What do Aliens have to do with Hillary Clinton and World War 3?

When I was in my early twenties, I was driving a New Zealand open road at night with my ex-girlfriend in the passenger seat. We were out in the country where there were no street lights. The moon and many stars in the night sky provided the only light other than for the car’s headlights. The serenity of it got me to thinking about something, and I asked my ex what she thought the most interesting occurrence during our lifetimes would be. A tough question for sure, and not one easily answered on the spot. I don’t recall what her answer was because I’m Narcissistic and was only asking so that I could bring up the thought I’d just had so we could discuss it…

For me, the most interesting occurrence, was the arrival on Earth of extra-terrestrial life. Aliens coming to visit!

I’m a bit weird like that. While some people may think of interesting occurrences a little closer to home, such as visiting a different continent, or country, or having a baby… I go straight for Aliens. Or Zombie Apocalypses, another personal favourite.

A question that has plagued me ever since, and likely will plague me for the rest of my life is “do Alien’s exist?”

I recently stumbled upon something related to Aliens which I found very interesting. Not E.T. phoning home. But, the Fermi Paradox.

The Fermi Paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates for the existence of extra-terrestrial civilizations.

In other words, it is the disconnect between the Gagillions of stars out there in the Universe like our own star (the Sun) capable of generating the conditions necessary for life and the absence of other observable life-forms.

The basic points of the argument (thanks Wikipedia), made by physicists Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) and Michael H. Hart (born 1932), are:

  • There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, and many of these stars are billions of years older than the Solar system.
  • With high probability, some of these stars have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some may have developed intelligent life.
  • Some of these civilizations may have developed interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now.
  • Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.

According to this line of reasoning, the Earth should’ve already been visited by extra-terrestrial aliens.

So, the question is: where the fuck are they?

In a favourite blog of mine brought to my attention a few years ago by an old workmate and recently again by an old classmate, Tim Urban has already written an extremely popular and detailed post about the Fermi Paradox.

I won’t rehash what he’s extremely eloquently written, but suffice to say, there’s some really interesting shit to think about, such as:

  • Are we alone in the Universe?
  • Are we indeed special or rare?
  • Are we doomed?
  • Are Alien’s watching us and we’re too unintelligent to see or understand this (think animals in a zoo)?
  • Are we plugged into a Matrix (participating in a holographic simulation reality)?

As interesting as these things are to think about, I don’t really want to get into deeply speculative mental masturbations on these topics. That’s much more fun to do in conversation.

Instead, let’s take a simpleton’s (that’s me) broad brush look at the probability of Alien existence. When I look up at the night sky I see a fek-load of stars. You probably do too unless you live deep in a metropolis amongst light pollution. I’ve never counted them so I can’t give any precise numbers, but there’s a lot of Twinkles up there. Our sun is one of these Twinkies. I mean, Twinkles. It looks a lot bigger to us because it’s a lot closer than the other Twinkles out there. When I look up and see the vast number of other Twinkles in the night sky I can’t help but think: “it’s simply not possible for there NOT to be alien life out there in some form or another”.

Although, I freely admit I know jack-shit about the Universe, at its most basic level the reason I think this is:

  • The Sun = a star
  • Stars are capable of providing the necessities for life to develop (evidenced by the fact we exist)
  • There are many stars in the sky (evidenced by looking up at the sky at night)
  • Hence, there must be many other life-forms existing within the Universe

Statistically speaking, it seems rather impossible for there not to be Alien life out there. Certainly, at the very least I’d say its highly improbable. #QuickMafs.

So then, where the fuck are the Aliens? Why haven’t we seen any?

There are plenty of theories as to why we’ve not seen any Aliens. Tim Urban has already explored these in detail in his post far more succinctly than I ever could. Take a look if that interests you. Instead, I’d like to talk about something a little closer to home, which I think links in quite well to why I continue to wish Aliens would visit Earth during my lifetime.

This week I went to listen to Hillary Clinton speak here in NZ thanks to some free tickets from a friend. I’ll get to how this links into Aliens soon, but first I’d like to highlight something I found very disturbing about her talk. Throughout her talk she spoke of Russian peoples in a very negative way. She spoke of them as being a danger to the world. This kind of talk seemed to me to be propagating yet another Us vs. Them mentality, something I’m quite frankly getting fucking tired of hearing.

