Life: the ultimate contradiction of terms

I was recently fortunate enough to have had a chance encounter with a higher up from my present employer. As I listened to him spew nonsensical buzz words out of his mouth for the better part of 10 minutes I had one of my many Michael Douglas ‘Falling Down’ moments. The filter between my brain and mouth has long be on hiatus but over time I have learned to tapper down the beast. This is a good thing as I’m quite sure if I had this conversation even just 8 or 10 years ago it might have been my last as an employee. You see life is an insane contradiction of terms.

In this particular case we have the classical conundrum of human redundancy actively seeking out efficiency. I took the time to point out my confusion before even trying to offer any insights. Insights to most people in charge are like having a second asshole…it seems like a good idea to help get rid of waste but really just acts as a way to flush out good ideas. Needless to say after pointing out why this ‘new’ problem exists in the first place I quickly made my simple yet elegant (I just wanted to use that adjective today…there was nothing elegant about it at all) suggestion. Now my current crop of co-workers tend not to be interested in things outside popular culture, gossip and talking about their children (all things I give zero fucks about) but for a brief moment I had all the entire crews attention. After making my suggestion and the supporting evidence as to why it was ideal everyone was in agreement that it made the most sense.

Fast forward several dozen meetings and months from now and what will the solution be? It will of course be any one of hundreds except the obvious one I made. Why is this you ask? The answer is simple – life is a breathtaking array of contradictions. This small, seemingly unimportant (because it is) example can easily be followed up by dozens of others. Take any of a wide ranging number of socio-economic issues. Lets start with taxes, because beyond death and mythical religions this works up Americans the most. Political parties and certain media personalities spout off about the virtues of low taxes and modifying the present structure to something simpler. Huge problem – we have hundreds of thousands of jobs predicated around the complexity and never-ending changes surrounding the current system. Why would any of these people, or the likely millions depending on the income generated from these jobs want to be suddenly jobless? They don’t, on the same token nor do the developers of drugs for type two diabetes (life style caused) want people to really eat healthier or exercise more – your problem represents a multi billion dollar industry.

This leads me to the quintessential paradox of our existence – the problem solving/problem creating paradigm. I’m not intelligent enough to speak on the exact genesis of this – be it rooted in evolutionary biology, the occult, etc – but I can say with great certainty this fascinating contradiction drives the human species in all sorts of directions; some good, some not so good. Perfect example is in the defense manufacturing industry. The right to defend oneself and the general sovereignty of a universally recognized nation is a very legitimate concept. The problem lies in the fact that how does one both a) know they are properly equipped to do so and b) continually support the people who make this possible? This is where we slide into the right side of the curve, problem creation, and in this particular case, with this particular human en devour, it involves playing off two of our favorite emotions – insecurity and greed – to create a problem with someone else — in this case another country, or more recently a rouge, border-less group of individuals we call “terrorists” with the result being casualty filled warfare.

The aforementioned is of course an extreme example, quite possibly the most extreme, but an effective one in grabbing our constantly drifting attention. You see we are unknowing victims to this paradigm on a daily basis simply by the things we say and do. Our actions, or inaction, push the balance toward one direction or the other. Having to participate in this game at times is inevitable because some (perhaps many) people we interact with choose to remain unaware of this phenomenon or even secretly get off on the self-created drama that is the resulting byproduct. The key is taking a moment to analyze a nagging situation or a new one that pops up…or even ideally taking a few moments to look to the future. See the possibilities, potentials or eventualities and strive to position yourself in a position of problem solving. Better yet study, observe and be an ‘future issue identifier’. This will unfortunately require a tremendous amount of energy and isn’t likely to be successfully accomplished on a grand scale but at an individual or even family level is certainly feasible. Besides in the end you should be looking out for number one anyway.

Slow and steady wins the race

As someone on the outside looking in at the success of other’s I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Lasting achievement doesn’t resemble a hurricane, it’s more a steady rain that provides the fields of life with just the right amount of sustenance to keep everything green. This is something visible to both the well-known and common person alike. The strange and interesting thing to me is how often this is overlooked. In our desire to have all the necessary items of existence ‘out the box’ ready we fail to recognize where the true success of the average lies – in the process of growth. The concept of steady improvement, adjustment and learning along with calculated planning has taken a back seat to dominance.

