Category Archives: Philosophy

Are You a Past, Present, or Future Oriented Person?

This video is brilliant, thought provoking, and informative. The whiteboard illustrations alone are worth every minute.

In one section the presenter states the main purpose of schooling is to turn children from present minded hedonists into future oriented planners and organizers. That’s part of the truth, but there is a social sorting aspect of schooling that goes far beyond simply reprogramming our perception of time. It’s a way of creating winners and losers before the adult game of life even begins. Also, one can be a future oriented person without succeeding in school. True, schools force you to plan and organize for the future – next week’s assignment, final tests, prom, the pep fest, the football game, taking the right electives to secure a place in college, etc, but the institution strictly controls what you must plan to do. Many future oriented people have different plans than the paths offered in school…

The Questions Science Can't Answer – Yet

Most nights after putting my 7 year old to bed, we have lengthy discussions about life and reality. While he spends most of his day repeating silly nonsense from Sponge Bob, at night, when the lights go out, he changes. He’s a night person, his brain shifts into high gear in the darkness and silence… just like both his parents.

Some of his questions:

  • Where did everything come from?
  • Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • Why did the Big Bang happen?
  • How long ago did the Big Bang happen?
  • If we went back in a time machine and watched the Big Bang, what would it look like?
  • If everything is expanding, what is it expanding into?
  • Is there more than one universe?
  • Is time travel possible?
  • What is reality?
  • Where was I before I was born?
  • What was before the Big Bang?

For some of these questions, science does have an answer, and for some, it does not.

We once thought the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth. Not that long ago many scientists adhered to the Steady State Theory that the universe had no beginning or end and was in a state of constant creation. And when I was a child science told us we were entering an ice age, while today they tell us the Earth is facing a catastrophic warming.

Sometimes the most important questions are the ones that offend the current culture.

In truth, we know little about reality, and the questions we do answer are likely to produce even more puzzling questions, but that’s no reason to quit asking questions and looking for evidence, and the closer we look the weirder reality appears to be.

I tell him, “Keep an open mind. The answers you read in books or are taught in school are what we think we know right now. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better explanation. Never quit asking questions and seeking answers.”

For more on the questions Science Can’t Answer Yet – check out Ten Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet!): A Guide to Science’s Greatest Mysteries.

The Secret to Getting Things Done: Acceptance, Love, and Patience

Are you like me? When you decide to do a thing, you want to act immediately. You strive for constant progress toward your goal, then you run into obstacles… things that are out of your control… like other people who have other plans… but you need them to reach your goal. Then you try to force progress by pushing and prodding and pulling, which only seems to cause others to push back harder. The harder you push, the slower the progress and the higher your frustration. Sometimes you want to quit. Other times you blame others and start to think they are incompetent or lazy. Maybe you eventually give up. You believe you did everything right. If only the other people had “stepped up” everything would have worked. You believe you are a victim of bad breaks, laziness, and difficult people.

The above is called self-will run riot and it is a sure recipe for failure.

But you’ve had the opposite experience too, haven’t you? You’ve had moments in business, or golf, or parenting, or marriage, when everything is perfect, the zen moment. It’s almost like the universe is running everything perfectly and you are just observing it in all its perfection. In these moments, you are experiencing something very close to the truth about reality.

What I’m describing here are two polar extremes. Most of us live somewhere in between.

On one side we have the misguided idea that we can CREATE BY FORCE, but clearly we can see in our own lives, that attempting to create our future by force results in the exact opposite, destruction and failure.

Why do we believe this nonsense about force?
Answer: We live in a culture where we are taught from our earliest days that problems are solved by the application of force. Popular culture action heroes and athletes delude us into thinking we can create a better world via physical strength, will power, and force.

But it is a lie. Force is only justified when someone else has initiated force against us, and even then it isn’t creative. It can only attempt to end the destruction so the natural state of creation can begin anew.

In truth, creation is a process you set in motion, but you can’t control. It’s like a magnificent story that unfolds before your eyes. You focus your thoughts and your actions on your goal and you seek acceptance voluntarily. Creation is the act of allowing. Acceptance and allowing require love and patience. They require humbling yourself to the immense creative power of the universe. It requires “getting over yourself” while simultaneously knowing “the only thing you control is yourself.” All the rest of creation happens on it’s own.

