.  If we do it right, both men and women will have the opportunity to choose the profession that they’re best equipped for – but I don’t think that means that every job will have a equal representation of men and women.

I think that equality is a core concept to any prosperous society but I do think that the populist understanding of equality needs to evolve.  Equality is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  In the world of equal outcome, everyone receives a PB&J sandwich for lunch.  In the world of equal opportunity, everyone is given an opportunity to make the sandwich they want to eat.

Everyone is born a little different and it is a life built on that deviation which truly makes us unique to the world.  Because we are unique, each of us has the ability to provide something to the world that no one else can and it is the delivery of this gift to the world which I think makes us truly happy.  I know that’s a bit abstract and maybe even a bit fluffy so on a more grounded level, we’re all a little different, we all have a unique aptitude, and deploying that aptitude in a manner that helps us get closer to our maximum utility is likely what will make us happy and fulfilled.  If that’s true, isn’t true equality giving everyone the opportunity to reach their own, unique maximum utility?  If tech is biologically better suited for men, reaching a 50/50 quota of men/women will mean women who would otherwise be better suited and happier doing other activities will work in tech and men who would be best suited for tech will have to work in another field because those spots have been taken.

As hard as it can be to make this connection for some, it always comes down to an equation of efficiency.  The most efficient course of action is to encourage people to pursue careers in fields which will help them reach their maximum utility.  That’s a career which would see them happiest, most fulfilled, and creating their greatest contributions to society.  A perfect society is one in which everyone operates at their maximum utility and I think that’s the ideal of equality that people are pursuing – many just haven’t figured out how to get there yet.

The last thing I’ll touch on here which may be the most important part of this conversation is the lack of conversation.  I think that what I’ve written here would suggest that I agree with James Damore’s assessment of women in tech.  I don’t.  I think that he references some valid information, I think that he makes some coherent points, and I think that he’s legitimately looking to advocate for an ideological diversity over a visible diversity because at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.  I also think that there are too many unknown variables to draw direct conclusions between evolutionary biology and aptitude for jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago.  The social, cultural, academic, and systemic variables are key in understanding this dynamic and they’re changing faster than we’re currently able to understand them.

If understanding them is a priority for us, we need to invest in the discussions that will flush out the real questions and invest in the sciences that will give us that data to answer those real questions.  I don’t agree with James Damore, but I absolutely agree with how he presented his thoughts and it is a remarkable failure when our ability to challenge these ideas devolves into comments like ‘this doesn’t even warrant a response’, or ‘how dare he?’.  It shows a lack of understanding of the topic at hand, a fear of opposing ideologies, and reluctance to engage with someone who doesn’t agree with your perspective.  James Damore was fired from one of the most important companies in the world because he intelligently argued a perspective not shared by the majority of his peers.  In the pursuit of diversity, Google just took a major step towards preventing the diversity of ideas.