Category Archives: social

2022 in 15 Lessons

Lesson 1: If someone “ghosts” you, it is likely because they are overwhelmed

Ghosting can be a frustrating experience and it is certainly not the best way to handle things. However, in 2022 I realized that the primary reason this happens is people getting overwhelmed. It’s usually not about you. To account for this, you can cast a wider net to become less reliant on a person who may ghost you. If someone is really of particular interest to you, I would recommend following up something like 4-6 weeks later. This is soon enough for them to not forget about you, but not so soon that you are contributing to how overwhelmed they likely are.

2. Mindset really does create your reality

This is something that has been hard for me to accept. However, there is a logical explanation for this. What you focus on is what you see and what you see will eventually become your reality. My vision board became my reality in 2022.

Therefore, it is important to periodically re-assess what you think about, who you surround yourself with and what content you consume. Because, it will show up in your life.

3. Less is more

We’re trained to think it is better to work more, work harder and always be doing something. However, doing something just for the sake of doing something has a negative effect on our lives. It depletes the energy we have that we may eventually use for valuable pursuits. Sometimes it’s better to do nothing at all.

We need to be okay with doing nothing, stop feeling guilty about not doing enough and trust the people we “work” (using the broad definition of work) with.

4. Most people project

When someone accuses you of something, it’s probably something they are at least insecure about being true of themselves. For example, the person always accusing people or companies of being greedy is likely greedy. It’s a way of deflecting their own insecurities. Do not give in to these people! You can chose to just shake it off, or calmly point out what they are doing, but don’t comply with whatever they demand of you or engage them in the topic too much. It will reduce your confidence. It will also prevent the accuser from actually reflecting on their own insecurities and making positive changes in their life.

5. Most things are a choice

In nearly every situation, we do have a choice. Sometimes, it’s just “least bad option.” Other times, we do not understand our options. It is also common to become blinded by fear of ostracism and fail to see who would actually support the decisions we are afraid of making.

6. Fear is often overblown

After living through countless fearful situations, I have realized that what we actually go through is often way less bad than what we fear. However, there is big money in fear and it is prevalent everywhere. The problem is that often times fear of some kind of negative consequence creates an outcome worse than the event itself.

7. A strong plurality is ready to move on

2020 was us at our most divided and isolated. We also seemed to be reacting, not really thinking. While some people are still in that general line of thinking, and others want to return to some past state, it seems like a strong plurality of people are ready to just move on. We haven’t really decided what is next. Maybe there is no what. Maybe it’s for all of us to determine individually. However, it is time to be intentional about what you want to see next in your life.

8. If someone wants you to cede your power they are not your friend or ally

A true friend or ally is someone who empowers you. We all have our causes, and it’s human nature to want to enlist people in them. However, if someone enlists you in their cause in a manner that requires you to shrink back and give up power, you need to distance yourself from them. You don’t necessarily have to end the friendship in dramatic fashion, but reduce the role they play in your life.

9. What feels good in the moment is usually not what you need

The obvious form of this are bad habits like drugs, alcohol and tasty but unhealthy food. However, it also takes the form of things like instant gratification, some forms of entertainment and the search for validation or vindication. They often feel good in the short term at the expense of something longer term. Sometimes we need embrace what feels uncomfortable in the short run, like hard work and tough conversations.

Scale back on activities that bring you fleeting joy and embrace short-term discomfort for long-term satisfaction.

10. Relationships are more important than tasks

We all have our to-do lists. However, 12 months later our lives are far more likely to be impacted by who is still in it than what specific thing got done on that day. While some deadlines are important and can’t be breached, most aren’t. In more situations than not, you can prioritize taking advantage of an opportunity to build a relationship through genuine connection rather than work on a to-do list.

11. Different preferences are not a personal threat

If someone listens to different music, eats dinner at a different time of day, works different hours or conducts their relationships differently from you, does that prevent you from having your preferences? Probably not. We are conditioned to want others to validate our choices by making the same ones as us, but we should not need that validation. Nor should we feel pressure to validate others choices by conforming. You do not need others to validate your choices and you do not need to validate other’s choices by conforming.

12. More things are about power than you think

We want to believe people live by certain principles that are more important than power. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Principles are often created as convenient excuses for people to pursue or advocate for things that will bring them more power (or money which really translates to power). Stand up for yourself. Recognize what is really happening.

13. Presence is more important than exclusivity

We focus on exclusivity when presence is what we are really looking for. It is possible to be exclusive but not present or present but not exclusive. Presence is what truly determines the quality of your interactions with one another and involvement in anything. Therefore, presence should be your focus.

