August 11, 2009 — 14 Comments

If we consider that posturing tends to imply some basic deficiency and that social masks often cover for their opposite, what should we think about these business metaphors:

cannibalization, drilling down, war room, open the kimono, where the bodies are buried, twisting the knife, a hail mary, loose cannon, come to jesus meeting, brass balls, getting axed, poison pill, hit the ground running, consigliere, deal junkie, nerves of steel, pulling the trigger

I think it means that deep down we know there isn’t anything all that impressive about what we spend so much of our lives on. And we’re so desperate to make it sound better than it is that we dress it up violent imagery and sports references. You can’t draft off something else’s narrative, you can pretend, but the facts remain.

The Underside

August 3, 2009 — 7 Comments

Our first impulse is to try to stop people’s unpleasant behavior. But when you think about it, often the things that bother us can be more beneficial than the niceties we seem to want so badly. When people are:

—rude or disrespectful:

They underestimate you. A wonderful gift.


You won’t have to apologize when you make an example out of them.

—overly critical:

Managed expectations.


Make your accomplishments seem all the more effortless.

—For all behaviors that provoke an immediate negative reaction.

In Harness

July 31, 2009 — 16 Comments

One emotion I felt most often during the election was pity. That someone relatively intelligent, educated, would have to wake up one morning and write a piece like this.

Talk about a reach for your revolver moment. It just seems like it would be the worst thing ever. He might be a columnist, but he was compelled, unlike everyone else, to squeeze out a rationalization for what was objectively an embarrassing failure.

I feel the same way about most of the internet. We’ve sort of bought into this myth lately that there is this coterie of bloggers who hit the lotto. They have the life. They wake up, work from home and write whatever they want. But the thing is, if they were really in control, why do they all write about the same story within minutes of each other? They’re really in chains. Chasing controversy that turns out to be fabricated, pontificating on topics they couldn’t care less about. They’ll admit it sometimes, unintentionally, when you question them about why that had to be written. We know what they’re really trying to do but we still need to go on the record about it.

Seneca would call these nice people slaves. He’d say, each time you see their byline next to a story try sadness, not envy. They won it at the cost of life.

I saw a link to some article about Apple banning Google Voice from the App store earlier this week. All I could think was I’m so glad I have no idea what they’re talking about. Plug in any scandal, hot topic, a famous person’s life story. The same.

Not caring – being without the burden – is a kind of real peace; it means having the chatter at just the right volume that you can’t make out the individual words.

Like an Addict

July 22, 2009 — 35 Comments

There is an interesting connection between religion and addiction. Aside from what we think about religious hypocrisy, the correlation between spiritual belief and addiction is one of the most consistently replicated findings in the study of drug use. More notably, 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous more or less force their members to accept the existence of a higher power. Why is that?

Scientists think it’s because religion has what are called “prudential values.” In other words, they hold some authority over their believers, stepping in between them and their whims. The specific religious rules vary drastically across different faiths, yet there exists a common thread in the concept of belief that makes people less likely to abuse drugs. I think this connection is important and under-explored.

For example, when I sent out the first email in my Reading List, I had only one instruction: Don’t email me back to think aloud. What I got was just that. Rambling emails, people showing off how smart they are, almost no genuine questions. In fact, one person actually wrote THINKING ALOUD -just like that, unironically and in complete seriousness. What makes people do this?

I think these people are addicts. Or at least, wired similarly. They lack the ability to understand anything outside their own reality, that there is some ‘way’ to behave other than whatever they feel like. This is different than a malignant narcissist who manipulates others to to be like them, this almost a wide-eyed innocence, disbelief that other people don’t act like they do.

I think the reason religious people become addicts less often, or that recovering addicts liken their sobriety to a born-again spiritual awakening is because the two are rooted in humbleness. There is an implicit self-awareness that comes with accepting your place as somewhere other than at the center of the universe. You see with Penelope Trunk or awful bloggers an incredibly resilient refusal of this idea. They desperately lack prudential values – like self-restraint, or that maybe you just don’t say every single thought that pops into your head because it may be wrong, stupid or not in your best interest.

I don’t think you need to find this in religion. You can get it from many sources but you must have it. It’s critical to understand that you don’t always know what you’re doing, that learning requires deference and curiosity. There is certainly no way, as a young person, to coexist or succeed among older maturer adults, without it. Draw from a sense of shame or pragmatism or ancient wisdom or the fucking Bible – anything – so long as you can walk away with a sense of perspective that things matter other than you and that there are consequences when you behave otherwise.

All Is Just As Well

July 9, 2009 — 8 Comments

There is this song that I like by Jackie Greene with a refrain in it that repeats “Oh, it’s just as well.” I think we should all be so lucky to have that be the chorus line after each event in our own lives. That our reaction to each occurrence is agnostic.

Marcus called it the Art of Acquiescence. Lincoln thought it that it was the one truly appropriate response for all situations. But this is too often misconstrued as “accepting” bad things that happen to you. Really the least important and easily accomplished half.

The idea is to take both the bad and the good equally, in stride. The subtle but critical difference between resilience and robustness is that resilience is about withstanding pressure while robustness – that is: vigor, strength, health – is the ability to withstand change.