Tuesday, June 30, 2009

why does why matter?

consider some simple questions:

if you drank coffee this the morning, why?

if you didn't, why?

if you went to work today, why?

if you didn't, why?

if you read newspapers, why?

if you don't, why?

these are very, very basic questions.  

but what's the common denominator among them?  

obviously, it's why.  

why does why matter?

it helps us uncover the reasons behind things.  

for example, i drink coffee every morning.  why?  habit.  i love the taste.  i love the ritual.  i find it comforting.  it helps me wake up.      

why sheds light on your rationale.

for example, i went to work this morning.  why?  habit.  i get paid to be there.  people expect me to show up and do my job.  it provides structure.  i like the people i work with.

why tells us about your behavior.

for example, i don't read newspapers.  instead, i read my news online.  why?  it's free.  it's more accessible.  i can read it anywhere.  it's quicker.  there's more news out there.

obviously, these are basic answers to basic questions.  

the point is to get acquainted with asking why.  

why gives us insight into your motives.    

why do your motives matter so much?

as cells are the building block of your body, motives are the building block of your behavior.

the more you know about your motives, the more you know about yourself and why you think, say, and do things.  

and the more you know about other people's motives, the more you know about their behavior.

everything from a personal level to a global level involves motives.  

next time you have coffee, go to work, or read the news, ask yourself:  why?

for that matter, the next time anything interesting happens in your life, ask yourself:  why?

try increasing your awareness of motives.  

start paying attention to the reasons behind things. 

start asking why.  

ask if often.  

use it as a tool to keep going deeper into an understanding of something.

after you listen to the president talk, take a piece of what he says out and ask yourself:  why did he say that?  

after you listen to a news anchor say something, ask yourself:  why did she say that?

when a new congressional bill is being proposed:  ask yourself, why? 

it doesn't matter whether, in the end, you agree or disagree with the answers you get.  the most important thing is to at least dig deeper.  many of us just hover around the surface of an issue.  it's infinitely more enriching to go deeper.

you'll be surprised what you find.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

truth is flat. spin is bumpy.

thomas friedman wrote a book called, the world is flat. 

not having read that book, i can't comment on it.  

but what i also think is flat is truth.

spin is what gives things peaks and troughs.

truth is actually flat.  that's why few people embrace it.  it's not exciting in most cases, by most people's standards.  

often, truth is just common sense.  

sometimes truth is uncommon sense.  but that's usually just because people get so mired in complexity (people love complexity), that they miss the simple, common answer.  hence it takes a contrarian to cut through the muddiness and state the obvious.  and the obvious, in that context, is sometimes referred to as "uncommon sense."

last year, a young girl was killed on a bicycle near where i do yoga.  for some reason, i decided to go to the memorial, where a white, spray-painted bike was chained to a pole at the site of her death by dump-truck.    randomly, a news anchor spotted me in the crowd afterwards and asked me for an interview.  below is the TV clip (if it doesn't play, i apologize):  


less than a month later, i came across an area bicyclists' blog, and a blogger wrote that they'd been by the memorial and seen that someone had scribbled over the memorial sign in marker.   the blogger was outraged.   

and rightfully so.  

i, too, found it disgusting. how could some asshole scribble on a memorial?

but as i read further, the blogger went on to suggest that some jerk in an SUV must have done it.  (if that sounds bizarre, you have to know the background.  some bicyclists dislike SUVs, for various reasons.  they're big, they guzzle gas, they are symbols of wealth and fossil fuel consumption, and waste, etc.  i know, i'm an urban bicyclist and former bike messenger.   i'm acquainted with the mindset).  

anyway, this blogger raged on about this presumed SUV memorial-desecrator.

at first, i was swept away by my own rage, and felt compelled to commiserate with this blogger (in my head).  i found myself thinking, "yeah, what an asshole.  who would do such a thing?"  a few thoughts later, i was resenting SUV owners.

it wasn't until my bitterness subsided until i stopped and thought:  "hold on.  is it really all that likely that someone in their car would stop at that intersection (it's busy as hell), get out (with an indelible marker albeit), scribble on the memorial, then get back in their car and drive off. 

is that the most likely scenario?  

not to mention, it's not just someone in a car, it's someone who happens to be driving a sports-utility-vehicle.

i mean, maybe. 

but are there other, more plausible explanations?

what about some high school kids who happened to be walking by and had a bent towards vandalism?

i mean, i knew a kid in high school who wrote on tombstones with a marker.  

that--the high school vandal scenario--seems, to me, to be more plausible than someone in an SUV.  high schoolers on foot would seem more likely to do such a stupid, irreverent thing.  an SUV driver seems a little less likely.  not to say it couldn't happen.  but the chances are slimmer.

so, why does this matter?

how does this connect to other ideas?

well, the error that the blogger makes is all too common, in all to many arenas of life.

