Am I reasonable?

“If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt.”

Marcus Aurelius

Were I to ask you right now, are you reasonable? What would you say?

In a room full of people, I think it’s fair to say most would consider themselves part of the reasonable crowd.

How reasonable?

Reasonable enough to call balls and strikes as to whether your behavior is “deserving of contempt,” as Marcus Aurelius seemed to believe he could do?

Most commentary on behavior assumes sober objectivity on the part of the observer.

For example, Ryan Holiday’s “The Daily Stoic,” gives us an article about how to deal with “rude and selfish people.” All the tips assume the other person is the rude and selfish one.

But what if a rude and selfish person was the one reading Ryan’s article?

Does the truly reasonable person self identify as reasonable?

As I write this, I am experiencing caffeine induced anxiety, which happens whenever I drink too much tea or coffee. Only a day ago, I was calmer than I’ve been in a long time.

I don’t maintain homeostasis on any front, instead, I cycle and flow.

The same can be said for my identity as one of the reasonable ones. Presented with two “micro crises” this afternoon, I behaved both reasonably, in a way I am proud of, as well as less than reasonably, in a way that I am not totally comfortable with.

The situation I am proud of will have someone saying nice things about me.

The situation where I behaved unreasonably has a guy in Silver Lake swearing to anyone who will listen that I am a villain.

Who is right?

Both of them.

Of this much I am sure: the most reasonable people know just how unreasonable they truly are.

As you leave Detroit

As you leave Detroit,

Telegraph Road,

with it’s decaying motels, get drunk shack bars, and appliance stores,

turns into the gentler Highway 24.

With the scars behind you,

far away from the sprawl,

the farm towns appear.

Tidy houses overseeing,

tidy fields,

a mature tree,

watching,

whispering wisdom.

The paint is worn,

there are no signs of recent investment,

But the roads still host travelers.

These farms were the backdrop,

to many of my own drives,

optimistic drives,

on my way to or from college,

with a happy, pretty, and so young woman waiting to hug me after I parked.

Highway 24 shines in the summer,

the Ohio state crews,

mowing the median and patching the damage their salt brought the winter before.

The passageway is dry, hot and simple,

hopeful arrivals dot the exits.

Like many,

I’ve left for the places that TV endorses,

but those Ohio and Indiana and Michigan roads used to offer me so much.

Lovers and family and true vacations.

Better things than the roads I now drive,

in my now “better” places.

As I sit here today,

it seems my task,

is to once again view those familiar paths,

as good enough.

They aren’t men

For years,

Like a recurring dream,

I’d find myself drunk in a New York City bar,

wishing I’d stayed home,

to build something,

no one would pay for,

in silence.

Even today,

I think of giving it all up,

to drift free in a low rent wilderness,

Where the best women won’t have sex.

These pangs visit at night,

But I still wake up and grind,

for a small piece,

of all the disassembled empires,

chaos has handed down,

since many lines before my Grandfather.

I am running after,

a dying lady,

in a dirty dress.

Friends and enemies,

on either side of me,

nourished by applause.

What does it mean to be a man?

Men arrive when the fleeting longings of their nights,

grow big enough,

to fill their days.

 

A house like this

Tonight I prepare for bed in a southern mansion house,

with a grand staircase, bedroom fireplaces, and absentee Manhattan owners.

I’ve always wanted a house like this.

To live in a house like this,

to die in a house like this.

But what is a house like this?

If not a stage on which to play your little part,

with those closest to you,

who love, support, and shelter you.

To own a house like this is a blessing.

But one that pales in comparison,

to a happy family.

Because in truth,

a happy family is,

a house like this.

The Tao of Uber

Heaven and earth are not out to make friends;

Thus, they treat all creatures as straw dogs.

The sage is not out to make friends;

Thus he treats the people as straw dogs.

Perhaps this is something like a bellows between heaven and earth:

It is empty, but never exhausted;

It moves, and creatures manifest endlessly.

A lot of words will get you nowhere;

Better to just stay centered.

