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Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Will this be the Year? For You?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

Is this the year for your new life? The year you push yourself out and over the edge of your comfort zone.

Why can't this be the time? 

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin

This can be the time to make your dent in the universe. To go into our garages and build the new mousetrap. To build the new you. 
 
One that expresses who YOU are. Don't confuse this with your FB, Instagram postings, or even your resume, where you look more like wanna-bes than the real YOU. 

The recipe is pretty straight forward. You take you with all of the expectations of others removed, add a big heaping tablespoon of courage, add extra chutzpah and then a pinch of regrets to taste and voila you get the real you.

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.  Seneca 49 AD

I have shared the following with thousands of people to remind them in a few minutes how precious life is.

What surprises you most about human kind?

“That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.”
“That they lose their health to make money… and then lose their money to restore their health.”
"That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future.”
“That they live as if they will never die… and die as though they had never lived.”

What are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?
“To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved.”
“To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds, and it can take many years to heal them.”
“To learn that a rich person is not who has the most, but is one who needs the least.”
“To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings.”
“To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently.”
“To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves.”

(Excerpted from Interview with God.net)

How much time we waste. How our priorities are often upside down. How the most precious things we want get pushed into the attic and buried in our "hope chests". Hope Chest

We have to do the best with what we got and then do more!
  
I live completely in the present, released from the prison of the past with its haunting memories and vain regrets, released from the prison of the future with its tantalizing hopes and tormenting fears. All the enormous capacities formerly trapped in past and future flow to me here and now. Eknath Easwaran
 
Schedule little windows of time when you will develop your plans and yourself. Time to be focused and unfocused. Nothing will happen if you do not do this! What you need is inspiration. Which can come in a moment, any time, taking a shower, doing the dishes, taking a walk, meditating, reading. Fill your life with more stimulation, different voices, sources, points of view. Change it up. Shake it up. Find things that resonate with you that quicken your heart beat and put a lump in your throat. Then take notes and follow them.
 
You can work with the usual suspects, but find the new and different, that's connected to what we want, like or dream about. Meet with different people every week or month. Get disciplined about stretching your network. Use the existing connections to bridge to new tribes. Worlds that understand your unanswered questions, your "crazy" dreams and your insecurities and doubts. Tribes that will mentor you.
 
Still perplexed? Do you believe that every human is an infinite set of possibilities? Are you human?
My life experiences have shown me how people stop digging when they hit a few rocks. They stop peeling the onion when the tears start. They move away from the edge of the cliff when they see the rocks far below.
 
Get a jackhammer. Put on some goggles. Learn to para-glide.

Listen to what Alec Baldwin says:

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee "Alec Baldwin" 

I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being. Maria Popova

What I want for you is the delight that comes from doing what you want. Becoming you. Not merely the achievement of the financial or employment goals or even familial expectations. Yes do them. But make small, medium and large spaces for you. For when your passion bucket overflows everyone around you will get some. Whether you like it or not you infect others with your smile of delight, your glow of goodness, and your engaging enthusiasm for life. 

And when you are not yourself, when you are not smiling, and your passion bucket is empty--you also impact others, just very differently. 

Ripples flow from your life force either way.

So is 2016 the year of becoming you? Let's go!

To be and not to be, that is the answer. D. E. Harding

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. 

 


The Key Connection to a More Unrealistic You

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.  St Augustine

Maybe it is the new year, maybe it is my stage in life, maybe it is the truth that is emerging around me. While I have been saying this for many years, ...."the most important connection, the first connection you must make is to yourself," this idea has  Key-in-door-1024x685more meaning and power than ever before. Let me explain. 

I have always been drawn to thinkers and writers who have expounded on passion, meaning, and purpose. I strongly believe that without these elements driving one's life you will be lost in a series of transactional moments that may not add up to what you wanted. Life is not your resume. It is not a list of achievements sans failures and challenges. It is not a string of happy moments, interrupted by sad moments. Your life is a precious and amazing opportunity, everyday to do good as you define it. To do what you love to do. To make a difference. Intuitively I know you get this. But doing it is rough. 