14. Consciously decide whose opinion matters

Most likely, at some point this year, you found yourself overloaded by opinions. But, opinions are easy and anyone can have one. They are not all equal.

There are two ways to handle this. You can create a list of people whose opinions matter to you. Or you can learn to assess all opinions given to you by pondering the source. Who is this person? Why did they share this opinion? Do you want to follow in their footsteps? Do they have something to gain from sharing this opinion with you?

15. Perfectionism may be your biggest barrier

We’ve all been raised to fear being “wrong.” However, avoiding mistakes leads to inaction and paralysis. It’s more costly than being wrong. It can cost you your life, as it will prevent you from ever going for what you truly treasure.

It’s time to adapt a new mindset. Remind yourself, daily if you must, that it is better to get something wrong out than to not get anything out at all.

Utah- A Place Like Nowhere Else

Downtown Salt Lake City

Most of Utah’s population lives in a region referred to as the “Wasatch Front“, which is essentially the area from Ogden to Provo, including Salt Lake City, boxed out in red in the map below.

It’s a place I have not previously spent much time, as most of my prior Utah experience had centered around recreation destinations like Moab or Park City, or places I stop at on road trips. However, if you want to understand the culture of a place, it is usually good to visit where most people live.

My entire time in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, I felt this strange mix of feeling partially at home but partially kind of elsewhere. This is probably due to my suburban upbringing and current life in Colorado. Utah’s mountains are quite similar to the ones I visit all the time in Colorado.

Like where I live, the culture revolves quite a bit around hiking, with hikes to beautiful destinations like Stewart Falls.

And, because of the mountainous terrain, the weather can be variable, and the rainbows amazing.

Anywhere in this region, mountains can be seen in nearly all directions. It is also quite suburban. My basic assessment of the area is that it all feels as if they took Schamburg (a suburb of Chicago known for giant shopping malls, wide suburban roads, retail and restaurants) and dropped it into the middle of the mountains.

People will often try to approximate the culture of a place by considering some basic characteristics, such as region, demographics, political and religious affiliation. Utah’s political affiliation is pretty clear as it is a solidly Republican state. However, unlike in many other democracies, in the United States we only have two competitive parties. This makes how much you can truly tell about a place based on political affiliation pretty limited, mostly limited to certain “hot button” issues.

Utah is nothing like Alabama, and, as a New Yorker I learned early on that New York is very different from California.

What makes Utah more unique from nearly all other states is its religious affiliation.

Utah is the only state in the country that is majority Mormon. This gives the state a culture and a perspective that is unique from any other place, as some Christian groups don’t view them as Christian and see them as more different than, say, Catholics would view Protestants. This, and the state’s history, likely gives the place an interesting view of its place in the world.

It is customary for Mormons to go on missions when they are young. In Utah, it is common to hear “while I was on my mission” casually dropped into conversations. In these missions, many people travel to foreign lands and get exposed to other cultures.

As a result, there is much more exposure to other cultures here than one would typically associate with a “conservative” place. However, this exposure to other cultures and these types of experiences does not appear to have shifted the population in the direction of the post-modern sentiment that there is no absolute truth nor towards a nihilistic lack of pride in anything.

There may be limitations to my observations about the culture of Utah, given I was only here for a few days and primarily came to engage with my co-workers in a work setting.

However, it does feel like the people here are more confident and happier than most others I observe.

Hearing about some of these mission experiences it feels as if the Mormon population is well aware that, outside of Utah (and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona), most people oppose what they believe in, some quite intensely. They’ve navigated being opposed and being hated in a manner that has strengthened their resolve in a manner that actually seems healthy.

I recall going to see “The Book of Mormon” years ago. The play pokes fun at the church a bit and was written by people who are generally skeptical of organized religion.

In the playbill, the Mormon church placed an advertisement that literally said “You’ve seen the play, the book is better.” This told me that this is a community that can take a joke.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is to be happy.

Sometimes our approaches to happiness can be misguided. We pursue things that actually make us more unhappy, like drugs and alcohol. Or, we can become too obsessed with things that only facilitate happiness, like money and good looks. The formula for happiness is complicated because there is no one formula. We all need something different in our lives to truly be happy. If someone appears to be happy, and they are not harming anyone, why hate? Hate is so much more exhausting than love.

How to Find Opportunity and Positivity in a Midlife Crisis

Photo via Pexels

For more articles like this, take a moment to explore the many experiences and adventures documented on The Action Story!

