Category Archives: sociology

3 Reasons I am More Hopeful at the End of 2022

I generally try to lean into the positive on this blog, because the world is just filled with too much negativity. However, as much as people tend to lean towards and dwell on negative things, we can’t all be positive all the time. Negativity does happen. It does not need to be ignored. We just need to balance out our thoughts by expressing gratitude and appreciation more and maybe reducing the amount of unnecessary negative content we consume.

It is in this vein that I must acknowledge that 2022 is the first time in nearly two decades I am ending the year with a more hopeful view of humanity and our future. So far this century, it has honestly felt like things were getting worse. People feel more divided, isolated and in worse physical, financial and mental health than they were at the turn of the century. 2008, with the financial crisis and smart phones and social media gaining momentum, seems like the pivotal year. I’ve even taken to labelling the period of time since then as the “Little Dark Age.”

Thinking back, two events in particular gave me a preview of the darkness that was to come. First, I saw a whole city collectively “lose their shit” over the results of an election.

In 2004 I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, a city that is quite beautiful and culturally rich. However, at that time, it felt like they were just a little ahead of the curve in becoming obsessed with partisan politics and being outright mean to anyone who even shows an indication that they are not in 100% agreement on issues that largely split the country 50/50.

Then, my friends started getting smart phones. Normally, it is not a bad thing when someone obtains a new product. However, I began to see more and more people become so obsessed with this device that they would ignore the people that are actually in front of them, just staring at the thing the entire time. I just knew this could not be good for humanity.

The world got darker. But now, I see a coming better era. Three moments from 2022 captivate this sentiment.

1. When I met up with my friend who is a professor

My friend Kevin is a professor at Valparaiso University, where I went to college.

I met up with him at the start of the month. We went out for deep dish pizza and went to the Christkindlmarket, because, well, Chicago in December.

I had honestly not seen him since before the pandemic and I asked him about student’s cell phone use. What he said indicated a marked improvement. He talked about how back in 2016, students were constantly being distracted by their phones, doing things like scrolling through social media. He indicated to me that now it seems like the majority of students’ phone use in class seems to be class related. Maybe they’re looking up an equation or a historical figure to enhance what the discussion in front of them is. This feels like a new generation of people is finding a far more productive way to use this technology that recently disrupted our lives.

2. Random song lyrics

These particular song lyrics hit me hard, in a good way, in 2022. They both represent people looking inward as opposed to outward. They represent a switch from the finger pointing and accusations that were quite common during the pandemic to self-reflection and trying to be a better person. This represents a trend that has the potential to be both less divisive and also more empowering. Focusing on what we, as individuals and communities, can do offers far more hope than dwelling on external factors and obsessing over how to either change or exact revenge on certain groups of people.

This kind of echoes what I have been seeing elsewhere in culture, including movies and T.V. shows. Without getting into detail, It feels like from roughly 2017 through 2020 most of pop culture had an us vs. them theme. Many songs, movies and shows seemed to be strongly advocating that everyone adapt perspectives that are in line with what people in Hollywood think (or, just taking them as ground truth despite them being up for debate generally). This year, I saw Top Gun Maverick, Elvis and Spirited, the new Christmas movie. These films, along with some other things I watched this year seem more themed around how we can improve while still being true to who we are. Thus, combining wanting to be better to those around us with acceptance of what makes all of us unique.

3. People I encountered throughout the year

As the year went by, it felt like I was encountering more and more people with a different focus. It started when the Commons on Champa, Denver’s entrepreneurial hub, reopened the last day of May.

This lead to meeting entrepreneurs from all over Latin America, associated with the Young Leaders in the Americas Initiative. What a wonderful, appreciative group of people. I’ve been told multiple times that people from poorer countries are often better at appreciating what they have as opposed to focusing on getting the next thing.

Then, on top of Mount Antero in August, I encountered some of the friendliest people I’d ever met.

They were friends from California and Arizona on a road trip together. They offered me a ride when my dog got blisters on her paws. They picked up litter they saw on the trail. Everything they talked about was positive, things like how amazing the music they were listening to is and astonishment at the scenery on the hike.

