Nov 262014
 

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be true.” –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes)

I switched from a laptop to a Chromebook (a Chromebook is basically Google’s version of a laptop–cheap devices that run incredibly smoothly, start-up fast, and keep things simple, automatically updating and running basically as glorified gateways to the internet). My Chromebook is an amazingly versatile tool and I can not imagine why any casual computer user would waste their money on a laptop anymore. However, one thing that has frustrated me about using my Chromebook is that Google and Microsoft are kind of snotty toward each other and neither one wants you to use the other’s products.

For better or worse, the one product Microsoft has consistently out-performed all competitors with is their Office suite (Word, Excel, and One Note, especially). There are alternatives such as Google Docs and Open Office but for sheer ease-of-use and richness of features, Office has not been beat. Sadly, there is no full integration of Office on a Chromebook. I can still do all my basic tasks with Office’s online applications but the one thing I am missing is a full-featured One Note, which has been my favorite tool for managing my blog. One Note allows me to create blog posts outside of WordPress (my website’s platform) and easily upload them while keeping a copy for myself in case anything goes wrong.

I can use Google Keep or ScribeFire to do the same thing but they are just not as useful or efficient as One Note. Anyway, I was complaining about this to Nicole and explaining I was worried about not having a back-up when I blog and she said something head-rocking simple. “Why don’t you just subscribe to your blog? You’ll have a back-up of every post in your email.”

 

Today’s lesson: when faced with a daunting problem… don’t over-think it.

 

 

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Nov 252014
 

In a world built around safety and sanitation, have we removed the most important part of evolutionary theory?

 

I want to point out right away this post is not to be taken seriously. I am just poking fun at modern society which is, overall, better off than any society in the past.

Somewhere, I imagine a parent reading the warning label on a child’s superhero costume cape. “Caution: cape does not enable user to fly.” Luckily, the parent is able to explain the dangers to the would-be suicidal child who is then able to grow up and proliferate. The child’s children are lucky enough to be saved from severely and repeatedly burning their faces thanks to the coffee cups labeled, “Caution: contents may be hot”, thus they are able to stay good-looking enough to find mates and have children as well. Luckily, this generation has been saved by clever warning labels such as, “Caution: do not hold the moving end of a chainsaw” and “Caution: pen caps can obstruct breathing. Keep out of mouth.”

Has the Darwin effect been removed by our conscious efforts to save people from their own stupidity? What happens when “survival of the fittest” becomes “survival of the fittest, and the dumbest, and the weakest, and the most ignorant?” In the far future, will all our efforts toward safety and cleanliness backfire by allowing those who would otherwise have weeded themselves out of society continue to prosper and multiply? What if the dumbest out-multiply the smartest?

Today’s lesson is: never assume the chickens have not already come home to roost. It may have already happened. Maybe we are just be the smartest of the dumbest… derp!

 

Nov 242014
 

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 

 

Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”

 

Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!

 

 

 

Nov 232014
 

Who should be in our country, why should they be here, and what should we do about those trying to sneak in?

 

There is a lot of talk around immigration now. I won’t pretend to understand all the complications of immigration reform, but I am convinced one of the easiest ways to spot people with wrong ideas and shallow minds is through their willingness to spew racism or slander against fellow men.

Immigration is a challenging problem when it comes to tax law but it is not so tough a problem to resolve when it comes to living humanely. Pitting who we perceive as “our group” against “those other” groups is essentially modern tribal thinking. Of course, “modern tribal” is practically a contradiction in terms. However, in a society that is globally connected through a 24/7 economy thanks to things like the internet and international travel, there is no logic to living as if we belong to separate, ancient, territorial tribes.

The fundamental flaw with tribalism is some people today act as if the world actually works the way a child’s grade school map in an old textbook looks like it works.

states(bright)

It is easy for us to pretend there is a giant thick bold line that divides each country, state, or space between land and water but there is obviously no actual giant bold-faced wall between land masses. If there was no sign telling you, there would be no way to tell exactly where Michigan ends and Indiana begins as you drive out of one and into the other.

Part of my childhood was spent living on the border of Texas and Mexico and from what I remember there is no way to tell where the sand suddenly stops being American and becomes Mexican. I would struggle to identify which grain of dirt or which blade of grass from the border comes from one country and not the other.