Tao Te Ching

Notes:

We can build, and build, but heaven and earth don’t respect the laws of society. Much of what we concern ourselves with on a day to day basis will, ultimately, be washed away.

There’s a lot of talk in the startup community about “changing the world.” While I have tremendous respect for anyone brave enough to build a business, the fact is that companies like Uber and AirBnb aren’t changing the world, they’re changing the transportation and hotel industries for a narrow segment of the population. If you listen to the investors who got in early on these startups, or talk to the founders themselves, you’ll hear a different story.

But where are all these players 100 years from now?

I believe you can admire and support innovators, without taking such a small view of the world as to think they own it.

We don’t own, we all rent.

That reality should force us to work with humility, to accept fortune with humility.

Curating desire

Thus being forever without desire,

you look deeply into the transcendent.

By constantly harboring desire,

your vision is  beset by all the things around you.

Tao Te Ching

 

Notes:

Your vision is beset by all the things around you…

Desires that are fed, only grow hungrier. Desire puts our gaze forever on the horizon, robbing us of what we’ve actually been given. In a state of desire, we can’t focus on where we are, only on what we plan to attain.

When we “harbor” desires, the world becomes full of things to desire, and these desires frame our lives.

I haven’t owned a car in awhile, and never paid much attention to different models on the road. After leasing my car, I see models similar to mine everywhere. I’ve tuned into the car “channel.” Now I see drivers with my car, as well as drivers with the bigger better model. “Maybe next time I should get that car, with those options…”

Indulgence of desire sheds light on a million other things we should be desiring, each of them perfect until they’re attained.

This view is echoed in one of the Bodhisattva Vows:

Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them

Answering desire changes the way we see everything in the world.

You look deeply into the transcendent.

By contrast, when we free ourselves from desire, we see things as they are. We no longer see things to attain or possess, we see things to experience and enjoy.

And by seeing what we have for the first time, we transcend a common trap keeping us from the state of happiness we hope to achieve by our constant planning to fulfill desire. We can stop deferring happiness.

The ordinary and boring (ordinary and boring because we have it) is the doorway to the transcendent.

To act independent from desire is to act with integrity.

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2, verse 47:

Your right is to action alone, never its fruit.

Practical application: 

For those of us unlikely to become ascetics, perhaps the goal is to curate desire in a mindful way.

Mindlessly flinging ourselves at desires is a recipe for an unpleasant journey down the rabbit hole, but can some desire be good?

Can we live with mindful desire (goals), without living as slaves to our desires? Is it possible to curate useful desire, while discarding unconscious desire?

Tech addiction backlash?

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Americans have become “food aware,” and the resulting knowledge has a growing number of people pissed off at the processed food industry.

Turns out some types of foods are designed to be addictive. Morgan Sperlock publicized this years ago in his documentary Super Size Me, but he’s not alone. Consider this quote from Michael Moss writing for the New York Times Magazine:

What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations.

Quite an indictment, food as a designer drug.

If Michael’s claims are true, public anger seems justified. Similarly, the tobacco industry is a unanimous villain for designing cigarettes to be addictive.

Making addictive products, especially when the desired addiction damages public health, is bad. So, following that logic, why isn’t anyone mad at the tech industry?

Do you think it’s by accident that every person on an elevator, or most stopped at a red light, or even couples having a “romantic” dinner, are looking at their phones?

The tech industry designs their interfaces for maximum addiction, just like the makers of slot machines, who they are said to admire. Consider this quote from a Verge story describing a state called the “zone,” which is a haze many slot machine players find themselves in:

The “zone” is flow through a lens darkly: hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particular.

Focused with no goal in particular?

Sounds like most people I know on the internet (myself included). What is usually accomplished on Facebook or Twitter other than mind numbing browsing?

Tech business models are predicated on user acquisition and retention. The idea is to keep you on their platform for as long as possible (to look at their ads), and then to bring you back as soon as possible after you leave (so you can view more ads).

The result? You crave the appearance of the little red flag that is evidence of a new Facebook friend request, or a new Twitter notification delivered to your phone in real time.

