The Cavalry: the values of serving

If you’re interested in occasionally volunteering in a group for those in need in the Twin Cities while staying safe from COVID-19, then contact me.


If you built an army of volunteers, what values would you instill in them to keep the culture together? Kevin asked just that. How would we answer Kevin?

  1. Humble Service
  2. Community
  3. Reality
  4. Respect For Others

Humble Service: This is the meaning of life for us. It is in our blood. It gives us energy. It aligns how we view ourselves and the world. We don’t get so full of ourselves to think that we are above any other person. We know that giving creates more giving, which creates a better world for all. Humility gives us a hunger to always be open and learning. We serve others because that’s how we orient our lives toward good in the world and away from distractions.

Community: We build a community of doers. We volunteer and serve with each other. We create bonds through shared experiences. We lean on each other for support. We empower each other to try new things. We push each other to increase our service impact. It’s a group of individuals formed by a common goal and purpose. It’s about We.

Reality: Do you feel out of touch? Come see what the real world is like. Your daily life is nothing like what others experience. Come see what real people are living through. In particular, let’s expose ourselves to others going through difficult situations. They could be just like you. The reality is, this could be you. So, the ones who have it easier are responsible to help others who need help. Understanding the full breadth of human experience will enrich your life and give gratitude for the little blessings.

Respect For Others: This dose of reality gives us respect for others, no matter who they are. Understanding how difficult circumstances affect normal people enables us to see that people are just people. But some are going through harder circumstances than others, and they need our help. They deserve our respect. We do not believe that any people are less deserving of respect because of their lifestyle, choices, or circumstances.

The cavalry’s mission to serve is clear.

What I tell new graduates now that I’ve been working for six years

My brother just graduated from university to join the working world. As a typical older brother does, I decided to offer my unsolicited advice.

No, we don’t know what’s going on with COVID-19. No, we don’t know exactly how companies should address social issues. But we are figuring it out. It’s a work in progress. Companies, like people, are always changing.

Employment is a transaction. The company treats it as such. Look at the job description and pay. Your employment is an exchange of value: delivering the stated items on the job description in return for value.

In response to their expectations, you can prepare. Be clear about what you want to get out of your employment. List out three things that you’ve learned at every stage in your life. Then come up with three things during this transaction (thank you to Dave Kerwar for this suggestion!).

For example, at your previous employment you learned:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. How to work as an individual contributor as a team
  3. Technical knowledge of data integration

Then at your next stage in life, you can learn through:

  1. Ownership of projects, work-streams, projects, or services
  2. Experience of how different business units work together
  3. Management of a team of people

The company will pay you for the value you give them. But state a few non-monetary things you want out of the experience, and the smart company will be happy to give you more of it. You work more on the things you enjoy, which gives the smart company more value. It’s a win-win.

To do this, you’ve got to be honest about what three things you want out of the employment transaction. The smart company will be doing the same.

Using a rubber band to fight racism

Whenever I do something, I do it small.

Every month, I make one significant change of my life to add a new beneficial habit or to undo an unhealthy habit. These healthy habits stay with me after the month ends, and I’m onto the next one.

This month of June, 2020, I am putting in effort to notice when I perpetuate racism. And when I notice it, I am taking responsibility to stop it.

I am wearing a rubber band when I go out. Whenever I judge someone unfairly based on their race, then I will snap the rubber band against my wrist. The pain associated with the previous action trains me to not do the previous thing. I am training myself to not be racist.

When I make this judgment on race, I restrict the opportunity for others to prove their character. This is unfair. If many people do this a few times every day, then this is systemic racism.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Human behavior is complex. There are many other factors that contribute to differences in outcomes, such as wealth or attractiveness. Wealthier people and more attractive people have more opportunities and are more successful. But these topics are beside the present issue, which is race: the color of your skin should not dictate your opportunity because that’s how our country is supposed to work.

We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater; to say that we cannot solve all injustices and so we shouldn’t solve any. Rather, we can start with one: race.