Learning How to Live

The simple concept I am about to share with you has taken me most of my adult life to realize and is one of the key ingredients in living a balanced fulfilling life.

Dereck at I Will Not Die wrote a piece (Playgrounds in the Night) that will move you. When you read it, it will leave you with a sense of urgency to live now. It will make you question every decision you make, make you fight your distractions, and push you to live right now.

Dereck is right and I encourage you to live right now, while you still have the time.

But it is only half-the story. Life is never clean. It’s messy and mysterious.

Like a lot of you, I struggle living in the now. I think I know why. Let me explain with a story.

There was a boy I once knew that never wanted the day to end. He lived in the moment and for the moment. Eating was a nuisance, going potty a waste of time, getting dressed a distraction. He had important things to do. He had dragons to slay, legions to lead into battle, fortresses to build, treasure to find, and damsels to save.

And when he wasn’t in his imagination, he had worms to eat, bikes to jump, ropes to swing from, rocks to throw, firecrackers to light, lawn darts to toss, books to read, games to play, and movies to watch.

He hated plans and loved spontaneity. He did everything he could now because tomorrow never came, it was always now.

He avoided schedules and plans because they felt like prisons.

As he grew older, he went to parties, he smoked dope, he played music, chased girls, and wrote poetry. It was all enormous fun. But he never made plans for his future. He lived for the moment, no worries, life to it’s fullest.

He didn’t expect to live past 18, but it came and it went. Then he didn’t expect to live past 21. But it too came and it went.

As time went on, he had fewer and fewer friends. Some went to prison, others to treatment, some got married, others to school, some even died. He kept living for the moment, but soon he found himself alone. Everyone had either made plans and moved on or disappeared.

At 30 years old, he had no money, no house, no friends, no marriage, no kids, no education, no job, no business. He spent 30 years living in the now and now the present wasn’t so fun. His health was failing and so was his sanity.

That’s when he realized his mistake…

It is important to answer this question:

How would I live if I was sure I was going to die tomorrow?

But it is equally important to ask yourself this one:

How would I live if I was sure I’d live a 100 more years?

There is a difference between living in the present and living like there is no tomorrow. Failing to think about your future is irresponsible to yourself and your loved ones. If you want something tomorrow, sometimes, you have to do something you don’t want to do today. You can live in the present moment, while choosing to use your present moment to make plans for your future. In reality there are no other moments than this one, right here, right now. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it to plan your future and learn from your past.

You can do your own thing, but remember, you will reap the consequences of your choices. There is no avoiding them.

While it is possible I may die today, I am planning to live past 100. Sometimes I tell my kids ‘no’ when they ask to go to the park. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow we’d go to the park. But today I choose to work on my career, my business, my writing, my health, my finances, as well as my marriage and my children. No one thing can have my focused attention all the time. Sometimes I have to drop work and help a family member, sometimes I say no to my family because there is work to be done. My plans are longer than 1 day or 1 week.

If you are overly focused on the long-term you’ll miss the present and you’ll die waiting to arrive.

However, if you are overly focused on the present without thought for your future, and you happen to live another 60 years, you may not like where you end up. You need to watch where you are going or you might end up lost, in the ditch, or crushed in a head on collision.

Yes, if I knew I was going to die next week, I’d live the next 7 days very differently. But if I chose to live that way all the time, life would get strange. Life wouldn’t be as fun without long-term goals and successes.

The exact date and time of your demise is a mystery, and that makes life far more interesting. It forces you to take calculated risks with your most precious commodity – time.

I came to understand this when I realized…
When I choose to do something right now, I am forgoing every other possibility. To read this post, you gave up everything else you could have been doing with that time. I hope I left you with something you can use.

There is no right or wrong answer, there is only what is right for you. Don’t let anyone choose for you, but remember to choose intelligently.

