When I was growing up, my dad always did something that I found to be a bit strange. After emptying a bottle of juice into his glass, he would set the bottle down for a minute or two. He would then take the seemingly empty bottle and attempt a re-pour. Unfailingly, a few measly drops that had since resettled to the bottom of the bottle came out into his glass. This frugal ritual was repeated time and time again, meal after meal. It always felt purposeless to me – a micromanagement of an insignificant system.
I’ve grown up a lot since that time and my views on many things have changed. I now often catch myself viewing the world through a lens that I would imagine is similar to my dad’s. Waste here. Waste there. Overconsumption. Now I cannot think of a reason why I should not pour that extra amount into my glass, so I do. Hell, it is kind of a cool trick. And, in addition to being practical and respectful, I find it a meaningful way to pay a tiny tribute to my dad. I think he had it right the whole time.
There is something that intimidates me about writing, and the intimidation compounds the longer I don’t do it. Even so, I was surprised to see that my last update was before summer started, it now being long gone. I opened up the blog just now in an attempt to get something – anything – down, to allay some of the intimidation. I have found that taking baby steps in pursuing the various interests in my life has really helped me with the follow through.
Ideally, I would like to write a short piece every day. The content would not have to be mind-blowing. It would more be a habit forming activity so that when true inspiration does hit I am not too self-repressed to get it down. I’ve really taken the Aristotelian quote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” to heart over the past year or so. It has helped me in other arenas – hopefully it can here as well.
I recently came across a video about a bus monitor named Karen Klein who was subjected to terrible bullying by four individuals in middle school. The recorded interaction was put on Youtube (warning: lots of bad language) and Karen received a lot of deserved sympathy from the community. Then something else interesting happened: someone started a campaign to raise money for Karen so that she could go on a nice vacation. The initial goal was set at $5,000, but as the time of this writing the campaign is on day 2 of 30 and has already acquired over $500,000. (Incidently, as is usually the case when a lot of money is involved, articles begin popping up relating to the monetary amount of the campaign, with the emotional content of the event as a subtext.)
With only a cursory glance at this phenomenon and others like it one is apt to think “an injustice is on the path to recovery” and to have a somewhat restored faith in humanity. Indeed – this view is perpetuated by articles like those previously linked which proclaim things like:
Never underestimate the charitable good will of the Internet.
However, articles and attitudes of this nature cultivate a false sense of altruism while giving us a glimpse of the current cultural milieu: that people want to be a part of a story. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that the raising and donating of money in situations like this is bad in and of itself, but contrasted against the backdrop of the broader landscape of widespread poverty, starvation, homelessness, etc, it seems irresponsible. Taking the case of starvation: the United Nations estimates that approximately 25,000 people starve each day. Consider what it would feel like for you to starve or to watch a family member starve and the fact that it happens each day to way more people than you have ever met. Couple this with the fact that 1.4 billion people exist on $1.25 a day (purchase power parity adjusted) as of 2005 it is quite easy to see how $500,000+ could benefit these people massively more than just one woman who has been mistreated, leaving aside the question of whether or not money is the appropriate vehicle to resolve a social injustice of this nature.
This is not to subscribe to the fallacy that “you made a mistake in donating to X because you could have gotten more utility donating to Y”. While this is a good rule to hold in general, a categorical following would quickly lead one insane. The point I really want to make is this: people, when presented with a story (and by this I mean a narrative like description of a real social event, often with beginning, middle, and end) are compelled to be involved – much more so than with isolated, stale facts like poverty which have been around for a while and don’t quite carry the same romanticism and immediacy as the current drama on the news.
One of the few bloggers that I follow is Scott Hanselman. He generally write about computer programming and life more generally and I usually enjoy the pieces.
A recent post of his entitled Who is on your Life’s Board of Directors, however, has a seemingly innocuous element that I have seen recurring that just doesn’t sit right with me. Hanselman writes (his bolding, not mine):
My wife and I talk a little about mission statements in the context of marriage in our (perpetually) upcoming book on Relationship Hacks.
He goes on to say:
Companies have mission statements and a Board of Directors. Your life is pretty important. Why not create a Life Board of Directors to help you through it?
While I get the overall point he is trying to make, it seems somewhat scary to me to use business terminology as an analog for handling one’s closest relationships. In a time where people are working more and more hours on average and spending less and less time with their families, it seems prudent to me to separate work life from family life as much as possible – the intermingling of language between the two concepts seems dangerous.
Also, the overall idea expressed in the article is simple: have a group of people in your life that can support you and lead you in the right direction. Too often, it seems, we use simple metaphors as shortcuts for concepts that really don’t need them – they are clear enough without them.
I was fortunate enough to have my parents come visit me and Michelle this weekend. We did more sightseeing than we had in the past, including visiting the American Art Museum (and seeing the awesome Art of Video Games Exhibit), going to Eastern Market, going to the Kennedy Center, and going to the Botanical Gardens.
It always amazes me how differently I can feel about things in the span of just a couple of years. My memory of my last visit to the Botanical Gardens is one of boredom. I remember having a “that’s it??” feeling as I walked through it. This time around I had a much deeper appreciation of what I saw – Michelle said she felt the same way.
Another interesting point of the weekend is how different people’s perspectives can be. There were a few times when my dad pointed out something that he found very interesting that I had just walked by in the past. For example, in Eastern Market there is a man who sells giraffes that are fashioned out of torn up soda cans. I had seen this many times in the past in Eastern Market, but I never really stopped to look at it. By him causing us to spend time at the booth, I got a closer look and a better appreciation of what the man had to offer. It was a good reminder to think like a traveler and also that people have vastly different perspectives. I have been trying to be conscious of when someone has a different perspective than me and to see where they are coming from – it has really helped me get a richer worldview.