Your midlife crisis does not have to be a negative experience. When approached from a different perspective, a midlife crisis can feel more like an opportunity than a curse. This period of upheaval, transition, and reflection establishes the perfect foundation to make changes in your life to better align your actions with your present goals and values. Whether you’re dreaming of quitting the rat race and starting your own business or getting away from everything and traveling full-time, your midlife presents the perfect opportunity to make those dreams a reality!

Start Your Own Business

It’s not unusual to feel fed up with a long-held job by the time you reach your middle years. If you feel the need for a change after working the same job for a long time, consider starting your own company! You could work as a remote freelancer, sell handmade products online, or open a local business in your community. Do whatever interests you the most.

To give your new business the best shot at success, be sure to register your business with your state, open a separate business bank account, and establish an organized accounting system. You’ll also want to set up a solid invoicing process. Remember to include your payment terms in your invoice and, if possible, accept a variety of payment methods to encourage clients to pay promptly. You can use an online invoice generator to create professional-looking invoices with all the pertinent information your clients need. Just choose an invoice template that you like and customize it however you like!

Reconnect with Old Friends

A strong social support system can make your midlife crisis much easier to navigate. This is a great opportunity to expand your social circles by reconnecting with old friends from high school. If you’ve lost touch, you can use online search tools to track down people who went to school with you in the Denver area. Just type in the name of the person you want to find as well as their graduation date and the school they attended. Then, you’ll be able to send your classmate a message and start rekindling that old friendship.

Embark on a Transformative Trip

Traveling is a great way to turn a midlife crisis into a positive experience. By leaving your regular life behind for a little while and getting out of town, you can broaden your perspective and refocus on what really matters. According to Worldpackers, research shows that travel can trigger changes in your brain as you’re exposed to new sights, smells, languages, and ideas. Plan a transformational travel experience by being mindful of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking throughout the stages of travel. For example, you might find that surrendering to the unknown elements of travel results in a heightened sense of confidence and independence.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Traveling is an excellent practice in stepping out of your comfort zone, which is key in coping with rocky periods like a midlife crisis. Leaving your comfort zone can help you embrace the unknown and learn to accept change in all of its forms. And facing discomfort sets the stage for growth. If the idea of hopping on a plane and finding your way around an unfamiliar city is a little scary, just go with it! Accept that anxiety is your body’s natural response to uncertainty. The only way to get comfortable with novelty is to face it head-on, so book that trip and see where your adventure takes you.

No one really feels ready for the changes that come with a midlife crisis. The best thing you can do to cope during this tumultuous time is to embrace it rather than try to resist it. Use this period of upheaval to adopt positive habits, explore new places, rekindle old friendships, and pursue new professional passions. It’s finally time to focus on you!

Four Days Without the Internet

I am starting to grow tired of the internet. Every day feels like the same thing. The same feeling of rejection when I’m reminded of the social experiences people are having that I am not involved in. The same feeling of aggravation and isolation around people’s responses to current events. The same feeling of fear around societal trends and possible future events. And, perhaps most importantly, the same stale feeling around yet another hour in front of a screen, typically sitting down at home, consuming content that is all too similar to the content I had consumed the last hour I spent online.

As you can see, even before this, I spent less time on my phone than most

In the context of most of the world in 2022, going four days without the internet sounds extreme. We do everything online. We’ve spent the last two decades congratulating ourselves for making things more efficient by moving them online. However, I am not so sure this is a good thing. David Byrne famously pointed out five years ago that all of our new technologies have one thing in common. From online shopping to robots and those self-scanners at the grocery store, they all eliminate points where humans would have previously interacted with one another. This is one of the primary factors that lead to a loneliness epidemic being declared even before it the pandemic came and made it far worse.

My theory was that if I spent less time online, and distanced myself particularly from news and social media, I would be a lot happier. After all, I knew that there are people out there that care about me. I know there are people that see things the way I see them. The whole world has not descended into finger pointing and panic, and there are tons of great new experiences to be had if I just look around me. I just had to stop letting the internet tell me what to think about.

The very first thing I noticed was noticing more things.

I spent time observing trees, clouds, storms and all the things that we often forget to look at when our minds are occupied.

Soon, I became lost in thought.

Behavior analysts will often point out that if someone wants to move away from an undesirable behavior, like smoking or excessive hand washing, it is far easier to do so if the behavior is replaced with a new behavior. I sincerely believe this to be true, but I removed the internet from my life rather abruptly without selecting alternate activities. There was not always a suitable alternate activity, no matter how much I enjoyed this book!

