You Are the Answer to Every Problem

“How do we make the world a better place?”

Make yourself a better person.

“How do we expand freedom?”

Make yourself more free.

“How do we improve people’s habits and health?”

Kill your bad habits and get healthier every day.

“How do we spread truth and light?”

Always tell the truth and purge darkness from your life.

“How do we encourage courage and virtue?”

Pay the price for doing what’s right.

How do we improve education?”

Push yourself to learn every day.

“How can we improve families?”

Improve your family.

“How can we curb misinformation and programming?”

Never follow the news.

‘We’ is nothing. You are the only thing.

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Give It Away

I’ve never found a funk that doesn’t snap with giving.

Just giving away goodness, value, joy, or any part of myself without any need or expectation of return works a transformation in me. It pulls me out of myself. I pour myself out until empty.

Then guess what?

I get filled again.

Conserving what I have like a cup of stagnant water is absurd once I’m reminded that there’s a spring of life that refills everything I pour out.

Sounds so stupid and cliché. But it literally never fails for me. The key, however, is truly giving with an undivided heart.

Giving while holding something back, or telling yourself you’re giving all when you’re not, or giving while wishing you weren’t are recipes for destruction. (Ask Ananias and Sapphira.) Bette to not give at all if the giving is free, open, full, and genuine.

But giving with abandon – giving as a way of being – just blows the lid off all the self-pity, frustration, stagnation, and joylessness in life.

Why I have to consciously re-adopt this mindset every day even after learning so many times I’ll never know. But that’s why I write about stuff; to help cement it into my small brain!

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The Deep Magic

It breaks through every iron gate

And shackles of the law

It won’t be held by iron fist

Nor coaxed with velvet paw

No tide too great to stand against

Nor fire too hot to quell

It burns with fire the fire that burns

And floods out flood with swell

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Strength in Weakness

I remember when my good friend TK Coleman started his first daily blogging challenge. He had a medical emergency and was in a hospital bed but he still managed to publish a post that day.

Those are the most powerful posts. Not because the content or style are better. They’re usually worse. They are powerful because one of the greatest strengths is being able to act when you’re weak.

Each act has two sources of power: the strength of what the act is, and the strength in the fact that you acted at all.

Posting a few paragraphs to a blog is not a very powerful thing in itself. But keeping a commitment in the midst of physical illness is.

The fact that you are weak and unable to bring strength to an act only opens more opportunity to increase the power of the fact that you acted at all.

There’s what you do. When conditions are great you can do more. Then there’s what you do with what you have. You can always choose to do the most given the constraints.

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Sub-Creation

When creator’s block comes, it can be helpful to re-think what creating is.

J.R.R. Tolkien called all acts of creation, other than the initial one by God, ‘sub-creation’. Only the uncreated Creator brought something out of nothing. After that, all of our acts are utilizing things already in existence.

We are discovering, rethinking, using in new ways, re-arranging, combining, unbundling, and re-ordering bits of creation. Remembering this can take some of the cognitive burden off of creating.

Find some stuff that’s out there in the universe. Pick up little shards of reality and forge them into something new.

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Humans and Screens

Our relationship with screens is very young.

It’s only been a hundred years since we began using them. It’s only been a decade since we have them on ourselves 24/7 and most jobs require them at least many times a day.

We’re just learning the ways they change us. Blue light impacts our circadian rhythm. EMFs impact us in ways barely known. Dopamine addiction alters our psychology. Staring and typing affects our posture.

I suspect humans in the future will look at people in the first half of the twenty-first century as a bit crazy and unwise in their screen habits.

We’ll learn ways to better integrate our lives with this technology to maximize benefit and reduce harm.

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Take Every Thought Captive

“We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 10:5

If thoughts can be taken captive, then the mind is more like a signal receiver than generator.

This was the common view of the mind until relatively recently, and it has very interesting and hopeful implications.

Ideas come to us. Nobody knows exactly from where or how. One of the more interesting and influential books I’ve read is Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation. This book studies the ‘eureka’ moment – the point at which a new idea enters the minds. It’s a tricky thing. You can affect the setting, and direct your mental focus to different areas, but you cannot consciously control the appearance of the new idea. It comes to you. You receive it.