Fact is these notices are nonevents 99.99% of the time, and yet we continue checking for them. Checking for email, for new Tinder matches, whatever the case.

This digital addiction can be just as dangerous to our health and wellbeing as bad food.

It causes stress and sadness, destroys our attention spans, robs us of enjoying real moments with people we love, keeps us from sleeping well, causes fatalities on the road, and can even lower sperm count.

Does the tech industry have an ethical duty to design their products in ways that encourage healthy interaction?

Update: October, 23, 2016 – check out this article in the Atlantic on iPhone addiction, very important piece.

Better before more

No matter what we do, most of us want “more.”

Growth is practically a religion in the world of startups. There is a hyper focus on growing businesses, and growing them fast. It’s the same in other industries. My friends who work in salaried positions are always scheming on ways to get more salary.

There is nothing wrong with more, but it’s a mistake to ask for more without first understanding the foundation of more, which is better.

More rarely comes before better.

If you want more, get better.

That will get you more.

Listen to customers, not investors

If you’re going to start or sustain a business, you’ll need customers. You won’t need investor feedback. In fact, listening to too many investors has the potential to kill the energy that surrounds a promising new venture.

So don’t listen to investors.

Listen to customers.

It’s the marketplace that will determine whether you have something. If customers are interested, if they’re giving good feedback, if they’re willing to pay for your product or service, the investors will follow.

The startup community places too much emphasis on the investor, on the demands created by the image of his or her fund, and the returns he or she expects.

Don’t let the rules imposed by the self image of another business cast a dark cloud over yours. Your business exists to serve customers.

Lots of startups wait around for an investor to bless their idea, thinking that’s the path to success. But here’s the problem.

Investors are almost always wrong.

The vast majority of their ventures fail. Most don’t have anything approaching a crystal ball. No matter what they may say, it’s not just about great entrepreneurs and great ideas, it’s about hitting the next grand slam, and all the accolades that go along with that. It’s about ego, and investor ego has nothing to do with creating an amazing experience for your customers.

Funds don’t want great business ideas, they want startups that can double the size of the fund with GIANT returns. But here’s the problem. The potential return on investment way, way down the line is unknowable (again, see most investors fail). All the emphasis at the outset on “MAKE SOMETHING REALLY BIG THAT WILL EAT THE WORLD,  AHHHHHH!!! DISRUPT, BLAHHHHH” actually gets in the way of entrepreneurs making useful things for customers.

The “10X” sales pitch VC uses to raise money for their funds, doesnt have much to do with what will make a solid, profitable, business. Unfortunately, there is a whole class of startups out there whose goal is more VC, not profit, not self sufficiency.

Famous VC Fred Wilson said it well:

Investors have their own agenda. They want to invest in “bigger ideas” and “larger outcomes”. When they tell you that your idea is too small, they may be talking to themselves, not you. Do not make their problems your problems. This is your business, not theirs.”

If you’re raising capital for a startup, customer feedback, especially feedback that comes up again and again, is gospel.

Casual investor “advice” is not.

Back to Fred:

You have spent way more time and energy thinking about your business than someone who takes a 30 minute meeting with you, having never thought about it for one iota, and then gives you a ton of advice that you are doing everything wrong. You have to learn to hear that feedback but not react to it.

If you have a business idea you’re proud of,  one you believe in, talk to lots and lots of customers. Learn what their issues are, and how you can help them. Get the customer to bless the idea.

Then go talk to some investors.

If you must.

People to forget

“Let us forget with generosity those who cannot love us”

Pablo Neruda

As we go through life, inevitably we come across people, who for one reason or another, don’t love, or even like us. Accepting this is part of growing.

And growth is an important goal. But letting go of enemies (no matter how benign) is equally important.

When I do this, they’ll see” is a dangerous trap because it places those who don’t understand us in control.

Winning love from an enemy doesn’t represent success. Forgetting an enemy by gently taking the sting out of their imagined indictments does.

Work to please the love in your life, not those who withold it.