From the business world to sports a person can see this everywhere. A company and its board bring in a new CEO to replace an outgoing one who was not given enough time to execute their vision. A team drafts a player that was a high achiever at the collegian level with the blind belief that the level of success will automatically translate in the pro’s. The trouble with this thinking is that it puts little premium on tomorrow while placing nearly all the eggs into ‘today’s’ basket. We trade in impact for stability and in the end often get neither. Is there a solution to this conundrum? You bet there is and it involves a radical process…exercising patient.

To breakdown the pitfall of not allowing natural growth to take hold I’m going to turn to a place where it’s most obvious – the world of sports. Of all the positions in a sport one that has possibly the greatest premium is the quarterback in American football. Let’s take what many analysts consider to be the top five players as of 2018: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. Of these guys only two of the five (40%) were drafted in the first round and neither (Roethlisberger or Rodgers) was selected in the top 10. Also, of note is that the teams Aaron and Ben played were a complete non-factor in the race for a college championship title – Miami of Ohio unranked the entire season and the University of California finishing the season 7-4 in the 25th spot.

The point of this divesture is that reaching a certain level of success, on whatever stratosphere it exists, relies perhaps more in the foundation than the completed project. Time changes things and the ability to adapt is often time as critical as skill level. Peaking, while a naturally occurring phenomenon, should not be where the greatest concentration is placed, albeit sport or life. Rather I purpose a two-prong approach. The first, operate within a healthy framework of output. Whether that is athletically, academically or even professionally – too much, too soon, ultimately equals something that doesn’t last. The second is prepare for the transition. This one is a little tricky because it requires a lot of self-reflection and/or unbiased 3rd party opinion. An ounce of honest, intelligent, reflection is worth a pound of long term future achievement.

Judge not yet ye…never mind go ahead and judge

The opening part of the above title is likely as well known in the United States (and perhaps most of western or Christian-leaning culture) as any other maxim. Taken from the new testament text of Matthew the passage loosely states to ‘judge not, that you not be judged…for with what judgement you use, you shall be judged and with what measure you use it shall be measured to you again’. How lovely and idealistic a recommendation…actually more like how misguided and baseless a concept. Judgment is the very foundation on which the decision-making process was built. It involves on some level the use of our otherwise expansive brains to see the necessary potential for action and to move accordingly based on various information (or even the lack there of).

Judgement exists in two forms: judgement before an action and judgement based on the interpretation of (ideally) relevant facts. The first part of this involves the use of prejudice. Prejudice as it’s viewed in today’s world is a very loaded and dangerous word. In the modern liberal wing of political thought, it is an enemy of the people that needs to be snuffed out from existence in order to bring balance to the world. But, let’s think about it for a second, what is prejudice at its core other than a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; essentially it is a thought lacking perspective. Developing perspective on a matter is an act that requires involving oneself in something an individual may otherwise, and most likely doesn’t, have experience in. The problem is that we are hard wired to judge, especially in situations of duress…which are from an evolutionary standpoint brought on by uncertainty…things we don’t have experience with (particularly as it relates to our well-being – this is called the ‘fight or flight’ response).

Unwarranted prejudice, something very much alive and well, makes no sense and can even be categorized as reprehensible if for no other reason than the individual has made zero attempt at trying to understand that with which they are casting judgement. This doesn’t mean that the act in and of itself should be abandoned. It’s because of the blanket manner in which judging is itself judged that we as a species (which is far, far more important than the characteristics of race and certainly ethnicity) find ourselves still in a rut. It goes back in large part to the earlier piece in which I spoke about the dangers of being nice – by forgoing this natural, built-in mechanism, we find a large number of us taken advantage of by life’s inequalities (the majority of which are unfortunately predicated on race, gender and socio-economic status).