We’ve seen such things many times in the past (Allies vs Axis / Communism vs Capitalism), and indeed in the present (Black vs White / Conservative vs Liberal).

Talk like this coming from someone with such a powerful voice concerns me. While it may be true the Russians are up to no good (certainly Putin appears to be a fairly nasty man), I do not see how using the public stage to create divide can ever be a good thing. Open discussions and arguments are one thing, but flat out encouraging people to adopt negative perceptions towards an entire nation of people seems a wholly irresponsible way to use such a powerful platform.

Why?

Because I’m not particularly interested in World War III. I’ve studied history. I’ve seen what the fuck happened in the first two. Not in person, but on screen and in books. And to be totally honest, that’s enough for me. It doesn’t look good. It looks downright not good. Selfishly, I don’t want to be any part of something like that.

So Hillary, I say to you this: I understand the Orange Oompa Loompa became president at your expense (that sucks), I understand no one in your country has free healthcare (that also sucks), and I understand that Gyna (read: China) is getting a little too powerful (meh), but let’s not pick a fight with the Russians because of it eh?

So, you may be wondering, if Hillary isn’t an Alien, what exactly does her speech have to do with Aliens?

Well, the reason I used to think Alien life visiting Earth would be a good thing, is because I saw the potential for an E.T. phoning home to unite humanity. Russians, Americans, Chinese, New Zealanders, Australians, British, Dutch, German, Japanese, Fijian, Indian, Samoan, Somalian, South African, Egyptian, Greek, Kazakastanian… once Aliens came to Earth, none of these distinctions would matter anymore. Hillary wouldn’t be talking about the dangerous Russians, but instead would be talking with the Russians about who or what the fuck these Aliens were up to and how as a species we were going to unite in response to their arrival.

I’ll freely admit this is fairly naïve thinking… Alien’s visiting Earth may not be a good thing at all because…

  1. If the Aliens were hostile, the fact they were able to visit Earth before we’ve been able to leave it would mean their technology is lightyears ahead of ours and we’d be instantly obliterated by their super-weapons. We’d be dead before Putin had been able to pour Hillary a cup of tea and have a yarn about what to do.
  2. If the Aliens were friendly, the fact they were able to visit Earth before we’ve been able to leave it would mean their technology is lightyears ahead of ours, which means they would have the capability to destroy us, which means there must be a reason or reasons why they’ve chosen not to obliterate us. Perhaps to farm us for meat? Or more positively, maybe they’re just lonely and want someone to play kickball with? I don’t know.

Regardless of the scenario, it seems to me highly probable that Alien life visiting Earth would bring the world together, albeit only very briefly before we were obliterated (if the Aliens happened to be hostile) or farmed for meat (if they were friendly and hungry) or dominated in kickball (if they were friendly and lonely). Something I’ve wondered is, why wait? Do we really need external proof of Alien existence before we unite together as a species? As “Humans”?

Why wait for Aliens to obliterate us? That seems stupid.

Perhaps I’m a hippie, preaching love and peace and all that crap. But, it’s not really about love and peace and shit. We can be angry at each other if we want to be. Nothing wrong with that. But there’s a difference between being angry and throwing your own shit at someone. Someone wronged you, all good, get angry at them, do what you need to do to right the situation. Just don’t throw your own shit. Because these days your shit doesn’t just stink. It’s nuclear. And it’s in no one’s best interests to be hurling that crap around.

That kind of shit-storm scares the beejeebuz out of me.

But there’s something that scares me even more than that, and that’s the possibility the reason we’ve not seen Alien life is because we are the most intelligent life-form in the Universe. The possibility that it is us who are the Aliens. That it is us tasked with making first contact with other life out there in the great Abyss. That it is us tasked with the responsibility of exploring the Universe.

Why does that scare me?

Because we’re so fucking stupid.

Just imagine… the most intelligent life form in the Universe, instead of uniting, choosing to throw nuclear shit at each other.

Geez Louise, how retarded would that be. Imagine the super-intelligent Aliens 100 billions years from now coming across our nuclear wasteland, wondering “what the fuck did these idiots do?”.

But, I realise I’m getting way ahead of myself. Hillary threw some verbal shade at the Russians. Not a nuke. I get that. But, it’s only a matter of progression.

