Saturday, April 30, 2011

38 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 38 Years | zen habits

38 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 38 Years | zen habits

38 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 38 Years

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Today I turn 38 years old.

I’ve been on this earth for nearly four decades. Being in a city like Paris, where there are buildings that measure their age by the millennia, helps put that brief blink of the eye into perspective. But still, it amazes me that I’ve been around that long — I feel like I’ve barely begun.

I’m not usually one to make a big deal about my birthday, but as always, it has given me an opportunity to reflect. I thought I’d share a handful of lessons I’ve learned — as a helpful guide for those just starting out.

This post is for my children, whom I miss greatly across the distance of a continent and an ocean. I hope this will shine a dim light on the streets they have to navigate ahead of them, though I know they’ll still stumble as much as I have.

This is for you, Chloe, Justin, Rain, Maia, Seth and Noelle. I apologize for the length.

38 Lessons I’ve Learned in My 38 Years

1. Always swallow your pride to say you’re sorry. Being too proud to apologize is never worth it — your relationship suffers for no good benefit.

2. Possessions are worse than worthless — they’re harmful. They add no value to your life, and cost you everything. Not just the money required to buy them, but the time and money spent shopping for them, maintaining them, worrying about them, insuring them, fixing them, etc.

3. Slow down. Rushing is rarely worth it. Life is better enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

4. Goals aren’t as important as we think. Try working without them for a week. Turns out, you can do amazing things without goals. And you don’t have to manage them, cutting out on some of the bureaucracy of your life. You’re less stressed without goals, and you’re freer to choose paths you couldn’t have foreseen without them.

5. The moment is all there is. All our worries and plans about the future, all our replaying of things that happened in the past — it’s all in our heads, and it just distracts us from fully living right now. Let go of all that, and just focus on what you’re doing, right at this moment. In this way, any activity can be meditation.

6. When your child asks for your attention, always grant it. Give your child your full attention, and instead of being annoyed at the interruption, be grateful for the reminder to spend time with someone you love.

7. Don’t go into debt. That includes credit card debt, student debt, home debt, personal loans, auto loans. We think they’re necessary but they’re not, at all. They cause more headaches than they’re worth, they can ruin lives, and they cost us way more than we get. Spend less than you earn, go without until you have the money.

8. I’m not cool, and I’m cool with that. I wasted a lot of energy when I was younger worrying about being cool. It’s way more fun to forget about that, and just be yourself.

9. The only kind of marketing you need is an amazing product. If it’s good, people will spread the word for you. All other kind of marketing is disingenuous.

10. Never send an email or message that’s unfit for the eyes of the world. In this digital age, you never know what might slip into public view.

11. You can’t motivate people. The best you can hope for is to inspire them with your actions. People who think they can use behavioral “science” or management techniques have not spent enough time on the receiving end of either.

12. If you find yourself swimming with all the other fish, go the other way. They don’t know where they’re going either.

13. You will miss a ton, but that’s OK. We’re so caught up in trying to do everything, experience all the essential things, not miss out on anything important … that we forget the simple fact that we cannot experience everything. That physical reality dictates we’ll miss most things. We can’t read all the good books, watch all the good films, go to all the best cities in the world, try all the best restaurants, meet all the great people. But the secret is: life is better when we don’t try to do everything. Learn to enjoy the slice of life you experience, and life turns out to be wonderful.

14. Mistakes are the best way to learn. Don’t be afraid to make them. Try not to repeat the same ones too often.

15. Failures are the stepping stones to success. Without failure, we’ll never learn how to succeed. So try to fail, instead of trying to avoid failure through fear.

16. Being a vegan/vegetarian is wonderful. For many years I thought it was a ridiculous notion, that I couldn’t give up meat, that it was a sacrifice not worth suffering through. I now know that it’s no sacrifice, that our taste buds easily change, that I’m enjoying vegan dishes more than anything I’ve ever eaten before, and I’m reducing the suffering of animals in the meantime.

