Blog Archives

Who Are You Becoming?

Every decision you made (or didn’t make), every action you took (or didn’t take) today is who you will be tomorrow. Who are you becoming? If you’re not becoming something you will love, shouldn’t you be?

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In Praise Of Boredom

“For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable  “windless calm” of the soul that precedes a happy voyage an cheerful  winds.” -Nietzsche

In other words, don’t attempt to so fill your hours that you lose the  tine you have in boredom. Creativity springs from daydreams and  daydreams are born of boredom. Inspiration and not sloth comes of  boredom.

How to Treat Beggars

You know the scenario: You see a dingy old man with a gray-yellow beard in tattered and dirty clothes standing on the corner and you cross the street to avoid the possibility that you’ll have to deal with him. Just then you’re confronted by another similarly shabby person who asks if you have some change to spare. Your fingers play with the quarters in your pocket and you wonder if you should keep walking or if you should drop them in the fast food cup in outstretched arms. What should you do?

It’s a question I have wondered many times. A lot of people have some pretty set responses to the question, either one way or the other. But for most people it’s probably not that simple. They question their choice each time they are presented with it. Here is what I try to keep in mind when I face that dilemma.

1. Above all, remember that they are humans. The Dali Lama is fond of saying that all humans are searching for the same things: happiness and an end to pain. Recognize that they are the same as you in this way, even if they choose to go about it in a different way. This is something that you should try to internalize. You may not want to walk a mile in their shoes, but understand that they probably don’t want to either. Many times they see begging as the best of a number of bad alternatives. Making them feel like outcasts is the surest way to guarantee that they’ll stay that way.

2. Treat them kindly, within reason. Most of them are not bad people and don’t deserve to be treated poorly. Hey, maybe some of them are just bored and are begging to pass the time before going to do something. Show them that you recognize them by at least looking at them and addressing them. Just give them a smile, politely decline, and keep on going. Odds are they’re not going to harass you. But use your own judgment here; if you’re get a vibe like they might be dangerous, do whatever you think is best.

3. Remember to respect their culture. Not all beggars are here in the US. When you’re traveling abroad, remember that in some cultures begging is a way of life for some. In the far east, for example, beggars are commonplace and are not treated quite as badly as here in the western world. Eastern religions teach compassion for all mankind and helping your fellow man when you can. Come to think of it, I can think of another religion that teaches the same thing, but that’s for a different post.

4. Beggars in different cities have different personalities. It’s not as strange as it sounds. Remember that people are at least partially a product of their environment and that behaviors are rewarded selectively. In other words, what works in one city doesn’t in another so the beggars are likely to behave differently. In the midwest they tend to be polite and friendly. In the south they tend to plead and play on your compassion. Other places, beggars will likely act differently.

5. If you’re going to give something, do it wisely. When you give to a beggar, you are rewarding whatever internal and external behavior he is performing and has performed recently. So if he’s doing Charlie Chaplin impressions of the Little Tramp and gets his desired outcome, he’s more likely to move onto Buster Keaton. Likewise, if he’s just stumbled out of the alley after finishing off a bottle of MD 20/20, he’s more likely to go buy another.

6. Money is not the only thing you have to give. Sometimes the beggars aren’t looking for money. Sometimes they’re ultimately looking for a bite to eat or some way to pass the time. Though most will take money in lieu of whatever they really want, give some consideration to the idea that maybe you could give them something that you want them to have. Maybe something like the leftovers from your meal that somebody else might enjoy having.

These are the things that always run through my head when I see someone on the street begging. I won’t say that I always do the right thing or that I always even follow my own advice. But I do try to consider more than just my own convenience, comfort, and sense of smell.

One thing I’d like to do but haven’t yet is to find a guy who’s asking for food and buy him lunch and talk with him. I’m sure I could learn something or at least just spend a few minutes doing something different. But then I do spend an inordinate amount of time walking through downtown areas just Meandering along. Maybe I feel a little bit of a kinship.