What we need, perhaps now more than ever, is to judge; judge whether or not a particular company is a good fit for us before we pack up our bags to discover it otherwise isn’t (my case), judge whether college is a good fit as the debt we are likely to be straddled with will take decades to pay off, judge to what degree an elected official is full of shit (as they all are to varying degrees)…the list goes on and on for the unforeseeable future. When we judge it has to be understood that the system of weights and measures is so out of whack it’s like comparing the American standard of measurements to the Metric System. There’s ‘rich justice’ and ‘poor justice’. There’s the judgement of the rights of victims versus the rights of the accused. There’s even the judgement of majority versus minority opinion. No where does it state that life is fair, at best it’s a sliding scale and to see and act as though everything is peaches when most things are broccoli is like cutting a brake line before driving downhill – not a good idea.

Between the Lines

Though it stands to reason that a person who believes they are mindful of the comings and goings of life should in fact be; it would appear that many of us are negligent. Our focus (mine included) has long been on the substances we’ve perceived of great alarm but in the end it’s the matters of small concern that should be treated most vigorously. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the moments of seemingly little consequence can have a tremendous impact. War fare is always the most obvious but what about things in every day life that occur in increasing fashion that in theory should sound some type of alarm. Whether it effects the entirety of a nation (the housing crises) or a tiny collective (employees of a company) the signs are everywhere.

The key has been, and always will be, reading between the lines. Case and point from the aforementioned. Back in the early 2000s I worked as a shift coordinator in the mail service division of what is a now defunct bank. This bank was at a time one of the 10 largest in the Midwest. We had a division called ‘CLS’ or consumer loan services which as the name implies handled consumer lending. As films such as ‘The Big Short’ have depicted there was a massive run-up in home sales, building, construction, etc. – in what I can only guess was an attempt to alleviate the financial recession resulting from (in my opinion) not the events surrounding the 11th of September but the still collapsing tech market – fueled by insane lending practices.

I still remember to this day opening an improperly addressed manila envelop (no department locator code or even an ‘attn:to’) and seeing a home loan application for a property that’s purchase price was in excess of 186,000 dollars. Along with this application was…what for it…no W2 or w2’s, no employment history, just a ‘statement of income’.  I’m not sure if this couple was approved for the loan but as time has shown there is a strong possibility they were. This was more than three years before the recession of 07’. I’m not intelligent but I could see a clear problem with this. Obviously, the events surrounding this and the resulting fallout were terrible on millions of people. But what about the later part, the “tiny collective” I spoke of?

The example I’ll use in this case is my present company. Within the last 10 months I’ve lost 6 (that I’m aware of) co-workers all under the age of 55 to either a heart attack or stroke. Shortly after the lost of the last of them, he was 38, we received information in our company email that we were being afforded the right to participate in a healthy study of our industry conductive by Harvard. Within a couple weeks of the close date of the study I received a letter in the mail stating that the company had increased its’ life insurance policy it had on me to 120,000 (keep in mind the policy it pays out to my parents in the event of my death is only 40,000). I briefly found this rather odd before coming to my senses and realizing the company literally makes money if I die.

So, how does this all tie together…these seemingly tiny, inconspicuous things? Think about it, the company (an airline) is actively engaged in a competitive work practice that it begins to realize (or likely already knew) is waging hell on its employee’s health. What better way to gauge the accurate extent to which individuals in the company are suffering to predict the future, everything from potential medical costs, to establishing levels of upcoming attrition, up to but not ending with how much longer they can continue said practices before something comes out to shed light on an otherwise unfortunate way of conducting business. This logic may not gel with you and frankly I’m not concerned if it does but finding these events, as small as they are, to be unrelated and completely random is a tremendous disservice to oneself. These fractional occurrences happen on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis and if a person chooses to mind them no attention they will ultimately become a victim like countless others.

Time is the Enemy

I wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote yesterday to speak in greater depth about a particular sub-topic that emerged from it. Weaved within the idea or concept of commitment is a fixed constant that depending on a person’s scientific or spiritual affiliation is as inescapable as paying taxes…time. As a greater fan of the sciences than the supernatural the doors that have been opened recently in the paradoxes of this idea have been amazing. From absolute time (Newtonian) to quantum time to relativistic, an individual could spend their entire life in pursuit of studying these fields and only make microscopic progress. The expansion of these theories appears boundless but one thing that is certainly not is the human lifespan. It is from this point I will move forward.

