Drawing the Line

Situations in life, as unique as we believe they are, share more in common with a used car than a shiny new pet. If there was ever a life item that stood out as a thread that binds all of humanity it would be drawing the line between complacency and action. I recognize, as the effigy goes, there exists a time for peace and a time for war but the question begs – how does one know the difference? For myself and the many underachievers of this world this question has likely plagued us for the entirety of our existences. Answer this riddle correctly reap the rewards, miss this question and prepare for the agony that tends to follow.

There’s tons of advice on how to realize this in ones life. The problem with this wave of self-help garbage is that it ultimately helps only a fraction of those that implement its strategies. Sold as a one-size-fits all solution to what ails you, most of the suggestions you’ll come across are little more than a load of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and serve as much utility as a size 16EEE sneaker does to Peter Dinklage. For those who have seen little to no success trying to ride the Tony Robbins bandwagon it seems giving the other end of the bell curve a crack is worth a shot.

The solution for those brave souls moving forward on this call to action is precisely that – action. It doesn’t matter what sparks the battle, simply begin wagging war. War against the job you hate, the shitty relationship you have, the unceasingly circular direction life keeps traveling in. Better to fight and expel the entirety of ones energy against the almost Calvinistic nature of our existence than to live and die giving in to the unfair level of life’s playing field. I leave you with the words of the poet Dylan Thomas;

‘Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day, rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

Speak only to your passion

In a world where most are in love with nothing, see value only in the temporary and blindly turn the entirety of ones existence to a mythological being, an agent of true change…a questioner of fallacy…someone that is able to see into the future is a dangerous and forsaken individual. Around me at this very moment are the same meaningless conversations, people ceaselessly engaged in mindless activity, floating aimlessly into the recesses of another day. The present giving way to the past without an inkling of novelty.  It is as if time has faded and along with it a deeper, more meaningful sense of purpose.

If this is something you understand and have found defines more, rather than less, of your days it is because you are trapped. I understand how you got there – as of this writing I am still inhabiting such a world, but like Andy Dufresne I have began to tunnel my way out. Bit by bit, day by day I am chipping away at the prison my decisions have locked me in. It began with this blog, which I pay for out of my own pocket, as I stated earlier – not to make a profit – but rather to inspire commitment when there’s no gas in the proverbial tank. Next I began to place money back into what appears an overvalued stock market, willing to risk a healthy portion of my savings for the potential upside I know my courage and calculation will reward. The final two acts involve me publishing my second book and then going back to school for what will ultimately be a law degree.

I bring these up only for illustrative purpose and to ask the question – what are you passionate about? Doesn’t matter if it’s science or stripping – what speaks to you in a way as though it were a long lost loved one calling from beyond the grave. There is this endless fear perpetuated by the world that a person must do what’s logical. I say fuck that. Let someone else be a nurse, a doctor, an IT programmer. If you truly love something you don’t ever let it go. You don’t trade it in for anyone; not your mom, not your dad, not your spouse, not a single individual or deity on this planet or in this universe.

I’ll tell you why you don’t do this…because you will never be your most happy. Sure you can fill your life with substitute things but like the cavity of a tooth it is never gone, just merely covered. Slowly you will go through life with regret which will grow over time. Again those things you’ve added to complement your existence…spouse…kids…house…dog will all be there to hopefully continue to tow you through the thing that keeps snagging your line – that is the dream you gave up on. So before I close out this post I challenge you to take a chance, then take another one, and another after that. Keep knocking until the goddamn door opens and if it’s slammed in your face make like a Jehovah witness and keep on knocking. In time you will ultimately convert your most stubborn critic…yourself.

 

50 Shades of A-hole

Took a recent departure from writing, as is often the case, to think more about things. As ideas for different topics swirled around my head I kept returning to the theme of reality-setting. What I mean specifically is identifying the true nature of ourselves and relating that to the society in which all of us operate. The one, unequivocal truth I keep arriving at is we are all assholes to some degree or another. If at the reading of this you find yourself taken aback, in disbelief or ideally even offended that’s a good thing. Collectively put together it means you are quite sane and that the garbage programming you received growing up is open to being re-written.

As I’m once again on the road I’ll make an analogy to something relatable. Think of our need to be dicks as a light switch. Most of the time just enough to illuminate our view will do the trick, say getting up to take a leak during the middle of the night. Whereas there are other times where we are required to turn it to batman signal magnitude. The key is assessing the situation and starting at an intensity under where we initially might suppose. By doing this it alerts second parties of our intention to convey something they were likely blissfully unaware of – or possibly didn’t give a shit about. Once the light is on we can begin to adjust accordingly.

One key drawback about this is that your internal light will always need to be running – like the alternating & direct currents of electricity. This can be exhausting and an exercise in futility. Take heart though, I once attempted to be a world of smiles, rainbows and metaphysical sunshine. It didn’t work and it won’t for most people because we are most people. The odds are not in our favor and chances our they never will be…and that’s okay. Embrace the dark side of the force. Contrary to what religious tards and other do-gooders may want you to think the world isn’t a good place – it’s not a bad one necessarily either…it’s just a place.

Unfortunately, the dispelling of dishonesty in life isn’t going to come about by being honest, which would appear to be the natural progression of the process. No, honesty is only going to come about by first us being a-holes with one another then after a decade or two this will give way to the self-correcting measure of honesty. It’s a strange paradox but what about being human isn’t strange…or paradoxical? So, in signing off I encourage you to do your part now to get our species on track toward a brighter future for all. A future in which more people are prepared for the reality of existence – one that unreturningly states life isn’t fair, all things are not equal, that silver spoons are in short supply and that Santa isn’t real. Who would’ve thought we could accomplish all this simply by embracing our inner asshole?

