Topics: literature

On hostility

Recently I read An Open Heart: Practising Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama because I was interested in learning more about Buddism and its philosophies. Here’s a standout passage that really made me think.


There is a certain irrationality in responding to injustice or harm with hostility. Our hatred has no physical effect on our enemies; it does not harm them. Rather, it is we who suffer the ill consequences of such overwhelming bitterness. It eats us from within. With anger we slowly begin to lose our appetite. We cannot sleep at night and just up rolling back and forth, back and forth, all night long. It affects us profoundly, while our enemies continue along, blissfully unaware of the state we have been reduced to.

Free of hatred or anger, we can respond to actions committed against us far more effectively. If we approach things with a cool head, we see the problem more clearly and judge the best way to address it.

Just something to keep in mind anytime you have intense dislike or hatred. There is, in fact, another way.

Climate: A New Story [book review]

If someone were to proclaim that *anyone* over 150 lbs is unhealthy, you’d call that person crazy, right? What about adjusting it for age, height, body type? So when we talk about climate change, why do we only talk about carbon emissions? That’s what Charles Eisenstein examines in his book Climate: A New Story.

What’s the gist?

Conventional thinking on climate change focuses exclusively on carbon emissions. Eisenstein makes the case for broader thinking of the Earth as a living, interconnected system of which humans are part of. Our approach should consider the health of the rivers, forests, soils, and animals that also play a large role in climate. We must shift our focus on averting doomsday scenarios to take real, actionable steps that protect the planet.

Should I read this?

Yes. And to be fair, I wouldn’t bother reviewing this if I didn’t think so. I’m confident that the material will be thought-provoking for you. And if you’re into science, this book doesn’t shun that either. There’s a lot of interesting things people study that I never knew about. The kind of stuff I’m sure that mainstream media would ever tell us. Lastly, as you may have noticed, there’s a general media narrative of “we’re completely fucked” when it comes to climate change. This book takes a more optimistic viewpoint and shows us that the Earth is actually pretty resilient and able to regulate itself well if we work with it.

Notable quotes

“Healing on any level contributes to healing on every level.”

“I am not saying that there is never a time for a fight. I am warning, rather, of the habit of conditioned response of addressing all problems this way.”

“When we rely on metrics to make policy, it becomes biased toward the things that we choose to measure, and that are intrinsically amenable to measurement. Furthermore, what gets ignored often corresponds to cultural blindspots and prevailing social, material, and economic practices.”

“Conditions like ADHD, depression, and anxiety often improve or disappear entirely when the individual interacts regularly and meaningfully with the natural world. The healing of individuals, society, and the world go hand in hand.”

“People have a compelling desire to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of society and the planet, but that pressure to earn a living prevents them from doing so. Or they must struggle against economic pressure to do what the world needs most right now. This suggests a malfunction in our economic system, which, ideally, is supposed to encourage precisely those things that serve the world. Instead, it encourages those things that serve the program of growth, domination, and conquest, the Ascent of Humanity. These goals no longer confer meaning and fulfillment to most of the people who serve them.”

Buy on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

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It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work [book review]

“We don’t have to live that way.” It’s a plea from Sean Nelson’s Born Without A Heart, but also something I like to remember when I’m feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. And it happens to sum up what Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Hansson remind us in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work.

What’s the gist?
Fried and Hansson believe the modern workplace is a sick, vile, chaotic place. But it’s not beyond salvaging. You don’t have to work at a frenetic pace that creates anxiety and burns you out. Instead you can choose calm (and still be damn successful). They spend the book describing what a calm organization looks like and what they’ve learned through trial and error at Basecamp.

Should I read this?
If you’re interested in breaking the status quo of long workweeks, endless communications, unrealistic deadlines, and more — then yes. If the term “hustle” sounds like a basic buzzword to you — absolutely. While you may not be able to implement everything Basecamp does, I’d be shocked if you can’t do something that your organization and employees will benefit from. Also, if you prefer calm like I do, it’ll give you a nice rubric of what to look for in a future job search.

Notable quotes
Holy shit, lots of them. I went overboard, but…

“What’s worse is that long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.”

“In almost every situation, the expectation of an immediate response is an unreasonable expectation. Yet with more and more real-time communication tools creeping into daily work—especially instant-messaging tools and group chat—the expectation of an immediate response has become the new normal. This is not progress.”