This leads to several important questions about where ideas originate and how and why they come to us when they do. Even without solving that, the idea of the mind as receiver implies very useful things about how to conduct ourselves.

For one, it does away with the notion that you are your thoughts. If you are bombarded with negative thoughts, that does not mean you are bad. It would be like saying your bones are fundamentally flawed because they keep getting bombarded with rocks that fracture them.

This is empowering, but also challenging. You have the ability to filter thoughts, dismiss thoughts, entertain thoughts, and enact them. You also have the responsibility to do so.

The thought as captive analogy is really quite excellent. First, capture the thought. Don’t let it run wild in your mind. Confine it to a space you control. Interrogate it. Figure out its nature. If it’s friendly, let it in. If not, cast it out.

Usually, this process is quick and easy. When a good thought pops into mind, in your gut you immediately know it’s true. Bad thoughts tend to be trickier. They require more analysis, which is often a sign that they are bad or in the very least dangerous.

I think the common conception of the brain as a computer that generates ideas is quite flawed. Whatever is going on biologically, the mind as a receiver and thoughts as signals originating elsewhere is a powerful paradigm in practice.

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Communication by Implication (or Why Does Everyone Sound Like a Cult Leader?)

More and more people sound like a Biblical prophets or religious cult leaders.

Instead of a CEO tweeting out something like:

“Hey we’re working on something really cool, can’t wait to launch it!”

You get stuff like:

You shall soon see what the meaning of multivariance is when combined with human energy.”

Jokes are cryptic memes. Announcements are cryptic insinuations. Things are rarely stated plainly, but delivered as vague and fiery predictions with plenty of room for confusion and interperetation.

Mystery sells.

Everyone wants to be in on secret knowledge. People want magic. They want the amazing outcome without the predictable process of steady hard wok. As a result, communication gets cryptic, epic, vague, symbolic, and lures people into believing something big is ever around the corner and all they need to do is believe.

This phenomenon has been around for forever, but it seemed relegated to the fringes. Now it’s mainstream. Everything is starting to resemble a cult.

And no matter how many disappointments come, the belief and desire to be in on a secret doesn’t seem to fade.

Ever come across Q anon true believers? They still believe that everything is going perfectly according to Donald Trump’s plan and it’s just their lack of understanding that prevents them from seeing how. Each disappointment is alleviated by looking to the next cryptic message and trying to find an interpretation that gives hope.

I suspect there’s something about an inflationary economy, inherited wealth and quality of living, loss of agency while many things decline, that combine to create a get-rich-quick magic potion seeking culture.

There are many good things about this change. Symbolism is real and powerful. Many truths cannot be captured or communicated with straightforward words. A new appreciation for magic, enchantment, myth, and symbol are welcome.

But it’s also weird. It’s bled into everything, so half the time I can’t tell what the hell people are talking about, and I wonder if that’s the point.

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What Really Matters

Some days are hard. But the hardship has meaning if I take the time to connect with what really matters.

Lots of things matter. But only a few things really matter.

I don’t usually wake up thinking about what really matters, just a bunch of stuff that seems to matter. It’s a choice and conscious effort to ask myself what really matters, answer it, and focus on it throughout the day.

Sometimes I have to change scenery, music, or posture to help snap my heart and soul back into the epic battle that is at the heart of every day and all of reality. There is always a war going on between light and dark, and I am always a part of it. Every choice, every thought.

To remember this is to find the strength to march into another day, come what may.

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Details to Delight

I’m not a details person. But I’m trying to find ways to pay attention to small details I can employ to create big value for others.

When you buy a new iPhone, the details of the packaging are amazing. They create these small moments of delight that set the tone for your entire relationship to the device.

When a song has that one background instrument that gives a little unexpected ear candy in that one small part, you wonder what made someone put that in? It’s not necessary to the main melody, but it’s the very thing that separates great songs from good.

I once bought a book that arrived in a very satisfying plastic wrapping that opened smoothly. I loved that book more than the contents warranted.

