Archive for the ‘life’ tag
A different, and maybe better, kind of commencement speech:
“Follow your dreams” and “live your passions” are insanely unhelpful tips when the bills need paying or the rent is almost due. Invariably, commencement speakers tend to be the lucky few, the ones who followed their dreams and still managed to land on their feet: Most of us won’t become Steve Jobs or Neil Gaiman, regardless of how hard we try or how much passion we might hold. It’s far more likely to get stuck working as a waiter or bartender, or on some other dead-end career path. Most people will have to choose between “doing what they love,” and pursuing the more mundane promise of a stable paycheck and a promising career path. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the latter choice; in fact, I’d usually recommend it.
I’m only now — at 28 — starting to understand why I was so damn inept at conversation much of my life. This nice little short essay about conversations covers a good quantity of what I’ve learned:
Shyness takes a lot of the blame for poor conversations. We get scared of opening our souls because we falsely exaggerate the difference between ourselves and others. We display only our strengths, vaunt only our successes, lay out only our conventional proposals – and bore others as a result because it is in the revelation of our weaknesses, in the display of our fragilities, in the confession of our wilder fantasies that we grow interesting and likeable. It is almost impossible to be bored when a person tells you sincerely what they have failed at or who has humiliated them, what they long for and when they have been at their craziest.
A nice little story about a boy, his motorcycle, his grandfathers, and his mother:
I think Alain de Botton is one of the most interesting and valuable thinkers and writers alive today. I really enjoyed this piece:
De Botton talked about some of the writers he loves – Montaigne, and the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott – and then he told me about a service, known as “bibliotherapy”, offered by the School of Life, which (I think) he thought I would hate. The idea is that someone suggests enriching books for you to read. “What a load of wank!” he exclaimed, gleefully taking the role of his detractors. “What do I want to say? Just calm down … ” It occurred to me, as it has long occurred to him, that our reactions to him might say more about ourselves than they do about him. “Is this the enemy?” He asked. “Is this really the enemy?”
(via The Browser)
I’d not been super aware of the controversy around quite possibly my favorite prayer of all time — here’s my essay from 2007 about it — but I was vaguely aware there was one. So when I stumbled across this little piece, where the originator of the controversy makes pretty explicit that he’s taken back his position, I was interested. I’ll save you the (interesting but not revelatory) detail, here’s his conclusion:
During the past five years, I have continued to research the genesis of the Serenity Prayer using the same kind of powerful databases of historical newspapers and books that I used to collect my initial eight pre-1943 occurrences. The list of eight has grown to several times that number. I have recently found five versions of the prayer from 1932 and 1933, the earliest of which I believe establishes to a high degree of confidence that Reinhold Niebuhr did originate the Serenity Prayer.
(Because professing love for a prayer might make one wonder, I was raised Catholic but would probably say today that I’m an atheist with strong Buddhist leanings. Not that Buddhism, as I see it, means anything about one’s belief in God.)
I believe in habits, more than just about anything in life. A great little AskReddit thread about what habit to cultivate came about, and I recommend you give it a second. I’ve not investigated its veracity, but I particularly loves this list of “George Washington Carver’s 8 virtues”:
1st. Be clean both inside and out.
2nd. Neither look up to the rich or down on the poor.
3rd. Lose, if need be, without squealing.
4th. Win without bragging.
5th. Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.
6th. Be too brave to lie.
7th. Be too generous to cheat.
8th. Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.
I recognize talking about death makes some squeamish, but I really enjoyed this thoughtful essay from Jacob M. Appel about what it means that so few people die suddenly and unexpectedly today:
Rather, my disquiet is principally for lost human dignity. Canadian right-to-die activist Gloria Taylor, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, recently wrote: “I can accept death because I recognize it as a part of life. What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes, my life.” Sudden death is a conclusion. Too often, I fear, the long goodbye devolves into a negation.
(via The Browser)
I’ve some entries in the busyness archive, and we’ll throw this on the pile too. It’s feels a little bit self-satisfied, but the basic point is undeniable and worthy of consideration:
We… choose some of what makes us “busy.” We choose Kumon. We choose the yoga class that’s just far enough from an after-violin-lesson pick up that it’s a rush every single time. We choose to let one child do swimming and the other soccer, on the same afternoon. We choose to add in the stop at the dry cleaner and the ATM. And maybe those choices make us feel rushed and unhappy, and maybe they don’t.
David Brooks is an insightful political commentator, but half the reason that I follow his work closely is that he’s also got some interesting thoughts and insights about this thing called life. In this, he talks about the self in a way that reminded me the Buddhist “no-self” concept, but also about how to really be productive. This bit I thought especially insightful:
One of the hard things in life is learning to ask questions that you can actually answer. For example, if you are thinking about taking a job, it’s probably foolish to ask, “What future opportunities will this lead to?” You can’t know. It’s probably better to ask, “Will going to this workplace be rewarding day to day?” which is more concrete. If you are getting married, it’s probably foolish to ask an unknowable question like, “Will this person make me happy for 50 years?” It’s probably smarter to ask, “Is this person admirable enough that I want to live my life as an offering to them?” You can at least glimpse another’s habits here and now.
A nice little essay from The Philosophers’ Mail about how you’re probably at least a little bit Marxist:
In his search for what makes work fulfilling, Marx speaks beautifully about workers needing ‘to see themselves in the objects they have created’. In other words, at its best, labour offers us a chance to externalise what’s good inside us (let’s say, our creativity, our rigour, our logic), and to give it a stable, enduring form in some sort of object or service independent of us. Our work should – if things go right – be a little better than we manage to be day to day, because it allows us to concentrate and distill the best parts of us.