Nudity, poetry and truth

Three quotes that my brain strung together in under 10s upon reading the first for the first time just a moment ago.

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who is swimming naked.

Warren Buffett in this article (via @swiss-miss)

Then there’s this one from my great love of Bob Dylan

A poet is a kind of naked person. Some people call me a poet.

And then finally this beauty which goes unattributed but which I saw in the film The Big Short.

Truth is like poetry. And most people hate poetry.


Photo by Tony Reid on Unsplash

Co-operative strategy

An idea shared is more powerful than one that’s hidden. A technology standard outperforms a proprietary one. A community is stronger than divided individuals ever could be.

– Seth Godin

A common belief in business, life, creativity, existence is that in order to thrive, you must escape scarcity. What that looks like in practice is:

  • Hoard access to ideas in order to be seen as inspirational
  • Find markets that no-one else has appreciated
  • Pull the ladder up behind me when I get a promotion
  • Etc. Etc. *YAWN*

In game theory, when you follow non-coöperative strategies, by definition you create a winner and a loser.

If there is only one piece of cake, the winner is the person who gets it. The loser is the person who goes hungry.

If I want to open a pizza shop, I could open it on a block with no other pizza shops. I might occasionally entice in a customer with whose stomach rumbled as she was passing by.

Alternatively, I could open on a block with multiple pizza stalls and benefit from all of the customers who already know they want pizza.

This is a co-operative strategy. Who makes more money selling pizza? The people who just want to sell a lot of individual slices? Or the people who want to sell the whole pie?

Your answer to this question can tell you a lot about your relationships, your business, your life.


Photo by Luca Florio on Unsplash

Something else

I can’t count the number of times that I have told people who are looking to accomplish something: “There are two ways you can go through life. Filling in the application form, or something else.”

Applications forms are a race to the bottom. You can get really good at filling them out. You can submit a bunch of them and you might not ever hear anything. Plus, you’re at the mercy of the person assessing a big stack of almost identical applications.

Or you can choose something else.

You can choose to create your own path. You can choose to start your own thing. You can achieve the same goal through a different route.

In marketplaces where everyone sells for the same price, it’s not possible to sell the same product for a higher price.

With a little creativity and a healthy appetite for risk, you can accomplish a lot.

I’m a ‘something else’ kind of person. The application form bores me. I’d rather struggle in the short term and win in the long term than take an quick, boring route to a lot of struggling.

It’s unchartered territory, but it’s exhilarating to go off the beaten track.


Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

The way to love

Recently, I read a copy of The Way to Love: Meditations on Life by Anthony de Mello. He was a Jesuit priest from India. His writing was beautiful and clear. This book was full of wonderful insight and at times I felt as though he was speaking directly to me.

Recall the kind of feeling you have when someone praises you, when you are approved, accepted, applauded. And contrast that with the kind of feeling that arises within you when you look at the sunset or the sunrise or Nature in general, or when you read a book or watch a movie that you thoroughly enjoy. Get the taste of this feeling and contrast it with the first, namely, the one that was generated within you when you were praised. Understand that the first type of feeling comes from self-glorification, self-promotion. It is a worldly feeling. The second comes from self-fulfilment, a soul feeling.

Each meditation – they are about 3-6 minutes reading time, mostly – takes a verse from the Bible, that you’ll probably have already heard even if you’ve no interest in the Bible. Then he unpacks it in a way that seems so applicable to the life that we lead now.

I would say that some of his ideas are clearly based in Eastern philosophy but why should that matter? If you are looking at the Bible from a purely Western perspective, you miss so much of the nuance of what Jesus speaks about in particular. I think that Christians in the West would benefit from understanding Middle Eastern and Asian thought a little more.

For example, his focus on the concept of attachment is very similar to a lot of Buddhist thought in particular.

Don’t stop till you have grasped this truth: The only reason why you too are not reacting calmly and happily is your computer [In this context, de Mello refers to his brain as a computer] that is stubbornly insisting that reality be reshaped to conform to its programming. Observe all of this from the outside so to speak and see the marvellous change that comes about in you.

I can certainly recognise my own attitude to my own output in this section:

You must cultivate activities that you love. You must discover work that you do, not for its utility, but for itself. Think of something that you love to do for itself, whether it succeeds or not, whether you are praised for it or not, whether you are loved and rewarded for it or not, whether people know about it and are grateful to you for it or not. How many activities can you count in your life that you engage in simply because they delight you and grip your soul? Find them out, cultivate them, for they are your passport to freedom and to love.