17. There are few joys that equal a good book, a good walk, a good hug, or a good friend. All are free.

18. Fitness doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process, a learning process, something that happens in little bits over a long period. I’ve been getting fit for five years now, and I still have more to learn and do. But the progress I’ve made has been amazing, and it’s been a great journey.

19. The destination is just a tiny slice of the journey. We’re so worried about goals, about our future, that we miss all the great things along the way. If you’re fixated on the goal, on the end, you won’t enjoy it when you get there. You’ll be worried about the next goal, the next destination.

20. A good walk cures most problems. Want to lose weight and get fit? Walk. Want to enjoy life but spend less? Walk. Want to cure stress and clear your head? Walk. Want to meditate and live in the moment? Walk. Having trouble with a life or work problem? Walk, and your head gets clear.

21. Let go of expectations. When you have expectations of something — a person, an experience, a vacation, a job, a book — you put it in a predetermined box that has little to do with reality. You set up an idealized version of the thing (or person) and then try to fit the reality into this ideal, and are often disappointed. Instead, try to experience reality as it is, appreciate it for what it is, and be happy that it is.

22. Giving is so much better than getting. Give with no expectation of getting something in return, and it becomes a purer, more beautiful act. To often we give something and expect to get an equal measure in return — at least get some gratitude or recognition for our efforts. Try to let go of that need, and just give.

23. Competition is very rarely as useful as cooperation. Our society is geared toward competition — rip each other’s throats out, survival of the fittest, yada yada. But humans are meant to work together for the survival of the tribe, and cooperation pools our resources and allows everyone to contribute what they can. It requires a whole other set of people skills to work cooperatively, but it’s well worth the effort.

24. Gratitude is one of the best ways to find contentment. We are often discontent in our lives, desire more, because we don’t realize how much we have. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for the amazing gifts you’ve been given: of loved ones and simple pleasures, of health and sight and the gift of music and books, of nature and beauty and the ability to create, and everything in between. Be grateful every day.

25. Compassion for other living things is more important than pleasure. Many people scoff at vegetarianism because they love the taste of meat and cheese too much, but they are putting the pleasure of their taste buds ahead of the suffering of other living, feeling beings. You can be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian (even vegan) diet, so killing and torturing animals is absolutely unnecessary. Compassion is a much more fulfilling way to live than closing your eyes to suffering.

26. Taste buds change. I thought I could never give up meat, but by doing it slowly, I never missed it. I thought I could never give up junk food like sweets, fried crap, nachos, all kinds of unhealthy things … and yet today I would rather eat some fresh berries or raw nuts. Weird, but it’s amazing how much our taste buds can change.

27. Create. The world is full of distractions, but very few are as important as creating. In my job as a writer, there is nothing that comes close to being as crucial as creating. In my life, creating is one of the few things that has given me meaning. When it’s time to work, clear away all else and create.

28. Get some perspective. Usually when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. In the larger picture, this one problem means almost nothing. This fight we’re having with someone else — it’s over something that matters naught. Let it go, and move on.

29. Don’t sit too much. It kills you. Move, dance, run, play.

30. Use the magic of compound interest. Invest early, and it will grow as if by alchemy. Live on little, don’t get into debt, save all you can, and invest it in mutual funds. Watch your money grow.

31. All we are taught in schools, and all we see in the media (news, films, books, magazines, Internet) has a worldview that we’re meant to conform to. Figure out what that worldview is, and question it. Ask if there are alternatives, and investigate. Hint: the corporations exert influence over all of our information sources. Another hint: read Chomsky.

32. Learn the art of empathy. Too often we judge people on too little information. We must try to understand what they do instead, put ourselves in their shoes, start with the assumption that what others do has a good reason if we understand what they’re going through. Life becomes much better if you learn this art.

33. Do less. Most people try to do too much. They fill life with checklists, and try to crank out tasks as if they were widget machines. Throw out the checklists and just figure out what’s important. Stop being a machine and focus on what you love. Do it lovingly.