Despite Trump being quite Alien to me, after listening to Hillary talk, I couldn’t help but think a pretty sombre thought: maybe it wasn’t so bad he got elected?

Wow. Did I really just say that?

What the fudge-knuckle.

 

Working hard vs. Being productive

The Stoic philosopher Seneca stated that so many people squander their lives on wine and lust, greed and ambition. The problem, “is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste so much of it … there is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living.”

There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living. What the fudge-popsicle does that mean?

I don’t know. It’s philosophical mumbo-jumbo. You’re not meant to understand it. Besides, Seneca died a couple thousand years ago. It’s probably not even relevant anymore. People back then didn’t have iPhones or the internet…what’d they even do all day?

We do have iPhones and the internet. And we are, by all accounts, very busy.

Why?

Produce. Consume. Rinse. Repeat.

Produce. Consume. Rinse. Repeat.

Say it with me now.

Produce. Consume. Rinse. Repeat.

Feeling culty yet?

Produce. Consume. Rinse. Repeat.

Okay, I’ll stop.

We are busy because productivity makes the world go round. Oh… wait, no it doesn’t. Universe-type-stuff does. Never mind.

Fact is, we are busy. The reason, I think, is largely because we choose to be this way. We choose to be busy. We want to contribute to the world. The world wants us to be productive. Hence, we become productive (or in other words, busy). An overly simplistic take for sure, but whatever, bite me.

For me, productivity has always roughly translated into “do things as efficiently as possible to produce as much as possible in the time you have”. Use the present-moment to do shit to produce shit. For something to be productive, an output or reward must flow from one’s investment – if no output flows, it’s quite simply an unproductive thing to do: “You’re wasting your time!”.

Watching the sunset is an example of an unproductive activity. It doesn’t involve doing anything. And it doesn’t provide any tangible output or reward (tangible being the operative word). In fact, the other day when I chose to sit outside with a tea and watch the sunset my internal narrative decided it a good time to let me know I wasn’t being very productive:

“What are you doing you bum? Go make some money. Work harder. Do more. Be more.”

Prick.

This focus on productivity is a mindset I’m working to undo… I mean, productivity is great, but if you literally can’t stop what you’re doing to enjoy a cup of tea and watch the sunset, I think it might be time to ask yourself, why the fuck exactly is that? Sunsets are a big part of life bro. They happen, like, every day and shit.

I think part of the answer may lie embedded within the subtle distinction between productivity and working hard. These are two peas of the same pod, however the same pea they are not. It’s entirely possible to work harder than Hugh Heffner in a Viagra eating contest, while generating nothing more than a rampant stiffy. In other words, it’s possible to work hard as balls yet produce nothing of value.

Working hard involves working hard. Productivity involves outputs. Quite often I find myself blurring the line between these two. It’s very easy to think time has been wasted if work has been done and nothing has come of it. Very. Easy. Indeed.

The solution?

Forget about the outputs, which by connection means planning less for the future. Living more in the moment. Working hard, while accepting the possibility that nothing other than a rampant stiffy may ever come of it. Your hard work may or may not produce anything of value for anyone else.

Certainly, for me when it comes to writing, this is absolutely the case… an absurd % of the things I write sit dormant in the depths of my computer likely never to see the light of day. So, did I waste my time writing them? Maybe. Honestly though, I’m not clued up enough to make that call. And neither are you with whatever it is you’re doing.

Point is, Fuck productivity.

Work hard. Watch sunsets.

The Science of Happiness: Read with Skepticism?

Three months ago, I bought a special edition Time magazine, ‘The Science of Happiness – new discoveries for a more joyful life’.

Time.jpg

I bought it because I’m into this stuff. I believe there’s a reason why more and more people are talking about, and practicing, things like meditation and mindfulness. I don’t think it’s because we’re all undercover spiritual gurus (although, maybe we are?)… Instead, it seems a case of simple economics. Happiness (or more generally, well-being) is in demand, and meditation and mindfulness practices are a couple of the key suppliers.

I began writing this post with the intention it be about the positive effects of another happiness supplier: practicing gratitude. This idea stemmed from a piece written in the magazine. Here’s an extract of said piece:

“In a series of studies, psychologists Robert Emmons of the University of Chicago, Davis, and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami found that those who did exercises to cultivate feelings of gratitude, such as keeping weekly journals, ended up feeling happier, healthier, more energetic and more optimistic than those who didn’t.”

