Eat what you like

Day 103: Monday

Morning, Tim!

It’s been a while. I could feign a delightful, planned summer hiatus but you know better than that. Perhaps it was your takedown of language’s role in morality but you know full well that’s even more laughable than the summer hiatus line… No, instead it was just an unfortunate end of what had been a fairly stable habit. I hope to rebuild the blog-writing muscles, so bear with me over these first few posts!

Yep. It’s gonna be a rough start.

“The great seduction confronting every individual or family or church or political party or enterprise of any kind in every age is the idea that we no longer need to change. We think, there’s nothing really major about me or my tribe that God would want to reform. I’m sure he wants to work on those people, but not me. That’s a delusion.” – Rev. Dr. Dan Meyer

That seems to me to be about right. I was recently reading Sapiens. It was an interesting read. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, had a knack for laying out his arguments as follows: Fact A, Fact B, Fact C — Therefore X. X was controversial. How did he get there? X as a conclusion seemed was so far away from the original 3 premises.

One piece of text that stood out was an articulation of Buddhism. At it’s core, the idea was that the mind naturally craves more in all situations. And all suffering arrives from craving. The goal, then, would be to rid the mind of any conception of “good” or “bad” and simply acknowledge things as they were — a body sensation, a feeling, the circumstances that brought those about, etc. Acknowledge, but not label.

While familiar, I haven’t studied Buddhism to any great degree, so I asked a few friends who have to give their take. They suggested it probably isn’t the most fair representation — which makes sense. I felt the same way about Harari’s take on Christianity. That said, regardless of religious affiliation, I see this mindset play out in the culture around me at work.

I’m not sure how to segue here. I haven’t yet figured out how to articulate how I see this, how to point to tangible examples. Yet it seems if true, if we do in fact see ourselves as the stable force and the world as what needs changing, we’ve lost perspective. We make up this world — and rather than expecting some outside thing to change, we need to reflect that in what we can control. That is, if we want a world that is more relational and filled with joy, laughter, and empathy, we need to put down our phones, step away from the artificial “connection” and look up at those we interact with every day. If we want to understand issues of race, gender, or political differences we must stop spending 9% of every day on Netflix and 1/16th on Facebook and instead hold conversations with those in all walks of life.

It’s trite at this point to talk about a filter bubble. Yet with all of the time spent on websites that track our every click to feed us information that we like, it seems vital to talk about it. Mary Roach discusses how “People like what they eat, rather than eat what they like.” This harkens back to the question

Which came first, the chicken, or the word we use to distinguish said young-domestic-fowl-raised-for-meat-and-dairy-products from the so-called “egg”?

Yet in this case, the answer seems clearer — we form our tastes around what we are given. Regular exposure makes things more palatable.

Extrapolating a touch, this is the exact phenomenon that should terrify us when it comes to a digital age. When our every click is known, and we get our news from a feed that is tuned to give us what we’d like (so we spend more time there…), we begin to like what we see. And the algorithm is tuned (because that is how the company is incentivized) to give more information like that. And so we don’t get exposed to anything outside of our circle, our delicate bubble.

Let’s tie these two ideas together more concretely, this time in reverse. We are fed a stream of information that we like — not because of anything external, but because that is what we are fed. When we then come to ‘like’ it, we get more and more of it. This is how we come to see the world — this is “right”. When we are exposed to something outside of this, we don’t see it as us needing to change, because it goes against our whole world (…which just so happens to be made up of the same things we ‘like’ and see repeated every day). And so rather than striving toward any change, we create a world that revolves around ourselves, a world where we sit in the center and the ‘other’ should conform to us.

That’s not tight logic. It’s not crisply written. But if there is a smidge of truth there — oof. Because I’m not in the right. Any glimpse in the mirror tells me I’m not perfect, that I do need to change. It’s the look that sees someone who lies, someone who is slothful at times, overly egotistical and ambitious at others. Someone who struggles with lack of understanding of race, gender, and a host of other issues. Taken to a literal mirror, someone who is obviously gluttonous. I need to change. Not just the world around me, but me within that world.

I don’t want to simply like what I eat. I want to take the time to understand what is good, what is nourishing, and to eat that. I want to eat what I like — with the recognition that taste isn’t the only element of “like”, and that some things I like not because they taste good at first but because I need them to make me a healthier member of the human race.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I made some tea to set the mood for writing. However, like blog writing, it had been a while since I’d made a cup of loose leaf and I was out of practice. I made a lot of it, and it was dreadful. A lot of scrolling says the parallels between my tea drinking and blog writing may not have stopped where I would have hoped…

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Read all about it

Day 101: Tuesday

Morning Tim!

I lament not writing sooner. It’s been far too long.

We had a sermon this past Sunday that I found interesting. It was ultimately about grace, and the blessing that it is. He gave an example that resonated with me, and I wanted to share.

