Archive for February, 2015

Not Logical

Spock

Leonard Nimoy’s character brought wisdom and depth to simple adventure stories, often offering perspective against an ironically emotional backdrop. Axioms to heed by way of their contexts.

 

 

 

After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical.

Not logical indeed, but true. The mood/feeling/emotion of satisfaction being one of the more strangely elusive conditions of the human experience. Fleeting. Wanting tells us there is more. There is better. It pushes us higher and makes us try to live better. But with no easy way to switch it off it torments us throughout our lives. Of course there are many who manage to navigate to a place where a general sense of happiness and satisfaction prevails. When you consider all of the different circumstances of those who are or aren’t happy, it becomes clear that much of it comes from within. For many of us this elusive state hides behind a dark and silent wall between who we are and all that we could be. We’re left wanting to find a way there, or wishing we could have been wired differently. The pontifications of those chirping the logical “be happy with what you have” falling on despondent ears.

It’s important to note that “be happy with…” is not the same thing as “be satisfied with.” In that distinction is a key to a modicum of happiness. While striving for better it’s possible to nestle into a place where there is some happiness found in what is, which feeds the happiness. But we know we can always be and do better, and it’s when we see evidence of this that the unrest buzzes in our minds and hearts like the pesky mosquitos passing by our ears at night, disrupting what would otherwise be a warm and satisfying campfire. Their sound, in itself, not an issue. What it represents, on the other hand, drives us to move.

If we could close ourselves off from all the stimuli it would be easier. But we can’t. And we know that isn’t a real solution anyway. We want to be like Spock. In control of it, even though that, by definition, denies us of the humanity we are. Silly humans…

A few days before his death Leonard Nimoy sent his final tweet: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

Time to turn over some more soil and plant.

Memory

StatLibertyMemories are such a major part of us and drive so many of our actions, but what are they? One would think that we’d have a better understanding of something so powerfully integrated into our lives. It’s been proven time and again that they aren’t accurate. So much of the initial encoding process is affected by perception and emotion. We can make concrete ones with things like photographs, but we still later interpret it through the filters of how we feel. In some cases, as time wears on, the perception recalled by the photograph is all that’s left.

Biologically it’s complex and much of it barely understood. While elaborate, it’s ultimately the physical process of putting something in a state. Atoms have state, a property that you can test and then re-test at a later time and get the same answer. You can also change the state, and again, have that state persist over time. Even subatomic particles can have state. An electron can be spin-up or spin-down; test it again later and you’ll get the same answer. It’s also possible to change the state, though simply assigning a new state is easier in theory than it is in practice.

Whether “state” is really memory is tricky to answer. An atom doesn’t remember everything that’s ever happened to it. As far as I can tell, “memory” as the term applies to human beings is composed of a vast amount of “state” of its physical components, and the point where one becomes the other seems arbitrary. We know there are numerous tiny things that we perceive at a subconscious level, that under the right circumstances affect us and our actions, and can even raise to the level of consciousness later. Are those memories before we’re aware of them? Are memories that we’ve forgotten, but are still in there somewhere still valid memories?

For all practical purposes they are reflections of who we perceive we are. A self-fulfilling prophecy in action. If we could control that process a little more, imagine what we could become. Assigning a new state is easier in theory than in practice. Difficult work. Especially because in a way it forces us to face that it’s a kind of lie to begin with. We don’t like the discomfort of grappling with how much if it all is distorted or made up. Unfortunately that easy way out isn’t available to us. No, we have to change, and then our perceptions will follow suit, and then, finally, the memories can become aligned to better support that.

 

Judgement

4Children4sale

The photo is real, from 1948 Chicago. This was the result of a family facing some severely hard times that they didn’t believe they would recover from. There was a fifth child on the way at the time. All five were sold, and by all accounts not into the best circumstances. The two middle ones were purchased for $2 each as slaves, and treated as such, often being tied up in a barn.

It turns out people are remarkably resilient. Everyone involved went on to have somewhat normal lives. After this photo was published the mother did receive some job offers and money. Too little, too late. While it would be harder to discard children this way nowadays, the circumstances the family found themselves in are still occurring today, despite the fact that a 400 billion dollar fighter jet (F35, which doesn’t even work yet) represents enough money to give every unemployed person in our country over half million dollars.

She also went on to have four more children. The unborn child in the photo was later quoted as saying, “She got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us.” The two who managed to reconnect with their mother later were perplexed to discover she didn’t seem to show a lot of remorse about it.

Sounds pretty terrible. Just the photo alone, without any of the story, is heartbreaking.