In the article prior to this one I spoke about commitment and what I felt was a better way to view the process, particularly as it relates to emotionally underdeveloped individuals like myself (see neurotic twats). I still stand by the importance of viewing life in terms of a series of decisions rather than unwaveringly blind devotion but it’s the second part I feel necessary to clarify. True a decision can be made in favor of something, made against something or not be made at all. There’s one small caveat to the last choice though and that’s where time comes in. As time passes and events unfold and become the past a tiny phenomenon occurs that effects the foundation under which indecision stands.

This anomaly moves the resulting outcome of indecision toward a either a positive end result or a negative one. Based on my own experience I have found it trends more toward the negative. I can’t speak to why this is; whether it’s bad luck or part of a greater course of interconnected things I’m unable to see and have no data to directly correlate. Regardless the prevailing logic the only thing I feel that matters is the present or immediately foreseeable result. I have found that there is a small pattern between the time lag and the type of decision being avoided. It is this pattern that could potentially help patch the messy roadwork between staying indecisive and choosing a course of action.

A pair of examples that come to mind because of their diametrically opposite timeframes are post high school career life decisions and the unhealthy romantic relationship. With the first a person could put off making a ‘decision’ in theory for the rest of their life. While the ground on which this commitment stands is not made of sand it’s not necessarily concrete either. Along the way chance or circumstance will expose a person to a unique variety of opportunities. There’s a very strong potential for one of these being an excellent future life pursuit, but if a person remains in the neutral zone the prospect for a more meaningful existence will be lost. On the other hand, in the case of the unhealthy relationship the longer one waits to address the issue, to make the necessary decision(s), they will discover the quick sand they have built this part of their life on sinking at a frantic rate.

At the end of the day it’s your life; only you can live it. To do or not do, that’s all on the person. The final call belongs solely to the individual party. Solace in having the freedom to pursue, avoid, or act in direct opposition to a present or future decision/commitment is liberating. But keep in mind that as time robs our bodies of the mobility of our youth it also acts to make decisions potentially harder and less easy to avoid. So, in summary, use your head – as the saying goes there’s a time and place for everything…just keep in mind time is not necessarily your friend, or on your side

The Truth about Lying

How many times you were told as a child to be honest? Whether it was by your parents, family, friends, a teacher or a mentor, for most people this was a top three personal commandment. Regardless of your background – racial, religious or ethnic – the concept of telling the truth is a hallmark of human civilization. The funny thing about embracing this behavioral novelty is that after the age of innocence (childhood & adolescents) comes the age of bullshit (adulthood). Why is this such a shocking thing to most people? We see it everywhere around us; priests diddling little kids, politicians saying anything to get elected, CEO’s telling employees one thing and stockholders something altogether different. Lying on a grand scale has become an art form. We have moved from despising dishonesty to the literal celebration of it.

The only problem I see in the whole equation revolves around two things: preparation and participation. As it relates to the former I’m speaking in regards to childhood. During this time, we are like wet clay being molded into the form of our future selves. The lack of disclosure through mindlessly brain washing kids into the belief that the world is this wonderful, Disneyland like place, where people are always kind and honest to one another is a tremendous disservice. The greatest gift a parent can give a child, beyond bringing them into this world of course, is a true understanding of the playing field of life. Kids are brought up around games many of which help to foster a sense of identity along with teaching them to socialize with others.

The problem is that somewhere along the line children become adults and during that time they’re invited to a new game, with a new set of rules but unlike football, track or tennis this one isn’t optional. Participation is mandatory and where you’re picked or traded to means everything. Coaching is important but at this level what you’re born with (physically and/or financially) means just as much as, or maybe more than, what you learned. Fairness, or even the idea as an abstract construct, no longer exists (not that it ever did). Win’s and losses are no longer merely a blemish to one’s record, at this juncture of life they are the difference between the promotion, the million-dollar grant, affording the mortgage or even putting food on the table for the next generation.