It is constitutionally unfair that our country is designed to give all Americans equal opportunity, but in practice, this doesn’t happen to different races. If black Americans face more barriers to opportunities for justice and education and competition based on their race, whereas I am privileged to get the most opportunities because I am white, then our system is not working as designed and it needs to change.

There’s a difference between unfair outcomes and unfair opportunities. If two students take the same test in the same school and get different scores on a test, this is a difference in outcome. But if possession of drugs is a crime in one zip code and therapy in another zip code, this difference of outcome is likely pointing to a difference in opportunity.

Furthermore, if there has been overt racism in policies that restrict opportunities by race, then getting rid of a racist policy doesn’t mean the racism is gone forever. It could be written into our inner lives from our past. For example, historical Minneapolis housing covenants specifically restricted housing opportunities by race. The neighborhoods that formed as a result have not instantly changed in less than a century. Thus, this injustice could be playing out in individual interactions (or lack of) on a daily basis.

I am a vehicle of cultural systems. The ideas from culture flow through me. Most ideas are positive. But many are negative, such as racism. Even if I am not a racist (which is not guaranteed) and thus I do not come up with my own racist thoughts, it’s still my responsibility to stop systemic racism from flowing through me into my thoughts and behaviors.

George Floyd’s story is different

Source

George Floyd was killed unfairly. Why is this so significant?

Before diving in, please note: I am not black and I live in a position of privilege, and so George Floyd’s death as well as other similar deaths have not affected me as directly as they’ve done my black colleagues. But I see and empathize with this pain and fear, so I must speak out.

Also, police officers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world; often making quick judgment calls in stressful situations. I trust our police force and know that occurrences of unfair brutality are rare; but they must stop.

What’s different about George Floyd?

Why was this event unique? 1. The events moved slowly, and 2. We saw enough on video.

In many videos in which police use excessive force, the situation typically moves fast and thus it’s not clear whether the result was justified. Any small action or movement push the officer to pull the trigger and shoot in a split second. It’s impossible to see that same action or movement in the video that caused the officer to pull the trigger. So, we cannot have full certainty whether the officer acted unjustly.

George Floyd’s death was different. We see the video clearly. Derek Chauvin and the other 3 officers had 9 minutes of slow bleeding while George was handcuffed, face down in the street, and calling for his mom for help. Once the clock started ticking and Derek put his knee on the neck, there was no need for a quick judgment call. George was already apprehended and the officer was in a position of power. Even if Derek felt in danger, Derek had 3 officers as backup to reposition George from a fatal hold into a non-fatal hold. In fact, this is actually how good officers are supposed to apprehend suspects: hand-cuff the suspect and then reposition them.

But not this time. Every second that Derek held his knee on George’s neck was a second he chose to actively continue murdering George. Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

George did not face a fair trial for his alleged crime. He was arrested, which we trust our police force to decide when to do. But George was not treated according to just practices given the opportunity to face a trial. Instead, the officer carried out a slow murder on the street in full awareness while others in power watched. Maybe George was guilty. But our country has a justice system that is promised as “innocent until proven guilty” to all. With countless evidence showing how black people are treated over-proportionately as criminals, the justice that is promised is not provided to all.

I identify as someone that has not felt the pain of black issues from systemic racism; however today I woke up to see this as a human issue. No human deserves a knee to the neck in the street by anyone for 9 minutes until they suffocate on their own blood.

A whole lot of Maybes

It’s currently unknown why Derek and the officers carried out the execution for 9 minutes. The reason could occur at any level. Maybe the ethical imbalance of how to treat certain humans was in Derek as an individual. Maybe as a group of 4 officers, their morality was off. Maybe it was racism in the police precinct, or maybe institutionalized systemic racism. Maybe none of that. Maybe a bit of everything.

Maybe the result of how the officers face charges will expose systemic racism, institutional racism, or some other form of injustice. Maybe they were all having a bad day and George was really unlucky.

What’s clear is that this cannot happen again to any human being.

So, we need something to police the police. We design similar systems for other groups with power and privilege like banks and government branches. We need a review board of how law & order treats crimes and criminals.

