Category Archives: Lifestyle

No Small Thing

Many drops make a bucketful

“Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.”
Zeno, the founder of Stoicism

It can be hard to really believe that a small action, even when repeated over an extended period of time, has a significant effect. That’s why it’s hard to stick to small actions we know are helpful, whether they’re positive or negative. I know that these “small steps” are good, but it’s often hard to do them, because it can seem like each one is unimportant:

  • Telling the truth
  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Controlling what I read, watch and listen to
  • Holding my tongue
  • Saying “thank you”
  • Spending money wisely
  • Accepting responsibility for my actions and inactions

But repeatedly taking these steps allows me to have and achieve the “big” things that are important to me:

  • Personal integrity
  • Helpfulness to others
  • Financial independence
  • Leisure

Small things add up to genuinely great things. So:

  • Take good actions, no matter how small.
  • Make beneficial choices, no matter how simple.
  • Show gratitude for what you have, no matter how basic.

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Oh, But They Are

Owen's coin collection

I’m getting old enough to think sometimes about how my kids will remember me when I’m gone.

In the 1987 movie Throw Momma From The Train, Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal play Owen, an annoying aspiring writer, and Larry, his writing instructor. For no particular reason, while the two are at Owen’s house, Owen offers to show Larry his coin collection:

OWEN: You want to see my coin collection?
OWEN: I collect coins. I got a dandy collection.
LARRY: I don’t want to see it, Owen.
OWEN: But it’s my collection.
LARRY: I don’t care. Look, Owen, I’m just not in the mood, okay?
[Owen lays down on the floor and begins taking folded envelopes from a hinge-topped box.]
OWEN: Never showed it to anyone before.
[Larry lays down on the floor next to Owen.]
LARRY: All right, I’ll look at it.
OWEN: No, it’s okay.
[Owen turns away and shields the envelopes from Larry’s view.]
LARRY: Show me the collection.
OWEN: No, you don’t mean it.
LARRY: Show me the damn coins!
OWEN: All right.
[Owen lays the coins on the floor and shows each one to Larry.]
OWEN: This one is a nickel. This one also is a nickel. And here’s a quarter. And another quarter. And a penny. See? Nickel, nickel, quarter, quarter, penny.
LARRY [aggravated]: Are any of these coins worth anything?
OWEN: No. And here is another nickel.
LARRY: Why do you have them?
OWEN: What do you mean?
LARRY [exasperated]: Well, the purpose of a coin collection is that the coins are worth something, Owen.
OWEN: Oh, but they are. This one here I got in change when my dad took me to see Peter, Paul and Mary. And this one I got in change when I bought a hot dog at the circus. My daddy let me keep the change; he always let me keep the change.
[Owen picks up one of the quarters.]
OWEN: Ah, this one is my favorite. This is Martin and Lewis at the Hollywood Palladium.
[Larry smiles sheepishly.]
OWEN: Look at that. See the way it shines on the little eagle. I loved my dad a lot.
LARRY: So this whole collection is…
OWEN: Change my daddy let me keep.
LARRY: What was his name?
OWEN: Ned. He used to call me his little Ned. That’s why momma named me Owen. I really miss him.
LARRY: It’s a real nice collection, Owen.
OWEN: Thank you, Larry.

The coins’ worth was determined by their meaning, not their marketability; they were “worth something” because they reminded Owen of his father’s love for him. Larry’s realization of this made him feel sheepish about his initial reaction to Owen.

While photographing my kids being themselves and having fun has been one of my favorite things in life, my pictures of them are “worth something” only as a reminder of my love for them. I won’t get to choose at the end of my life how I’ll be remembered, but I hope my kids will value my pictures for the same reason Owen valued his coins.

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Leaving the Temple

If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say, “Nothing’s that simple.”
But you’ve been told many times before messiahs pointed to the door;
No one had the guts to leave the temple.

It’s a perilous thing to read wisdom into the lyrics of a rock song, no less from one of Pete Townshend’s self-indulgent “rock operas”. But I read once that the message of Tommy is, “You have to make your own miracle,” i.e., you can’t be fulfilled by following after and mimicking someone else, doing what (seemingly) works for them. Pinball?

Imitation may be a place to start but, when it becomes a refuge, it can ultimately become silly, stultifying and a bit pathetic. Leaving the temple simply means creating your own purpose in life and deciding what you can give to those around you.

How do you leave the temple? If your temple is:

  • Social media and popular culture, you overcome FOMO by focusing on real relationships and involvement.
  • Populism, you resist lies, threats and hate; and engage in rational, dignified discussion.
  • Consumerism, you abandon narcissism, materialism and greed; and pursue meaningful experiences instead.

It can be safe, secure and popular to worship with a crowd, but it takes guts to leave the temple.

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A Tendency to Cooperate

Teamwork is mankind's greatest achievement

Ayn Rand believed that people could become self-reliant by elevating their own interests above all else; as the Ayn Rand Institute’s web site says, she “wrote volumes urging people to be selfish.” As a result, she opposed religious and political controls that could hinder individuals from pursuing their personal goals. Certainly, there’s something to be said for having a society of people who are free to achieve their goals, right?

But when Rand’s followers extol her promotion of personal liberty, they fail to recognize or admit that individualism—or objectivism, as she preferred to call it—as a guiding principle:

  1. Doesn’t work in practice, and
  2. Is not the highest expression of mankind.

After reading Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead,” I came across Randall Munroe’s comic that pretty much depicted my impression. He said:

“I had a hard time with Ayn Rand because I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with the first 90% of every sentence, but getting lost at ‘therefore, be a huge a**hole to everyone.'”

