August 20, 2013

The Privacy Papers 1.0 - A New Project (For No Reason At All)

Well, hello there. 

If you are receiving this email, it means that you have been invited to participate in an email discussion of privacy issues.  This started as a discussion on my Facebook page, and I thought this might be a fun/interesting discussion to have.  I will endeavor as moderator to be as interesting as I can and to make you look even smarter and more engaging than you already are.  No easy task.  Since you are already so smart and engaging.

Of course you are all busy and have lives.  (Or so we say).  And I respect that.  (I do.) And I respect your privacy.  So, if you don't want to play, no problem.  But if you want to participate, please reply and let me know.

Here - for reference - is the original Facebook thread, which has the beginnings of some interesting discussions and some of the flava:

August 8, 2013

Um. Yeah.

Onward and upward.  And sometimes sideways.

But mostly upward.

August 3, 2013

The More Things Change

I read a short but fascinating article in the New York Times earlier this year called "You Won't Stay The Same."  The article discussed a study of the the so-called "end of history illusion" in which people tend to systematically under-estimate how much they will change in the future: "People seemed to be much better at recalling their former selves than at imagining how much they would change in the future."

The reasons for this phenomena are unknown.  But the article offered a few plausible possibilities:

(1) Because we over-estimate our own awesomeness.  We want to believe that we are fully evolved to be the person we are right now, a finished product, so to speak;

(2) Predicting the future - how we will change - is...well...really hard.  In other words, its a failure of imagination.  Its just easier and more comfortable/normal/natural to imagine ourselves as staying the same.

At any rate, the article really resonated with me.  We are constantly changing.  We, in fact, change so much that we - who know ourselves best of all, or at least longest of all - underestimate the extent of our very own transformation.

You know, the whole "No man steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he's not the same man" "there is nothing permanent but change" thing.  Change is the only constant.  The more things stay the same, the more things change.  Etcetera.  Etcetera.  Etcetera.

The constancy of change is a theme that I've been reading a lot about lately.

In Buddhism, this is referred to as the principle of "impermanence":

"What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.  We need to learn to appreciate the value of impermanence . . . Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all precious things around us and inside us."

                        - The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh

I particularly like the way that Sakyong Mipham put it in his book, Turning the Mind Into An Ally:

"The fact is that what appears to us as a solid reality is actually in a state of continuous flux.  The world is a continuous state of flux.  The house that we grew up in is not the same house anymore.  The mother and father that we knew when we were children are physically different now.  Where is our first bicycle?  At one time it seemed to real.  Everything is always coming together and falling apart . . . .  Coming together and falling apart is the movement of time, the movement of life.  This is as obvious as our own face, and yet we imagine our self as solid and unchanging . . . . We feel that everything is just as it appears.  Yet if we look beneath the surface, we find that our universe is not quite as stable as it seems."

Everything is impermanent, both ourselves as well as the world around us.

This drives home the counter-intuitive point that every day, when you wake up in the morning, you are a different person.  How much do I believe this, or should I believe this?  I'm not sure.  I still believe that there are core things about me and you - constants - that make me intrinsically "me" and you intrinsically "you."  And a lot of times I wake up in the morning, and I don't feel all that different.

But surely, we do have great capacity to change.  Not only do we change and impact our world by interacting with it, but our world, by interacting with us, changes us.  In ways that are sometimes difficult to detect and measure.

On the change wrought by adversity ("the storm"), for example, one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami writes:

"[O]nce the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in."

Through adversity, through experiences, through new things we see or read or do or think or say, through the people we meet and the things we share, we certainly are changing.  More than we know.  And that's a wonderfully dynamic thought.

One More Graduation Speech - Erring Towards Kindness

A few months back in what - I am embarrassed to say! - was my last blog post, I wrote about a few of my favorite graduation speeches and harvested some of the thought-provoking wisdom being dispensed to college graduates.

Short declaratory sentences of wisdom.  Like "Wear Sunscreen."  Like "This Is Water."

Today's New York Times featured a graduation speech recently given by George Saunders at Syracuse University this year.  It could be titled, Tending Towards Kindness.  Like the other two, this is going in my great speech pantheon.  Welcome to the party George!

His speech contains a wonderfully put kernel of universal truth.  And great wisdom.  Which is why I wanted to share the full speech here.  

Some snippets are below:

"What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded...sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

Its a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be be kinder.

*   *   *
Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
*   *   *
Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really:selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life."