Overcoming Fear – The Courage to be Creative

Jeff Jarvis writes, “we are shifting, too, from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance.” While we live in a world of potential abundance, there are obstacles to realizing this abundance. It requires that we accept change and become willing to relinquish control of others. To realize your creative abundance, you must have the courage to confront your own fears and the fears of others. Jeff Jarvis writes…

So let’s assume that instead of a scarcity there is an abundance of talent and a limitless will to create but it has been tamped down by an educational system that insists on sameness; starved by a mass economic system that rewarded only a few giants; and discouraged by a critical system that anointed a closed, small creative class. Now talent of many descriptions and levels can express itself and grow. We want to create and we want to be generous with our creations. And we will get the attention we deserve. That means that crap will be ignored. It just depends on your definition of crap.

The gates of the creative kingdom have been guarded for far too long by a group of elitists who practice a form intellectual apartheid (albeit unknowingly). In the past, they, the guardians of taste and culture have prevented the great mass of humanity from participating in true meritocracy. In fact, the system was designed to convince us that we don’t deserve to participate. William Deresiewicz writes in The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

I also never learned that there are smart people who aren’t “smart.” The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.

Now, due to ubiquitous technology and cheap access to the internet, no one can prevent you from floating balloons and discovering what rises. But there is another angle to this, the media consumer.

I hear average Joes (non-social media addicts) say they don’t understand blogging and all the fuss about online media. I hear, “every blog I’ve read sucks. How do you find blogs worth reading? How do you know if it’s accurate? How can you trust some blog?”

I reply, “Discriminate for yourself and find your information via news aggregation. Decide for yourself what is plausible, what is good.” In a diplomatic way, I’m saying, “Think for yourself.”

Invariably I am told, “Who has time for that!” Which I find a bit depressing, because they’re saying they don’t want to exert the effort to think critically about what the media says. It is an industrial age hangover.

A large percentage of media consumers were conditioned during the industrial age to have decisions made for them. They don’t want the freedom to decide for themselves what is worth believing, because then – they must take responsibility for what they believe. Now, they assume if something is written in a major newspaper that it must be accurate and trustworthy, and it makes them feel safe. They want editors to protect them. They want schedules, filters, and predictability, but they don’t want to be accountable.

This is the problem Web 2.0 entrepreneurs must solve. Digg tries to filter out the garbage and let the cream rise, but they fail by consistently suppressing great content via bury abuse. People bury ideas they disagree with, not just spam. Controversial political opinion is becoming harder to find on Digg. Reddit’s algorithm allows it to be overrun with redundant content. No one system has the answer, but the aggregators are improving, and we are getting more choices.

While Jarvis writes of the demise of the creative class, Dereck (I Will Not Die) asks if we are in the midst of a new class war.

Not rich vs. poor. I don’t mean the hordes of normal working people rising up hoping to slaughter all the landowners. What I have in mind is a new kind of class, a class that has crept up slowly, growing almost without being noticed until it’s big enough to be a major player in society. I mean a class of tech-savvy, scientifically-minded, free-thinking über-”geeks”. I’m guessing we now number in the millions, easily. Probably in the tens of millions though.

As I talk with people about new media and the changing economy, I run into people who ‘get it’ and people who don’t. Right now it appears to be nearly black and white. Of course there are those who think they ‘get it’ and don’t, and those who ‘get it’ and are trying to thwart it, like the Philadelphia Inquirer. The new class warfare Dereck describes is being fought between those attempting to preserve the past and those welcoming the future. This new class war, defies the political and social constructs of the industrial age. It is neither conservative nor liberal, rich nor poor, white nor black. It is about freedom, intellectual and creative freedom.

The old media won’t hold up economically or ethically. It will fall like all central control falls when it is confronted with mass technological and social innovation. It will fail because it doesn’t serve people, it serves itself. Preserving the past never works, because (as an old school genius wrote), Time Marches On and it doesn’t care about you or your fears.

The Obstacle Between You and Happiness

Over the Memorial Day weekend I spent time with an old friend. He doesn’t have job or a car and lives on less than $200.00 a week. He is looking for a job, but he already has what he needs and he knows it.

As we sat outside, watching fireworks, he said to me “I don’t care if you’re a billionaire or homeless, if you don’t have gratitude, you ain’t got nothing.”

With an atitude like that, how can you help but be happy?

In that moment I felt like a fool, because it’s easy to forget. When we are fixated on our goals we miss where we are and what we have to grateful for. When we feel pain, we disregard the good things in life.