On Plans

In college I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All that I knew was that I didn’t want to work in a cubicle from 9-5. I saw some of my friends working this way and it reminded me of the movie Office Space (have you seen this one?). That is probably one reason that I spent so much time in school. But I am very happy with what I do now! Two things that I have always really enjoyed are traveling and computers and in my job, I do both.

I didn’t have much of a plan in college, or at least none that were realistic. I really didn’t have any good plans until after I got back from the trip to Russia. I went back to my old life and realized how small and confining it was and I realized that I didn’t want to be doing the same thing in 1 year. I did a lot of thinking and reflecting on what mattered to me really. I decided that I was going to start following my passions more and not worry so much about where the money was. I started doing that and spent more time reading books and learning things that I enjoyed rather than working in an endless cycle where the stack of work on my desk didn’t get any lower.

So my plan became to be a full time traveler and work when I had the opportunity. That is as simple as it was. I knew that this is what would make me happy ultimately. I knew that the plan wouldn’t happen at once, but I instead had set a goal to have my plan completed in 2 years. I think that was reasonable for this plan because really I could have just sold everything I owned and walked out the door the next day. But I wanted instead to be able to travel without having to worry about money. I knew that I had to start doing more things that would set me up to be on track with my plan, and that included getting a new job.

When I started looking for a different job, I first defined what I wanted out of it. That was, I wanted to be able to travel – maybe because my job paid for it or maybe because I didn’t have to go to an office. At first I had hoped that I would find some job where I could work from anywhere in the world by computer, but I didn’t find that job. I really didn’t care if I worked with computers or not, because traveling is more important to me.

When I interviewed for the position, I didn’t try to make myself look more impressive or more knowledgeable than I was because I knew that it would be a bad thing in the end. I was trying to find a job that matched myself and what I wanted, so exaggerating and boasting would have been the worst thing I could have done. I think that is the key: find a job that matches you, rather than trying to change yourself to match the job.

And now, I am well on my way towards accomplishing what I set out to – to be traveling full time and working when I can. In fact, I’m traveling pretty much full time now. It’s just not my ideal itineraries. But it is great experience for when I am traveling independently and working. I think I am farther along on my plan than I could have been if I hadn’t set my initial target high and if I hadn’t found a job that so closely matched my interests. It took me a little longer to find this job, but the reward was worth the wait.

Meandering Mind

Zen thought of the day: In the balance between structure and flexibility, consider bamboo – clearly defined segments and structure, but able to sway and move depending on the forces against it. Now consider the oak – a solidly rigid main body whose fingers are flexible. Both are equally well adapted to survive. Which do you most resemble?

Free Hugs

When I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts recently, I saw a group of people with a sign that said ‘Free Hugs’ and liked it. I thought it was cool and just the kind of thing that I expected to see around Harvard and MIT. And I thought it would be a fun way to spend some time back when I was in college and bored.

Today I saw this video and realized that the kids were probably just imitating it. Not that it matters, the good idea and the spirit of the gesture is what counts. But it made me think again that it would be cool and fun for college kids to do and I started wishing that I could do things like that now that I’m out of college. It’s a ridiculous idea, that I can’t go do anything that I want, but the problem is that I don’t find myself with enough free time these days.

But wouldn’t it be great if we all had just a ton of free time on our hands and could hang out and do these sorts of thing? I think it would be. I suppose that if I get fed up enough with the whole “work to pay the bills” thing then I could just do that.

But then how would I pay the bills? I can’t charge for hugs when others are giving them away for free. I guess I’ll have to come up with some new kind of hug and patent it. Then I can charge whatever I want!

Meandering Mind

In today’s continuing series of Meandering Mind (in other words, something that doesn’t fit my other blog but I still want to publish), I’ll address a survey by The Edge (no, I’m not talking about Bono‘s sidekick – aka. the most underrated part of U2, named for another U2). This survey contains the responses from 165 noteworthy people regarding their changing opinions. This is a pretty heady topic and I wanted to give my take on it.