So, in order to stick to my pledge, I ended up spending time just in my own thought. While at first my thought processes went to all of the things that had been frustrating me, soon I ran out of things to think about on that topic. This is where we all have the potential to tap into our creative sides.

It feels like we were more creative before we became constantly distracted by smart phones. Just the idea of people tapping back into this side of themselves and coming up with all sort of ideas gave me chills.

By the time I returned home, I was happier. But, as is the case any time people go on vacation, I did not know whether I was happier because of my hiatus from the internet, from not reading the news or being on social media, or if I was happier because I had just spent the weekend out of town with friends. This is something it would take all week for me to figure out.

After returning to Denver, I felt like I was still observing more than before.

And I had some pleasant conversations with the people I encountered.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider what our relationship with the internet should be. From increasingly using LinkedIn to network and find jobs to the use of QR code scanners for menus at restaurants, societal trends seem to pulling us closer to the internet, having it become more and more a central part of our lives. But, is this what we want? Is it what we need right now?

After a week of reflection on this experience I started to ask myself why I’m happier. What am I trying to escape? Am I trying to escape people? Or am I trying to escape a certain behavior pattern that the internet and particularly social media seems to encourage? Am I fed up with the way people interact over social media? Or am I fed up with the way people interact in general? And, is the way we interact in general a reflection of how social media has changed us over the past two decades?

Sometimes an experiment like this one, meant to answer a question, only leads to more questions. But, sometimes, despite what we all learn when we study science, if we experiment with something and it leads to a positive result, like being happier, maybe we need to stop obsessing over the reasons why and just be happy with the result.

Frisco, One of My Favorite Mountain Towns, from a New Perspective

Downtown Frisco, CO May 23, 2022

There are many ways we travel and many reasons we travel. In retrospect, it seems rather silly that when I was a child, people used to lump all travel into two categories; business and leisure. Leisure travel, previously defined as anything other than travel for work, can take on many forms. We travel to visit friends and family. We travel to see specific destinations. We travel for specific activities. Having lived in the Midwest for a lot of year, I am more than familiar with travel to escape the winter and other bad weather.

The great thing about all these modes of travel is that it is possible to visit the same place many times and have completely different experiences.

Frisco is unique in that it is situated near many of Colorado’s best ski resorts.

Yet, unlike Breckenridge or Vail, the town is not the site of a ski resort. Therefore, winter in Frisco is active but not in the same way these ski resort towns are. Still, there are a lot of people out and about. It is easily the most active time of the year in Frisco (except, maybe when a major snowstorm closes the highways).

Summer also tends to be active. The area is a great place to escape the summer heat and take part in activities like enjoying the mountains from the seat of a bicycle.

The morning of May 23, 2022, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw Frisco extremely quiet.

There was nobody walking around. The experience reminded me of the few times I would wake up before 8 A.M. on a Sunday while living in Chicago. It was the only time I saw a city that was always crowded and noisy quiet and calm. This place was quiet and calm because the activities that drew visitors all weekend had come to an end while the weather had yet to improve enough for many of the outdoor activities that draw summer visitors. There were low clouds.

Fog, and even a little bit of snow.

It was enough to make Frisco quiet, even when the sun would peak out for a little bit.

It was even enough to make the typically even busier Breckenridge feel rather calm.

The conversations were different too. People I would encounter around town were not reflexively asking questions like “where are you in town from” and “how long are you here.” Instead, I was asked to identify a bird and about trail conditions. In a way, I was seeing the place the way the “locals” see it. Still, it made me wonder….

  • Do locals only get to act like locals, in the open like this, a few months out of the year, in between seasons?
  • Or is there a secret set of places they go during the more active seasons, particularly from December through early April?
  • What’s it like growing up in a place like this, not knowing that most people don’t live places constantly crawling with tourists?

On this trip, I also got to see more of Frisco. Most of my previous trips to Frisco primarily involve being on Main Street.

It is the face of the town. But, on this trip I spent a little bit of time in some of the other, more residential areas of town.

I saw where the creek flows between houses.

I even saw where they were in the process of building a new recreational trail.

Frisco is one of those towns with hiking trails right on the edge of town. Residents and visitors alike can just walk up to a hiking trail and climb a mountain. I did this twice during my off-season visit to Frisco. On the other side of I-70, there is the North Tenmile Trail, a hike that follows the Tenmile Creek into the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

There is the far steeper hike up Mount Royal on the south side of town.

This mountain is impossible to miss. It is quite likely that for most, the idea of hiking up this mountain feels quite intimidating. The hike is steep right from the start and is steep the whole way.

