Things I Learned In 2013

With the close of the year, here is a not nearly complete list of the things I learned this past year:

  • If you decide to do something, you can do anything. All you need is to get past that comma.

  • The first part of your life is spent finding out who you want to be. The second part of your life is spent finding out who you really are.

  • You do not discover the future. You create it with the actions you take today.

  • The fanciness of your process only reveals your resistance to the dirtiness of the work.

  • If you find yourself unusually productive in one area of life, ask yourself what tasks you are avoiding in the others.

  • "Work, without love, is slavery." — Mother Teresa

  • The secret to making kids that travel well is to start them traveling young and keep them doing so.

  • Schlag is a Viennese term for homemade whipped cream that is seeing a certain renaissance as of late (in order to differentiate it from the canned stuff).

  • We don’t buy things, we buy into things.

  • One should strive to use all things until their usefulness is no more.

  • I’m not sure I will ever be as emotionally fulfilled by digital technology as I am by a good pen and a nice blank page of paper. Nor will it hold, for me, the same feeling of possibility.

  • Chindōgu is the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that seem like a solution to a particular problem but cause so many new problems it is effectively useless.

  • So much of modern tech is beginning to feel like Chindōgu to me.

  • Sometimes, you have to come up with the completely crazy idea that could never work to get to the slightly less crazy one that will.

  • It’s worse than we could ever imagine.

  • One of the most dangerous ideas in a free society is one in which we believe that rights are granted, not guaranteed.

  • Fight fear, with facts.

  • “Fear is just excitement without breath.” –Fritz Perls

  • Most of what we call truth is merely consensus.

  • Unlike other trees whose roots are deep and thick, California Coastal Redwoods, some of the tallest of trees, are thin and wide. They stand tall by binding their roots with others near and far.

  • The first approximation of others is ourselves.

  • How much better “how to” posts/sites would be if they led with “what for”.

  • "Why?" would be good as well.

  • The GORUCK Challenge taught me more about myself in 13 hours than I learned this entire year. Especially the first item in this post.

We don’t buy things…

We buy into things. What things? All things. Even the things we don’t buy but get for free.

For instance, let’s say you buy a shirt. How many times will you wash that shirt in the time you own it? How much water and soap and electricity will that cost? How much added labor will you expend to fold it and put it away?

Furthermore, we buy into the idea of that shirt. That that shirt will serve us. That it will keep us warm. That it will serve the need that we have. That without that particular shirt that need will be unfulfilled.

And, when it no longer served you, did you give it away? Did you take it out of the drawer? Did you drive it to a thrift store? Did you hand it to a friend? Tear it up into rags? How much time did that take?

Perhaps you put it in the garbage. Do you hire a garbage company or does the city handle that through your taxes?

The moment that shirt entered your life you bought into that shirt. You paid for it in a myriad of ways far beyond it’s actual value.

Ownership of anything is a commitment to that thing and it has a cost — a direct personal cost — beyond the cost of the thing.

The harder question to answer is this: Was it worth it?

Like Buttons

This piece was originally published in the now discontinued Read & Trust Newsletter.

There is a universal sign of acknowledgement that is, in my experience, common only to African-American males. I’ve often wondered if anyone outside of our community even notices it. It happens quickly, almost imperceptably unless you are specifically looking for it or in-the-know. Yet, no matter where I go in this great nation, when it is gestured to another Brother, it is returned in kind. I’m not even sure I can describe it well, but I will try.

It is sort of a reverse head nod. Where the chin is lifted up swiftly and returned. I like to call it The Wassup. When I’m walking down the street, and another Black male is coming the other direction, our eyes meet and The Wassup is gestured as we pass. When I walk into a room and I see another Black man, especially if we are the only ones, we exchange the sign. What’s interesting is that this is true even when we don’t know one another. In fact, I would say the exchange is even more pronounced and crucial then. Because, The Wassup communicates so much, so succinctly, and so silently.

It says, I recognize your humanity even when for most of this nation’s history others did not. It says, no matter our respective lifestyle, status, or class, I share in your pain and struggles and joy and courage. It says, you are beautiful my Brother and seeing it reminds me I’m beautiful too. It says, as the gesture itself denotes, keep your chin up and stand proud for you have fought too hard to earn the right to walk tall.

After mentioning this to my wife, she reported to me that mothers have a similar gesture. When they encounter each other in public, if one had a kid who is behaving in an unruly way, there is a glance, a sideways eye-roll and grin, that is exchanged between them. One that says, I’ve been there. One that says, I know what it is like to have a misbehaving child in a public space when all attempting to appease or control them is futile and it sucks. One that says, I know this is not a reflection on you as a mother anymore than it is when it happens to me.

I’m a runner. Often, when a car stops for me at an intersection to give me right of way, I give a single short wave or, in some cases, a salut (a habit still ingrained from time spent in the Navy). It is, I hope, taken as intended. A thank you for yielding. An acknowledgement that, though it is state law, the sheer size difference between me and their vehicle meant they don’t have to obey. Far too many don’t give we pedestrians this courtesy. I hope that by thanking those that do I’m encouraging continued fair play.

I found out something really neat today that, in a way, relates to this. When small children cover their eyes to hide, they think they are invisible. But, here’s the twist. They know full well their head and bodies are able to be seen, but this is not what constitutes "self" to a small child. They believe that if you can’t look them in the eye, they are hiding their selves. Eye-to-eye contact is, in a child’s mind, required for visibility.

Yes. One of the beauties of humanity is that we can communicate so very much with a silent gesture. These are, in effect, our Like Buttons. These are the reveal in our childhood hiding game. And, just as Likes and Favorites and Plus Ones, they communicate so much depth and nuance in a single, simple, action. These are our requirements for visibility.

I often wonder if there are other such subtle gestures among other groups. Ones that happen all around me yet I have never noticed because I’m not in the know. I’m not a part of that group. Do other cultures have such silent gestures? Would mine translate elsewhere? In other words, would The Wassup be understood and returned by the Black men of London or Paris or Amsterdam if I gave it in passing? Would my wife’s empathy land the same way with a mother of an unruly child in a shopping mall in Brussels? I wish I knew.

I’m betting that there are similar gestures elsewhere. One reason for believing this is how universally understood that Like button on many social networks is. No matter if you are an American fan of some celebrity or an Iranian revolutionary, you know and understand all that is communicated by clicking that Star or +1 on that post. You are in agreement. You are empathizing. You are supporting. You are simply saying that thing that feeds and sustains we humans so well… "Me too."

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

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