I will not defend it, per sé, but let’s not be so quick to judge. Kids back then weren’t treated as the fragile little eggs they are now. They fended for themselves more than many would believe today, especially in larger families in lower socioeconomic environments. Why couples feel so compelled to have kids when they are ill equipped to handle them is a question to be further addressed later, but I get that religion and good old human nature are what they are. Not always the best judgement. Kids were sometimes viewed as a resource, like workers who could help with chores or farming once they got old enough. Never mind whether they will be able to find jobs of their own.

She didn’t show remorse later (at least not to the kids), but she does appear to be quite distraught, or at least embarrassed, about it in the photo. Perhaps a psychological defense mechanism, or she simply got over it and did fail to have compassion for those kids. Based on what little is known about them it is likely that the financial situation was potentially life threatening to the children. No work. No money. And by all accounts no belongings left to sell, and they were about to be evicted, having not paid rent in months. They were headed for the street…in Chicago…in the fall. She did get those kids roofs over their heads.

So easy to judge others. (Even in this post I have questioned government spending and having children.) You weren’t there. Had you been there as an observer to the situation, what would you have done?

Judgement is a double edged sword.

Art’s Effects

The importance of good art is easy to underestimate. First, we trivialize what it is by calling so many things art that aren’t. Beyond that, we just don’t know all of the profound ways it works its way into our lives or how we’re impacted by it.

EdnaPaintingPaul

My aunt Edna painted this many years ago. She died of cancer at too young an age, but left behind people I’ve always felt a sort of unique closeness to in my large extended family. She and my mom were very close growing up, but I think my closeness to her family was more a result of being like minded in many ways.

My cousin posted this picture on Facebook, and due to whatever machinations go on behind the scenes in that little universe it repeatedly appeared in my feed…until I realized some things. I remember visiting their place in Toronto from time to time back in the ’70s and ’80s.. I can visualize precisely where this hung in their apartment (they have since moved around a few times). It is almost the only thing I remember about the furnishings there. It really stood out to me, and made an impression. Why?

When I see it I am always struck by the colors. Almost pastels, but something more. The image stands on its own and has always been imprinted on my mind in some way, for some reason. It always appeared abstract to me, yet when I look with more care I can clearly see that it is a church in an old town.

It reminds me of those times I spent in Toronto. Love that place. Wanted to move there.

It reminds me of the artist. Most memories are vague, but there are always those that stand out more distinctively. Certain sensibilities formed at a young age by being around her, in her home, etc.

It represents days gone by. Even an innocence lost in a way, as it is something from my childhood more or less. When I see it I always see it in a particular context: hanging on that wall of their apartment. A place they haven’t lived in around 30 years. It takes me back there. A stamp or icon representing a period of time in a particular setting. An entire set of associated (if more vague) images and memories – things that had a larger impact on my life and the person I became than those people know.

Good art transports us across reality, memories, perceptions, feelings, and understandings in the most abstract, yet often compelling, ways. All these years later I’m glad Edna sat down and took the time to make this work, and had developed the skill to pull it off so well. Surely she had no idea at the time the lasting effect it would have. We live in an age where artistic output, in whatever form it may take, has never been easier. The only enemies are time and fear, which is really to say there is only the fear. You don’t have to publish it, but make sure you take some time to pull something creative out of yourself. You’ll be better for it, and it may work out that the world will be, too.

Cycles

mood_swing_by_gekart

When we step back from things we tend to see cycles. Good moods, bad moods. Good and bad times. Seasons. The sales cycle. Maybe our circadian rhythms make this idea comfortable and easy to understand.

It’s the power of the information and opportunity within the cycle we usually don’t see. Not objective enough when we’re there, and not wise enough to devise and implement actionable techniques for controlling it later.

Since I’m a bit of an expert on sales I’ll illustrate with what’s in a sales cycle. In layman’s terms…

  1. Euphoria – The brief time right after a purchase, where there is no thought of making changes
  2. Awareness – The long time spent gradually becoming more aware of alternatives
  3. Decision – The decision to make a change (often triggered by some event)
  4. Thinking – Figuring out what the criteria for success is
  5. Measurement – Searching for and examining the quantifiable characteristics of available options
  6. Investigation – Determining how to acquire it
  7. Close – Final decision to act
  8. Reconsideration – (any) Second guessing (that may take place)

Without going into depth and turning this into a sales class (**), there are some notable characteristics to this cycle. Many people think we do a lot of investigation and then decide. While there is a final decision at the end, we actually decide before we begin the process. We spend by far the most amount of time in #2. Far more than the rest combined. Increasingly aware there is something better, but the pain isn’t great enough to act (yet). Once a decision has been made, things move quickly, but the machinations are more complex. And there are opportunities for setbacks, which can send us back to #2. On some occasions less content than we already were, but often with at least a temporary new and better outlook on the current condition. Without derailment, inertia usually increases as we move toward the end. The decisions, while emotional all along, become more so. Throughout the process there is the fear keeping us in check. And the battle between the unknown and the known.