So I am constantly looking for the clues, the inspirations, the insights of others who can show me the way. The way to more persistently becoming myself. Becoming and understanding myself so I can overcome so many self erected barriers to my own path.

Lot of popular notions out there that I am sure you have noted. The Ms are very popular:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meaning
  • Meditation

The Ps are also competing for your interests:

  • Presence
  • Purpose
  • Passion

So the M's and the P's are powerful words that are all on the endangered species list of words that become diluted through popular usage.

I have been recently  influenced by words and ideas from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Sherwin Nuland's The Way We Live (and Die), E. O. Wilson's The Meaning of Human Existence, Brene Brown on Vulnerability, anything from the Dalai Lama, Krista Tippett's show On Being, Bernard Glassman's Instruction to the Cook....

This is not a book list for you to buy. I am resisting giving you snippets and quotes here. You should subscribe to Brain Pickings for extraordinary summaries of important literature, including some of these sources I have listed. There are so many great sources of smart people thinking about these questions out there. Find things that speak to You. 

Engage and enhance your network to talk about these issues. 

Like you, I continue to find my place. Someone said to me the other day, "I wish I was like you. You have a purpose and a plan." Wow did I fool him :)

Tis one thing to speak and write about it, tis another thing to do it.

There is lots of research on life satisfaction. The work of Hannes Schwandt is particularly fascinating. Builds on research that spans 50 countries and many socio-economic groups. This is what I have interpreted. The peak of peak of happiness is 85. 85! There is this U shape to our life satisfaction. Starts high and goes steadily down until 45ish and then builds back up and reaches a high point in the mid 80's. Why?, Because when we are young we have "overly -optimistic" read unrealistic expectations about our lives. We want a lot. We have dreams and ambitions untethered to terra firma. This creates disappointment. College majors and aspirations turn out differently and life happens. In the late 40's and through the 50's we have another moment of reality. Expectations (different from aspirations) are super high. Was this what I was meant to do? Is this all there is? Financial realities take their toll. Each stage you shed more and more of what is unrealistic and our optimism takes a seat at the back of the bus. By the time you are in your 80's you simply do not care any more. This is the brutal phrase from the research, "...unmet expectations are abandoned and less regret is experienced..." Regrets evaporate. Time is very short so let's not waste any more. You are old and very happy. Is this maturity or the ultimate death of our dreams?

I am not saying this is going to happen to you, but it is happening. Apparently it happens like clockwork according to the researchers. I know you are not "average", after all you are reading my blog. :) And we can take the safeties off our blamethrowers and aim them many places. For me, shedding all of the expectations of others and society is a great starting point. If you are honest with yourself you have to sort through what is YOU from what is not. This is the ultimate preventive measure against the gravitational pull of the U curve. Turn this U into YOU.  As I said at the beginning, it starts with you, the key connection you have to make.

I know it can feel like a runaway train that does not respond to herculean tugs on the emergency cord. But you got to stop the train and take a walk with yourself. To listen to YOU. To hear your heartbeat and the voice within. There is a small penitentiary within you of trapped ideas, emotions, and yes dreams that yearn for your company, attention and the light of day.

I wish I could hand you the next three steps to You. I would if I had them. But you are unique. You are also on a human trajectory that has predictable elements and phases. Maybe true happiness is when we get to an age and stage where we have abandoned all unrealistic things, we regret nothing because we don't care any more, and we appreciate life because it is ending. Some research says so. I am not going to allow it to happen for me.

I want to eliminate regrets before they accumulate and take up precious shelf space and then I will have fewer "unmet expectations".

The Chumash native americans have a saying in one of their blessings that always jolts me:

"When you are born you begin to die."

Time is a luxury. Do not take it for granted. You never get it back.

I still believe in change. For me and for the world. I have research that says that it is possible. :)

I believe that you can change. I see it everyday. But no one can make the change but You. And there it goes again, we return to You and to see ourselves anew.

I am wishing You the greatest year of your life. Make it a bit optimistic and unrealistic. :)

 Thanks for reading. John