“Yes, it’s perfectly okay to have nothing to do. Or, better yet. nothing worth doing. If you’ve only got three hours of work to do on a given day, then stop. Don’t fill your day with five more just to stay busy or feel productive. Not doing something that isn’t worth doing is a wonderful way to spend your time.”

“Open-plan offices suck at providing an environment for calm, creative work done by professionals who need peace, quiet, privacy, and space to think and do their best.”

“We’ve found that nurturing untapped potential is far more exhilarating than finding someone who’s already at their peak. We hired many of our best people not because of who they were but because of who they could become.”

Buy it on:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

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The Dance of the Possible [review]

If you want a better understanding of how creativity works, put down your phone and give The Dance of the Possible your attention. Or, read it on your phone. It has 31 quick and easy-to-read chapters that are perfect for a commute, or as mental fodder as you wind down your day. And it’s all done with a touch of humor that includes Scott Berkun’s obsession with shouting “papaya” out of moving vehicles.

Because (for better or worse) I read lots of book on creativity, I was familiar with much of the material, from how no idea is truly original, to how creativity is rarely efficient and how you can constructively frame the narrative when your work is ignored. However, I still think it’s important to get these reminders that may very well fish you out of the next motivational rut.

But it’s also unlikely you’ll say there’s nothing new here. There’s a chapter that reveals how improvisation can help you become a better thinker, teacher, and human being. Another chapter discusses the difference between requesting feedback and encouragement, and how to go about asking for each. I hadn’t thought about how when we ask for feedback, it’s not always what we want.

What I enjoyed most about this book is it’s celebration of how special any of us are that do creative work. It’s neither easy nor convenient, but it is amazing. And while the modern world is obsessed with making things faster and easier, we shouldn’t be looking for alternatives to committing to the discipline of honoring our ideas.

Books are perhaps the greatest deal out there when it comes to changing your life, but don’t expect this one (or any book) to be your pivotal moment. Like creativity, it’s going to be the product of everything you consume and the time you put in to actually do the work.

Buy on: Amazon

Deep Work [review]

Recently, I’ve become incredibly frustrated with the amount of things vying for my attention. There are people sure, but also email, texts, meetings, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack—it’s overwhelming and makes me inclined to respond with a firm “fuck off.”

The problem is what the always connected state does to concentration and focus. I knew my work quality was suffering. It led me to pick up Deep Work by Cal Newport for some answers, or at the very least some potential solutions. What it ended up being is one of the most important books about work, creativity, and getting what you want out of life that I’ve ever read.

Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, and although you might expect him to blindly embrace all new technology, he doesn’t. He’s careful to weigh both problems and benefits, while still considering other viewpoints or individual circumstances. While I won’t try to relay everything I found interesting, I wanted to leave you with three takeaways I had.

1) Focus matters. The masters of any field are incredibly focused and have a exceptional ability to concentrate. If you want to be that good, you need dedicated time to focus. The other reason deep focus is worth harnessing is that it enables us to learn difficult things fast. This is a crucial skill to have when the world changes so quickly. Success is not about knowing everything, it’s about your ability to adapt and never stop learning.

2) Attention residue is real. We’re not robots. I was familiar with switching costs, but the reason that happens is that when you stop doing a given task, your brain is still working on it in the background after you think you’ve stopped engaging in that activity. One strategy can be to schedule out blocks of your day and what specifically they will be used for. Make sure to build in some time for breaks or rest between activities.

3) Just because something has a benefit doesn’t mean you should do it. Applying this to social media, Newport discusses how we are often quick to defend use of platforms because there’s some benefit. Our thinking is that we don’t want to miss out, or that it can’t hurt. The reality is that it can hurt because it’s detracting from something else. Instead of being active on Facebook, for example, you may have been able to use that time to learn a new skill, exercise, or spend time with a close friend. A good approach is to list out what your priorities are. If your top priorities were say, to become a better photographer and invest in a few close relationships, you might consider eliminating Facebook and Instagram. It’s hard because you might think back to a time where you found someone on Instagram you ended up collaborating with or became good friends with someone through Facebook, but it’s not the best way to achieve your desired outcome. Be smart about what you use.

You don’t have to agree with every point Cal makes in this book to make it worthwhile. The nice thing is that you decide what warrants experimentation, but I’d be shocked if you read the whole thing and didn’t find a few useful strategies that dwarf the cost of the book and your time spent reading it. Give this one a shot.

Buy on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

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