in fact, large populations of people can be mobilized to believe all sorts of unlikely things--just like this--when one person passionately makes a vaguely plausible claim that taps into people's anger and sends it in a certain satisfying direction.

it initially persuaded me, as a reader of the blog.

and i wasn't the only one who was persuaded.  i remember at least one other blogger getting on that bandwagon of resentment.  

but, aside from the persuasion, why might that blogger have jumped to that conclusion?  well, i bet it had something to do with him not forcing himself to look at the most plausible explanation for the vandalism.  


one reason is that the more plausible explanations (such as, a random teenager with a marker) are less emotionally satisfying to believe because it's not as satisfying to channel your anger towards some random teenager, especially if you've harbored resentment towards SUV drivers, and now feel a beautiful opportunity to vent your resentment has presented itself.

by now, if not earlier, you may have thought:  "this whole discussion is much ado about nothing."  

you are right.  one blogger's rant about SUVs is totally no big deal at all.  its cosmic importance is utterly miniscule.

but what's not miniscule is the fact that the thought-error behind the blogger's rant is an error that people all over the world have likely made and an error that has likely caused much mischanneling of negative energy towards people who probably don't deserve it.   

a more controversial issue was last year's public outrage toward exxon.  if your remember, during that summer of high gasoline prices and a plummeting economy, people were furious that exxon was still raking in billions in profits while gouging the average car driver who was throwing money away at the pump.  as a commuter who has to drive 30 minutes to work each day, i too was feeling the pain.  i couldn't even afford to fill the tank.  heck, how could you not hate exxon?  especially when the media was fueling the fire.

but like with the SUV situation, i finally stepped back and thought:  hold on, why do i resent exxon?  is my resentment legitimate?

so i started digging a little deeper.  i started asking some questions:

first of all, why were their profits so high? 

what are the costs involved with oil exploration? 

what is the demand for oil?

once they've paid for all the research, exploration, operational costs, taxes, shareholders, etc., is what might their net profits look like?

some people thought exxon was deliberately keeping their prices artificially high.  if that was so, why would they do that?  in business, a deliberate decision to keep your prices artificially high usually hurts you, since your competitor will simply offer the same product at a lower price, and therefore start stealing your business.

obviously exxon was making a killing, but when i forced myself to look at some of the common sense, plausible explanations, it didn't seem like there was as much room for outrage.  

even if, at the end of the day, exxon was making billions in net profits, did it make sense to resent them?  because the reasoning looks like this:  the economy sucks; i'm struggling; your corporation is not struggling, in fact, making a lot of money; therefore your corporation is evil. can i really stand behind that reasoning?  is it really fair to hate a corporation just because they're making profit?  especially when i'm a customer.  

i mean, if i'm really that pissed at exxon, i guess i could get my gas at shell, or citgo, or whatever.  but what if they're making lots of profits too?  am i supposed to expand my hatred to cover them as well?  

do i then resent all the oil companies?  or only the ones that are making good profits?  

do i then praise the oil companies that are not making much profit?  would they somehow be acting fairer?

once i started really asking the tough questions, and started taking the spin out, the truth seemed much more flat.  the common sense answer seemed to be that exxon was simply a big corporation that sold oil that lots of people bought, and therefore they made a handsome penny.  was that really all that evil?

i mean, i'm just as eager as the next person for us to transition away from fossil fuels altogether and move into clean energy, but until we get there, the reality is that exxon will probably be a part of our lives.  so i can either choose to take an honest look at the reasons why i resent them, or not.  

if i do take an honest look at my motives and still decide to resent them, then where do i channel my resentment?

the current CEO, who just happens to be the hand on the tiller, and whose job is actually to make the shareholders and the company money?  or do i resent the management as a whole, since they're the ones with the biggest salaries?  or do i extend my resentment towards joe blow who works on some oil rig on the ocean?  or do i lump it all together and resent their entire corporation (the whole team of employees who work there--from the guy who cleans their bathrooms to the guy who runs the entire show)?  

if after all that, you still want to resent all, or some, or one of the exxon employees, then by all means, go for it.  

be angry all you want about someone or something, but first just make sure your motives for anger are:

1) fully honest
2) thought-out
3) channelled towards precisely the correct person
4) not just the result of unrelated, long-harbored resentment towards someone or something

otherwise, you may be acting on dishonest resentment. 

this is unhealthy.

and it's not fair to the person or people being inappropriately blamed--even if you have harbored resentment towards that person in the past, for other, yet unrelated perceived wrongs.

regardless, people fall into this error all the time.

has it ever happened to you?

did god put us here simply to solve fear?

i have fear.  

you have fear.

all of us have fear.


my fear is probably more handicapping than your fear, i can assure you.

i'm a fearful dude.  

but what is the benefit of fear?  

obviously there's a survival benefit.  but that's all been discussed by others.