For much of the second half of the year I heard countless people describe things like their desire to get away from a lot of the stress and negativity of recent years and reconnect with themselves, their families, communities and nature. I had many people tell me about what they are doing to reduce their screen time, such as placing time limits or deleting apps and adapting new habits.

This culminated with my experiences in Cancun and Chicago in late November/ Early December. Between that and the messages I got from strangers at the Awake Festival and StartupWeek, I felt a level of appreciation I had not felt in years. Sometimes it feels like I opened a portal to accept certain influences in life. Or maybe, the world is finally moving on from the fear based responses we had to the events of 2012 through 2020 and we are finally doing the work that needs to be done to create a better future.

I coined the phrase “Little Dark Age” based on the term “Little Ice Age”, used to describe a cooler period on the planet from roughly 1300 -1850. The “Little Ice Age” reached its apex in 1816, when volcanic eruptions and a relative minima in solar activity lead to what is coined as “The Year Without a Summer.” However, by 1900, we were clearly out of the “Little Ice Age” (and on the path to better food security). My hope is that 2020, the year that everyone was as isolated as ever and yelling at each other over their responses to the pandemic and racial unrest was that moment for this “Little Dark Age”, and that now, we are on our way out, to a better (although not perfect) 2023.

On Being Less “Numb”

The modern world is such a paradox. We are more prosperous, more secure and more comfortable than ever before. Yet, we also seem anxious, depressed and generally dissatisfied. What is going on? What are we missing?

There is something about the modern wold that, at times, can just feel lacking. Days without any meaning. Activities we don’t truly experience. Conversations where everyone’s not really interested and never lead to a true connections. Activities we barely even remember doing. On bad days, it can feel like we have all turned into robots just trying to achieve metrics, numb to all emotions.

Numbness has been attributed to lot of things. Drugs. Alcohol. Certain psychological disorders. Deciding to be constantly be busy. Engaging in only surface level interactions. And, finally, being in a constant state of distraction. The consequences are dire. When we chose to numb ourselves to avoid negative emotions, particularly discomfort, we also deny ourselves positive emotions. We lose the ability to enjoy life.

Over the past month, what I have experienced is most easily described as the opposite of numbness. First, right after Thanksgiving, I returned to the all inclusive resort in Cancun I visited six years earlier.

It was a similar experience. Warmth. Beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean.

Activities by the beach and pool. And, like last time, I made friends with both the other guests of the resort and the staff that coordinated the activities. It ended up being a very emotional experience. Every day I would go to Spanish lessons.

And, I would regularly try to conduct conversations with the staff in Spanish. After several days, those that I had spoken to most started telling me how much they appreciated our conversations. They said that only about 5% of the guests that come to this resort even try to speak to them in Spanish. One of the employees even wrote a heartfelt note.

It was quite emotional and made me sad to leave. I often don’t feel appreciated in normal day-to-day life. It often feels like people are trying to mold me to adapt a certain set of opinions or maximize my output. Here, I felt appreciated for being myself; goofy, curious and friendly. I felt like I was leaving part of my heart in Mexico.

Then, I spent a week with family, with Christmastime in full swing in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The setting couldn’t be more different. I went from vacation back to performing my remote job. I went from sunshine and 86°F (30°C) warmth to clouds and temperatures near 40°F (3°C).

The source of appreciation this time came from little children; my nephew and niece, ages 7 and 5. There were activities and just quality time spent with family. One of them, due to the lack of snow was baseball. My nephew drew me a picture commemorating a moment we had in a backyard baseball game when I hit a grand slam and we did a grand slam dance.

Leaving this place was emotional as well. It feels good to feel appreciated. I wonder why we are often so bad at showing appreciation. I wonder why I am so bad at it. I spent most of my travel time between all of these destinations wishing that showing appreciation was something that just came more naturally.

Also, neither of these experiences were completely free of all the mechanisms attributed to numbness. At an all inclusive resort, plenty of alcohol was consumed.

This did not stop me from truly experiencing both nature and human connection in Cancun.

Time spent with family raising children is always quite busy.

But that did not stop me from being truly immersed in the activities.