The story is about a man, watching a sporting even at the top of the stadium. Eager for the game and wanting to take part to the full, he grabs a plate of nachos and a beer. As the game goes on, so too do the beers. The team is losing, he is frustrated. He continues to cheer. Cheer and drink. The game passes, the home team notching a loss

The game passes, the home team notching a loss. The man stays after, finishing his last sip. At this point, many have started to pour out of the stadium. He looks down, like tiny ants they seem. He slips over the railing, and falls, bottle clinched in his hand.

This is like all of us, the story would go. We are all eager for the game of life, and as the innings go on, we find bad things can happen. The sin in our life, like the cup, pries its way into our senses, first impairing the way we see then being the lens through which we do so.

But that’s not where the story ends. It has two possible endings. Read like a newspaper, it could go one of two ways.

Imagine the owner of the building knew this kind of thing happened. He prepped for it — perhaps with a large circus net over the railing. Maybe even a giant jet-pack, binoculars in hand, ready to scour the skies as necessary.

One way this story ends is without this owner. The story, if made about us, reads poorly. “Drunken man freefalls to death, clinging to vice”. Perhaps slightly nicer, depending on the paper you read — but that’s the gist.

The other way is with the owner. The story dramatically changes. Not only is the man saved, the drunken man isn’t a central figure at all. Instead, having faded to the background, the story tells of a hero who, without any contribution from me, the drunken man, saved a life that was otherwise in ruin, otherwise headed directly to a dark end.

I’m not sure why this resonated so well. Perhaps because, as with most of us, I love to make things about me. Reading in a newspaper what ‘me’ gets is sad, though. Perhaps it was the way the story reads to give full credit, inspiring others who were to read that paper about the one they should emulate. Perhaps it’s because there is an acknowledgement that we are blessed — but that we also get thirsty. If we aren’t regularly drinking of a cup other than that of sin, we will choose to quench our thirst some other way.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

The top 1%

Day 98: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I went to a beautiful concert last night. The program was truly beautiful:

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Beethoven Overture to Egmont
Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)

I was also well rested and, thankfully, had less stress from work and school. I was able to truly appreciate the music.

One thing I observed during the break was how good these musicians were, and how difficult it would be to ‘make it’. In school, being in the top 1% (99th percentile) on standardized tests would be remarkable. In a room of 100, that means you’re the best. Which is very impressive. Yet despite that, being in the top 1% in the world in musical ability won’t cut it — after all, with a world population of 7.5 billion people, being of 1 in 75 million may not work. In fact, according to some quick google searches (look at the rigor I put into that!), total professional musicians may well be under 1 million people worldwide.

Yet this got me thinking. Everyone has to be in the top 1% at something — be it music composition, photography, juggling, baking, banking …or even facts. In fact, many top 1%s might be on facts — related to their job, sports interests, family — or even random things, such as facts about trains, planes, cranes, or the ever-present aches and pains.

What things are you in the top 1%? Knowledge, skills, etc.

Looking forward to comments and learning more!

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Drinks have WHAT?!

Day 95: Friday

Morning, Tim!

I’m in a class on the US Healthcare system with students from numerous academic areas — business, law, public policy, social services, and medical. It’s a remarkable experience to have each of those perspectives represented in a dialogue.

We recently had a delightful conversation about social determinants of health, particularly within a rural setting. Social determinants are all of the things outside of your actual health that impact the person — their ability to retain housing, get transportation as needed, obtain food, clothing, etc. Coming from the business side of things, I’m always pleased when I hear others so passionate about others — thinking about how to set up society for human flourishing on a macro level while making a significant difference on particular individuals on a micro level.

Our dialogue around social determinants quickly turned to responsibility (and for good measure, genomics was brought in to make sure we had clinical determinants!). Questions ranged from personal responsibility — how much should the individual be held accountable for their own health — to that of a society, which naturally had substantive dependencies on the answer to personal responsibility.

Responsibility is fascinating. We each want to believe we have so much control, and act accordingly. We take credit for our actions (at least when good!) and blame others for theirs. We hand out awards for success, perhaps even a shiny medal. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that this responsibility might be overstated. When pushed, we recognize that there are myriad factors that impact each of us, shaping how we act, shaping who we become.

One of those factors for me was my childhood spent in a rural setting. I learned a lot there. I learned about simplicity, about living within means and not in abundance. I learned about working with your hands, about hard work. I learned about taking care of others in the community, because that’s what neighbors do.

There were also things I didn’t learn. Like that drinks had calories.

Tim, I didn’t learn drinks could have calories until I went to college.

Yes, we are shaped by much around us. And for some, that impact is particularly negative, and something we should strive to recognize and address. Yet the story doesn’t end there — for others, there are opportunities to be uniquely positioned to make an impact.

I’m feeling a weight to think more about rural healthcare. There’s got to be a way to bring health and vitality to rural communities.

Or at least let them know that drinks have calories…

Until Monday,

Zak

Rye bread

Day 87: Monday

Morning, Tim!

My apologies for being a bum correspondent last week! A better week ahead.

