Monday, November 29, 2010

Apathy and Complacency

Whenever a conversation turns onto the subject of the world's problems, the favorite cause is nearly always how selfish and greedy people are today. This is merely an unthinking stock answer with which few would ever consciously disagree. Certainly, greed is a problem in the world, but to assume that it is the problem shows a lack of understanding of mankind.

Truly problematic selfishness and greed revolve around the will to hurt others for one's own gain. However, like what we might call "pure evil", it is rare among humans, who—in my understanding—are as incapable of pure evil as they are of perfect goodness. The widely publicized pirates, smugglers, and con men net relatively few "benjamins" when compared to the ocean of dollars lost to apathy and complacency.

With so many opportunities to connect, collaborate, and create, the twin sirens of apathy and complacency are the real cause of many problems. Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm or concern, and stems from the root of selfishness. However, unlike greed, which still maintains a sense of enthusiasm for personal gain, apathy lacks mobility. It then blossoms into complacency, which is a smug sense of personal accomplishment—I have enough, I'm satisfied.

It is no wonder that thinkers like Ayn Rand profess the virtues of selfishness. Compared to the shrinking prosperity caused by the lack of ambition in a populace, the mobile force of selfishness and even greed can be shown to create an upward spiral. Unfortunately, it is one based upon hostility and animosity, and is therefore plagued with cancerous relationships.

A person operating from a standpoint of selfishness tends to become frustrated by a lack of support which stems from the attitude inherent to selfishness. It is difficult to win honest support for what appears to be a selfish cause, and so these selfishly ambitious people face a choice to give up (become apathetic and complacent) or just manipulate people into going along with them (greed).

Not that I lay the blame solely on the people, but if we were neither apathetic nor complacent, there would be no motivator for the selfishly ambitious to cross the line into greed. I can't discount the existence of people who are malicious of their own accord, but most people tend toward what is easier and so resort to harming people only when no gentler opportunity presents itself. The goal is not to be greedy, the goal is to have things. In the absence of apathy, everyone would climb as high as they could, create millions of jobs, and smash all the world's problems with innovative solutions and teamwork.

The trouble is that a great many of us have been taught by school, the media, and peer culture that to be ambitious is always a sign of greed. Therefore, decent people are compelled to give up their ambitions in order to maintain their honest natures in the eyes of the world. This is a waste. Most people, if they really search their hearts, would have to admit that they have big dreams they'd like to bring to reality. These people would likely be enthusiastic about bringing a host of friends along for the ride.

If everyone could just get enthused about helping everyone else succeed, we'd all avoid greed and turn the economy around in a heart beat. But it seems a warm heart is missing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Last Choice

There are times in every person's life when he or she is presented with a choice that amounts to a life-changing decision. There are many more times, when a person faces the little decisions that either expand his choices or narrow them into the big ones. There is, however, only one time when a person chooses never to make another choice.

This can come at any time. It can come early in life, or it can come late. I believe that it begins very early, but that the capriciousness of youth refuses to commit to the "last choice." However, life wears on us. Our responsibilities wear on us. What others expect from us and what culture imposes on us take a cumulative toll, and eventually, we become susceptible to the allure of giving up our independence.

There are three paths that can be taken here, though the third is tremendously hard for the individual to see, and even harder to explain to another. The first—and easiest—is to simply make the last choice. That is, to give in to all that is demanded of you without personally prioritizing, planning, and sacrificing. The second is to run from the choice and to do—as nearly as you can—the exact opposite of what is demanded of you. This, again, is done largely without any personal prioritizing, planning, or sacrificing because it is merely a negative reaction which is dependent on the same demands. It is not true independence.

The reason that I say the third path is hard too see and explain is that it entails a personalized mixture of these two previous paths. It is neither conformity nor non-conformity. It is also not "individualism" which I once would have called it because that word excludes all notions of teamwork, which is often necessary. The third path is simply the will to keep making choices and the desire to make the right ones, dependent only upon one's own well-defined (and continuously refined) vision of his ideal life.

It is a lot of work being present for your own life. However, if you want to have any amount of real peace and happiness, being proactive is essential. At first, it may seem like you are fighting battles left and right just to stay on the path. It may seem that you are giving up a great many opportunities for fun and pleasure. Actually, you are—at first.

However, anyone who has made the choice to keep making choices will tell you that the minor skirmishes and amusing diversions—as they become—shrink in comparison to the great things in life that can only be achieved by staying on your personalized "straight and narrow." Certainly you will need a mentor (or many) to keep you on that path. You will need to intake the right information and ever broaden your perspective. You will need to be able to let go of the past and endeavor to continuously improve. And you will have to think for yourself. It is worth it. So make THAT your last choice.