As with most things I set out to do, it hasn’t really panned out the way I thought it would. This blog post, although guided by my interest in the positive effects of practicing gratitude, isn’t about the positive effects of gratitude at all. Instead its morphed into a post regarding The Science of Happiness.

So, what is The Science of Happiness? This article from the Huffington Post explains it much better than I ever could:

“The phrase “the science of happiness” refers to a new field of social science called positive psychology positive psychology functions constructively in helping us get more of what we do want, and making ourselves better, happier people.”

Sounds legit, right?

Before we get into that, I’ll go back to the gratitude thing for a second… my interest in the positive effects of practicing gratitude led me to seek out more information on the topic. In doing so, I stumbled upon a blog post ‘The 31 benefits of gratitude you didn’t know about’ on the blog ‘Happier Human’ (it’s a relatively short and worthwhile read).

Whenever I stumble upon something interesting, whether it be a piece of work, music, art, whatever, one of the first things I do is channel my inner Scooby-Doo to find out who done it? The Happier Human blog is run by a man named Amit Amin. According to the blog’s home page, Amit, after being unhappy for a period of time became thoroughly interested in The Science of Happiness/positive psychology (I use these terms interchangeably). It seems the blog serves as his outlet for the work he’s done studying positive psychology.

Fantastic I thought! What an amazing resource! However, the title on the home page of his site ominously states: Read with Skepticism, and includes this passage:

Five years ago, I was unhappy. Positive psychology, the ‘science’ of happiness, offered hope that traditional psychology did not. So I started this blog. I would research a topic and write up my findings, hoping to help both myself and others. Three years ago, I stopped. Not because no one was reading what I wrote. Fifteen to thirty thousand people visit each month. I stopped because I had realized that in the ways that matters, positive psychology was just like traditional psychology – it was a scientific mess.

This was disheartening to read. I’ve been so interested in The Science of Happiness – specifically for the potential its research and studies have to guide me to make positive changes in my life. I believe in it! I’d even been thinking about doing something similar to Amit with this blog space… If a guy like Amit, who poured countless hours of his life into research and writing on positive psychology, ultimately became disillusioned with it all, it made me question whether my belief was misguided.

Amit goes on to write about the problems inherent in The Science of Happiness:

Science is a process of truth seeking. Make a prediction, run an experiment, observe the results. The opacity of the brain turns the results of most experiments into unreliable nonsense.

Translation (I think): the brain has a really hard time examining itself.

Decades of work on complex statistical methods meant to overcome this problem have mostly failed…Because the incentives that guide research in the social sciences mostly lead to the production of garbage studies that fail to replicate.

Translation (in full-blown layman’s terminology): studies need money; money comes from somewhere; that somewhere wants the study to prove their shit, not fuck with it. That is, studies can be prone to bias for a number of reasons.

Doom and gloom!

Sure… if you choose to look at things that way…

I don’t.

The reality is everything in this world is biased to a certain extent (…just look at the News). Science is not excepted from this bias. Fact is, we aren’t impartial observers. We are humans; flawed as fuck and beautiful because of it.

Because we’re flawed, there’ll always be contradictory information out there – objectivity is kind of an impossibility.

For example, maybe scientific studies exist claiming to have proven yogurt is good for cats. So you feed your cat Greek yogurt because, you know, only the best for Foo Foo (and yes I realise no one actually names their cat Foo Foo). Then you find out the market leading seller of cat-yogurt paid a scientist a ga-gillion dollars to do these studies. I’m no scientist, but if I was, I’m sure that for a cool ga-gillion I could find a way to prove to you yogurt was good for Foo Foo too… The point of all this? I don’t care who you are, a ga-gillion is a lot…

…Or maybe a surveys been done to prove something that proves nothing…

 

You don’t have to believe every new thing you read, or the latest study. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Amit’s advice to Read with Skepticism seems like good advice to me. It’s also true you don’t have to believe in every old belief you might be clinging to either…

Believe in what then? Nothing?? No… Believe in whatever you choose to believe in! But don’t be afraid to let it go if evidence begins to mount against your chosen belief. This is where I think we all struggle, myself certainly being no exception.