34. No one knows what they’re doing as parents. We’re all faking it, and hoping we’re getting it right. Some people obsess about the details, and miss out on the fun. I just try not to mess them up too much, to show them they’re loved, to enjoy the moments I can with them, to show them life is fun, and stay out of the way of them becoming the amazing people they’re going to become. That they already are.

35. Love comes in many flavors. I love my children, completely and more than I can ever fully understand. I love them each in a different way, and know that each is perfect in his or her own way.

36. Life is exceedingly brief. You might feel like there’s a huge mass of time ahead of you, but it passes much faster than you think. Your kids grow up so fast you get whiplash. You get gray hairs before your done getting your bearings on life. Appreciate every damn moment.

37. Fear will try to stop you. Doubts will try to stop you. You’ll shy away from doing great things, from going on new adventures, from creating something new and putting it out in the world, because of self-doubt and fear. It will happen in the recesses of your mind, where you don’t even know it’s happening. Become aware of these doubts and fears. Shine some light on them. Beat them with a thousand tiny cuts. Do it anyway, because they are wrong.

38. I have a lot left to learn. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I know almost nothing, and that I’m often wrong about what I think I know. Life has many lessons left to teach me, and I’m looking forward to them all.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prophets of the Environmental Apocalypse | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches

Prophets of the Environmental Apocalypse | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches

  • Peter Laarman

    Peter Laarman is executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, a network of activist individuals and congregations headquartered in Los Angeles. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for the ministry.

  • Twilight wars in the Middle East, Japan’s nuclear catastrophe, Deepwater Horizon, worldwide crop failures, massive die-offs of long-established species: it’s all so very scary. Looming over all of it is the idea that we foolish humans have triggered some deep-level physical processes (methane gas release, ocean acidification, etc.) that now possess an ominous life of their own.

    In these circumstances the word that slides naturally from the tongues of pundits is “apocalyptic.” It strikes many that we are now entering an apocalyptic scenario without precedent in recorded history. My interest here is comparing and contrasting the End Times as envisioned by certain of the faithful and the End Times as conceived by, say, James Hansen—the NASA climate change prophet. I’m interested not only in what the doomsday prophets say but also in how we receive what they say—in the part of ourselves that actually thrills to it.

    But before parsing similarities and differences we might first consider the locus classicus for all things apocalyptic. That would be THE Apocalypse, a.k.a. The Revelation to St. John the Divine: the Technicolor showpiece that forms the very last book of the Christian Bible. For biblical scholars, “apocalyptic” refers to an entire genre of material generated by frightened people in trouble.

    John’s Revelation grows out of the trials and tribulations of a persecuted early Christian community. The strands of apocalyptic in the Hebrew Scriptures—e.g., in the books of Daniel and Joel—concern the oppressions and dreams of deliverance experienced by groups of displaced Jews. What is called the Intertestamentary Period of Second Temple Judaism was marked by strong apocalyptic strains.

    And for generations, scholars have argued about the extent of Jesus’ own apocalyptic consciousness. When Jesus speaks of an imminent judgment (Mt. 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21), it’s clear that he’s referring to something his followers know about already–to a shared expectation that the End is near and that the End will be scary. Paul shares something of this same End Times consciousness; he clearly expects Christ to return in his own lifetime, although for him the expectation is less frightening than reassuring.

    For Christians of a literalist persuasion, the End Times can be delayed but never denied. Thus there have been, at various intervals, moments of heightened expectation and frenzy. AD 1000 was a big one for the obvious reason that something major should be happening at the 1,000 year point—the millennium mark. In this country 1844 was a big year, thanks to the Millerite craze, while the last days of 1999 had pious folk worried about more than just computer failure. And then there are the millions and millions who could not and still cannot get enough of the Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins “Left Behind” potboilers. At least LaHaye and Jenkins were smart enough to honor Jesus’ warning that “no one knows the day or the hour.” It made good business sense for them to honor it: the co-authors preferred to keep people guessing—and keep their book sales flowing.

    I was once hooked on apocalyptic endings myself. In my early teens I became briefly fascinated by “The World Tomorrow” radio broadcasts of crackpot preacher Garner Ted Armstrong. And really, what 12-year-old kid living on an isolated Wisconsin farm would notbe thrilled to learn that the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel later evolved into Angles and Saxons? Not to mention that the Stone of Scone used in British coronations over the centuries is the self-same stone that was used at the coronation of King David? I remember that Garner Ted’s manner regarding this malarkey was so calmly matter-of-fact. To me that authoritative tone of his was the clincher.

    I mention this merely to illustrate how compelling and seductive apocalyptic thinking can be clearly a point of commonality between our religious and our non-religious apocalypticists. Both are talking about very grand and hair-raising events that are spinning out of control. Some other commonalities:

    • Each version has its insiders, its lead prophets, who reveal or unveil End Time scenarios. This perfectly fits the apocalyptic genre, as the Greek root refers specifically to such uncovering.
    • Each focuses on cumulative human folly and recalcitrance as the underlying source of impending doom. They define the folly somewhat differently, but in each case it is lust, cupidity, and willful disobedience that set the doomsday machine in motion.
    • Each version features an offended deity. The biblical literalists believe that a righteous God must cleanse the earth of filth and corruption before Christ’s thousand-year reign on earth can commence. Secular climate-change doomsayers may not use the term Gaia in their work or believe that Earth itself possesses consciousness, but they still tend to suggest that Mother Earth has been grievously wounded by the relentless abuse she has suffered—and that she will have her ways of striking back.
    • Each apocalyptic frame preaches that radical repentance may yet allow erring humans to escape the worst.

    Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge how pointless and offensive this whole line of inquiry must appear to some. Readers may well say, for example, that just because the doomsday warnings of certain environmentalists happen to exhibit formal similarities to what religious wing nuts are up to means absolutely nothing—and that it is preposterous and outrageous for me to imply that passionate environmentalists might in some way be unhinged in the manner of the End Times preachers.

    Let me be clear: I am not saying that our best environmental prophets—not Jim Hansen, not Bill McKibben, not Wendell Berry, not Vandana Shiva—are “out there” in a way that should give us pause. These are all sober, scientifically-grounded people. But sober and well-grounded people who have seen the future and who are terrified by what they see find it rather difficult to put up with the temporizing and tergiversation that mark the mainstream response to such an overwhelming crisis. Their sense of acute urgency can easily be mistaken for fanaticism. And of course it is precisely that slight edge of hysteria that their well-organized opponents love to seize upon in order to dismiss them as mere cranks.

    There are other marked differences between environmental prophets and faith-fueled apocalypticists. One is that the enviros aren’t talking about a single catastrophic moment or event but rather a series of events—albeit rapidly evolving—that will dramatically transform conditions on the planet. Another is that the enviros don’t believe for a minute that after the very bad days there will be some kind of clearing or deliverance in the way that millenarian Christians believe.

    A third difference has to do with human agency. Most environmental prophets think it’s still possible—barely—that humans might just rise to the occasion and significantly change their destructive behavior. Most religious doomsayers do not seriously believe that any radical repentance will occur—and they rather hope that it won’t, because they so relish the thought of the wicked being consumed as the cups of divine wrath are poured out.

    Doomsday Deferred: The Nuclear Overhang

    It may be helpful to recall that popular anxiety about The End has actually been with us for quite some time—at least from the moment in July 1945 when Manhattan Project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted Vedic scripture at Los Alamos: “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

    Many Americans actually felt pretty good about the nuclear bomb for a little bit, though that changed once those damned Russkies got a bomb of their own. Partly to allay growing fears of annihilation, President Eisenhower in 1953 began heavily promoting the “Atoms for Peace” concept through which the lethal nuclear fission process might be seen as but another mainstay of American prosperity, powering our homes and factories with new supplies of electric power that would be “too cheap to meter.” In 1957 Walt Disney even released a movie titled “Our Friend, the Atom.”