Ignorance, Confusion, Enlightenment

[Reposted from]

A story is a process, whether we're talking about the story of our lives or the story of our characters' lives. We begin with a simplistic view. We are ignorant of anything outside our perspective. As we accumulate knowledge and experiences, our eyes are opened to the complexity of the world. Complexity leads to confusion because we don't yet possess the wisdom to understand the connections between the tangible elements of our story. As we gain wisdom, the complexity becomes simplified again and we become enlightened.

If you think about it, this arc applies to everything wherein learning is involved. Ignorance is not knowing. Not only do we not know the details of life, but we don't always know there are details to be known. As the saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know." Our perspective on life is determined by our personal experiences, what's called our "field of experience." The less we learn about the rest of the world, the more we rely upon the assumption that the rest of the world is like us. What would cause us to think otherwise?

As we associate with other people and learn about them, our perspective widens to encompass the new information. The faster we learn knowledge, the more confused we can become. Our brains begin to fill with what appears to be separate, if not random pieces of information. This process is difficult, even painful, because it expands our mental capacity. This is why many choose to remain ignorant. As they say, "Ignorance is bliss." But clearly, ignorance only limits our freedom. Without a adequate view of the elements of our story (again, be it life or fiction) we cannot hope to take command of our circumstances.

Like the water lily, these "pads" of information seem separate, but are actually connected. The process of deciphering the randomness of life gives us wisdom. As we begin to understand connections between separate areas of life, we find that our story once again becomes simplified. However, this time our perspective is one of truth and unity rather than self-centered autonomy. We understand that freedom must respect boundaries, and that we live in a world with other individuals.

Rather than blunder through life selfishly, we must think our way through life selfLESSly. In this way, we become enlightened enough to see the big picture, and understand the benefits of fitting ourselves into society on purpose.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TV Revolution, part 1

Television as we know it is going to change. Indeed, the revolution has already begun. There is no longer any need to be trapped within the confines of a broadcaster's schedule, which is, by the diverse nature of its audience, imperfect and inapplicable to many people. The current scheduling and even business model of television was developed for a society of people who worked 9-5, made a moderate income, had a degree of disposable income and free time which could be used to recreate without compromising their financial futures.

The very businesses which were responsible for the financial futures of millions, rushed to get their products marketed to the masses via television commercials. This heavy reliance on sponsors shaped the content of the television medium, pushing it gradually into a mechanism that attracted (even developed) the perfect audience. Not only did it applaud the company man when it talked about work, but it applauded the consumer when it talked about play.

Furthermore, television programming was (necessarily) scheduled in harmony with the schedules of the middle class worker. In other words, "prime time" presented the highest quality shows on television because prime time sold the most advertising. It was marketed to the people who had the most disposable income, and was designed to educate them in more exciting ways of disposing of their income. So television had the cumulative effect of destroying initiative and productivity.

Television, as a mainstream medium, does very little to cater to artists and entrepreneurs, many of whom end up "selling out" to the status quo it represents. Both settle for creating what is saleable in this market, rather than finding the market that wants what they create. Part of this is that mainstream media propagates hostility to anything radically new or different, making the process of winning people to one's views not worth the effort. The other part is a genuine lack of direction in such an environment.

As I understand the terms, by definition, an artist or entrepreneur must have a groundbreaking idea. The television business is based upon years, even decades, of carefully tracked ratings and marketing data, which have informed the refinement of the medium from its inception. To change anything is to make this mountain of data irrelevant, and so the one place that seems most likely to spread a groundbreaking idea, is the one place where it is not welcome.

Unfortunately for artists and entrepreneurs, television and other mainstream media has been very successful in establishing the way things are. Many people don't know where else to look and what other sources to trust for their understanding of the world, so they default to the opinions that are most pervasive. Therefore, this hostility is not limited to the media businesses themselves, but has planted seeds of skepticism in every person one might approach directly.

Friday, November 5, 2010


There is a show on A&E called "Hoarders," and I highly recommend watching at least of a couple episodes. It is similar to "Intervention" which is a surprisingly compassionate "reality show" about severe drug and alcohol abuse cases, which tells the addicts' stories, then provides an intervention to get them help. "Hoarders" follows a similar format, but focuses on a condition called "compulsive hoarding."

This condition could not be more literally named. In severe cases, its victims hoard so much stuff in their homes, storage areas, and even yards, that the mess becomes a very real hazard. Not only does it make most of the house inaccessible and unsightly to guests, but it poses a tripping hazard (especially on stairs), a fire hazard, and invites vermin which can easily hide in the mess.

Again, watch for yourself to get an extended understanding of the problems it poses. What interested me (and fits within the theme of this blog), is how common mild cases of hoarding are. Substance abuse can be a foreign concept for anyone who isn't an addict, but so many people in modern consumerist culture are addicted to stuff. I believe most of us (especially when we feel strapped for cash) tend to hold on to the most irrational stuff.

