Relying on Others

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Most Americans have grown up with the idea of “rugged individualism” as part of their DNA. We were a pioneering nations and that spirit is part of who we are in many ways.

 

Now, it might be worth reevaluating the risks and rewards of relying on others. There’s no 100% right answer, and as the TV commercials caution, “Your results may vary.”

 

Robert Moore does a deep-dive into this question in his piece: “On the Trail of Interdependence.” What he suggests struck a chord in me, and perhaps it may in you:

“Among Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers” — that special class of backpackers dedicated (or obsessed) enough to walk the trail’s full 2,200 miles — the question of whether to carry a tent is hotly debated.”

“Thru-hikers tend to fall into one of two factions. Some (albeit a minority) insist a tent is unnecessary because the trail is punctuated with wooden shelters, or lean-tos, every 10 miles or so. As a rule, these hikers tend to travel light, cook simply or not at all, and sleep in the lean-tos or other shelters on the trail. But other hikers pride themselves on being self-sufficient: They prefer to camp in a tent far from other people; they carry detailed maps; they would never hitchhike into town just to grab a milkshake. We do not have a precise word for these two personality types. Not yet.”

“Since returning from my own through hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2009, I’ve begun to see these two approaches to life pervading every facet of our society. We could call the one “endarkic” and the other “exarkic” (from the Greek word arkeo, “to suffice”). In political science or economics, the word autarky is used to describe a state of self-sufficiency. Endarky is rather the drive toward self-sufficiency; exarky, its inverse.”

“We all know what an endarkist looks like. America has practically mythologized the type. Most of our best-known nature writers were vocal proponents of endarky: John Muir tramping off with a crust of bread tied to his belt, Thoreau hammering together a cabin beside Walden Pond, Edward Abbey advising his readers to “brew your own beer; kick in your TV; kill your own beef.””

“In the past, we may have called these people “rugged individualists.” They tend to internalize information and skills. They grow their own food, build their own furniture, distill their own whiskey. Truly endarkic people crave solitude and, perhaps less consciously, cataclysm, if only for the opportunity to prove their self-reliance.”

“The exarkic person, on the other hand, is utopian, the type who believes in improving systems, not rejecting them; who does not shy from asking for directions; who would rather rent or share or borrow a home than own one; who has no qualms uploading his digital memories to something called the Cloud; who welcomes the notion of self-driving cars. Exarks prefer a well-trained police force to a well-oiled firearm. They walk, nimbly, with a kind of holy faith, atop wires others have installed.”

“While these terms roughly correspond to the age-old dichotomy between individualism and collectivism, they are not synonymous with those terms. Individualism and collectivism are framed primarily in terms of cooperation and competition, while endarky and exarky are framed in terms of sufficiency.”

 

Curious to learn more? You can read the full article here

Tough Enough?

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David Brooks typically writes thoughtful pieces on issues that impact all of us. He recently penned a piece, “Making Modern Toughness,” that spoke to me. It may speak to you.

Here is part of what Brooks said regarding how we seem to be working hard today to not induce toughness:

“When I ask veteran college teachers and administrators to describe how college students have changed over the years, I often get an answer like this: ‘Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.’”

“That rings true to me. Today’s students are amazing, but they bathe one another in oceans of affirmation and praise, as if buttressing one another against some insecurity. Whatever one thinks of the campus protests, the desire for trigger warnings and safe spaces does seem to emanate from a place of emotional fragility.”

“John R. Lewis may not have been intrinsically tough, but he was tough in the name of civil rights. Mother Teresa may not have been intrinsically steadfast, but she was steadfast in the name of God. The people around us may not be remorselessly gritty, but they can be that when it comes to protecting their loved ones, when it comes to some dream for their future self.”

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. It’s caused by the culture of modern psychology, which sometimes tries to talk about psychological traits in isolation from moral purposes. It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. It’s caused by the status code of modern meritocracy, which encourages people to pursue success symbols that they don’t actually desire.”

“We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge. If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.”

You can read the entire article here

Reality?

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How much time do you spend online? Oh, come on, be honest. I mean all of your time online!