We’ve seen this too many times before

This was not the first time that an unarmed black civilian has been killed. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Philando Castille. Tamir Rice. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.

In the past, I would defer to authority. I didn’t know the whole story, so I’d let the experts and the system carry out justice. But the evidence in this case is undeniable that Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Now, this makes me question whether past events were judged fairly and why police trials for civilian killings are so rare.

There is something going on and it is not new. Minorities and underprivileged people, but especially African-Americans, have been treated unfairly for centuries in this country from the very beginning. And there is still imbalance of treatment today. We thought we solved it before. But we are seeing the unresolved injustice more often now, because people are filming and sharing events. I was in willful ignorance a few years ago.

Those on the receiving end of imbalance are used to feeling this pain and fear from systems meant to protect or support us. But those who have rarely experienced this imbalance of opportunity need to wake up and see how fairness that is promised does not always equal fairness given.

What do we do?

The right thing to do is to identify areas of imbalance of opportunity; why a drug crime in one neighborhood is a sickness, while the same crime in another neighborhood is a felony. Why? If the crime is the same, then why is our justice given out differently? Why are unarmed black people killed at higher rates? Then we address them. Then we change them.

We as people with privilege have a responsibility to make change, share our opinion, and address these issues. Let’s educate ourselves to have wisdom and empathy for those experiencing systemic imbalance.

Where as a country have promised one thing, but practiced another? Suppose that George Floyd was killed because he was black or poor or suspicious within a country that accepts institutionalized racism. Then we can talk and think about why other unfair imbalances occur, like why the iPhone facial recognition has more trouble recognizing black faces than white. The product designers didn’t intend to be racist, but nevertheless we see an unfair imbalance. A black person spends the same money on the same product but receives different value. This is not fair. Then we can talk about how we would design the next iPhone differently to enable a fairer result.

I believe in good. I believe hierarchies are good. Institutions are good. Change is good. Let’s use what we have.

George Floyd’s death is a universal issue. His life mattered because all lives matter. If you are in the hospital for a broken leg, your broken leg matters because, of course, your whole body matters. But the issue here is that your broken leg needs the treatment. Black lives have not mattered enough in the US, and we must finally follow through to make “fair and balanced” in policy to be “fair and balanced” in practice.

Praying intentionally as a way to gain patience, oneness, and optimism

billy-pasco-se3tHNszbkM-unsplash

Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

In April 2018, I began to pray. I had never really tried that hard to pray before. I had learned to pray before meals and pray before bed. Both of which are important. But the words I was reciting felt empty and meaningless. Inspired by Pastor David Platt and my renewed interest in spirituality, I began praying more intentionally. I tried a different approach.

I started to speak from my heart with meaning. I did not ask for things I want, rather I asked for guidance. And before asking for anything, I submitted myself to gratitude. I said, “Thank you, God. I am so grateful for the blessings you’ve given me. I don’t deserve any of this, and yet you’ve chosen me.” When I pray, I hear an echo in reply. I don’t know from where the echo responds. But the voice guides me when I submit my weakness and ask for help. It gives me answers and hard truths.

God is many things to many people. I changed from asking for things I don’t have, to thankfulness for what I already have. This is because I realized who I was talking to: God. Jordan Peterson put it best in his conversation with Sam Harris. I understand the gravity and magnificence of God in these terms:

God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time; as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time-frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now…

So God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. That’s a fundamental element of the hero mythology.

God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values; that’s another way of looking at it.

God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure.

God is the voice of conscience.

God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt.

God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.

Here’s a cool one if you’re an evolutionary biologist. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.

-Jordan Peterson, https://youtu.be/jey_CzIOfYE

Since I’m still early on in my spiritual journey, I am interested in my own relationship with God through prayer. I’m not interested in telling everyone else what to do. In my personal experience, my prayer resulted in newfound patience, self-integration, and optimism.