We call it a “sales cycle” because it repeats. When we think of moods we view them as something temporary, generally in a state of flux.

Within them it’s really more like a whirlpool. The sales cycle eventually leads to a change. A team playing well gets the confidence to risk more, and the motivation to work more. They get better. The downward spiral is all too familiar as well. A drinking problem leads to a job lost, which leads to more drinking. Poor customer service leads customers to choose other vendors, which of course leads to less investment in customer service, which continues the problem. Guilt may lead to overeating, which triggers more guilt.

If only we could control it. We especially want to fix the down cycles. The (too common, obvious, simple) plan is to live with the cycle that caused the problem. “When I get stressed, I freeze up, so I need to figure out how to avoid getting stressed.” Yeah, right! The simple plan really puts the onus on the world to stop contributing the input that leads to the negative output. That’s just not going to work very well.

When it turns for the worse, the answer isn’t to look for the swift and certain solution. The more difficult but more effective alternative is to try to be aware as the cycle begins. Once you find it, understand what triggers it and then learn to use that trigger to initiate a different cycle. The real solution will come into better focus once we replace the down cycle with the up cycle. “This is my down cycle. What will it cost me to replace it with a different one? Who can help me? What do I need to learn? How do I change my habits and my instincts? What feeds it? What about it is comfortable to me?”

This works for organizations and individuals. The restaurant with declining sales borrows money to buy fresher food instead of cutting corners that will lead nowhere good. Or following a client loss not with layoffs, but with hiring of even better staff. The depressed individual engages in work rather than shrinking from it, eventually better able to put things into perspective.

This is incredibly difficult, and it feels overly risky. Afraid to risk, and more afraid to risk more, especially in light of the fact that we’re not sure what to do. But identifying the downward spiral and investing in replacing it with the upward one is the one and only best strategy. The alternative, which is to rationalize and defend the cycle as a law of nature or permanent habit, is tragic. If you’re not optimistic about or committed to reversing it then you’re probably best served by giving up (another risk) before the losses mount.

 

** Much more to all this. The cycle depicted here is one for consequential purchases. Those that carry some risk, usually by way of costing enough money that we want to get it right and/or are resistant to the change without a satisfying rationale. The above machinations help us make good decisions, but also simply help us feel better about the decision we make.

Treadmill

Going in Circles paint

I was stunned the other day when I read a statistic posted by Cheapflights.com. In a 2013 poll of 1,053 Americans they found that 85 percent vacationed somewhere they had already visited. More than 37 percent visited the same attractions on vacation, and more than 43 percent even ate at the same restaurants.

This may well be something unique to their particular demographic, but even if they are somehow high by 50% (unlikely) the number is still stunning. Yet it makes sense in a way. Vacation time is precious, and people want to ensure it’s a good experience. Familiarity seems like good insurance.

Yet one more bit of evidence that I am an oddity. I’d rather take the risk of new experiences. I just can’t comprehend going to the same place multiple times unless maybe it was the most amazing experience of my life, and even then I might return only once, because there is so much out there to experience. Yet…when it comes to work, that’s exactly what I and many others do. Repetition is an important part of learning how to do something well, so no problem there…for a while. However eventually we’re so far beyond that…we’re really down to doing something because it’s comfortable and safe.

If that makes you happy I say, fine. But are you sure?

Surely I don’t need to connect the obvious dots to how this fits into other aspects of our lives…

Change it up. Live. You only get one, unless you believe in reincarnation or something.

 

Caged

TrainTracksJustaJobCandidateJustTree2

.

We

all

have

our

cages.

 

 

 

We don’t see some them from our little bubble of reality. But if you step back and look honestly…they are there.

TrainTracksJustaJobCandidatewithcage

When we do see them we often see a path out…if only we could take it. If only we weren’t caged.

Most of them we selected ourselves. Prisons meticulously constructed under the guise of keeping ourselves safe.

WomaninCage

Others also cage us. We allow it. We often seek it out. It’s comfortable. Until…we realize…the comfort is merely the seduction that tranquilizes. Once we pull the curtain back and become aware of what it is, it no longer feels as satisfying. No longer makes us happy or comfortable. Things were arguably broken all along, but the point is that once we figure it out it becomes part of the trap. Caged…by our own victimized baggage, hoping we’ll get used to that dull feeling, because it seems impossible to let go and move on, especially considering how programmed we are with the morality and conventional wisdom to stay the course.

ManandWomaninCup

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the bliss of ignorance?

cropped-railroad-tracks3.jpg

 

Remember it’s self imposed. It can be changed. There is a choice.

tick…tick…tick



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