what aspects of fear maybe haven't been fully explored by others?

what about fear isn't even on our radar?

when i sit here in this wicker chair and ask myself with brutal honesty, "what is my fear all about?"  i get a weird answer.

the first answer pops up as this:  fear is spiritual growth that hasn't happened yet.

is that all fear is?  

is fear merely a symptom or reflection of the next obstacle for us to overcome within ourselves?

or a signpost?

if we look at fear more as a signpost, then fear is like a gift.  fear is treasure.  because fear directs us.  fear can direct our energy into a certain area.

right now, the biggest thing i'm fearful of is not being myself in all situations.  

which really boils down to fear of blocking my true self off to the world.  

what does our individual fear have to do with others?

i bet each fear we overcome brings us closer to ourselves, closer to others, and closer to god.  

i bet whoever solves fear solves life.  

did god put us here simply to solve fear?

is fear THE human dilemma?

if we solve fear, are we free?

can fear be solved?

my fear is likely different than your fear, but i bet we've had many of the same fears throughout our lives.  what can we benefit by knowing each others fears.

phil and i are writing a novel about motives.  i wonder if fear relates to motives in ways we haven't thought about.

i want to get back to that idea of fear being spiritual growth that hasn't happened yet.  

let me be very clear:  my biggest fear is not breaking free of who i am to become who i am.  

does this make sense?

have you felt this before?

if i could figure this out, i promise you i'd be a different person.  i'd love to be around you more if i was this new person.  but it's a slow time comin'.  and that's honestly the only reason i'm not totally wonderful when i'm around you.  keep that in mind when i seem down about things.  i'm just being fearful.  it has nothing to do with you.  

i work on this every day.  i'm saddled with this burden in almost every social situation. 

but when i look at it on the computer screen, it seems to easy.  so surmountable. 

fear is spiritual growth that hasn't happened yet.

has it happened for you yet?

you can never be wrong if you are willing to admit you are wrong when you are wrong

the surefire way to occasionally be wrong is to consistently agree with a particular political party.

unless you honestly, in your heart of hearts, think that a particular political party has thought through their entire platform so thoroughly so as to only embrace irrefutable arguments, consistently believing their solutions to issues will eventually land you in the wrong.

is there a benefit of consistently agreeing with a political party?

sure.  it make it easier to problem solve.  

heck, if the political party of your choice has already reached a savory conclusion, then it saves you lots of brainwork if you just give them your vote of confidence.  

after all, who has the time to think through every political problem themselves, especially when we're all so busy and lack all the appropriate information to make an informed decision?

why not entrust some of our conclusions to the brains of others?  especially when they're the specialists and most intimately familiar with the issues.  

why not, right?

it sounds convenient because it is convenient.

but it's convenient because it's wrong.

when i say it's wrong, i mean, it's just not you.  

think about it: can you honestly be true to yourself if you ever embrace an idea you yourself haven't thought through to its logical conclusion?

don't sell yourself short.  chances are, you can think through problems better than the "specialists," with one condition...

that condition being:  you must be brutally honest with yourself and be willing to be wrong, willing to be right, and willing to not know.  

you can never be wrong if you are willing to admit you are wrong when you are wrong.

how to think more like god

what do we value about god?

one thing is we presume god is never wrong.

but if we cannot be god, can we ever learn to still not be wrong?

and if we learn how not to be wrong, would that bring us closer to god?

paul graham talked about a friend of his who he admired for never being wrong.  

he talks about how this seems impossible, but really isn't, if you really pay attention to what you say.

i concur.

i, too, have a friend who is almost never ever wrong.  how?

not being in his head, i'm not certain.  but i gather his brain naturally does some of these things along the way:

1) he usually only speaks to what he knows
2) he's fully thought through what he knows 
3) he plays devil's advocate with himself
4) if he's unsure of something, he'll tell you he's unsure about it
5) he recognizes that knowledge has limits and that he himself has limits
6) things outside the realm of the knowable, he quickly admits are outside the realm of the knowable

if you're ever looking for an easy way to refer to things beyond the realm of the knowable, you might use the term "the margin of mystery."

it's a great way to lump unknowable things into one phrase.  

that way, you basically have two possible things to discuss:

1) the knowable
2) the unknowable (things within the "margin of mystery")

more hints:

if you are making a case for something that is knowable, then qualify it where necessary, but make it as irrefutable as possible.

if you are, instead, making a case for something in the margin of mystery, WATCH OUT!!  instead of trying to sound smart, you might try conceding that what you're discussing is in the margin of mystery.  once you admit this, watch how people respond.  they usually will agree with you and thank you for your humility and candor.  you will become more credible to them.

nothing is more pointless than listening to someone pretend to know the unknowable.

nothing is more beautiful than listening to someone concede to not know the unknowable.

beauty of thought begins with clearly differentiating the knowable and the unknowable.

how could it not?

the joy of being proven wrong

nothing is more enjoyable than being proven wrong. 

i would venture to say the most exquisite learning occurs when we are proven wrong...with one condition.

the condition is that there is willingness to change your thinking.  

the precise moment you are willing to change your refuted ideas for new (as of yet) unrefuted ideas, is the precise moment spiritual growth occurs.  

i bet god loves us most when we grow.  why not?


heroes: contrarians and visionaries

our heroes change. 

but right now, here are my heroes, in no particular order.

well....maybe in some particular order:

thomas sowell:  for his boldness of thought and soundness of ideas, not for his tact

charles krauthammer:  for his contrarian nature, not for his unwillingness to compromise


paul graham:  for his clarity and ability to spot central arguments, not for his breadth of ideas


barack obama:  for his eloquence, not for his content

look anywhere 

the center for american progress:  for their vision, not for their ability to argue central ideas


~ ~ ~

basic idea: my heroes tend to be either contrarian thinkers or eloquent visionaries.  

why this matters:  i find that contrarian thinkers are usually not also eloquent visionaries.   contrarians limit and qualify ideas and carve them into soundness.  eloquent visionaries set us in broad, interesting directions, yet often lack the intellectual rigor to argue central ideas.  i could be persuaded that i'm incorrect in this observation.  it's just a hunch.

how this changes things:  there's something truly wonderful to be gained by balancing polar opposite ideas in your mind and letting the truth settle in.  sometimes truth is in the middle. sometimes not. 

my favorite thing to do is read thomas sowell and then read an article by the center for american progress.  

politics encumbers

1029am: safari room patio, outside athens, GA.  wicker chairs and sunny arbors.

imagine if we used political labels at work.  instead of "mary, the 6th floor receptionist", it was "mary, the 6th floor republican receptionist." or, "joe, the democratic IT support guy." not to be confused with his coworker, "leah, the moderate liberal help desk girl."  

or our "democratic REALTOR from McKenearney, janet." instead of just "janet, the McKenearney REALTOR."  

imagine if you had to put your political affiliation on your resume, and were hired based on the political preferences of the current HR manager?


would we choose businesses to do business with based on our political preferences?  would we work with coworkers based on their party affiliation.  would it make for a better world?  would it make for more division among us?  or not?  if we did it, why would we do it?

if it seems counterproductive and divisive to categorize workers of the world by their political party, why do we do it in politics?

have you paid attention to a problem solving session with friends of differing political parties? normally the arguments are more about who belongs to what party--as a way to discredit their ideas--instead of the quality of the ideas themselves.  why?

paul graham essayed about argumentative hierarchy:


the most honest way to disagree with something, he claims, is to find the central argument, then to refute it.  

sound simple.  

it rarely occurs.

people attack people.  people attack side issues.  people create compelling--yet irrelevant--counter-arguments.  myriads of scenarios.  

but it all comes down to once core problem:  if you are not refuting a central argument, you are not making headway in the discussion.  no new knowledge is being created, really.  unless, of course, you choose to disregard the initial argument and go off in another direction.  most conversations go this route, by accident.   and each person ends up walking away thinking they're right and the other person is wrong.  each person honestly thinks that. 

so, back to my promise to myself:

1) what's the basic idea?  

- if it's counterproductive and divisive to label coworkers by their political party, why do we think it helps us solve public policy problems?

2) why does it matter/what's the use?

- this matters because we could make more headway in our national problem solving debates if we threw political parties out the window and forced ourselves to focus only on the ideas.  debate the ideas.  not the politics.  

imagine if hardcore democrats could be persuaded to believe certain aspects of republican ideas?  and if republicans could embrace hardcore democratic ideas?  and if this wasn't seen as political traitor-ship.

3) how can this change things?

- we're our own worst enemy.  our politics encumbers us.  

next time you're in a conversation, try to make your case without referencing politics or political parties at all.  

thought experiment:  allow yourself to be persuaded by good ideas--regardless of the camp they come from.  let yourself embrace ideas of the "other party" if it makes sense to you and appears irrefutable to you.

it will feel awkward, but give it everything you have.  tilt yourself into it.  it will feel invigorating to follow ideas to their rightful place, regardless of where on the political spectrum that place is.  

let ideas be your guide.  let soundness of thought be your guide.  

if everyone did this, our world would look radically different.  

you can lead the way.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

the meaning of this blog

the meaning of this blog:

i combined the titles of my two novels-in-progress and came up with the.overbright.life.

the overbright motive + the moment of life = the.overbright.life

that simple.

going live

today it's 1:32am and it's blogtime.  i'm going live.  thanks to paul graham.  

tomorrow we're going to have orange juice outside the safari room, as we do.  then maybe swim.  here we are, near athens, GA.  hi, phil.