The work Amit has done is clearly of value – as evidenced by the thousands of people who still visit his site daily – and he obviously believed in it for a time, until maybe this belief shifted. That’s totally fine.

Personally I think The Science of Happiness/positive psychology is a valuable new (relatively) scientific field.

With a focus on “constructively…helping us get more of what we…want, and making ourselves better, happier people” the potential exists, I believe, for The Science of Happiness to contribute greatly to humanity’s overall well-being by challenging the way we view the world.

Sometimes we’ll get it wrong, so sure Read with Skepticism… but how can having a focus like that possibly be a bad thing?

The art of listening: Words of wisdom from Mark… Twain, not me.

Mark Twain.

I love this dude. I’ve never read his books, but I still love him like a fat kid loves cake.

This love has formed purely on the basis of a google search “Mark Twain quotes”, and some Wikipedia-ering. I can’t tell you how I came about googling Mark Twain, because, you know… it’s the internet… I start online with good intentions, for example, browsing for a book to buy. Thirty minutes later I’m looking at cat videos.

Two quotes of Mark Twain’s struck particular accord with me, and I’d like to write something about each one. However, first some tidbits about the man (thanks Wikipedia).

  • Before turning to writing [Mark] served an apprenticeship with a printer, worked as a typesetter, and as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River.
  • His birth name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain his pen name).
  • He is the author of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’.
  • Twain earnt significant sums money from his writings and lectures.
  • Twain filed for bankruptcy after he lost all his money by investing in failed ventures (he lost in today’s dollars the equivalent of $8m investing in a new type-setter machine that went bust).
  • A man named Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually got Twain out of bankruptcy by agreeing to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, even after he had no legal responsibility to do so.
  • He has an epic moustache.

Reading his quotes gives me the sense that he was a man of extraordinary depth, wisdom, and wit (“the report of my death was an exaggeration”). Here’s a handful of my personal favourites:

 

I implore you to google him yourself (I’ve done this for you here), and to browse through his quotes until you’ve read them all.

Two quotes felt like lightning bolts when I read them. It was as if Zeus himself, sitting on his perch atop the kingdom of gods, had thrown bolts of wisdom at me and landed a direct hit:

if-you-tell-the-truth-you-dont-have-to-remember-anything-31.jpg

Lying is hard work. It may come more naturally to some than others, but there is no denying it’s difficultly. It requires that you remember:

  • who you lied to;
  • what you lied about; and
  • why you lied (i.e. what you hoped to achieve from the lie – it’s usually something to do with PMS – not menstruation, but Power, Money and Sex).

This can get really tricky when different lies are told to different people for different reasons. I often lack the mental strength to remember what I ate for breakfast. Lying sure seems a difficult proposition.

Lies can sometimes spiral out of control such that the owner of the initial nonsense forgets why it was he made the nonsense up in the first place. At this point it might as well be truth as a habit has formed. I’ve been there before. I used to tell this ridiculous raccoon story, about how at age ten while visiting the United States a raccoon had jumped out in front of me. I don’t know why I told the story in the first place, I just remember that people liked the story, and that made me feel good. And so, I’d tell it more, knowing full well that it was a lie. Luckily it was a fairly harmless lie since it did not affect any other person, or any other thing. However, what frightened me was the more I told it, the more I started to believe it. Now, with an additional nineteen years of memories, I’m honestly not sure whether at age ten I saw a raccoon or not…

Now if I tell the raccoon story it might go something like this:

At age ten I think I made up a story about seeing a raccoon when I visited the US, because, you know, it was cool. But you know what’s odd, I don’t actually know for sure whether I made it up or not. I might’ve seen the raccoon. I honestly can’t remember.

That’s the truth. It’s definitely not a dinner table worthy yarn, but I think there’s a moral to be gained. Find out whatever it is you’re lying to yourself about right now. Otherwise, some years down the road, it may just become your truth.

Fortunately, there’s a simple remedy to the disease of lying: Just be honest: You’ll never have to remember a thing. Thank you Mr Twain.