    Looking back now, it’s quite easy to see why the happy talk from Ike and Walt failed to quell our nuclear nightmares. In somewhat the same way that climate change denialism functions today, the Atoms for Peace campaign merely divided public opinion, allowing some to sleep easy and the most knowledgeable people even more distraught and fearful. Events like the recent reactor meltdown in Northeastern Japan can bring even the sleepers back to the edge of anxiety, and then there’s the persistent fear that a nut job or a terrorist will decide to usher in apocalypse using nuclear materials.

    The relevance of living in the nuclear shadow to living in the climate change shadow is simply this: apocalyptic fear cuts both ways. It can spur some palliative action, but it can also cause people to cling to false hopes and delusions and shut down their capacity for creative responses. Such people think: We’ve gone almost seven decades without destroying the earth in a thermonuclear holocaust—surely we’re not going to let a little thing like melting polar ice caps trouble us, are we?

    Spreading fear can also prompt another unhelpful reaction: what we might call the “fear junky” response in which we actually become attached to the fear and create a whole culture around it, as with the Godzilla cult that grew up in Japan in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We see something like that today in the activities of radical environmentalists who don’t actually organize for change but prefer to wallow instead in the pornography of planetary decline and death.

    A Proposal: Try Working Under the Rainbow Sign

    For everyone purveying apocalyptic scenarios—for the biblicists as well as for the distraught secularists—there might be some wisdom and some consolation in recalling the Rainbow Sign that God gave to Noah following the Great Flood (Genesis 8). In this never-revoked covenantal promise God says: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind…As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

    Biblicists might wish to take to heart the fact that in making this pledge, God acknowledges that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth,” but God also says very clearly that human evil will never again warrant a divine vendetta against the whole human race. So the Biblicists need to consult their Bibles in order to see that their idea about the weight of human sin triggering apocalyptic destruction has no scriptural support.

    For secular environmental prophets, the Rainbow Sign takeaway will be quite different. These folks never imagined that God would or could undo God’s own glorious creation. For them divine action (or divine inaction) cannot be an issue. But might they not also find some calming and some hope within the poetry of Genesis 8?

    There’s a lot of hope, I think, in that image of the earth spinning peacefully on its axis, with seedtime and harvest coming perpetually and with the God of the bible promising to just let it be. Because if nature is ordered in this way, why on earth would we humans wish to disturb it? Why would we want to be the ones to bring the whole thing down?

    And then there’s all that planting and building that begins to take place almost immediately under the Rainbow Sign. Here, too, is a clue for our environmental doomsayers: Don’t disdain all economic activity so much, but redirect it toward higher ends. If your only alternative to the Peak Oil economy is a nuts-and-berries economy, you have already lost. Try to show how the sustainability path is a joyful path, not a grim monastic path.

    It may be true, as many have said, that the next revolution—the green revolution—will be the first revolution in history that cannot promise material advancement in the same way that people have traditionally construed such advancement. But that does not mean we will be living immaterial lives—or that living much more modestly upon the earth will not prove to be quite sublimely satisfying. Teach that, please! And bring your poets, not your polymaths, to the front lines of the green revolution.

    Getting energy from fossil fuels has proved itself to be unsustainable in a big way. Almost everyone gets that now. Do not imagine, however, that human energy can be shut down or thwarted. Learn to view it as William Blake viewed it—as an eternal and irrepressible delight.

    Yes, dear ones: The End Is Near! But it is the end of a lifestyle that was weighted down with overconsumption in the first place. No need to be so grim and (dare I say it?) so apocalypticin our approach to changing it up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Michael Pollan tells University of Portland audience to ditch processed food |

Michael Pollan tells University of Portland audience to ditch processed food |

Michael Pollan tells University of Portland audience to ditch processed food

Published: Monday, April 18, 2011, 10:00 AM Updated: Monday, April 18, 2011, 1:14 PM
pollan.jpgView full sizeAuthor Michael Pollan.
Michael Pollan kicked off his lecture Saturday with a bit of a horror show. The best-selling author lugged two grocery bags on stage at theUniversity of Portland's Chiles Center, and began pulling out packages of some of the scariest products lurking on supermarket shelves.

Things like a frozen fruit pizza with cheese, artificial sweetener spiked with fiber, ginger ale made with green tea and antioxidants, chocolate-flavored Cheerios, and something calledGatorade 01 Prime Pre-Game Fuel.