Anyway, it’s a great book. I highly recommend it. Enjoy it.

***

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

 

There are no more good things

I love Daily Shouts on The New Yorker and today there’s this gem of a piece that feels so relevant.

Before, there were flowers and rainbows and babies’ smiles, and they were all good things. They’re still around today, but now they’re bad things. Flowers now smell like off-brand yogurt. Rainbows now have pre-roll videos. And babies still smile, but they’re smiling because they approve of efforts to dismantle our country’s social safety net.

www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/there-are-no-more-good-things/amp

***

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

Who flourishes because you exist?

Republishing this post that I wrote three years ago because it feels more important now than it did then.

***

A friend of mine recently misquoted me in conversation and I looked like a monster.

— Remember that time that Marc told us we were all worthless? she said.

— Hmm. You kind of need to get the whole context, I said, so that I won’t sound like a terrible person. That’s not quite what I said.

I will explain to you the context of this.

***

I believe that there is an eternity. I won’t go into the details but I believe that time has no beginning and no end. There is a vast, incomprehensible expanse of existence which we created a scale for. We created a scale because we are humans and we called it time and we endlessly bemoan its passing.

When I panic or worry that I am doing something that will have a negative effect on my own life, and I often do worry about this, I reassure myself with the complete inconsequence of my actions.

If there is no beginning and there is no end, I say to myself, then the 80 or 100 years that I live on this earth are less than a blip on the grand radar of eternity.

As Milan Kundera says in his sublime The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

“Life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. We need take no more note of it than a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world…”

I fall backwards into the soothing fact of my insignficance.

***

And at the same time, the fact is that the eighty or hundred years that I live seems incomprehensibly long. I am now 27. If I live to a hundred, I have now lived over a quarter of my life. I will not live to a hundred.

My life is at once impossibly brief and impossibly long. And whichever way I look at it — depending on my mood probably — I feel wonderfully hopeful because I know that there are billions of people just like me and there have been billions who have lived happily with just this realisation.

***

Last night I was watching a video with some friends at my house. And the video asked the question: who flourishes because you exist?

And that really made me think. A lot.

The prevalent goal for mankind is: you flourish first, others flourish second.

This is why we think nothing of the millions who will be affected by a cut in benefits but make so much of a politician who inspires a threat to a comfortable, low tax lifestyle that may benefit us more.

It is the reason that we close our borders to refugees and those who need shelter.

Our existence, mostly, causes us to flourish.

Isn’t that a hopeless statement? That if everything works out well, and all our schemes, policies and actions prevail, we will be the ones to benefit — regardless of the cost?

***

And whatever, I’m not here to preach. And maybe the person that I have described is not you. Probably not. I don’t know you. I don’t know what you think about the world.

But I know myself and I thinkof all the times when I panicked more for my own comfort than the comfort of others. I think of the overwhelming self-interest that dominates my daily life.

And then I think about the hope of existence. The apparent brutality of an existence that matters so little in the grand scheme of things.

If I continue to be self-interested, I will one day disappear and that temporal bandit will continue to rule without mentioning me.

I think that the only hope for a meaningful existence that we can agree on is to sacrifice your self interest to the flourishing of others.

To spend life doing anything other than this seems complete vanity to me now.

And the key thing, I think, to make sense of all this mess is to avoid looking at the big picture too much. If we do that, we’ll become paralysed by our own insignificance, and forget that a large picture is nothing but a thousand million tiny brush strokes.

Every action matters. Every single word. Every thought that you have is a chance to help someone flourish or flounder.

***

But what do I know? I’m just a middle class white kid with a monthly mortgage payment and a study full of books.

***

Photo by @g on Unsplash

No guru, no method, no teacher

When you’re dealing with a difficult situation, it’s easy to get lost and to start looking for the well recognised way out.

If you’re running a business, for example, and things aren’t going too well, it’s easy to look at it and say: well, my sales system’s not working, but the way to solve that problem is to make more sales.

It’s probably true. But it’s also complete insanity to approach life that way.

What you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, simply doing more of that won’t improve things.

But there’s no rule book for life. Your situation is entirely unique. There are lots of people who have done similar things to you. But none of them has been you in your moment; in your skill set; in your desires; in your fears.

Change your circumstances in whatever way you feel is possible. If people tell you that you cannot do something, you don’t need to listen to them. They have never been you.

There is no guru, there is no method, there is no teacher.

***

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash