Archive for the ‘Random Observations’ Category

In our busy lives, it is easy to overlook those who are our constant companions. We see them day in and day out as fixtures in our everyday lives. When their relative health and vitality are maintained, they are often relegated to comfortable background noise in favor of more pressing or more interesting matters.

Weeks and months and years may go by like this, hardly noticing–really noticing–that they’re there, faithfully pining away for our meager scraps of attention. It is only at a time of crisis; a health scare, or inconvenient behavior that their presence comes fully into focus. And when they pass away, we are often left bewildered, asking: “Where did the time go?”

More positively, the quality time we invest in our companionship with others blesses us in ways of magical moments and memories. To establish a true, meaningful connection with another being is one of life’s great rewards. It may not be possible to devote as much time to them as we would like. Perhaps instead of striving for “more time” with our loved ones, we should appreciate when we become “lost in the moment” with them. Those moments where we lose track of time, all sense of self, and we are simply connected.

Our companions will not always be constantly with us. Eventually, they will pass on and we will be left with only memories. What matters is the meaning we give those moments of connection. And who can really calculate the value they add to our lives, especially when we leave our hearts open to receiving what they offer us?

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two people arguingToo many times I’ve gotten sucked into religious or political debates online. Whether it’s on Facebook when I see someone posting something I disagree with as it enters my news feed, or vice versa.  Or when I’m reading the comments section of a controversial news story. I read the thread as it spirals downward into name-calling territory and personal attacks and further from the topic.

All too often, these types of conversations devolve into vicious sniping sessions of the worst passive-aggressive variety. I’m convinced that none of these issues will ever be settled by means of a social network platform. I’m not trained in the art of debating. I lack a formal education in the schools of philosophy and theology and indeed the scientific disciplines. But that hasn’t stopped me from having a particular reaction to what I see others posting about these topics.

Why? Why do I have this reaction? It seems like an easy question to answer, but it is something I’ve had to devote some time into self-exploration in order to understand this behavior. If I am so secure in what I believe, or if the belief-system I subscribe to is to me unshakeable, then why have I devoted so much time and effort towards trying to get people to see my point of view? I mean, what does it matter to me if religious people are making declarations of faith? I am a non-believer, so why does this affect me? When people post politically-charged internet memes and links that clash with my own, why am I so affected? These people have the right to the same freedom of speech that I enjoy, right? And difference in political views is one of the aspects that make our society diverse and robust, right? So what’s the big deal? Despite the grim satisfaction I got from these interactions, I couldn’t ignore the nagging sensation that something about this felt wrong. And then it hit me.

frenemyInstead of spending my time squabbling with Facebook “friends” over unresolvable issues, the more important issue at hand here, is how to convince people why it’s important to seek quality information. And indeed, how to evaluate information critically in order to make more informed decisions. The lack of factual information I’ve seen come across social media is alarming. This, I’ve decided, has been the cause of my distress over the so-called “hot button issues.” So instead of getting quicksanded into endless debating, I will try to tackle what I see as the causes for much of this disparity: Bad information/Bad communication.

The internet has been a great tool to gather and spread information, but—as they say—with great power comes great responsibility. The internet has provided us with the access to more information, but MORE doesn’t exactly mean BETTER. In fact, I would argue that it’s more difficult to attain quality information, because first, you have to sift through all the crappy information (and there’s a lot of crap). Before the internet, information had to pass through a more rigorous process in order to be broadcast for public consumption. Now, anyone who wants to say something has a platform (even me). And this is great, because the internet has democratized information, but the rigorous, skeptical process of vetting information has fallen by the wayside.

The internet has become a morass of half-baked truths, bad ideas, and dangerous misinformation. But what’s even more dangerous are the lazy attitudes people have adopted towards seeking truth and disseminating quality information. Social media platforms have become breeding grounds for virally destructive ideas. Often, these ideas are spread through memes. Sure, memes can be funny, stinging, poignant, and factual. Anyone can create them. I’ve used them before. They are like greeting cards; a way to share beliefs and sentiments across the social webs. There is nothing inherently wrong with memes. But memes (especially ones revolving around hot-button issues), can also be factually incorrect, misleading, or propagandistic. The problem becomes when people don’t fact check. As I see it, this is a two-fold problem:

  1. It takes nothing to put something out there, regardless if it’s true or not. Most people don’t take the time to consider the source of the information, but simply accept its existence on the internet to mean that it must be true.
  2. Some people would rather accept information they suspect is misleading if it supports their worldview, especially if it’s entertaining or acerbic.