However, it leads to amazing overlooks of I-70, the Tenmile Canyon (just west of Frisco) and a whole new perspective on the town of Frisco.

On previous visits to Frisco, I experienced Frisco how tourists experience it. I saw the bus to the ski resorts. I heard conversations about vacations, time shares, flights and favorite slopes, shops and restaurants. This May, nearly a decade after discovering this town, I finally experienced it more like a local, slowing down a bit and adjusting for things that almost never happen during the busy season, like restaurants being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and full days without any activities.

Places Extroverts Love

It’s been hard to know what to expect the last two years. First, places that are typically lively, full of people, full of life, suddenly became empty as the pandemic shut down businesses and places of gathering.

Then, for nearly two years, our experiences became variable and inconsistent.

It felt like the whole world was suddenly subject to mood swings that are impossible to explain or predict. Maybe we are still in this period of uncertainty, but I was pleasantly surprised by the energy levels on my last two trips.

The last weekend in March, Moab was quite lively.

The town was busy! There were a lot of people out and about, walking around and having experiences. Traffic actually made it quite a challenge to make a left hand turn. People all seemed lively. The energy was just great!

The same can be said of Chicago a couple of weeks later.

The energy, the spirit of the big city could once again be felt both on a Thursday evening with horrible weather and a Saturday night with better weather. There were a lot of people, out in groups, in the bars, as well as along the street where there is typically a lot of nightlife. It felt good just to know these places are back!

These places could hardly be any any different. Chicago is a city of 2.75 million with many skyscrapers and what can seem like endless unique neighborhoods to explore.

People who visit come for a truly urban experience, doing things like going to museums, summer festivals, professional sports or visiting friends and family.

Moab, by contrast, is a town with barely over 5,000 residents adjacent to two National Parks.

Most of the people one would encounter here are tourists who came to explore the outdoors. Moab is known for Jeeping, mountain biking and hiking among other activities.

These settings, while different, warmed my heart in a similar way. There is something about seeing people out and about, interacting with each other, interacting with the world, and doing so in a way that feels joyous. It is the combination of joy and crowds that extroverts have missed so much over the past couple of years.

These recent experiences have demonstrated that there are often multiple ways to obtain the same underlying feeling, and maybe it is a good idea not to get too attached to one specific experience. There are often circumstances that require versatility. Sometimes the weather is not what we were hoping for.

Other times it’s our schedules, our health, someone else’s needs or just plain bad luck.

When this happens it is helpful to know that sometimes a different experience, but one that is feasible given whatever our circumstance is can be a really good substitute, providing almost the exact same underlying feeling we are looking for. So far this spring, I have been in lively joyous crowds both in a tourist destination surrounded by people on vacation and in a large city surrounded mostly by people who live there. Next time we find ourselves disappointed by not getting the exact thing we want, maybe we should try to think about the underlying reason we wanted it and try to find another path.

Homesteading in Southern Colorado

Location undisclosed

I did my best to keep up, as Homesteaders discussed things like tools, setting up electrical systems, building wells, cultivating crops and guns and ammo. Much of it is just to build many of the conveniences we in the city take for granted, like plumbing, food, running water and heat. All of our homes have complicated systems of electricity, water, piping and plumbing, which enable all of the conveniences of modern life. I know nothing of this world. It is all a part of this nebulous category of things that are somehow taken care of with the money we shell out when we buy our homes and pay our monthly bills.

When I entered this place, one of the first things to cross my mind was the fact that the nearest sushi restaurant is over an hour away. This, as well as many other conveniences and sources of excitement that define urban and suburban living are not easily accessible.

The concept of “homesteading” makes me think of the 19th century, when pioneers were settling vast unsettled parts of the country and President Lincoln signed The Homestead Act. What would make people decide to do this in the 2010s and 2020s? Could it be the sky high housing costs in many of our cities? Could it be something else? The homesteaders in Colorado point to a couple of other factors.

1. Energy and Lifestyle

I heard talk of not liking the energy of big city life. The city is full of pressure. It is fast paced. This appointment at 10, this meeting at 2, pick up the kids at 4, etc. Here, the day of the week and even the time of the day are far less significant. Alarms are not set. People don’t set aside a specific time to meet up, they just come by and see if their neighbors are home. It can be relaxing but certainly requires a different frame of mind. It requires abandoning concepts ingrained in modern life such as maximizing the number of tasks performed in a day.

2. The Necessary Skills for Life

For decades, the skills needed to build and upkeep our homes and other structures, often referred to as “the trades”, have been held in lower regard than most corporate jobs. These skills have become somewhat of a lost art. Recent shortages in “skilled trade labor” serve as a reminder of how important these skills really are. Homesteaders here mention preserving these lost skills in an era of desk jobs and specialization.