Being okay with Nothing

We live in a world defined by the things we have. Whether it’s the title of our job, the house we live in, the car we drive, the cell phone we use or even the clothes on our back, our craving for identity thru the material world is like a drug. Apple, Nike, Amazon, Versace, these companies are the pushers and we the people the customers. Every day millions of items are purchased through various channels, propelling forward the capitalist, consumption machine. The craving for joy and meaning is temporarily fulfilled. This system, ushered in during the First Industrial Revolution, has become the stalwart of ‘westernized’ society for the last three hundred years and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Where I differ from many of the left leaning, anti-capitalist, quasi-anarchists, is that I don’t view this system as the enemy of humankind. It is merely a part of our natural evolution. Whereas humanity has moved from polytheism to monotheism (and ideally one day to a system beyond the preoccupation of religious fascination) our economic system has traveled a historical road itself. From kinship production, to slavery, to feudalism, to capitalism continuing all the way to the government planned system of socialism to most recent…the government-controlled system of communism, our marketplace trudges forward. As with most things in life the outcome of economic activity produces a small number of winners, a large number of losers and an enormous number of participants.

No one (well almost no one) is exempt from this. Its reach is like the light of the sun, touching almost everything it comes in contact with. I’m not going to ramble on about the need to strive for income equality (nothing in this world is equal, wages are no different) nor am I going to send the reader on a quest to Walden…if you don’t know who Thoreau is you owe it to yourself to read at least ‘Civil Disobedience’. I also am not going to suggest you answer the call of the Wild, though McCandless was definitely on to something. What I am going to do is suggest a simple vacation of sorts – not to the Bahamas, though the island can be relaxing – a vacation from want.

It doesn’t matter if you commit to a day, a week, a month or even a year; some things will require more time than others but ultimately its up to you. The focus here is to switch your life from wants to needs. Air, food, water and basic companionship (not virtual) are good starting points; the last item is not necessary as part of this experiment and in principle may affect the last part. To what extent you can the goal is ultimately nothing. Put the phone away or at least on ‘do not disturb’ accept to the most critical people to keep in contact with – an example would be an elderly, infirmed loved one. Goodbye electronics, limit the noise, travel nowhere, buy nothing, talk to no one. Engross yourself in nothing, you can meditate if that’s your thing but it’s not necessary, and do this for however long you can manage. What you’ll find is that nothing is not really being without, it’s not really anything, and I think you’ll be okay with that.

Someone’s Punching Bag

You live and you learn…or if you’re someone like me you live and you don’t, not at least until life hits you in the face so hard you find yourself emotional concussed. Of the variety of topics, I’ve covered so far, ranging from professional to academic and even including personal there’s one item I realized I haven’t spoken on (at least of any great length) and that’s self-worth. While the concept has been touched on I want to speak to it in the form of a very common American phenomenon – participation in athletics. Americans LOVE their sports and I must admit I’m a pretty big basketball fan. The reason I’m drawing a line between the two is that they together illustrate a euphemism for almost all of life.

At some point in our history sport(s) became a right of passage. As we as a society completed/abandoned our conquest of what’s become the modern United States and her territories the focus shifted on rallying our people around something other than (near constant) warfare (didn’t work out but the thought was nice). After all variety is the spice of life. With the ushering in of the modern Olympic games in 1896, the development of American football, basketball, and modern professional baseball, people found a new way to socialize and shortly thereafter stratify individuals based on the combination of skill and genetics. Fast forward some 60, 70 years later and we found not only these sports as professions but as serious collegian activities as well.

From this historical understanding let’s proceed to weave this cultural caveat into the articles topic, self-worth. It’s natural for people to define their value in the context of others. What people think of us, their opinions – manifested through words and actions – have tremendous influence over our emotional framework. We seek acceptance and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing its something that can be leveraged against us. An area where this is blatantly obvious, yet for some reason never spoken upon, is the world of preparatory sports; namely high school athletics. It’s the perfect storm of social upheaval and (in many instances) the last step before coasting to adulthood.

The thing that makes this particularly note worthy is that in addition to being thrown into a world dominated by primal thought (which I’m certainly not against) – defined by a hyper-obsession with winning and domination over one’s competition/enemy – there is an additional toll not often thought of; the physical taxation levied on a person’s body. As someone that was a part of a national championship high school wrestling team and an attempted collegian walk-on I feel the aches and pains of what I’ve put my body through every single day and at 37 feel as if I’m someone 20+ years older. Through all the vigorous training I gained nothing. I was not a recruited athlete and received zero additional instruction or focus from any of my coaches. I’m not bitter about this and only bring it up to make a final point on the matter.

Athletics, like much of life, is a casting call in which most people will not even get a supporting role. There are many folks I’m sure that participate in these gaming events based not on a clear desire or passion for the activity but rather as a way to create value for themselves. My concern lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority (especially in sports that are extremely demanding in nature – such as American football and wrestling) will serve as little more than turning someone into the bricks upon which competitively superior participants will walk. Your injuries, frustrations and time spent in the mostly inefficient routine of practice illustrate an occurrence that happens also later in life; where in the business world those who are better connected, though inversely skilled to their colleagues, will once again use those around them to lift themselves up. I don’t wish to say that participation in sports is a bad thing, it’s not and is able to help a sizeable number of people in a variety of ways, what I am cautioning against is a person blindly throwing their future physical (and to a degree mental) health out the window in the statistical likelihood of receiving nothing in return. You’re likely worth far more than making someone else’s dreams come true.

Look at Me

Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.

Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.

As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.

Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.