Is This Problem Solveable?

While the emotional lull may feel quite similar, there is a crucial difference between confidently possessing potential actions that may feasibly solve a problem  (PPA) and having exhausted all conceivable actions (ECA).
I posit that this difference is deeply understood and helps to explain procrastination. There is hope in PPA. When you start to spiral negatively, you can rescue yourself with thoughts of all things left to try: I’ll email Bob on Monday; I’ll call the doctor this week; I’ll read those studies soon. This rescue mission often works well. So well, in fact, that part of you will decide to not take those stated actions, because if they don’t work, you’ll be stranded without the ability to save oneself from darkness.
This logic misses a key point that the list of potential actions is not fixed, that the process of exhausting some of them indeed births new potential actions (e.g., you e-mail Bob and he says, “No, but I think I have a better person for you to contact”).
Unfortunately, the list of potential actions is also not infinite; at some point, the births cease and you truly can run out of ideas to dreadfully arrive in ECA. Of course, it’s hard to know for sure if you are in ECA. Perhaps you are simply looking to excuse yourself from making an effort. Simple test: can a stranger instantly come up with ideas to try? If “yes,” then you ain’t in ECA. (Being laughably far from ECA is why it’s hard for me to be too sympathetic toward people with “health issues” who haven’t perfected exercise, sleep, nutrition, and screens.)
When you are truly in ECA, I don’t really have an answer. This is maybe where acceptance enters, though I don’t really get how non-Jedi’s do that to a considerable enough degree to truly reverse darkness if the ECA state is truly bad. Something like actively fighting against your wants/vision of yourself? xxxxxxxxx told me how whenever someone would ask him to play basketball the desire would emerge to play. Yes, I love basketball. But he, through years of “mourning,” disabused himself of the thought that he’s the type of person who plays basketball (because his injury prevented him from playing). That, while it wasn’t what he would have planned or wanted, it’s what is, and what is is totally fine, glorious even, in a different way. Nothing is so unbearable that you can’t bear it because you are, in fact, bearing it in this moment. And this moment. And this moment.
Ughhhh. I really don’t know.

Dear “Cancel Culture,”

There’s a certain type of self-important buffoon clogging up airports from sea to shining sea who needs to be placed squarely in your crosshairs. The boarding process begins with priority, then the disabled, then the parents of small children before turning to a numerical countdown from small to large. Even if you had never before flown, the numerical part is so easy to comprehend that ignorance isn’t a viable defense. 

Yet, there’s the target – proud owner of a group #7 ticket – stalking so close to the line of people with lower boarding numbers you’d think he’s actually in line. Now, if he was deciding to circumvent the boarding order entirely and was truly in line, boarding group be damned, we’d call him unethical and leave it at that. After all, his gross action has minimal consequences. 

What we cannot tolerate, nay what we MUST not tolerate, is the person who thinks he can hold himself in high moral esteem by not actually getting in line, but by being so close to the line that when #7 beams out over the loudspeaker he’ll be the first #7 to board. For this action has ripple effects that materially taint the boarding process: people with lower boarding numbers will accumulate behind him incorrectly believing they are in the real line. With fake disbelief, our target will eventually address the duped fliers incorrectly accumulating behind him by claiming complete innocence and attempting to redirect blame onto us. We are not fooled. You know what you have done. We know what you have done. 

Sic ‘em. Woof, woof, woof!

 

re: sex before marriage

You, like so many parents including my own, say you hope your kids wait until marriage for sex. The reasons, I presume, go something like this: Sex is a big deal you should share with someone who truly cares about you. If you wait until marriage, you’ll reduce the probabilities of all sorts of downsides – unwanted pregnancies, emotional distress, abuse, and disease – while making sex maximally special and free from jealousy. I don’t disagree with any of that. I do, however, think it’s worth pointing out that undergirding the advice is the assumption that your children will find love and get married while they are young. Not an unreasonable assumption, especially for an older generation, but still an assumption that will not apply to bachelors/bachelorettes who simply can’t find a good enough match. Worse still, as time elapses, following the no-sex-before-marriage philosophy probably militates against the goal of getting married – the 20-year-old virgin who is “waiting” is viewed more positively than the 30-year-old who is “waiting.”

So, would you still offer the same advice if you 100% knew your kids would be unmarried at, say, age 30?

Everything is political

because you made it so. Not politicians, not the media, not any other outside force: you. I walked into your home hoping to catch up about our actual lives and instead find myself defensively crouched as you try to score points against faraway people who have so very little effect on your day-to-day.
It’s undoubtedly true that players with certain financial interests want you to see everything as part of a political fight, but it’s just as true that you possess agency to reject this imposition. You can, of course, stop listening, though this is becoming increasingly difficult as the politics is everywhere message flexes from all corners – avoiding the news offers little reprieve. So the more potent defense is to meet the message squarely and reject it for its incompleteness.

Consider that politics is everywhere is another version of Jesus is everywhere. Now, perhaps you do fervently believe that one of those two concepts is true, that your job, your breakup, and your medical issues are all tied to something far larger than the thing itself. Overarching narratives may be at play, sure. But when everything is so quickly funneled into a grand narrative, the evaluation of the thing itself becomes stupidly shallow. Narratives work to broadly and simply explain patterns, not to actually explain what’s truly going on in a given situation since life never has, never will conform to narratives’ simplicities. And the more you capitulate to narrative-based thinking, the more you will think you have it all figured out when quite the opposite is true.

 

 

Hitting Bottom

The thing about hitting the bottom is that outsiders view it much differently than insiders. You are convinced your friend will finally change her ways because of a terrible episode last weekend. How could she not? This was so clearly the nadir. But your friend doesn’t see it that way because, of course, if she was seeing the world clearly she never would have been so close to a nadir in the first place. 

Still, your friend isn’t happy about last weekend, isn’t so confused to think apologies are unnecessary. This is the frustrating disconnect: both parties agree the weekend was bad, but only you think it obviously proves radical change is required. While you grant that your friend hasn’t been a model of responsibility and accountability for some time, you can’t help but think this episode would trigger such traits. And that’s the mistake: projecting your high-functioning self onto someone who is running different software is all but guaranteed to create that frustrating disconnect. 

Software upgrades are indeed always possible for your friend, but don’t count on them being downloaded per your expectation timeline – you truly can’t comprehend what it’s like to be operating from your friend’s base.

The best you can do is not care about what your friend is losing so long as it doesn’t directly affect you. How could she throw away her job, her boyfriend, her whatever? It’s beyond frustrating to witness for any halfway compassionate human, but it is frustration you must learn to dissipate. Step one: make sure you have honestly and kindly expressed your concerns. Step two: help where you can. Step three: stop caring. 

Step three sounds brutal and perhaps impossible. Achieving it begins by never initiating. Instead of calling to check, inviting to events you hope will help her psyche, or comforting when you feel she needs it, you act to help if, and only if, she requests it. There will be times when you feel like you should do more; you must remind yourself you did what you could – it’s on her now.

Lastly, don’t ignore your own selfishness. With a look of utter exasperation, you retell the entire episode to another friend painting yourself as some Mother Teresaesque altruist. You are not. While you truly may want to help, a notable part of you craves recognition for these efforts. And the fact that your friend isn’t singing a paean for your intervention is a contributing factor to your general irritation.

Oh, and one more thing. You may well be perversely enjoying your friend’s struggles because they make you feel better about your own life. Given this undercurrent, your I hope she gets better claims are outright false or deeply conflicted. And if you don’t actually want your alleged friends to be well, maybe you shouldn’t be so worried about others hitting bottoms, maybe you should instead focus on how to improve yourself.

Stunned

I’m now officially on Team Ursula, and I’m stunned that you and every right-thinking person isn’t with me.

First, I see no good reason to hold a fictional world where people live and speak underwater to arcane bits of American jurisprudence, so the whole “she’s a minor” point is trivial. More importantly, though, Ariel’s world clearly views minors differently since she gets to marry a grown man.