Ross Douthat has a technology-driven hypothesis for why adulthood has become less responsible, less obviously adult. Here is part of what he suggests:

“For the first time in over a century, more 20-somethings live with their parents than in any other arrangement. The marriage rate is way down, and despite a high out-of-wedlock birthrate American fertility just hit an all-time low. More and more prime-age workers are dropping out of the work force— men especially and younger men more so than older men, though female work force participation has dipped as well. This mix of youthful safety and adult immaturity may be a feature of life in a society increasingly shaped by the internet’s virtual realities.”

“It is easy to see how online culture would make adolescent life less dangerous. Pornography to take the edge off teenage sexual appetite. Video games instead of fisticuffs or contact sports as an outlet for hormonal aggression. (Once it was feared that porn and violent media would encourage real-world aggression; instead they seem to be replacing it.) Sexting and selfie-enabled masturbation as a safer alternative to hooking up. Online hangouts instead of keggers in the field. More texting and driving, but less driving — one of the most dangerous teen activities — overall.”

“The question is whether this substitution is habit-forming and soul-shaping, and whether it extends beyond dangerous teen behavior to include things essential to long-term human flourishing — marriage, work, family, all that old-fashioned “meatspace” stuff. That’s certainly the impression left whenever journalists try to figure out why young people aren’t marrying, or dating, or in some cases even seeking sex. An article in the Washington Post put it this way: “Noah Paterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously … to shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste.”) The same impression is left by research on younger men dropping out of the work force: Their leisure time is being filled to a large extent by gaming, and happiness studies suggest that they are pretty content with the trade-off.”

Read this article here.

Our Veterans

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Sunday was the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001, our century’s day of infamy. This somber day was remembered in a number of appropriate ways, and talked about in the media.

What we should also remember is that these attacks spawned the global war on terrorism – a war we continue to fight a decade-and-a-half later.

By “we” I mean most Americans in spirit, but only a few in fact. Those few, the less-than-one-percent of Americans who serve in uniform-and thousands who have lost their lives since 9/11.

That’s why a recent op-ed by Frank Bruni, “Elites Neglect Veterans” caught my eye. Bruni explains, “the shameful the dearth of ex-military students in elite universities.”

Our veterans who have put their lives on the line for all of us deserve a chance for a seat in elite universities. We have a long way to go, and Bruni presents some sobering, shameful, stats.

You can read the full article here.

Contemplation Therapy

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We’ll all heard that mindfulness medication is all the rage. But where’s the science? Is there any science?

The benefits of mindfulness meditation, increasingly popular in recent years, are supposed to be many: reduced stress and risk for various diseases, improved well-being, a rewired brain. But the experimental bases to support these claims have been few. Supporters of the practice have relied on very small samples of unrepresentative subjects, like isolated Buddhist monks who spend hours meditating every day, or on studies that generally were not randomized and did not include placebo­ control groups.

Now, a study published in Biological Psychiatry brings scientific thoroughness to mindfulness meditation and for the first time shows that, unlike a placebo, it can change the brains of ordinary people and potentially improve their health.

To meditate mindfully demands ‘‘an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experience,’’ says J. David Creswell, who led the study and is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.

Read this article here

 

 

The Job You Love!

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Full disclosure – I enjoy working. What’s more, for as far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had. And the more I read, the more I realize how lucky I’ve been.

A recent New York Times article spoke to me – and I think you too will find it meaningful. The title, “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love,” deconstructs this subject in a way that makes sense to me. Here is part of what Frank Hunter shares with the rest of us:

“Social scientists have been trying to identify the conditions most likely to promote satisfying human lives. Their findings give some important clues about choosing a career: Money matters, but not always in the ways you may think.”

“It’s not just that more money doesn’t provide a straightforward increase in happiness. Social science research also underscores the importance of focusing carefully on the many ways in which jobs differ along dimensions other than pay. As economists have long known, jobs that offer more attractive working conditions — greater autonomy, for example, or better opportunities for learning, or enhanced workplace safety — also tend to pay less.”

When most people leave work each evening, they feel better if they have made the world better in some way, or at least haven’t made it worse.”

How’s that working for you?

You can read the full article here

 

Follow Your Bliss?