What I am saying is, the only borders that exist between countries and the only distinctions between types of people are the ones we choose to pretend are there. Actual, physical borders exist the same way the Tooth Fairy does… in the minds of small people.

Anywhere we look in the universe, we find the absence of delineation. There is no magic line between the light of the sun and the point where it lands on Earth. There is no border sign where Earth’s atmosphere ends and space itself begins. We are unable to even decide when a rock stops being a rock and starts being a planet as evidenced by the debate over Pluto.

Closer to home, an ocean and beach move seamlessly into one another. There is no wall dividing them. One is merely an extension of the other and they do not pretend to be separate. Only humans have a label called “ocean” and a label called “beach”. The water, land, fish, coral, plants, and salt do not care what they are called and do not see themselves as different things–they live in unity.

Sadly, I think racism will be something to debate as long we are willing to acknowledge a thing called “race” (whatever that means to you) that makes one human different from another. The same is true of sexism, theism, and nationalism.

The truth is, there is no one trying to steal your job. You have never met a person from another country out to take your seat at your company. There are people everywhere willing to work and looking for honest opportunity, including you, but they will take what they can get (including you). Holding onto your job and doing it better than others who would be happy to have it is your burden and not something to throw a tantrum about because someone in the media hyped up an imaginary problem for you.

There is no one trying to take over your country (except maybe your government). You probably do not know, and have never met, anyone with a nefarious plan to steal your family, your livelihood, or your flag. Don’t buy into the pretense that there is an immigrant conspiracy coming for you because there is no “other” team here.

Except for Native Americans, we are all here, ultimately, from the families of illegal immigrants. Columbus and other conquerors were not invited to take the land from the indigenous people already here. We all know that; we can stop pretending to hold onto the place we are standing on Earth the way toddlers covet their toys.

In my mind, it is hypocritical to pretend to own something that was never ours. Perhaps more to the point, for those who have forgotten third grade Social Studies class, it was there that I first learned the words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty, both as a salute to the American Dream and as reminder of our country’s roots and founding principles. The inscription says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

These famous lines are from a poem by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus” and I can not think of a better example to solve the question of pro or anti-immigration debates, than the very words at the most famous border sign of our country. Remember, as with most things, standing with or against your fellow human beings is a choice and your choice reflects upon who you choose to be for yourself, your family, and everyone else.

Hate people or embrace them. Regardless of political rhetoric or media bias, the fundamental choice is the same and will drive your life and the example you set for others.

Choose wisely.

 

Nov 222014
 

 

“You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.”

Do you have a friend or team member that seems to never know when to stop speaking? You like him but he rambles, repeats, goes off on tangents, shares too many details, or does not pick up on social cues that normally alert others when we are talking too much.

There is one sure way I know of to stop someone who will not stop talking:

listen.

Over-talkers speak so much, I think, because they never feel listened to, so they keep talking to make their point (because what else can they do?). The irony is they are right. Many of us hear but rarely listen. Hearing is a passive action–you can not stop yourself from hearing the world around you, including people speaking to you. You can not will yourself not to hear the clerk at the cash register or the car with the bad muffler across the street or the bird outside your window.

Listening, however, is active. It requires intention. You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.

Listening is like meditation. To do it properly, you must stop the chatter in your mind and focus only on the present and the sound (or person in front of you). Most people do not listen to what is being said…they listen for their turn to speak.

I know sometimes I find myself so focused on spitting out my witty response to something that I miss the 10 sentences after the one I wanted to comment on. As passive listeners, we tend to wait for a break so we can say what is important to us instead of listening to what is important to the person we are speaking with.

Here is the best tip I can offer to encourage active listening:

Listen without interrupting and listen with the intention of listening–the way you pause to listen to your favorite song, taking in every sound, appreciating it, and letting it fill your mind. It is okay if you are not able to share every clever remark that enters your mind; it is more important you listen to your friend or team-mate in the moment.

The reason some people talk too much is simple: they want to feel listened to. They believe (whether consciously or sub-consciously) no one listens to them. If they realize you are listening intently to every word they say, then I assure you they will suddenly not have as much to say, and you will be able to move on to the next conversation quickly.

Today’s lesson… do not only hear what people say. Listen intently and intentionally and wait patiently without worrying what you will say when they pause. Let them finish. You will be surprised at how much more you will learn and how much time listening saves over hearing.