3. Society is Fragile

There was also talk about how fragile our society is, and what happens if we experience a collapse or state of emergency. Culture does periodically collapse. In Western Culture, there are two prominent examples of times when some combination of mis-trust, mis-management and mindless destruction lead to a fairly advanced era being followed up by a darker age. The first one was when the Bronze Age collapsed around 1177 B.C. The next is the fall of Rome, just over 1500 years later.

1500 years later, could another collapse be possible? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about the future [1][2]. There are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Regardless of what is to come, it is probably a good thing that a significant portion of the population is interested in learning these skills.

Life here feels like life as it was two hundred years ago with the aid of some new technology. The focus is on more basic needs like food (agriculture) and shelter (building). New advanced technologies, like efficient solar power conductors and extremely accurate scopes on rifle guns, still make it feel clearly easier than 200 years ago.

As is the case whenever there are options, there are trade-offs. In the city we have pressure, pressure to perform for our organizations, pressure to earn enough money to pay our mortgages or rent as well as buy food and all the things we want. There is the need to maintain a certain status in our chosen communities and a need to plan around things like traffic patterns, our schedules and anticipated crowds. However, there isn’t the need to worry oneself with how we get our food, water and shelter. There is also the opportunity to have a more significant impact on people, our society and our culture. It is this burning desire that will likely keep me in cities for the foreseeable future.

However, if there is one thing our current era of division and isolation can teach us, it is to stop looking at all people who make different choices based on different preferences as enemies, or threats.

Our differences make life more interesting. It is a big part of what makes travel worthwhile. If everywhere began to look and feel the same, something would certainly be lost. I do not expect a new dark age to descend upon us. However, regardless of what happens, I think it is a good idea not to piss off the group of people who know how to make our systems of food, water and electricity work.

A Social Contract for 2022 and Beyond

To live in a community, a culture, a society or a nation….

What do we owe one another?

What is our obligation to one another?

How much must we do for the common good rather than pure self-interest?

To what level is it necessary to defer our best judgement to “the group” for a functional society and community to prosper?

The debate about this is likely as old as civilization, it is at least as old as Ancient Greece. The result of these discussions is often referred to as a “social contract.” A Social Contract includes both written and unwritten rules to live by. For example, nearly all places in the world have laws against theft. However, all cultures have unwritten rules around things like acceptable attire, punctuality and relationships. Where I live it is almost rude to show up at a party that starts at 7:00 right at 7. Showing up at 8:30 is normal. But, the same is not true of meetings.

In this time of isolation, it becomes necessary to revisit the social contract.

Recently, those who share my concern about how lonely people have become have taken aim at our culture of rugged individualism. Unfortunately, some manifestations of this criticism have missed the point. Outside of immature insecurities, a person being true to themselves does not prevent them from interacting with others. Our constantly-connected world has increased conformist pressure. This has not lead to better human connections.

Most debates regarding the social contract involve people advocating for less or more of it on two dimensions.

  1. Shared Resources

This is your standard debate between laissez-faire capitalism and those who argue for the redistribution of resources, at one level or another, from the wealthy to the poor. However, it can also take on a non government related form, such as the expected shared resources among certain faith-based groups (ex. tithing) or the way people tend to think more positively about people who give back.

2. Behavioral Expectations

Behavioral expectations can be coded into law but are often enforced through other means. An example of this nearly all people have experienced or observed is a high school group not inviting a person to parties or other social functions based on their preferences and behaviors. Adults do this as well, as it is currently common for people to pressure one another to conform to behaviors deemed consistent with their race, age, gender, political affiliation and line of business.

Many who have become concerned with the negative impacts associated with loneliness have advocated for a stronger social contract. However, the focus has continued to fall narrowly along the lines of the two axes which have been the focus of debate for at least 100 years. Thus far this young century, there has been no shortage of ideas and actions taken to enlarge our social contract on these two axes. Yet, loneliness is even more prevalent than it was in 2000. Sharing resources can only make someone less lonely if they do it through means like sharing a meal together. One person having less and the other having more makes neither of them less lonely if they are still apart. Forcing people to use the same verbiage, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music and frequent the same stores just makes more people boring!

So, what do we owe one another?

Is there a new way to look at the social contract?

Yes, there is. No man is an island, no matter how desperately we want to be one. There is a common prosperity. It is improved whenever people are encouraged, listened to, empathized with and appreciated. It is improved when people are able to be their more authentic self and therefore more productive. It is improved when people share meals, experiences, laughter, dancing and even sadness with one another. It is improved when people have someone to confide in during tough times.