Wisdom

Recently I was doing some swiping on Bumble (it’s a dating app). The swiping lead to a match. My match-ette (a feminine term I’ve conjured for dating app matches – doubt it will catch on, too similar looking to machete) proceeded to send me a very warm and seemingly genuine message. For those that haven’t used Bumble, receiving a warm or genuine message on Bumble is like witnessing an elephant flying in the North Pole. This is because social convention restricts conversations on Bumble to the following topics:

  • Pick-up lines cheesier than an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie;
  • Un-punny puns (hah! Get it? Punny = Funny.); and my personal favourite
  • ‘Heeey’

Before I share the message, it’s important to know what’s written on my Bumble profile. It’s three sentences. One of these sentences is actually just a list: shit I like to do (hiking, reading, basketball, coffee), and shit I think I am (poker player, traveller, kiwi). Another sentence asks for something so impossibly unreasonable that I don’t know why it’s still in there: ‘looking for genuine souls to hang with’. And the final sentence, which structurally speaking provides the meat within my spicy Bumble profile sandwich is this:

“Firm believer that everyone has something to teach you”.

Now that you’ve been given an idea as to how I’m going about trying to find love in a world of profile pictures, instagram feeds, fake news, and fake boobs, you may be able to see why I’m still single. If not, I’ll tell you: it’s because I’m a cave troll who never goes on dates – got to sow the seeds if you want to harvest the crops!

Unlike on Tinder, on Bumble if you match with someone, the female MUST message the male first; the male, by restriction of the app, is unable to message the female until she has made first contact.  This has two advantages, one for each gender. I’ll let you guess which number benefits which gender:

  1. Egoic structures that’ve existed for thousands of years are kept intact by limiting the instances of rejection; and
  2. The frequency at which unsolicited dick-pics are received is greatly reduced.

The message I received from seemingly genuine soul ‘Lira’ was this:

“The part where you mention that you’re a firm believer that everyone has something to teach you actually caught my attention. I gotta agree with that. There is always a reason why you cross paths with someone, despite it being a good or bad experience.”

Fucking word Lira. Word.

So… what does this all have to do with Mark Twain’s quote? Well, actually, nothing. I just wanted to tell you, in a convoluted way, that I got a match on Bumble. Ego-booster baby!

In all seriousness, my take is quite simple: he means what he says…

The operative word in his quote is listening. I believe, like Lira, that everyone has something to teach you; but only if you’re listening.

We all want to be heard, of that I have no doubt. In our quest to be heard we share with each other our opinions, beliefs, theories, insights, desires, fears, etc. Something a very few know, which is actually quite obvious when you think about it, is that if you’re not listening it’s hard to hear.

So often when we interact with each other we will struggle to find the right words to say. There are many reasons for this. For example, the same word may have two completely different meanings due to the context in which it is used, or due to the person who we are (our upbringing, personal experiences, gender, ethnicity, what-have-you). Another reason we may struggle to find the right words is because we may not be clear within ourselves about what it is exactly we are trying to say.

I’ve noticed people often do not listen to one-another. They listen to themselves instead of the person that’s talking to them. Their focus is on their own internal dialogue, which is often pre-occupied with figuring out how best to respond…

Newsflash: Figuring out how to respond is not listening!

The gender-equality debate is somewhere I see this issue frequently…

I’m not going to pretend my hands are clean; but I’m trying.

You may agree with me, you may not. That honestly doesn’t matter, provided you’re listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon Sinek: Motivational youtube binge

Binge watched a bunch of speeches by Simon Sinek tonight. His energy is addictive. Highly recommend his talks on youtube. Here are the ones I watched:

Nobody wins

Discussion regarding leadership and what qualities are present in good leaders; discussion on the game of business, and the fact that many companies don’t even know what game they’re playing, and therefore do not succeed.

On Millennials

Discussion regarding the problems millennials are encountering in the workforce; the reasons behind these problems; and potential actions required.

What it means to lead

A speech containing a handful of anecdotes that all have powerful points behind them; the last anecdote is particularly good.

Something I wrote down after watching his speeches:

“People are products of their environment – this is the case in life and in business. A toxic environment/culture will breed toxic behaviours. Not toxic people.”