This type of negligence toward quality information spreading is problematic because it takes little effort to spread poor information and nearly anyone can be a carrier. People have less time and less desire to get into the details of an issue. It’s more convenient to simply “share” a meme.

meanmemeAlthough it can be tedious at times, it is more important than ever to seek out good information. It is key to being a well-informed member of society. Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating information:

  • What is the source? Don’t just accept things at face value. Find out who or what is behind a particular bit of information. Just because it appears on the internet or on the cable news, doesn’t mean it’s true.
  • Is the information credible? Reliable information should be testable, verifiable. Too often, people react to information on an emotional level, which can sometimes cloud the facts. Try to remove personal biases. Seek corroborating evidence.
  • What does the opposing view say? It’s a good idea to understand all sides of an issue. This is not only a good practice for gathering information, but practicing empathy as well.
  • What is the context? Is there any additional information that is able to paint a more complete picture of an event or news story? Literal or Symbolic?
  • What is the intent? Is a particular piece of information designed to inform, or sensationalize? Are all the facts presented or are some of them purposefully obscured to mislead?

These are just a few ways to look at incoming information with a critical eye. There are many resources available that go much further into detail about how to examine information. I will list some of these links down below.

teamworkhandsOn a final note, one casualty of these internet information wars has been civil discourse. Lobbing word grenades at each other from the safety of our computer chairs has become the norm. This is a sad practice that gets us nowhere. I’ve been guilty of this at times and have felt the sick satisfaction that comes from “putting someone in their place.” But how can I expect another person to listen to my ideas or respect me, if I’m unwilling to do the same? There needs to be a return to thoughtful, respectful discourse. And the best way to create that environment is to put it to practice myself. It may be tempting to pulverize an easy target, but as a friend of mine once challenged me: Be the bigger person.

Here are some helpful links for improving your critical thinking skills:

Author and professional skeptic Michael Shermer writes about Carl Sagan’s famous ‘Baloney Detection Kit’

Radio host and political commentator David Pakman’s Critical Thinking Miniseries

CH

How_to_Predict_the_Future_answer_5_xlarge
THE PAST LIFE EXPERIMENT

There are times when I look at my life and wonder, “How did I arrive at this point?” I look at my art, music, and writing as being like the remains of some lost civilization, and I am the archaeologist unearthing them. What inspired me to create these things? What motivated me? What is the relevance of my work? Where is it going? What is it all leading to?

These are some of the questions I hope to answer in The Past Life Experiment. During the course of this project, I will revisit my past and explore my motivations along the path that brought me here.

This soul-searching extends beyond the scope of my various crafts and lies at the heart of what my identity has come to mean to me. This experiment is my attempt to join memory with forward motion. This is my attempt to remember before I forget…

¤

I have seen the future.  It comes to me in my dreams.  Here, I can view my life being played out like a movie.  A surprisingly short movie.  I come here to re-live moments of the past, re-acquaint myself with forgotten memories, and to study the course of my life.  From this vantage point, I can see the whole of my life, all of the great moments and acquisition of knowledge and experience, all of the crests and troughs, the moments of tragedy.  In this place, I can see the interconnectivity of how my path is woven together with others.  The winding channels of lifelines intersecting at pivotal and significant moments.  I can chart the course of how a simple seed of thought is planted, and how it sprouts and blossoms to give birth to other thoughts which determine directions and outcomes later on.  How people can exchange ideas and affect the consciousness of large groups of people.  I can see my role clearly and how it meshes with the greater scheme of existence.  How we are all one.  This is a timeless place, and I feel very safe here.  It is as if I have all of the answers to my questions or, rather, that there are no more questions. 

            I decide to engage myself in the game again.  It’s just too intriguing to not participate.  I know what the consequences will be for playing again, but that’s part of the thrill of the experience.  Like a treasure hunt, you never know what gems you’ll end up uncovering.  But it’s all about the journey.  Of course I understand this concept here and now.  It’s a whole different story when I’m actually immersed in the game. 

            I go through the traumatic process of being birthed by the parents of my choosing.  I remember most of this while in the womb, but being born into the world is so hyperstimulating that I quickly forget my origins and become engrossed in all of the worldly distractions.

            Now I am a child wandering through a marshy field of tall grass.  I am alone, and don’t have many friends.  I’ve always been kind of a loner.  I walk through this field wondering how long it will be before we have to move again. I’m not sure about my life or the future.  It seems like I’m always fearful of something, but not being outside.  I like being out here, exploring.  I don’t care if other people had been here; I wanted to see things for myself, walking the lands.

            Now I am a little older, on stage at a high school band performance.  I finally feel confident enough about playing music that I don’t feel like an imposter anymore.  I command the instrument I’m playing with all the knowledge and sensitivity of my training.  I feel the emotional rise as I contribute my part to a greater piece of music.  I can hear the interconnectivity of the performers all adding their voices to the symphony, their instruments perfect extensions of their souls.

            I travel to my first kiss, and the thrill of being liked by someone.  I can feel the interconnectivity between us as we kiss and explore each other.  I think, this is pretty great…this life seems worth it

            Now I’m in another relationship and we’re fighting.  I have seen parts of her that I don’t like, and even worse, she’s seen some of my ugliness.  I know that things won’t ever be the same between us and I can’t seem to see past a post-breakup life with her.  I ask myself, is this what life is all about?  A series of risks and longshots where nobody really knows the outcomes, or don’t put their energy into the outcomes they want?