I became more patient because I stopped asking for things that I wasn’t getting. Instead, I asked for guidance and strength in the face of difficulty. And even then, I knew that the world could crash down on my family and me in an instant. Through it all, I would get what I need, not what I want. This meant that I learned patience. Usually, I demanded results and progress. But I soon discovered that I often don’t know what’s best for me. And I receive what’s best slowly.

I became more self-integrated. As I spoke from my heart, I said whatever came naturally. That is genuinely what we care about – not what we want ourselves to care about. I began to notice the things that bubble up to my thoughts, but I don’t flesh out. Maybe because I’m embarrassed about them. Instead, I give them to God through prayer. And when I put them into words, God accepts them and replies with an answer. In this way, I accept myself as speaking these words, because God accepts me. I could say what I think is the worst thing, but if God responds and accepts me regardless, then I can own this part of me without ignoring or suppressing it. In this way, I can integrate the not-so-good parts of me and control them, instead of suppressing them and risking that they overcome me.

Lastly, I have a newfound optimism. So far, I’ve shared the deepest thoughts of my heart to God, and he still calls me forward. In this way, I know that there’s nothing that I can do that will separate us. Of course, I’ll make mistakes as I search for the best path toward the good life. Calamity will happen and test or break my will. But I can rest assured that I will not be alone through the adventure.

I should pray about the things that I don’t understand because I need help in those areas. If I pray the same way every time, and I ask questions that I know the answer to, I don’t gain anything. By digging deep and intentionally building a relationship to God through prayer, I have more patience, self-integration, and optimism.

That Awkward Elephant in the Room

Flight of Man – Jackson Pollock – from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Serious post covering some sensitive topics here.

I needed to reset. Pornography had slowly taken control of my life. In January 2018, I finally decided to fight back.

Initially, my relationship with pornography was exciting. It energized me to get up in the morning. It empowered me to tap into deep desires. It distracted me from pain and worry. It relieved my stress. And it taught me things about myself and the world.

As I grew up, my old habits stayed the same. My relationship with porn habituated. We kept secrets to ourselves. I longed for it whenever I had a few minutes. Fantasies of blue-lit screens stung me and swarmed my attention. I planned my days around when we could spend time together.

But it was hindering me from the rest of my life. I often regretted surrendering control so willingly. I was fiending for a release instead of tapping into my desires. I was prioritizing porn over loved ones and ambitions. The spark of excitement had gone out.

The World is our Audience

When I would decide to watch porn, there was usually one point of “no return,” during which I decided to go all-in. At that point, I would ask myself:

"Do I want to be the person who did what I'm about to do?"

I thought that I only answered for myself. So, each time I answered, “sure, it’s fine.” If I chose it and approved of it, then my actions were good. I wasn’t hurting anyone. No one else was watching.

But my friends, the world is our audience. The habits, thoughts, and desires that we cultivate in private are those that emerge in public. Our private and public lives take place in the same story. No one else might know what I did in private, but they would soon interact with the person who did. They did not participate in the act, but they would see the direct effects on my mind, body, and soul.

If I crave lustfully in private, I am likely to crave lustfully in public. This is not the person I wanted to be.

I had two options: Whine about the world and pity myself as a victim. Or, change my behavior.

"You reap what you sow."
-Galatians (paraphrased)

Deciding to Stop

I decided to stop watching porn for six months. Six months turned into 14 months, to this day. The fight is not over, and I must stay vigilant. But I have regained control of my addiction.

I also did not masturbate for those 6 months. From January until July 2018, I reset my brain. I ripped apart its reliance on these habits so I could rebuild from the ground up.

For month five of six, my girlfriend (now fiancee) and I abstained from all sexual activity to reconnect with our faith. Even though I was with a partner when I decided to stop watching porn, “porn-induced masturbation” and “sex with a partner” are in different categories to me. The desire for porn is a unique and powerful category of addiction with many dangerous side effects.

My friends, removing pornography from my life was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Results

I accomplished my goal and more. I am no longer a person who watches porn. And I was able to reestablish a healthy relationship with masturbation that does not rely on porn.