I once read a story about a nun who volunteered to work with the criminally insane. When she was asked why she did it, she said, “Do you see that white wall behind you? Take your pencil and put a dot on the wall. Now look at the wall, the dot is what is wrong with the people I help. The white space is what is right with them. I don’t look for the dots, so I see what is right with them.”

For most of you who are reading this right now, your problems are smaller that the dot on the wall and the wonderful things surrounding you are bigger than the wall. Stop looking at the dot, it keeps you from seeing the wall.

Don’t let one little dot stand between you and hapiness.

Are You a Control Freak?

Does our attempt to control reality create suffering?

Alan Watts discussed the concept of Ziran (or Spontaneity) on the Alan Watts Podcast

“Ziran means spontaneous, it happens as your heart beats, you don’t do anything about it, you don’t force your heart to beat, you don’t make it beat, it does it by itself. Now figure a world where everything happens by itself, it doesn’t have to be controlled, it’s allowed. Whereas the idea of God involves the control of everything going on. The idea of the Tao is the idea of the ruler who abdicates and trusts all the people to conduct their own affairs, to let it all happen, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a unified organism and everything is in chaos, it means that the more liberty you give, the more love you give, the more you allow things in yourself and in your surroundings to take place, the more order you will have.”

Does our attempt to control each other make us sick? Is the desire for power and control the core human illness? The creation of all suffering and misery? Too strong? Maybe, but desire to control has led to most human atrocities.

Spontaneity has been one of my core values since I can remember. I feel trapped, almost claustrophobic when my life is over scheduled or externally planned. But anxiety about losing my free time is just another attempt at control, isn’t it?

One evening, I was sitting outside with the neighborhood parents when the ubiquitous subject of our children’s activities came up. A father said, “ya gotta teach ’em to keep busy. It keeps ’em out of trouble.”

To which I replied, “I’m trying to teach ’em to avoid being busy. You know, so they can do what they want to do.”

“So you’re trying to raise couch potatoes?” he said.

I let it go at that.

But I must ask …
Why do so many people assume that if children are left to their own devices that they will become blobs of glowing jello? Where is the evidence?

Is it just my perception, or have modern parents replaced corporal punishment with a more damaging form of authoritarianism, the complete domination of their children’s time and movement?

What is more disconcerting is the parents who try to control their children by pacifying them with High Fructose Corn Syrup and other overindulgences.

Or are these observations just judgments from another control freak?

Do you judge how others live… and the things they believe… do you find their way of life ‘politically incorrect” or low brow?

It’s hard to see it from the inside out.

“the more liberty you give, the more love you give, the more you allow things in yourself and in your surroundings to take place, the more order you will have.” – Alan Watts

The Emotional Emptiness of Consumer Culture

I find routines in life boring, so the other day I did something I’d never normally do. I took an hour or so alone and walked around every floor of the Mall of America and looked at each store and restaurant while observing the people who milled about during the noon hour. I’ve been there many times, but I’ve never paid attention, so I didn’t see what the Mall of America really is – a giant monument to emotional emptiness.

If you’ve been reading this blog you know that I am a big advocate of free enterprise and free markets. I believe these companies have every right to do what they are doing, but what I saw at THE MALL (what we in Minnesota call the MOA) left me feeling sad.

As I looked at each store, the products, the images, the colors, I asked myself two questions:

  1. Is this store interesting to me?
  2. What does this store sell?

I only found a few of the stores interesting enough to describe and I’ll share that with you in a moment, but first…

99% of the stores in THE MALL are meaningless to me. I realize 38-year-old males are not the demographic THE MALL is after, so that didn’t surprise me.

But this did surprise me:

When I looked closely, 90% of stores weren’t selling useful products. They were selling symbols – symbols of youth, health, beauty, sex, happiness, sophistication, and wealth. The next time you are in a mall, look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The products are secondary, it’s feelings they sell.

In the front door of Abercrombie and Fitch was a giant mural of several half naked teenage boys running across a grassy plain with their butt cracks showing. Now, I could show my butt crack too, and I don’t need $150.00 jeans to do it. But If I dressed that way, I think people would just feel sick. I know I would. No pair of jeans is going to make me look like the 18-year-old models in the mural. But I have to ask the question, does anyone want to see these boy’s butt cracks? Even teenage girls? There were a lot of young men roaming the halls, and I didn’t see one of them that looked remotely like the mural. I wondered how many of them bought into this nonsense. I assume if you (un)dressed like the boys in the mural, and went to THE MALL, you’d be arrested.