"It boasts that it has no fruit juice," Pollan said. "Just chemicals."

What all the products had in common was that each made nutritional claims on their packaging, and Pollan said that those misleading claims were making it difficult for consumers to find healthy food when they shop.

"People will bring home that green tea ginger ale instead of Coca-Cola and think they're doing something good," he told the near-capacity audience.

Pollan said that Americans have become obsessed with the nutritional value of the food they eat, creating an unhealthy paradox, given the nation's high rate of obesity and health problems that are directly related to diet. This obsession is rooted in an ideology that Pollan calls "Nutritionism."

Like any ideology, nutritionism has core beliefs: food is a delivery system for nutrients; you need experts to tell you how to eat; foods can be divided into camps of good and evil; and the only reason to eat is to maintain and promote bodily health.

Instead of following this broken ideology, Pollan advocates an old-fashioned idea: How about eating because it gives us pleasure and fosters community?

"We need to take back control of our diet from the priesthood who would tell us what to eat," Pollan said. "We had a way to eat before we had food science. We had food culture. And culture is really just a fancy word for your mom."

To eat better, Pollan recommended that people shop the perimeter of grocery stores, since that's where the least-processed and generally healthiest foods reside, and focus on foods that are perishable.

"Foods are alive and they should die eventually," he said. "Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot."

Pollan had a few more don'ts to add to his list: Don't eat anything that has ingredients you can't identify; whatever you eat, don't eat too much of it; and don't eat anything you see advertised on television.

The Most Important Question a Manager Can Ask - Linda Hill & Kent Lineback - Harvard Business Review

The Most Important Question a Manager Can Ask - Linda Hill & Kent Lineback - Harvard Business Review

When is the last time you asked the group you manage, and the individuals in it, this simple question:

What can I do to help you be more effective?

What question could be more central to being a good boss? If you want to manage and lead successfully, you've got to know what the people doing the work need. So why not ask them? But the truth is, this question is not asked by bosses nearly enough.

You'll get a variety of answers, especially in the beginning — including non-answers ("Gee, nothing. Keep doing what you're doing.") and requests you can't do much about — personal problems, company policies you can't change, complaints about colleagues who make this person's work life miserable, as well as personal requests you can't or won't address (such as "Raise my pay" from someone whose performance is mediocre). Take everything under advisement, if you can't respond immediately. Promise to take action when you think it's warranted but resist efforts to "delegate up."

You will also get answers that are implicit or even explicit criticisms of you. Respond to these by explaining yourself, but don't argue or react defensively. Admit mistakes, if appropriate. At the least, respond with, "Let me think about that. Thanks for telling me."

Discuss, listen, explain, educate, and, above all, understand what the person or group is saying. Be caring but candid. If you can't change company policies or pay grades, explain that. If you disagree with what you're hearing, talk about that respectfully. These are opportunities for both or all of you to learn.

Beyond such answers, however, you will hear ways you really can make people more effective. Finding that may require discussion, careful listening, and respectful probing, and a willingness on your part to hear hard things and to change. Perhaps you really do need to step back and let people do their work; or, perhaps you should get more involved. Perhaps some group work processes need to change. Perhaps you need to talk to a colleague who heads another group about how uncooperative her people are. These things are often easy to do and can make an immediate difference.

Once you start these discussions, you'll find they don't take much time, except when they deserve more time. And they pay dividends. They build trust, they help people work together better and do better work, they identify and remove obstacles.

They also make you more effective because they reveal what's on people's minds. Like it or not, what people think is what they think, and you need to know what that is. Above all, you need to know what people expect from you, the boss. If you don't know what they expect, and their expectations are unreasonable, you can't negotiate new ones and you'll go on disappointing them.

In many organizations, expectations are assumed to flow in only one direction — down. In fact, they flow up as well, though few organizations pay much attention. Too bad. Being a boss is a two-way street. People are more likely to rise to your expectations if you try to understand and rise to what they expect of you.