What did you change your mind about last year? Nothing? You can’t think of anything? Don’t worry – it’s a natural part of being human. Seriously. There seem to be a couple of principles at work: cognitive dissonance and change blindness. These two things combine to hide our past opinions and make us believe we’ve always held our current point of view. The theory goes that it makes us uncomfortable to believe something that we don’t always do. So we stop believing that we ever held a certain belief. Weird to think that we don’t know ourselves.

What does this say about how we reflect back on our past opinions? What does this say about the sources we should trust? Should you trust a testimonial statement from someone made during an event or after it? Should you trust exposition or statistics? Do peoples’ recollections hold merit or should we consider them all tainted?

But I’ll get back to the topic at hand. What did I change my mind about last year? Offhand, I can think of several things:

  • It is not hard to get around in a foreign place without knowing the language. A few words in common, some hand gestures, props, and a little patience is all it takes.
  • Americans are not the ones who think the whole world speaks English. I was always taught that it was polite to ask a person if he or she speaks English before speaking to them, but people with more experience have learned that this part of the game is more harmful than helpful. Brits seem to be the worst of the lot, rushing up to people and just talking, assuming that they’ll be understood.
  • English really is the international language. Europeans speaking to Chinese, a Frenchman speaking to German, a Korean speaking to Russians (among the more exotic combinations), all speaking English to each other. It’s both normal and surreal at the same time.
  • Motivation is the most critical asset to a person’s success in a capitalistic society. I know plenty of people with intelligence to spare. Idiots with motivation run multi-billion dollar empires. Geniuses without motivation do all the work for them.
  • China is horribly polluted and it’s under appreciated. I thought it was maybe local or regional issues. I thought it was probably not as bad as I’d heard. I was wrong. Anyone putting significant resources toward curbing US pollution should visit China and rethink their allocation strategy. I’m no environmental scientist but I’d guess that China puts out several orders of magnitude more garbage into the air, land, and sea as the US. That’s not to say we couldn’t do more, especially when it comes to reducing, reusing, and recycling, but let’s focus our efforts where they’ll return the greatest benefits.
  • Social engineering is as easy as it seems. Organizations go out of their way to try to make their staff accommodating to outside individuals. That trust can be exploited way too easily. It’s an underestimated vulnerability. But when a successful exploit takes place and is reported, they’re frequently spectacular.
  • The world’s overall climate may be increasing in temperature and mankind may be significantly contributing to climate change. That statement is very carefully written. It’s beyond the scope of this post to get into my views on this subject. But I would love to see lies and exaggerations come to an end. On both sides. Bringing up the subject is like putting a match to a flame (yes, I said that as I meant it – think about it) and very few people think rationally and critically on the subject.
  • Mankind’s impact on the world goes beyond what I’d thought it could. Daniel Quinn ‘s books are very persuasive. (I have only read a few so I left the last word unlinked.)

Most of these came from a big, life changing event – my trip through China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Russia. These were typically accompanied by flashes of realization. But that is not how most changes of opinion come. They come slowly, gradually, and without fanfare. Changes in attitude come from the gradual erosion of one belief and the casual sculpting of another in its place.

The effect is similar to looking at old pictures of yourself. You wonder how you could have dressed so hideously; you marvel at how young you look. But styles did not change overnight and your face did not instantly matriculate to what it is now. These processes may not be as slow as glaciers or rock weathering, but they surely effect change as unnoticeably.

I’ve been writing now for about two hours, and I invite you to take a bit of time to sit quietly and think about how you’ve changed. Over the last year. You have changed so much! Over the last five years. You have remade yourself. Over the last ten years. You are unrecognizable but to outward appearance perhaps. How much will you change over the next year? Five years? Ten years? Should it be less? More? Will you dictate the change or will you let other factors do most of the work? Perhaps you should set these thoughts in writing so you will remember what you really believed come the end of the year.