In many ways the stores aimed at females are even worse. I won’t get into details, but Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell underwear.

We’ve been conditioned to need certain stuff to feel good about ourselves, but the stuff always falls short, because it isn’t what we really want. It is a Faustian bargain. As soon as you think you have IT, whatever IT is slips through your grasp, because IT’s someone else selling you a lie about yourself. That’s why consumerism can leave us feeling empty and cheated unless we go back for more. It’s a lot like Methamphetamine. People get hooked on it for a reason. And don’t kid yourself, none of us are above it.

The two stores I found redeeming were:

  1. The Apple Store. I played with the Air for a little bit and found the rest of the gadgets interesting. But I am probably biased. I suppose I felt different about The Apple Store because I’m a geek. But I do know they aren’t selling technology. They are selling style and sophistication. A lot of companies sell technology. Apple isn’t one of them. Technology is just the vehicle. We all know Apple products are the sexiest.
  2. A guy who looked like Grizzly Adams ran a gourmet doggy treat stand which was packed with customers even though the mall doesn’t allow pets.  He stood out like a Hummer on Earth Day. And I know why he is so successful – he sells love – a little slice of love you can take home to your dog. I want to go back and interview this guy.

These two stores were also the busiest in the mall and that tells me something about customers. They aren’t as shallow as some marketers believe.

The trip left me feeling sad for our culture. But I have hope. If I can see the problem, so can you and many others, and it is just a matter of time before we evolve into a species which rises above needing a certain pair of underwear to feel complete. It won’t be tomorrow, but It’ll happen. Have faith.

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Is Morality Relative?

Today I thought I’d question the very core of morality.

Bob Proctor’s presentation on the Science of Getting Rich is available on Google Video (Hat Tip to Lyman Reed).

One of the things he said struck me as highly controversial. At one point he said, “There is no right and wrong, there is only your perspective of what is right and wrong” and I thought… I bet he lost a lot of people right there… that’s what many people on the right would call moral relativism… the idea that there isn’t absolute right and wrong – only personal or cultural perspective.

Then I thought… wait a minute… this isn’t some Left/Right, Conservative/Liberal, Republican/Democrat, or Christian/Atheist debate.

For example, ask a Sierra Club member if it is wrong to pour toxic waste into a river. I’d guess they’d say yes. I would too. Ask an anti-war protestor if they think it is wrong to incinerate people with nuclear weapons. I’d guess they’d say yes. I would too.

So what does Bob Proctor mean?

Does he really mean it isn’t inherently wrong to poison our rivers or incinerate people?

Does he mean that it could be the right thing to do from a certain perspective?

I don’t think so… but…

People have done things like this…right? They must have had some justification…right?

Then I rewound the video and listened very closely to what Bob said…

He said there is no right and wrong there is only that which works – that which produces the desired results. Right and wrong is a perspective.

Ahh! Then it hit me. Bob isn’t saying that Hitler’s belief that non-German’s were subhuman and needed to wiped off the face of the Earth was right. He is saying Hitler believed he was absolutely right and so did many of his followers and that is why our point of view of right and wrong is relative.

Believing you are right does not make you right – it is only your perspective.

So how do we know what is right and wrong? We have to ask questions…

What kind of a world do we wish to create? How do we want to live from this day forward? What are we doing right now? What is working? What isn’t? What has worked in the past? What hasn’t?

This isn’t a debate about religion so don’t try to turn it into one.

We’ve seen people do heinous things in the name of God (The Spanish Inquisition and Extreme Islam). We also have seen people do heinous things in the name of Atheism (Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot – actually some say Pol Pot was a Buddhist). But they all had one thing in common… they believed they were absolutely right.

Get it? Consider the possibility that you might be wrong. Think it through.

So I ask a few simple questions…

What is your perspective? Are you getting the results you desire? Be honest with yourself? What are the actual results of your actions?

Are your beliefs… right now… helping you create the world you want your children and grandchildren to inherit?