When someone takes the time to deliver small, pleasing details where they do not have to it creates not only value that will come back to benefit them, but also a positive externality of delight for the entire world.

I’m trying to get better at this.

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A Good Thing Too Soon Can Be Bad

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted a good thing – to be like God. But they were not ready. The fruit was an attempt to short-circuit the process.

We tend to think of things as simply good or bad, rather than good or bad depending on place, time, person, and circumstance. We also tend to think of bad as inherent in the object or act, rather than a matter of whether we are able to handle it. Most good things are bad if experienced too soon.

Often, people achieve success or wealth faster than they develop the character necessary to handle it. We see this play out all the time among celebrities in tragic ways.

It’s better to not succeed than to succeed before you’re ready.

Rather than externalizing what choices are good or bad, it’s better to look internally at what you are living in accordance with. What can you handle? Have you done the inner work to make yourself worthy of the next level?

If not, you shouldn’t wish it on yourself.

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Eighteen Years

My wife and I got married 18 years ago today.

Nine houses, six cities, four states, eleven jobs, three companies, and four kids later, it’s better than ever. Really. Life has gotten more challenging and also more rewarding each year.

There is nothing that can replace time for granting perspective. The longer we’ve been married, the smaller the ups and downs seem. Time horizons extend, memories accrue, and things that once seemed like a big deal are seen in a more realistic magnitude.

The enterprise of running a family gets more meaningful the longer we do it. And being in this together is amazing. It’s interesting, fun, and inspiring.

I look forward to the future!

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In Defense of Cynicism

A follow up to yesterday’s post, In Defense of LARPing.

Cynicism didn’t always have the connotation it does today. It was a school of philosophy concerned with accepting unchangeable elements of reality and rejecting attitudes and behaviors seen as superfluous, overly sentimental, or driven by passion instead of reason. It was similar to Stoicism.

In the best of times, cynicism may seem a bit silly, callous, or like a wet blanket. But in the worst of times, cynicism is the strongest foundation for hope and optimism.

In yesterday’s post, I shared this story:

In The Silver Chair, a book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, the characters are trapped underground by an evil queen. Her magic begins to work on them and she has nearly convinced them that the world above ground doesn’t exist. The more they try to describe it to her, the more she mocks and convinces them it’s a LARP. They are imagining some glorious world because they’re too childish to accept the one they inhabit. At the last moment, the most humble creature among them steps forward and tells the queen he doesn’t care if it IS all make-believe. If a few children can make-believe a world so much better than this, it must be a pretty cheap world and he’d rather keep believing in the delusion. At that, the spell was broken.”

What I did not mention is that the character who breaks the spell by choosing to LARP was a cynic. And it’s no accident he was the only one able to break it.

Earlier in the story, that character was constantly assuming and accepting the worst. He’d say things like, “We’ll probably fail or die along the way anyway, so we might as well go this way”, or, “Doesn’t much matter because I’m sure we’ll get rained on no matter what.”

On the surface, he was a downer. Especially when the weather was fine and no major challenges lay in their path. But when things got the darkest, he was the least shaken.

He had already made his peace with the worst possible outcomes. Every day, he began by considering the evil that might befall them, assuming it would, accepting it, and then proceeding on.

Because of this, when he evil queen had them under her spell, he was the only one who couldn’t be manipulated into giving up.

She tried to make them feel like fools for believing in an outside world they had no proof for. He already accepted the fact that he was a fool.

She tried to make them fear her wrath if they didn’t comply. He already accepted that she’d probably kill him.

Evil had nothing on him, no threat that could stick, because he had already considered and accepted the worst. He was able to choose to believe in the idealistic hope of a wonderful world precisely because he accepted the possibility of an evil one. What could she do to him that he hadn’t already mentally done to himself? Why not choose to rebel against her if his life was forfeit anyway?

It is honorable to hold on to hope – a form of what I called LARPing yesterday. But the strongest kind of hope is built on a foundation of fearless acceptance of what may befall you.

In dark times, watch the cynics provide hope.

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