Stereotypes: review of an idea from Nicholas Epley’s book ‘Mindwise’

Throughout my life I have very rarely read books. The Witches and Harry Potter (1 through 4) are the only books I can truly remember reading from start to finish. As an example of my inability to pursue reading, in my second year at High School one of my English teachers let us read every Friday of the week for an entire period (45 minutes). Every Friday I took the same book out of my backpack and would read it. By the final Friday English lesson of the year I still hadn’t quite finished reading the book (I read slower than a sloth moves). But I was close! There were about 15 pages left to read – the equivalent of a chapter or so. Alas, it was a bridge too far… I never finished the book. Why not? There were no Friday lessons left for me to read during.

Recently I have found myself reading more. Perhaps part of the reason for this is because I am getting older. Or maybe it is because I have more time on my hands. However, the main reason I think is because I have found a topic that engages me. The topic is psychology. The human mind! Books that focus on something quite simple: asking why we as humans do the things we do.

The book I am currently reading is “Mindwise” by Nicholas Epley, who is a Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Within the book there is a chapter on stereotypes: ‘The Uses and Abuses of Stereotypes’. As you can probably glean from the chapter’s title, Nicholas Epley explores both how valuable (‘The Uses’) and how damaging (‘Abuses’) stereotypes can be in our world. It is quite fascinating reading. Here is a very small extract from said chapter:

It's all in your head.JPG

Take from this what you will. For me, the idea that a stereotype could be self-fulfilling was something I had never considered before. Take for example Asian drivers. Political correctness aside for a second, Asian’s are stereotyped as being poor drivers relative to other races. Are Asian’s not as good at driving as other races because of an inherent difference between races and driving abilities (or for some other reason), or are they not as good at driving (at least in part) because they are stereotyped that way? As Nicholas Epley more eloquently puts it: “The point…is that our stereotypes…could be precisely right but our explanations…profoundly wrong. The elderly can behave differently than the young, blacks differently than whites, and women differently than men BECAUSE of stereotypes about these groups rather than because of any inherent differences between these groups…”.

My learning from this is that while there may be legitimate differences in behaviour between groups that I can observe, there is a real risk that I may incorrectly diagnose why these differences exist. In practice I think this means trying to maintain an awareness that what causes a difference in behaviour between you and I will often be difficult to correctly and absolutely identify, which makes it worthwhile to spend more time and effort on understanding the reason for the difference, rather than just fighting about it.

This is only one page from one chapter of the book. There is much more. It’s fascinating reading and I highly recommend it to others.

And here is a video of some Donkeys that have lived in the desert their entire lives being introduced to grass for the first time. LOL… it’s like me being scared of a lettuce!

Imagine what the grass-raised-Donkeys (GRDs) will think of these desert-raised-Donkeys (DRDs). GRDs will probably think the DRDs are idiots… Unless they talk to them and to better understand them and their background.

I still have one chapter of Mindwise left to read. This time though, I’m finishing it.

Millenials: Entitled or disillusioned?

The title of this post will instantly make most aware of it’s subject matter. Millenial’s, the generation born (roughly) between 1980 and 2000, are often portrayed as an entitled bunch. We have so much choice. Yet we show no appreciation for the endless options afforded to us. We have the opportunity to work hard and excel. Yet we refuse. We are lazy and unwilling to work. We act entitled.

We “act” entitled. In my opinion, this is a source of a misunderstanding of Millenials. That is, we are being judged based on our actions. Perhaps instead of dismissing Millenial’s as “entitled” based on actions, it would be a worthwhile exercise spending time to understand their mindset. After all it is the mind that controls a person’s actions – without understanding one’s mind, you can only guess as to the motives for their actions. In this regard, below is a fairly crude overview of a Millenial mindset:

Today is your 22nd birthday. You have just finished your degree. You feel proud. Your parents told you education is the key to success. You are educated. You are a success. You are riddled with debt. The price to pay for a great education. The price to pay for a competitive advantage over the uneducated. It is no problem, your success means you will earn lots of money and pay this debt off in no time. Your grades are decent, but not amazing. No matter though, you are educated. You have a competitive advantage over those that aren’t educated. But you can’t get a job. You can’t figure out why – you are successful. You have a competitive advantage over the uneducated. Don’t you? Why does no one want you? 

