23 July 2006

We can drive ourselves to bursts of productivity for hours or even days at a time.  But beware of adopting a work style that makes ‘crisis mode’ an ongoing strategy.  This is a temptation for many of us precisely because the pressure and the high level of stimulation shield us from feelings of desperation, inadequacy or ordinary sadness.   

In the long run, what is best for our mission is also best for our wellbeing; our productivity derives from our wholeness.  Long-term effectiveness depends on self-care: adequate rest and physical exercise, mutually supportive relations with family and friends, a balanced variety of activities, interests, artistic and intellectual pursuits. 

– Josh Mitteldorf

22 July 2006

Expect Nothing

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

~ Alice Walker 

21 July 2006

“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole...If a person loves only one other person..., his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism...Love is an activity, a power of the soul... 

“If I truly love one person, I love all persons, I love the world.  To say to one person, ‘I love you’, I must be able to say ‘In you, I love everybody; through you I love the world; I love, in you, also myself.’”

Erich Fromm, from The Art of Loving

20 July 2006

A new study confirms a well-known paradox of human nature: people who are afforded freedom of choice are often no happier with the results than people who are assigned an option randomly.  The most obvious problem with these studies is that they focus on “consumer choices”, in areas where the differences are limited, and may only serve to remind us that what we really want is “none of the above”.

But this issue continues to fascinate us because it touches a deeper question about the human condition:  Even when we are permitted to make profound and meaningful choices expressing our deepest values, the result can often be a haunting feeling of responsibility for error.  Sartre would say we are “condemned to be free”.  I would say that our autonomy is an essential part of what makes us human; but I would contend that freedom needn't make us miserable.

B. F. Skinner was the much-reviled purveyor of a view of humanity that emphasizes our conditioned responses, rather than our autonomy; but his work was so appealing precisely because he rooted his values in understanding and concern for the human individual.  In Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he offered a message which is more relevant than ever to today's world:  

As a society, we hold people responsible for their actions (always by punishing moral failings, never by rewarding virtue).  But Skinner reminds us that if our goal is to diminish antisocial behaviors, then it is cheaper and more effective to establish supports, communal connections, and education, all of which make people less liable to fall into crime.  To de-emphasize punishment while creating a more inclusive society is wise, humane, and economically prudent as well.

19 July 2006

“I'll believe that computers are useful when they can empty the dishwasher.”

For a long time, computer programmers seemed unable to master the connections between visual images and navigation, or visual images and manipulation of the objects behind them.  Maybe this has started to change. Yesterday's New York Times cited examples of robots working in the laboratory that will, when mass-produced, become servants for daily living.

Cars that drive themselves are already here, but safety tests will have to be overwhelmingly convincing before they are released. There is a commercial electronic lifeguard for swimming pools, and a prototype robot that can assemble an Ikea bookcase.

18 July 2006

“To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Nelson Mandela celebrates his 88th birthday today.  Too often the oppressed struggle for their freedom, only to turn on their oppressors with a vengeance when they finally succeed.  Here is a man who spent 27 years in prison for his espousal of liberation, released from jail and empowered as the first President of all South Africa's people, he led the nation on a path of  forgiveness, compassion and unity.

17 July 2006

2 little whos
(he and she)
under are this
wonderful tree

smiling stand
(all realms of where
and when beyond)
now and here

(far from a grown
-up i&you-
ful world of known)
who and who

(2 little ams
and over them this
aflame with dreams
incredible is)

ee cummings