            I’m at graduation and it’s like I’m standing on the sidelines watching the whole event take place in fast forward.  I never honestly ever thought of graduating from high school as a reality.  It always teetered on the edge of conceptual thought for me, but here I am.  I guess it was worth it.

            Now I am at a jobsite trying to learn how to strip and wax floors.  I am frustrated and scared that I will be fired for not knowing how to do the job.  It seems that everything that I touch falls apart.  I’m pretty insecure about joining the workforce, but my parents are kicking me out so I have to do something for money.  I wonder, not for the first time, why I have the parents I have.  They’re not very supportive, and it doesn’t seem like they understand me.

            Now I’m in my first apartment.  I’ve just paid my bills and went grocery shopping.  My belly is full and I drift off to sleep easily knowing that I’m taken care of.  My parents were hard on me, but now I’m on my own and I like it.  If life only gets this bad, then I can probably survive like this.

            After a series of job changes and relationships, I finally end up living and working in the city.  My body is noticeably ageing.  Even though I knew this was coming, I always looked at getting older like my graduation day; more of a concept.  I see the people that I used to think were old and wonder about their youth and the trials that brought them along their paths.  I am humbled by the experience of getting older.  The days and months fly by with uncanny speed.

Future

            I am at my niece’s graduation, and all kinds of memories flood back and I realize that I am envious of her youth, just as my elders were envious of my youth in my day.  But now this is her day.  There are so many things that I want to tell her to encourage her, but I know she’ll probably forget it all in the whirlwind of ceremonies and parties.  I realize that one of my biggest fears is losing all of my essence to death.  All of the gathered knowledge and cultivated personality that makes up the character of me.  It terrifies me to think of having to go through it all again.

            I realize that the older I get and the more knowledge I acquire, there is yet other information that quietly slips away.  There are some cherished memories, long-lost loves, forgotten friends that fall by the wayside.  I, not for the first time, regret some of the ways that I hurt others in the past, or wasn’t there, or wished I would’ve done things differently.  Life is to me like a bittersweet lover, both intoxicating and ruinous, teasing me along this path until I die.

            Throughout my life I accomplish many things, there are plenty of obstacles, loves, losses, many revelations, forgotten brilliance, and a good amount of intrigue for good or ill.

            In my final moment of death, I remember that I was the one who elected to play this game, and I remember why I keep coming back to it.  Everything was so rich in value, the good and bad.  To have the ability to sense so much, to feel so many emotions, it was so engulfing that I forgot that I was playing a game.  I slip into death much as I came into the world, and I pass back into the obscurity of the cosmic consciousness, able to rest once again.

 

           tunnel1

One of my favorite shows to watch is Lost.  My relationship with the show has become disenchanted somewhat (perhaps to the point of a loveless marriage), but the first season really spoke to me.  One aspect that I really like about the show, is how these survivors of a plane crash all had their lives previous to the crash, but once they are trapped on this island with each other, they can choose to lead any kind of life they want.  Characters are challenged to overcome the ghosts from their prior lives and often transcend their fears and weaknesses. 

            Aside from the theme of redemption, I think it is exceptional that the show illustrates the potential for a broad range of human behavior. Through all of the situations these survivors are put into, heroes become villains, villains become heroes, and so forth.  The audience gets a glimpse into the sorted affairs of these characters’ past lives and gets to see exactly where they’ve come from and how much the plane crash has changed them for better or worse.

            The older I get and the more of life that I experience, I realize that I too am capable of behaviors that I might deem unsavory even by the standards of my own moral compass.  Unscrupulous deeds that I would normally denounce, I am finding that I have the tendencies for, or at least find myself on the threshold of choices that test my ethics to the very core.   

Are the values that I have integrated into my life constantly up for revision, or is life such a complex dance that I must engage in the dance to discern what I believe in?

            If Lost has illustrated anything to me, it has shown me that anyone is capable of pretty much anything given the right circumstances, and this includes me.  No matter how noble I would like to think of myself, no matter how self-righteous I may believe I am, I must admit to myself that I too am capable of much destruction if the right (or wrong) circumstances are present.  I would like to say that I am above such temptation, but if I am really honest with myself, I find that there is more grey in the world than black or white.

            Fortunately, I am not a victim to indiscretion; there is always a choice.  Even in the throes of deepest iniquity, I must decide whether I will give in to my lower impulses, or remain an agent of that which is virtuous and sanguine.  The crazy thing is that the temptation never really goes away, nor does the testing of one‘s beliefs.  By the simple act of existence, a belief system must be tested in the arena of life to validate it.

            The question is: Will I have the capacity to transform my failures into successes?