A new social contract requires rethinking power and priorities.

There are a few things we can all agree, universally are harmful and need to be punished, such as murder, theft and blocking traffic. However, we have also often felt the need to “punish” people for things that are not really harmful, like dressing differently or choosing different manners in which to orient their lives. Our predominant work culture has lead to depression among people who are naturally “night owls”. The most recent iteration of this is what we have begun to refer to as “cancel culture”, which has “punished” numerous people for actions that are not actually harmful.

Meanwhile, there are actual harmful behaviors that have historically been ignored that need to be considered when discussing our future social contract. Many people have mistreated their employees, manipulated people or completely disrespected people’s time without suffering any consequences.

So, what do we “owe” each other?

We DO NOT OWE each other…

  • A repression of our authentic selves to avoid making someone uncomfortable
  • Restrictions on behaviors that don’t actually harm anyone
  • Significant amounts of our resources transferred to a central authority

We DO OWE each other…

  • A service each and every one of us can provide for the good of our communities and nations
  • Building communities, being present, listening and understanding, being respectful and encouraging one another
  • A focus on our common humanity and giving all people a fair chance
  • Striving, always, to be better human beings

If we focus on the right axes of our social contract, we can revive our communities and reduce the harmful impacts of isolation WITHOUT sacrificing our freedom. In fact, we will be more free and seeing someone radically different from us will no longer threaten us.

Our Journey

The second half of November is an interesting time of year. In some ways it’s reminiscent of moments like seeing the team behind by 14 points in a football game fumble the ball away with five and a half minutes left. There are six weeks left in the year, but the final result is starting to feel settled. The rest of the year will be consumed by Thanksgiving, the Christmas season and wrapping the year up.

Luckily, the first fifteen days in November produced enough nice days for a few good bike rides around the area.

Other than that, there hasn’t been too much travel since the end of a major trip two months ago.

It’s mostly just been trips to routine types of places in the area as life had me focusing on other aspects of the human journey.

For most people, two months without “considerable travel” would be quite normal. Beyond those that are far more content with routine than I am, some people have recently written some thought provoking rebukes to the increasing importance we have placed on travel. However, after COVID-19 forced many people to spend far more time at home than they are accustomed to, it is hard not to get the itch to travel more, even after a relatively active summer.

I want to travel everywhere except two places.

I generally try to avoid being negative or controversial on this blog. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far. True, the vast majority of us are experiencing some form of fatigue related to people we know who repeatedly rant about the same things and are always trying to stir up a debate. However, that does not mean the rest of us need to be voiceless. I don’t believe the solutions to the problems we are currently experiencing will come from the places where they were created. Therefore, I have no desire to visit Washington D.C. or Silicon Valley at this point in time.

As we start the long process of winding down 2021 with holidays, family time and reflection, a better approach to pondering where we are and where we are going involves understanding and respecting nuance, while also embracing a common humanity. As is the case with nearly every other period in human history, there are cultural developments that I find encouraging and others I feel we need a course correction on. As should also always be the case, some people will agree with me and others will disagree.

I’ll break down my thoughts on where we are all headed into three categories.

  • Awareness and focus on mental health, and a greater acceptance of those who are struggling with mental health issues.
  • More people, especially younger generations being interested in entrepreneurship or similar paths and questioning the rigid 9-to-5 work culture of the 20th century.
  • A greater interest in self care and spending time in nature.
  • Consciousness: People wanting to be more conscious of the decisions they are making. Over three dozen people have told me “doing nothing is still a choice” this year.
  • Often underreported continued global progress on issues like diseases, extreme poverty and literacy.
  • We still continue to move more stuff online, in a world that desperately needs more community and “in real life” experiences.
  • “Safteyism”: How it has created unnecessary bureaucracy and limitations. How it has taken away resiliency, especially in children and created a fragile culture.
  • The politicization of everything. Can’t someone just go to the Chick-Fil-A with their trans friend without pissing everybody off?
  • Identity politics: It’s great that we are acknowledging how people’s experiences differ based on race, gender, etc. but there is SO MUCH MORE to who a person is and we need to stop reducing people to these surface level aspects of themselves.
  • For some reason we are still getting more obese.
  • Now, inflation.
  • Oh, and what’s with all the auto-tuner?