What was common to both weeks is that life felt “full”, like I was generally truly experiencing connections with other humans, activities and the world around me. Whatever numbness is common in standard day-to-day life in 2022 was just not there. If we all have a kind of metaphysical door that opens us up to emotion and experience, both good and bad, mine was clearly open and despite the heartache of leaving both places after the weeks were over, it felt so much better than having it closed.

So, how can we escape this numbness that leads to all this dissatisfaction with life? One commonality to these two weeks is that they both involved significantly less “screen time”. When factoring in computers, smart phones and television, the average American spends over 12 hours per day (84 hours per week) in front of screens. These two weeks my time in front of screens was 12 and 34 hours respectively. I was also generally free of anxiety, tight timelines and other forms of negative stress. Perhaps, it is these two factors, constantly being distracted by notifications from our smartphones and/or stressed out by drama and tight timelines that keeps us emotionally numb. Perhaps, as problematic as dugs, alcohol and being constantly busy can be, the stress and constant distraction that prevents us from being truly present is the bigger issue right now.

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.

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.

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.

My First Two Flights After COVID

Okay, this blog should have been titled “My First Two Flights After Vaccination.” There’s this new variant of the virus that is causing an increase in sickness and death in some places. However, given my situation and the statistics presented to me about the effectiveness of the vaccine I received, I returned to living a mostly “normal” life this summer, which included hoping on an airplane for the first time in over a year (although I did still have to wear a mask).

It is often said that people’s actions are a better indicator of what they truly value than their words. When I returned to traveling, my first trips were not to explore some far away unknown place, even though I still really want to do that. Instead, I chose to travel to places that are familiar and not as exciting, for the purpose of visiting friends and family.

My first trip was to Minnesota, to visit with friends from college. This photo is going to appear strange, but my friends decided to produce “flat” cardboard versions of every member of our group so that if we ever have a gathering some people can’t make, we can still kind of bring them with us.

There’s a “flat” version of me too….

This was not a glamorous destination. The main places we explored were Rochester, a town primarily known for the Mayo Clinic, which is certainly not a good place to visit right now, as well as a giant corn water tower.

Some 30 miles Southeast of Rochester, in the Root River Valley, I was surprised to discover that the town of Fountain, MN is the Sink Hole Capital of the U.S.A.

Seriously, it’s not in Florida as we all would have assumed.

But, they celebrate this odd distinction. The main attraction in town is a brewery named for the geological feature that caused the sinkhole here, where they bring in bands and food trucks to celebrate Sinkhole Saturdays.

My other trip was to the house where I would spend the second half of my childhood, ages 11-17, where my parents sill live.

It was for a family reunion where we barely even left the house. Most of what we did was playing games with the children, watch the olympics and do things like arts and crafts.

Both of these trips were a chance to laugh. They were a time to be funny, goofy, creative and social. They were times to interact with the world, the real world, what is physically in front of us rather than something on a screen.

They also both reminded me of past chapters of life. Visiting with college friends, I felt like the version of me I was when I was in college. Interacting with children reminded me of who I was when I was a child. I could not help but engage with that childlike spirit for life.

When I returned to a then smoky Colorado sky I could not help but ponder, and wonder.

Why is it that???

  • At the age of 10, when we interact with each other, our default mode is to play a game, think of something creative, imagine, run around and engage our imagination.
  • At the age of 20, when we interact with each other, we party, we still play games, just a different kind, we goof off, watch things and talk about things like who we find attractive and what event we want to go to next.
  • Sometime after the age of 30, we start to default to conversations about what is angering and dividing us, our latest source of frustration or something mundane.

What happens? Is there something about adulthood, or “adulting” that we are doing all wrong? Can we rethink all of this? Sometimes I feel like we need to.

I’m just fortunate that this summer has provided me with plenty of opportunities to once again engage with the world in a manner that feels far more human than most of what I was doing when we were all far more fearful of the pandemic (as well as a lot of what adult life had become in the 2010s).

It won’t be long before I am off to another foreign land I’ve never been to before. Exploring is something I value quite a bit. However, in the summer of 2021, given the phase of my life I am in as well as where we are culturally, I probably needed to laugh with my friends and family more than I needed to explore. Hidden in everyone’s actions, there is always a reason.