Now to tie all this in. The truth…the truth about lying is that it’s everywhere. It’s as pervasive to the experience of life as sunshine. Little or big it’s a nearly daily endeavor. The key to it, similar to a day spent at the beach, is to apply “sunscreen” as often and liberally as possible. We owe it to ourselves, to our children (if you should happen to have any), to understand that as often as we’re sold an honest bill-of-goods there’s an equally likely chance that what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, is a total load of shit. At the end of the day the best that can be hoped for is a home environment built on the principles of trust and honesty while simultaneously trying to foster that in the world outside the one we spend with those around us. Keep in mind that not everyone is hip to or a fan of this idea and as the saying goes, learn to take things “with a grain of salt.”

Mistakes

“It’s the code you added sir…the reveries…it has some…”

“Mistakes…it’s the word you’re too embarrassed to use, you ought not be you’re a product of them, a trillion of them. Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool…mistake.”

This small, beautifully written dialogue is an excerpt from what has become a bit of a television obsession of mine – West World. In this scene between characters played respectively by Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins they are discussing an issue that has arisen in their place of work; an adult fantasy world in which wealthy, paying guests can inundate themselves in a recreated American wild west. Full of the classic story lines of that era: cowboys, Indians, booze and sex. People enter this world to immediately find themselves the “guests” of this life-like reality. A caveat exists though, the ‘people’ inhabiting the land ‘guests’ are visiting are not in fact real people but rather extremely advanced robotic organisms.

In lieu of rambling on about the show (something I highly recommend people watch) I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of mistakes. I specifically want to begin by defining what they are in my own words. It’s true, on the surface I appear to be lacking the conceptualized credentials of Mr. Hopkins character Dr. Ford. With a background rooted deep in the fields of engineering, mathematics, evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology and perhaps even anthropology he is no doubt a learned man. My experience and expertise lie rather in the field of failure. In this venture I am as clever as any tech start up genius.

Mistakes exist in various forms and are open to interpretation. Their identity has the potential to change over time. In essence they live along the same timeline as any person’s lifespan. In fact, I’d argue that they’re exactly what’s at the heart of Murphy’s Law which states – ‘anything that can happen, will happen.’ The correct and incorrect happen simultaneously and are the end result of chance and choice…probability and programming…or whatever else you’d like to call it. It’s difficult to pinpoint what state of form the correct or incorrect (mistakes) exist in but if I were to pull something out of my ass I’d say decisions that are accurate/positive in nature are like a straight line moving forward and/or upward in space; whereas mistakes are like loops that force a person either backward to the point the error occurred or even potentially further back in time.

As the mysterious doctor pointed out they are a necessity of life but to the degree and frequency of their nature they can (and do) occur….to this point I draw objection. The newly fashioned idea that mistakes happen so that we may learn is misleading. The idea of learning ‘after the fact’ is a premise that is just as guilty of inviting error into play as having no desirable concern for the outcome at all. The crippling effect of this mindset is that it gives leeway to the credence (excuse) that mistake is unavoidable, natural and should not have its validity challenged as part of the everyday experience. As someone whose failed countless times in countless ways throughout their life I believe this is a most dangerous social experiment.

Perfection is not the goal or endgame. We should not be inflexible to the variables, that which can’t be seen or is uncontrollable. What our aim should be is to encourage intense observation, open and free dialogue and the ability for development beyond todays socially acceptable standards. Explosive growth of the mind and other abilities is not the desired outcome. Any type that resembles that is a cause for concern as its potential to be metaphorically cancerous is very real. No, what I am seeking is a society built on the premise that mistakes should be a continual point of contention in that they should occupy a healthy percent of our days.

There is this fear, particularly in America, of failing and in order to cope with this we have evoked a number of responses; denial and suppression are a pair that immediately come to mind but the two most dangerous have to be acceptance and intolerance. It’s these two extremes that lead to more problems than almost any of the challenges life throws at us. My solution is simple, make it a small part of our daily routine to examine both our own mistakes as well as those of others. Make it an exercise of analysis not of pure judgement. Find out why something was done, the history before the incident and the recourse afterward. The gift of critical thinking is a present we owe to ourselves as well as to those who come after us. Ultimately because something like mistakes happen don’t mean they should be left alone…some sleeping dogs aren’t meant to lie.