Then there’s your consternation about selling a body part. Indeed there are interesting discussions to be had regarding the sale of kidneys, assisted suicide, or, in this case, selling one’s voice, but it’s certainly not obvious that these acts are “immoral” and should be deemed illegal. But even if they were, we are back to a mere technicality taking down Ursula.

In Ursula’s defense, however, is a concept so robust most people – from legal scholars to the woefully uneducated – would uphold: your word is your bond. Thus, the hysterical, unethical reaction by Ariel and her companions (culminating in murder) is condemnable. Of sound mind Ariel signed a deal – she should have to live with the results instead of getting a bailout from her dad and future husband (future statutory raper, I should say).

Anyway, you are the man and I have learned much from you. I look forward to your next episode.

because it failed to properly address the most frequent objection I hear: “I’m not getting vaccinated because I’m not at risk. Covid is just another flu for someone like me, and I don’t get flu shots.” If you ignore pleas about “community responsibility,” their logic isn’t easy to defeat:

So yes, it’s quite sensible for my young, healthy friends to think Covid is “no big deal,” especially when speaking from a selfish perspective. Of course, there are bad outcomes other than death, but I’ve found those are less motivating once anchored to the You should be terrified of Covid (incorrect) narrative.

Furthermore, if a healthy person is skeptical of the vaccines for any of the reasons you discussed, 12,000 random deaths from vaccines (if true) represent a greater risk than 600,000 deaths concentrated among at-risk people. Additionally, it’s reasonable to expect that the side effects from the vaccine will be worse than contracting the disease. Most people in my circle who got the vaccine were knocked out for at least a day; most who got Covid were asymptomatic.

Lastly, some of these anti-Covid vaxxers (most aren’t anti-vaxx) happen to have a starting bias that’s less trusting of authority. When you rightfully point out the countless institutional failures during the pandemic, you see “exceptions” that reduce your priors while they see “rules” that validate their priors.

A tricky problem, indeed.

Anyway, you are the man and have positively affected my life more than any person I’ve never met. Thanks for all that you do.

That I actually do have a nice, long list of interests. That there may be more to discover, but only in the way that there is more to discover in a city you’ve resided in your entire life. Which is to say, harvesting is now preferable to searching. The shift to harvesting remains true regardless of the weather: it’s the understanding and commitment to this fruit as the best you will do that makes the fruit the best it can be.

try living with someone who lacks a memory. The rhythm of do something nice = credibility gain is immediately snapped and you’ll be forced to witness how much of your own esteem was a product of that tried and true formula.

This reckoning is all the more severe if nobody else knows that you live with someone lacking a memory. It’s just you, all alone, doing yeoman’s work for the direct benefit of someone who won’t actually really know what you are doing. Except, of course, outside of the in-the-moment appreciation that may never be properly communicated, but must be felt, if only for an instant.

 

Unexpected Brilliance

I consider it a massive victory to gain even a slightly different perspective on a topic. After all, the most important elements of the human condition have been so thoroughly addressed for so very long that a genuinely new take is incredibly unlikely. This unlikeliness increases the more common, more universal the topic of inquiry: it’s harder to write a unique love song than a track about Newcomb’s paradox.

Enter poet David Whyte doing the near-impossible. Not only does he reliably offer refreshingly new insights, he does so regarding “everyday words” firmly stuffed in a societal bin labeled “We Already Know What These Words Mean.”

I distinctly remember laughing after consuming “Honesty.” I definitely know what honesty is, but I’m sure he’ll say some pretty things that will prove useful in reminding me what I already know. Wrong in a wonderful way. Outlier this was not: at a rate only Barry Bonds could sniff, D Whyte pumps out unequaled originality that will change what you think, know, and believe.

I concluded this from a few of these pieces (which I’ve circled) that I encountered outside of this book. So yes, in breaking from tradition, I am sending a book that I have not completely read. I am willing to make an exception because I’m so confident in Whyte’s brilliance. And, really, if you only read the circled pieces, sending you this book will have been worth it.