This has got to go already

  • The entire job search process. Seriously, with all of our machine learning and AI, we can’t make this process less time consuming and frustrating? Also, why can’t we make career transitions less daunting?
  • The default assumption that answering all questions and solving all issues begins with a web search at the computer. We humans need to solve issues together.
  • Conformity of all kinds and the limitations we place on ourselves. Who we can and can’t have friendships, emotional connections, experiences and relationships with. Rules about what activities are done at certain times, how we can and can’t dress, etc. I’ve come to realize that they are all based on insecurity and are all limiting the human experience.

As the sun sets on 2021 and each of our individual outcomes for the year become settled, I dream of what 2022, 2028 and 2035 will be like. It is my hope that we move in a direction that provides for more genuine expressions of self and away from the divisiveness, limitations, loneliness, fear and insecurity present in our more disturbing trends.

There is far more nuance than most people want to admit. Entities, from the internet, to social media, our education and financial systems and religion have had both positive and negative impacts. The key is to take these things and use them for positive purposes. Unfortunately for those who want a simple solution (usually based in Washington DC or Silicon Valley), the way we improve the outcomes for humanity is from the ground-up. It’s the sum of all of our individual efforts and something we can all vastly improve if we do what lights us up and reflects our authentic selves in our day to day lives.

In that respect, 2021 has mostly been a disappointment. Hopefully we can overcome the fear to obtain a better future. I’m starting today by more and more living and speaking my authentic truth.

20 Years Later

Okay, so I know this blog is a couple of weeks late. On September 11, 2021 I visited the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska to honor the 20 year anniversary of one of the most horrific events of my lifetime.

Sometimes, it is difficult to explain to those who were not yet alive or too young to remember how this event made a lot of us feel.

Many people describe the period of time between the end of the cold war (1989) and the September 11th attacks (2001) as a “break from history” of sorts. 12 years is not a long time when considering the overall course of history. However, 12 years is significant when it comes to the course of one’s own life. Many people, especially those who were quite young during that time period, got accustomed to a world that did not seem that dangerous.

It is why Trying to Make Sense of It is a very appropriate name for this exhibit. On that day, and for the weeks and months that followed, what most of us were trying to do is try to make sense of it. I recall it was the era of AOL Instant Messenger and when we were away we would put up away messages that would function as kind of an auto-reply to anyone that messaged us. That day mine was…

So we’re different colors and different breeds. And different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong. I never even met you so what could I have done? (Depeche Mode, 1985)

Yeah, I like to quote song lyrics.

The museum exhibit is a really good one. It contains some writing about how we all felt during the event.

There was also bunch of tables where people can use blocks to create their own art. I think it is mainly for children, but I made one anyways.

Typically, when I get a chance to do something creative, I try to do something off the wall. However, with the memories of growing up in pre-9/11 New York, all I really wanted to do was create two identical square shaped towers and remember how the skyline once looked.

The main part of the exhibit is a series of quilts that were made to honor those who died that day. There were a lot of them, some had names, some had flags and other designs. There were people from other countries that died that day, and those flags are represented here too.

Already emotional, the thing that got me into tears was actually seeing the faces of some of the victims. I guess that is how human emotions work.

That day I was generally fixated on the past, listening to a station called XM-FLY, which plays a lot of music from that time. However, I began to reflect on the event’s lasting legacy.

The first few months we seemed so united. For a little bit of time, a moment in history, all of our differences didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were all American. We were all sad, mourning the deaths and pledging to be strong and continue living as free and prosperous people.

This would be the last time in American history anything would feel like that. It wouldn’t be long before we would first become divided over our response to the attacks and military interventions in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Then, a financial crash would cause us to lose faith in many institutions. Social media would further divide us. The economic stress and loneliness caused by these two developments would lead to all new divides, including the generational divide that created “those damn Millennials” and “OK Boomer.”

I wonder what the people who perished that day, especially those who heroically took down flight 93 before it could crash into the White House would think about where we are today. Maybe some of them would understand. Maybe some of these large scale trends are more powerful than any one event. Recently, after viewing some mean spirited content on Nextdoor, an app meant to connect neighbors, I came to the realization that any platform that facilitates asynchronous chat where people do not have to see people’s facial expressions will descend into nastiness, the same way Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have.

Part of me misses that world of national unity. However, it is important to be realistic. First, it was never going to last. The fact that another tragedy that has lead to far more deaths, COVID-19, has only made us more divided is evidence of these more powerful cultural forces. Second, times of national unity commonly revolve around a crisis; the War of 1812, the World Wars, terrorist attacks, etc. Maybe it is time to find some national unity around something positive. However, sadly, with where things are it feels like we could not be further from that moment. There’s too much fear around us.