You persist. You finally land a job. You are paid less money for an entire year’s exertion than the level of your student debt. You have to live. You want to live. Debt! Fuck. You want to travel. You want to buy a house. You want to do something. Debt! Fuck. You are surviving. But you aren’t living. Small pay rise. You save. You want to live. You can’t afford a house. You travel. You spend. Debt! Fuck. You feel bad. You shouldn’t have travelled. You shouldn’t have spent. You have to earn the right to live. You had your fun at University. You aren’t entitled to any more fun yet. You should have spent that travel money on your debt. This is life. You need to earn the right to travel. Debt! Fuck. You are surviving. You learnt your lesson. You save. You save more. More. More. More.

You work for someone who has six houses. Your boss earns five times more than you from their personal exertion. They work the same number of hours you do. They earn five times more because their time is five times more valuable than yours. You know their time is more valuable as you are told that it is on a daily basis. It is as obvious as the sea is wet. They “earn” more passively from their properties than you earn for your personal exertion. You earn nothing passively. They own shares that own shares in shares of shares’ shares. They buy another house. They earned it. They did what you are doing. They got educated. They saved. They earned it. They are successful. You need to earn it too. You need to do what they did. You need to become successful. You should not feel entitled to it. You have to earn it. Don’t be lazy. Work hard for it. They did it. They weren’t lazy. They worked hard for it. You have to too. You work hard, but you should not feel entitled to a pay rise. You need to earn it. They earned it. You need to earn it. Don’t feel entitled. Work hard. Work harder.

You’ve been working for a few years now. You liked your job when you started it. But you don’t like your job much anymore. You know you can do whatever you want because that is what you are told. There are so many other options out there for you. You are worried about making the wrong choice. You are making decent money and are slowly paying off your debt. You don’t want to throw that away for something unknown. There are so many options. Financial analyst. Financial associate. Associate financial analyst. Assistant to the associate financial analyst. Too many options. Too many choices. You continue working your job. Work hard. Harder.

Do you feel entitled? What does that even mean? Entitled to what? That term does not resonate with you whatsoever, but people keep telling you that is what you are. You are drowning in debt so bad and you can’t envisage when you will pay it off. You are working hard. You wont be able to buy a house by 30 at this rate. Your parents tell you that they were married by 25, and bought their first house at 26. People are telling you that you must not be working hard enough. What?

You have an epiphany. It’s profound. You think “fuck it”. Working hard hasn’t really worked for you. You aren’t particularly happy. You don’t feel like you are making any meaningful contribution other than to your boss’ already bulging pockets. You realise that money is just money. It comes and it goes. You realise that time only goes. You want to spend it more wisely. You want to spend more time with other human beings, not computers. You enjoy life. You think life is for living. You want to spend more time living. You quit.

#rantover

Below are a few points of interest that you can relate to the rant above.

1. House prices are absurd:

From an article in The Guardian: “A homebuyer earning the median salary for their region in 1995 would have had to spend between 3.2 times and 4.4 times their salary on a house, depending on where they lived. In 2012-13, the last year for which complete data is available, the median house price had risen to between 6.1 times and 12.2 times median regional incomes.”

2. The cost of education is spiralling out of control:

From an economics reporter for CNBC: “This fall, Harvard’s annual tuition and fees (not including room and board) will set you back $45,278, more than 17 times the 1971-72 cost. If annual increases had simply tracked the inflation rate since 1971, next year’s tuition would be just $15,189.” 

3. Decisions are hard:

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises.

 

Conclusion:

The above rant is of course sourced from personal experience. Perhaps many will disagree, which is absolutely fine as personal experiences are necessarily personal. However, during my travels I encountered a lot of people who shared a similar disdain for the current system in one way or another. Whether it be the cost of their education, their rent expense which feels like a kick in the guts delivered on a monthly basis, the absurdity of house prices, or the uncomfortable feeling that the job that they spend the majority of their week doing is a bunch of bullshit. Frustration with the system was a common undertone.

This leads me to believe that the current system has run its course. In the current system the supposed “dream life” – house, wife, two kids, job, wealth – is achieved by the select few that are able to persist (i.e. “more, more, more”) without going insane, or who are born into it. It is time to acknowledge that the system is breaking, if not already broken, so that we can be pro-active and do something about it, rather than being reactive, left cleaning up what will be one hell of a mess.

I don’t know what the answer is. However, perhaps instead of aspiring to own shares that own shares in shares of shares’ shares, we should simply aspire to share.