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We all want to be happy. And if you watched any of the news coverage of last month’s college graduations you heard a number of prominent people encouraging graduates to follow their bliss. Really? Is this good advice for people who are stepping into adulthood and into the real world? I read a great article in the New York Times where Jennifer Kahn says NO!

Here is part of what she said in her article, “The Happiness Code:”

Most self-help appeals to us because it promises real change without much real effort, a sort of fad diet for the psyche. (‘‘The Four-Hour Workweek,’’ ‘‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’’) By the magical-thinking standards of the industry, then, the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) focus on science and on tiresome levels of practice can seem almost radical. It has also generated a rare level of interest among data-driven tech people and entrepreneurs who see personal development as just another optimization problem, if a uniquely central one.

Yet, while CFAR’s methods are unusual, its aspirational promise — that a better version of ourselves is within reach — is distinctly familiar. The center may emphasize the benefits that will come to those who master the techniques of rational thought, like improved motivation and a more organized inbox, but it also suggests that the real reward will be far greater, enabling users to be more intellectually dynamic and nimble. Or as Smith put it, ‘‘We’re trying to invent parkour for the mind.’’

Read more of this killer-good article here

Scorched Earth – iTunes’ Summer’s Biggest Books

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iTunes featured Scorched Earth as one of this “Summer’s Biggest Books”, in the Mysteries and Thrillers category. Get your copy today!

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So That’s It!

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Is there a more important question than this: “What is love?” It’s even the title of a popular song (Haddaway – 1993). Is love wile ecstasy – or flannel pajamas?

I think that for most of us, we’d pick the first answer. But then we’d think about it some more and wonder if that’s all there is to a relationship.

I just finished a great book, A Book About Love, by Jonah Lehrer. I decided to get the book – as I did for so many other books I’ve enjoyed – based on book review by David Brooks.

Here’s part of what David said in his review last month:

For Jonah Lehrer, true love is not usually like this. In “A Book About Love” he argues that this wild first ecstasy feels true but is almost nothing. It’s just an infatuation, a chemical fiction that will fade with time. For Lehrer, love is more flannel pajamas than sexy lingerie; it is a steady attachment, not a divine fire. For Lehrer, attachment theory is the model that explains all kinds of love.

He also sees marriage through the prism of attachment. Marriage itself, Lehrer argues, is not about finding a soul mate, or your mystical other half. It’s not even about finding someone like yourself. As he writes, “A 2010 study of 23,000 married couples found that the similarity of spouses accounted for less than 0.5 percent of spousal satisfaction.” It’s about finding someone with steady emotional tendencies and then being stubborn in the face of the nagging incompatibilities that will be there at the beginning and will never go away.

The book’s out there in most libraries. I’m all-but-certain you’ll enjoy it!

You can read the full review here

Turning Point

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Go to school, work hard, succeed, get a job, work hard, succeed, raise a family, pay the mortgage, repeat….  Sound familiar. How many of us get on the treadmill and stay there, without finding out what we’re passionate about, let alone acting on it. Clare Ansberry offers some thoughts on the subject – compelling thoughts. Here is what she shares:

A dream prompted Martin Seligman, psychologist and author, to shift his research to humans from animals. Archaeologist Joyce White was drawn to Southeast Asia by an image of the Thai countryside in a slide presentation. A chance encounter with an elderly homeless man led physician Lara Weinstein to her work treating marginal populations. “It was almost like a transcendental experience,” says Dr. Weinstein, a family doctor in Philadelphia.

Such events are more prevalent than one might expect. A 2006 Gallup poll of 1,004 adults, the most recent it has done on the subject, found that 33% of Americans said the following statement “applies completely” to them: “I have had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of my life.”

The experiences vary. A revelation, directive or message comes unexpectedly. A series of unlikely synchronistic events occur. Some people sense a divine presence, and others feel deeply connected to something larger than themselves, be it nature or others around them, and pursue more altruistic work.

People of all ages and faiths, agnostics and atheists, have such experiences, yet they rarely talk about them. They’re concerned others will dismiss them as delusional or won’t take them seriously. Sometimes words fall short of conveying the intensity of what they felt.

Read the entire article here.