This was one of the hardest things that I’ve done. I faced severe cravings and flashbacks, especially in the first month. I doubted and second-guessed and lied to myself and struggled with moving forward. But after that first intense month, things started to balance out. The intensity of cravings and the frequency of flashbacks steadily decreased.

After six months, my body and mind stopped relying on pornography as a release. I completely transformed. Chemical imbalances evened out. I increased testosterone, energy, ambition, focus, sex drive, and stamina. God opened up to me spiritually, and my heart was ready to listen.

That inner voice now speaks clearly: “Do I want to be the person who did what I’m about to do?” I now answer, “No.”

I think porn is dangerous and addicting. Some people can handle it. But for many people who struggle with addiction, the first step is admitting that it’s a problem.

Need help? Send me a note and we can chat about my experience.

"You should be able to do things that you wouldn't do."
-Jordan Peterson

We can use our self-worth equation as an ethical signpost.

IMG_20181103_110100

Biking, circa 2018

Purpose emerges from activities. Which activities create a valuable purpose? Extend our idea of self-worth to a combination of four ethical tools. When searching for a purpose, start with these.

If Self-Worth = (Self-Understanding X Ability to Influence X Giving Usefulness / Redundancy), then apply as follows:

1. Understanding: Integrate habits into greater narratives
2. Influence: Search for treasures and fight off demons
3. Usefulness: Teach others of their value
4. Uniqueness: Reframe old ideas into modern frameworks

Start with good enough and make it a habit.

I live my life as a journey in the Great Narrative.

wolf_chengdu

“Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” – Chengdu, China

What about a role within a greater Narrative? My actions fit within the societal wheel producing and recycling life. We give and receive belief in individual autonomy among other actors.
• Human life has value.
• We respect common law.
The Great Narrative needs actors. These actors have two attributes, which give the story drama:
• The ability to recognize the Narrative.
• The ability to believe they live apart from the Narrative.
A Narrative has a writer, or writers. The writer sets the story in motion. She never knows where the story will go or whether it will end.
The Great Narrator whispers to me through the shimmering essence of things in the Great Narrative. The voice floats at the edge of order and chaos. My conscience begs me to burst from underneath the surface of my expression.
Maybe you’ve lost touch with the voice that percolates through the silent noise when you’re bored with nothing to consume.
But I haven’t.
It’s there.
I listen to it.

A Hero’s Journey

wind

Me, somewhere in Ireland

You’ve lost touch with your hero’s journey.

But I haven’t.

We have ripped away the structures that were sustaining important belief systems without replacing them. How do we live while relying on only ourselves as the guide?

I do it as a hero. I see my life as a coherent narrative story. As the main actor, I can connect past to present. Because things tend to repeat in similar ways, I can better prepare for future unknowns with knowledge of the past.

  • Salmon swim upstream.
  • Winter gets cold.

I live my life as a narrative. I can explain my actions under a unified self through time. This enables me to negotiate in the present with the future, because my future self will be there.

  • Sacrifice time now for money later.
  • Sacrifice junk for health later.

You’ve lost touch with your hero’s journey.

But I haven’t.

And I’m not the only one in the story.

Why do we distrust patient people?

exmachina

Story

Awkwardness. Everyone acquaints themselves with it, as a passenger to a driver. There are many causes, but one overarching effect: discomfort.

One of the first times I used an Uber, I was a few drinks deep in Boston. As an antsy group of eight, we split into subsections, and I hopped into the front of the first Uber car. After a brief discussion regarding the best way to navigate narrow, one-way streets, a deafening silence settled into the car’s interior. After a moment, I casually turned to the driver and said: “So, what do you do?” The”ooo” reverberated over the drone of the engines for tooo long.

The driver dryly stated, “I am an Uber driver.”

“Right, right,” as I retracted into that half-smile, half-grimace that often emerges to encourage the effort but scold the performance. I had put on my glasses to find my glasses. I had put the cookies in the oven without turning it on. I had strolled into the office on Saturday morning while musing “what word rhymes with bird?” Any chance of interpersonal connection was as good as lost after a short string of sounds was formed aloud. The wall, that strange energy field that firmly forces its hand over my mouth, was raised. Why?