And there are concrete examples of her philosophy’s failure in practice and as a description of what drives human achievement.

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert has been largely guided by Rand’s ideas in his leadership of the company:

“Lampert broke the company into over 30 individual units, each with its own management, and each measured separately for profit and loss. Acting in their individual self-interest, they would be forced to compete with each other and thereby generate higher profits…What actually happened is that units began to behave something like the cutthroat city-states of Italy around the time Machiavelli was penning his guide to rule-by-selfishness. As Mina Kimes has reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, they went to war with each other.”

A decade into Lampert’s tenure, Business Insider said, “the 124-year-old retailer is imploding.”

Rand said, “Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.” She believed that teamwork was for savages.

But not only have humans always had a tendency to cooperate and to look out for each other, in fact, it may be “that it is our hyper-social, cooperative brain that sets us apart [from other human-like species]. From language and culture to war and love, our most distinctively human behaviours all have a social element.” Teamwork is mankind’s greatest achievement.

Oftentimes, Rand’s self-interested fans end up simply sounding like children who scream through tears, “You’re not the boss of me.”

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A Horse, Of Course

A horse’s size and strength typically command awe and respect, mixed perhaps with a bit of fear for the uninitiated. But when watching an experienced horseman locked in a dance with a horse—walking forward, moving back—gracefully sensing each other’s movements before they happen, the horse’s power and beauty under control is an amazing thing to behold.

Lessons can be learned about life, including communication and leadership styles, by being around horses and connecting with them. “Horses have a very unique and honest way of teaching us about ourselves,” said Abby Jane Ferrin, an equestrian programs manager.

Working with horses teaches the value of:

The similarity of horses’ social and responsive behavior to human beings allows many types of special needs to be addressed by interacting with a horse. Equestrian therapy uses horses to promote emotional growth in individuals with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delayed mental development, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, depression, and brain injuries. It promotes confidence and self-esteem, enhances social relationships, and improves coping skills.

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Getting Better, V

News of success is the best way to inspire continued progress, according to Australian think tank Future Crunch.

“We really feel that negativity leads to cynicism, apathy, hopelessness and even hate,” said FC’s Tane Hunter. “While it does galvanise a few people into action, for the vast majority it really causes a retraction.”

“We believe a much better way to inspire change is through optimism. We believe that’s the best method and emotion to drive creative innovation and to build a better future.”

One example is to go beyond the stories heralding the economic “success stories” of these nations in the last few years:

According to Future Crunch, the greatest economic success story of all time is currently taking place in countries around the world.

For most of recorded history, they said, only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living. By far the majority of people were dirt poor—”bone-crushing, unrelenting, one-inadequate-meal-a-day, soul-destroying, no-dentist, no-doctor, no-electricity, single-accident-means-life-and-death poor”; inequality was just the way the world worked. As recently as 1970, around 60% of the world’s 3.7 billion people lived in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10% do, the lowest proportion of people in extreme poverty ever.

As Oxford researcher Max Roser puts it, the front page headline every day for the last 25 years should have read:


Future Crunch know the world is not a perfect place. “We still have massive issues with climate change, mass migration, Trump, Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, terrorism and Syria,” Hunter said.

But they insist, “you have to hold two ideas in your head at once: that the world is getting better and the world is not yet good enough. Our successors in the past should really give us hope as we move forward into the future.”

For the average human being on the planet today, the world has never been a better place. That’s a story well worth telling.

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No Newspapers, No Spreadsheets, No Waiting

As a kid in the 1970s, my friends and I played simulated baseball games by rolling dice and viewing charts made using the statistics of Major League players from previous seasons. Before long, however, we decided that the probabilities represented by the charts were not based on recent enough data. So we started taking the current season’s numbers—a limited version of which was printed in the newspaper every Sunday—and making new charts for our games every week.

Beginning in the 1980s, a scoring system called rotisserie baseball allowed people to form teams that competed based on the current statistics of Major League players, similar to what we had done, but without the probability-based gameplay aspect.

In the early 1990s, some friends in the office started a rotisserie (or fantasy) baseball league that relied heavily on two resources which had appeared just a few years before:

  • USA Today
  • Electronic spreadsheets

Introduced in 1982 as a national daily newspaper, USA Today printed the complete Major League Baseball statistics in the paper’s sports section every week of the season. It was a twice-weekly ritual to assign one of the league’s team managers to acquire a copy of the paper—for American League numbers on Tuesday and National League numbers on Wednesday—on the way to the office. We knew where the delivery boxes were around town and often what time they were typically filled, and we relied on the paper on those days for the week’s statistics to update the numbers for our players.

The league’s commissioner (who didn’t have a computer at home) would go to the office on Saturdays and enter the week’s numbers from the paper into our spreadsheet, which calculated current team totals and league standings that were printed and distributed to the owners on Mondays.

When the web came along in the late 1990s, of course, online fantasy leagues were quickly launched by major sports entities to attract visitors to their sites. Now, I manage fantasy teams in leagues with owners across the country and around the world. And while I no longer celebrate successes at year’s end with a Yoo-Hoo shower in a borrowed tuxedo, during the season I have access to my players’ data and the league standings in real time, pitch by pitch. No newspapers. No spreadsheets. No waiting. Amazing.

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