I recently emptied out a storage unit after two years. That's two years, during which I made maybe three trips there to get something out. So the point is, it probably could have burned down, and I would have been no worse for the wear. There are infinite, good excuses for keeping the stuff: some clothes for charity, which never quite made it there; a couple shelving units, which could come in handy; old baby stuff... oh, the memories!

Ultimately, I donated, recycled, and trashed about 90% of what I was paying to store. No, my case isn't severe. Yes, I could afford the payments. That's not the point. The point is, I accumulated stuff I didn't need which put a dent in my resources (including the time it took to unload and sort it all). It's a waste. Why do we do that?

There are two prominent reasons for hoarding, as I see it. The first is that the hoarder has an emotional attachment to the items. We all have mementos that would appear to be junk to anyone else. Every meaningful relationship or event leaves some physical trace. The problem comes when we need to hold on to so many of these, that their presence gets in the way of new memories.

The second is that the person has a scarcity mentality. Aside from the memories attached to these items, the hoarder connects an exaggerated value to each. "It might come in handy!" is an example of this. The question one ought to ask himself is this: "Do I suppose that this item will become useful enough, soon enough, to warrant my storing it?" This is especially true for large items and/or those that will degrade with time (i.e.: shelving units or cars). For smaller items, I'd add the question: "Will I be able to find this when the time comes that I need it?"

In America, anyway, most of the time, its easier to just go buy whatever you need when you need it—even a cheap used item is as close as the internet. Indeed, this is what we do, despite already having the item we need packed away somewhere. That's not to say you shouldn't accumulate assets—items that increase in value, if not usefulness with time. The point here is to learn to tell the difference before you put it into storage.

Mainstream media caters necessarily to the masses, and is sponsored by consumer products. This apparatus of the machine has a vested interest in spreading the general belief that buying stuff creates happiness. As soon as a product goes out the door (of the factory, the big box store, etc.), its company no longer feels responsible for where it ends up. Media creates sadness, so that marketing can sell happiness—that's the bottom line.

The troublesome thing is, this is not inaccurate. You do feel good when you buy stuff, hence the addiction. Like substance abuse, this belief creates baggage—literally. With such an emphasis on buying what ultimately ends up as trash, is it any wonder that some people try to squeeze every last ounce of value out of each item? Any wonder that cars sit on blocks, waiting to be repaired? Any wonder diet books and exercise equipment stack floor to ceiling, awaiting the "right time"?

It doesn't surprise me that once we buy what we don't need, and store it until it can be used or discarded properly, that we wouldn't do the same with everything that comes into the mess. Bills we mean to pay, get lost. Trash we mean to recycle, gets buried. The mantra is "buy, buy, buy, hurry, hurry, hurry!" until our living space is as cluttered and disorganized as our minds.

STOP! Take a deep breath. Get the mess off your mind, by getting it out of your house and your life. By all means, keep the memories—just lose the mementos.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October '10: The Month in Posts

As I find myself dealing with deeper issues of humanity, I think it is important to remind my readers of the role that media plays in creating and perpetuating these issues—this being a media-related blog. A lot of this months posts have dealt with personal motivations, especially where people have been duped into ignoring these motivations. Ultimately, media influences the way we think, and the solution is not as about avoiding any wrong information as it is learning to identify when something is wrong. To avoid wrong information entirely is to kill our ability to identify it—and to fall prey to it, ultimately.

How Much Change is Enough? - October 9, 2010
This is not as clear cut or universal with regards to person change. Change, in both senses, merely indicates a difference between one thing and another. In the grocery store, your change is the difference between what you owed and what you gave (a $20 bill, say). In life, your change is the difference between who you are now, and who you become through education and experience. (read more)
Winning, Losing, or Not Playing - October 13, 2010
Strangely, many performance leaders who teach win-win principles still tend to speak in sports analogies, which are always win-lose. By necessity, one team must win and one team must lose. Even a discussion of self-mastery in the individual as a key to team victory goes by way of one team winning and one team losing. (read more)
Autopilot - October 25, 2010
Have you ever arrived at work quite unaware of the journey from home? Your alarm goes off, and the next thing you know, you're punching in. You don't remember your breakfast, that drive through traffic, that train ride, etc. What is happening around us as we jostle our ways to press #9 in the great factory of our mechanical society? (read more)
On Shyness - October 27, 2010
Simply put, a shy person fears he will be worse off in some way as the result of an interaction with another person. Shyness is a symptom more commonly ascribed to introverts than to extroverts. However, withdrawal from social events is a part of the introvert's natural disposition, and they have build up their strengths around this fact. To be shy and an extrovert is a more serious problem. When they possess the fear that interactions will harm them, their very nature causes them pain. (read more)
Two Minutes Hate - October 27, 2010
No one hates people. They only hate ideas. In order to hate other people, a person must first dehumanize them in his mind. By turning them into something quite apart from (and especially beneath) himself, he regards himself as free to treat them as something other than a person—a demon or an animal, for instance. (read more)