Symbol

Imagine that a conversation is a work of theater. In comparing my life to external symbols for increased understanding, I am quick to compare conversations to movies, novels, and plays.

Most conversations seem to revolve around a script of practiced questions and answers. There is no time for awkwardness or silence, for these break the magic. Like leaping from a diving board, soaring with limbs outreached, and smashing into sharp, chilling water, excitement withdraws into suppressed desperation. When I enter into a conversation, my inner dialogue turns its direction externally. The curtain raises, revealing and engaging attentions. We portion our lives into sections (four minutes until the bus, six-feet tall, a three-hour performance at the Folger Theatre). So, after the spell is broken, we think that the show has ended.

But there is no show. There was never a show. A meaningful conversation does not have a script, nor a time limit, nor a stage.

The questions “What do you do?”, and “Where are you from?” stand only as mere placeholders of our hopes, fears, and spontaneous thoughts. The past and present are usually boring.

“I’m a ___.”

“Oh, cool. My cousin is a ___.”

More valuable meaning lies in wait, hidden from immediate view. Ask yourself: would you rather be known by what you were, what you are, or what you could be?

Power

My answer: what I could be. The problem is, I know what I was (or, I think I do), and I know what I am (or, I think I do). So, these are important to acknowledge. But, I do not know what I could be. Don’t worry; that doesn’t matter, and I’ll explain why.

Establish a mission that’s your ace in the hole, your main squeeze, your talking point alpha. This is the thing that you think about when you’re not thinking. This is the thing that seems so obvious to you that you only realize you were moving towards after the fact. It’s the thing you can talk about best.

If you can’t think of something genuine, then make it up. Have fun with it. Even if you change your mind in a year, a week, or an hour, the importance of having a mission now is greater than the imagined integrity you’ll feel if you miraculously manage to stick to a plan without ever changing it. Acting as an unmoving rock clinging to a bank in a flood is foolish and inefficient. Adapt to survive, or fall by means of faulty belief in the law of induction and ignorance. Good luck when you wear shorts today because you’ve been comfortable the past three days…even if it’s snowing today. No, yeah, of course. You’re wearing them on purpose, to prove something. Right. Go freeze.

The point is, you’re never going to stick to this plan. So, go crazy making something up! I’m going to be a robot beauty stylist. I’m reading the Bible, backwards, to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of the direction of a narrative on my personal ethical system. I’m currently training for my next competition, in which we run three miles while typing a fan-fiction screenplay of a Star Wars blooper reel. Have fun with it! Just be sure to have it.

What this allows you to do is to be more than a name. We remember “Peter the Great,” more likely than “Peter.” The “name + differentiator” combination encourages others to define you, and give you a small sphere of unique power. The differentiator makes all the difference. No longer Grant, I am “Grant, the robot beauty stylist.” That increases my uniqueness factor from 1 / ~60,000 to 1 / (hopefully less than 60,000).

Of course, the goal should be to reach that uniqueness factor of 1 / 1 without the necessity of a differentiator. Although, if the CEO of the hottest new British company selling drink containers, catered to diabetics, that automatically assess the amount of sugar in the fluid and, after a hand grips it, takes a blood sugar reading and calls aloud whether the holder should or shouldn’t drink the drink is named “Kant,” then this person should absolutely defer the uniqueness to Immanuel in favor of the motto “Kant Kan”.

Barring any spectacular circumstances, focus on means to ends. The mission causes feelings of passion in conversation, which, if returned, resonate into more positive emotions. Good feelings bias us into thinking that the person we are talking to is better, that we are better, and that the whole conversation was better. Use this to your advantage by having more meaningful, future-oriented conversations.

And yet, I have not determined why I distrust patient people. The distrust is probably in myself. It’s probably because their patient eagerness fizzles away unsatisfied as I respond “Well, right now I am…” instead of “Oh boy, let me tell you about this new light-adaptive, auto-adhesive chrome eye-liner!”

 

Picture: http://anthem-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/exmachina.jpg