There were times when I would get stressed growing up. My mom was very kind about it, reminding me that I only had one day to get through that day. In fact, I couldn’t do anything about those past, nor solve for those ahead. If I put my head down and pushed through doing the right thing today, I’d be set.

Coming from my mom, I used to think this was fantastic advice for those times. I used it throughout college to push through weeks where school and work teamed up to overload my schedule. What would otherwise be overwhelming wasn’t so bad if I focused on today alone.

I have come to learn that it’s a pretty good idea to simply focus on today each day, not just in times of stress or pressure. While certainly good to learn from the past, and countless wisdom literature discusses the need to plan accordingly for the future, it seems today has its own challenges. In times of stress, it may simply be getting through the work. In times of relaxation, perhaps choosing to spend the time in a meaningful way for the benefit of others, not just self. There are opportunities to run astray — to eat the cake; to watch all of the episodes of that season, not just one; to slip into complacency when others could drastically use your help. Each day we have a lot to do, and most days we don’t get it all right.

Give us this day our daily bread

There is a recognition of asking for help, an element of taking it day by day, and a reminder that sustenance in bread is perhaps more realistic than sustenance through cake.

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Alive

Day 79: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

I have a new mentor of sorts at work. He’s a pretty amusing guy – wise in how he approaches situations, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s retired from a great job, and I think he does the work with my company largely because it’s intellectually engaging and he can make a difference – but he doesn’t ever (seem) to let it overwhelm him. I admire that. When we get on the phone and I ask how he is, he has always responded ‘alive!’

Not that there couldn’t be more, but it’s enough to move along the conversation and, at least honest.

I’ve been a bum of a correspondent recently. Lots going on. Unlike Bob, I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed. I hope to dig out soon.

Until then…I’m alive.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Ps here are a few pictures of all the new geese exhibits they had at the zoo! Remarkable.


Also one close up of the sleepy bear…

It’s Never Just Cereal

Day 78: Monday

Good morning Zak,

So my three flatmates and I are a bit like a dysfunctional family.  Yesterday one of them got back from her boyfriend’s house and found that a brand new cereal box she had bought before leaving for the weekend was empty.  I’m pretty sure the cockroaches ate it, but that’s not what she thinks…  There’s a thief among us!

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I think he’s kind of cute. what, with the little antennas. they were the previous tenants, who overstayed.

It’s impossible to be angry while eating a freshly baked pizza.  That’s the real problem in this apartment.  Everyone’s too skinny, and they won’t sit down to have a nice piece of my homemade pizza on Fridays.

Zak, you’re the philosopher between the two of us.  Maybe you could explain Edmund Husserl to me.  What’s that guy’s deal?  We talk about him a lot at the conservatory here in Milano, but Italians have a funny way of reading German philosophy…

Another flatmate wants compensation for all the cleaning she has to do.  That sounds like a nice deal for me too.  We should look into that.

Yeah, I ended up with all girls—grow up, people!

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Zak in twenty years

I mean phenomenology is great for natural science—despite whatever Husserl thought it was for.  I realize there’s something tidy about not making too many assumptions about the external world, or even about other people.  But aren’t some assumptions worth making?  I’d rather have Freud presumptuously tell me I’m sick and twisted than B. F. Skinner quietly intimating that he knows nothing about me.  It’s better to live with a vocal cereal-rights activist than with someone passive-aggressive who just quietly throws away all the toilet-paper.  Amusing as that is. 

So while I’m sparing you the gory details, we’re obviously having difficulty empathizing with each other.

But I insist on this: that human contact is the end purpose of language.  That’s why I’m writing to you, and that’s why I enjoy reading so much.  When I first read Dante it had a big impact on me.  I felt I had escaped for a moment from the prison of my own head and caught a brief glimpse inside someone else’s.  That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do in life, and I felt that this was an experience I shared with other readers.  Illusion or not, that’s how I felt.

Today’s unusual usage for spoons: clashing them loudly into a dishwasher at two in the morning to express how poorly washed you find them to be.

When Freud sat down his patients to explain how sexuality was the latent force behind all their thoughts and dreams, well, I’m sure they didn’t terribly appreciate that at first.  But at least he was assuming for better or worse that there was something to it all.  Something being expressed.

reading-297450That’s what it means to read a text—to assume there’s something to it all.  Some existing object encrypted within language.  If we don’t make that assumption, we’re not really reading, we’re just looking at little black shapes on pieces of paper.  If you’re merely a scientist, maybe that’s all you see.  But no one’s merely a scientist.  For me, a complete human, there’s conscious meaning behind those little shapes.

I’m not saying the meaning has to be sex… it could be contact in general… or fruit loops.

I guess what I’m saying is there must be something to this whole cereal craze.  I should make good assumptions.  I should try to take a peek inside my flatmate’s head and come to empathize with her deep feelings about cereal.  Let’s be honest.  We all know it’s never just about cereal.

Until tomorrow,

Tim