This week, I was going to write about the results of my November wardrobe experiment which ended yesterday, but I came across these musings from author Colin Wright and I thought it important to share them. Colin presents a means of looking at the world's current social and political situation in a way that, at least to me, was both novel and insightful.
I hope you enjoy reading his thoughts and that his words can help provide some clarity during increasingly turbulent times.
"One of the major challenges we face as an increasingly interconnected, globe-straddling species, is in how we organize ourselves even as our traditional distinctions dissipate.
It's easy to look around at the surging waves of nationalism and assume that this isn't an issue; we've clearly got our distinctions firmly in place. But a lot of what's happening today is a reflexive, unaimed mule-kick at a perceived attacker that's whittled away at our borders, our cultural identities, and our sense of geographic communities for decades. We were already knocking down walls leading up to the age of the microchip and fiberoptic cables, but the internet revolution, followed by the mobile internet revolution, blasted what was left of those walls into dust.
So now we see the inevitable, knee-jerk pushback against these perceived incursions; but this is most likely just a moment, not a new reality. The bigger picture, the larger wave, is one of new awareness and fewer divisions. We have just as many labels as we've always had, but we're also more knowledgable about people who wear different labels than we do. And with that knowledge comes a slow, certain expansion of our communication channels and interactions.
There's still a chance that what's happening in China, and increasingly in places like Russia, will spread farther and wider. Government lock-downs don't prevent the spread of information, but they do control the mainstream storyline. This has certain benefits for those in power, and can result in new, invisible, cyber-walls—but in the long-term, those, too, are likely to fall to the erosion of cultural tides, and the explosive attentions of digital sappers.
The aforementioned challenge of organization, then, is the somewhat unnoticed but very real next-step issue we'll have to face.
When conventions shift and traditions seem less and less relevant to each new generation, how do new communities coalesce?
Or in more practical terms: when neighborhoods cease to be unified, when neighbors seldom even know each other by name because our connections, our most important relationships are expansive and far-flung, no longer limited by geography; who are our neighbors? Who do we turn to when something goes wrong? What brings us together and gives us something to rally around?
For some people the obvious answer will be the communities that share their faith. For others it will be groups of people with whom they share some other ideology or hobby. Maybe your local board gaming club will be as close to a family as you've ever had beyond your circle of blood relatives.
But it seems to me that very often we leave a lot of potential community-building opportunities on the table. We look for obvious labels, shared in-group affiliations, rather than expanding our scope and considering what we actually hope to accomplish.
Consider that your local Secular Humanist group might share a lot of common ground with your local Christian Youth group.
Perhaps their ideas about how the universe was created differs. Perhaps they have conflicting ideas about prayer and science and politics.
But both of these groups may see the value in helping homeless people in their community. Perhaps both groups have a tradition of working at the local soup kitchen on holidays, and contributing to charities that provide food to the homeless on a more regular basis.
There are many differences between these two groups, but in this instance, at least, there's sufficient commonality that they could probably amplify their efforts if they worked together in some way. They might even benefit from each other's insights on the matter, though simply adding more hands, more wallets, to their efforts would be enough.
One of the major issues contributing to the current wave of cultural sequestration, of unhealthy tribalism, is that we see ourselves walking along a particular path, toward concrete milestones and goals, and we identify ourselves based on the path; the exact placement of each foot. And we do this to the exclusion of anyone else who might be headed in the same direction, aiming at the same or similar goals and milestones, because they didn't arrive there via the exact same path as us. They maybe took a more meandering route, or came at it from a different direction.
They want to feed the hungry because their faith prescribes it, and you want to feed the hungry because you believe doing is a latently moral pursuit.
In some things, how you get there matters. If you earn a million dollars by stealing other people's savings, that's very different from earning a million dollars by inventing a cure for malaria.
In other things, though—most things, perhaps—the way you get there is less relevant than what you're trying to achieve. What you hope to accomplish, and how you decide to do so.
By looking around, looking at the other people who're walking in similar directions, or toward similar goals, we may be able to not just better accomplish these same objectives, these collective pursuits, but we may also find ourselves opening up to new ideas about who is part of our in-group, and who isn't. We may find that just about anyone can, on the context of some shared goal, in some facet of life, seem very similar to us. Can be respectable by our standards, and us by theirs.
It'll still be a little while, I think, before we start to feel most of the temporal, negative consequences of our new technologies, our smartphones and social networks. These are innovations that are incredibly valuable, but we haven't updated our thinking, our norms, in such a way that we can use them optimally. Today, many of us cling to filler identities: slogans and platforms shouted by brands, be they political or corporate, that help us feel like we're a part of something, but which often fail to align with our actual ideals and values with adequate accuracy.
How you get there matters, but where you're going and actually getting there is also important.
Keep that in mind when you look out into the world seeking allies, camaraderie, and community."
This piece reminded me of an article I read about the ever diversifying ethnic groups composing the US population. I forget the details but the main idea was that in 40 or 50 years, no ethnic group will be in the majority (over 50%). Although partisan divides can and certainly do transcend ethnic groups, this will certainly make it harder for extreme groups such as conservative white supremacists to promote political leaders which they see as in support of their values, as we saw with the recent presidential election.
In any case, the aspect of his post that I enjoyed the most was the positive manner in which he viewed the current rise of both nationalism and right-wing extremism as a reaction to significant progress towards a more just, democratic, and understanding global community. I certainly hope he is right on this front, and that our ever advancing technological prowess enables the future free of walls that he described.
Photo is of an old Japanese bill for ¥5 that I found when going through my Grandfather's old photos from WWII. As I understand it, the set of bills, which also included French Francs, German Marks, and bills which appear to be Francs from Belgium and Luxembourg, was sent to my Grandfather by a friend after the war had ended. My host brother from Japan, Masaki, said that he thinks the Japanese bill was printed sometime between 1930-1946, which would make sense contextually. He also said "We used to read letters right to left. So here it says '日本銀行券' and it means 'the ticket of the Japanese bank'." The man on the bill is Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian period. The building is Kitano Tenman-gu Shinto Shrine (built in 947) in Kamigyo-ku, Kytoto.
These past few weeks at college reminded me about a useful tool I discovered in high school, and I thought I might share information about the tool since it has been coming up in conversation so often.
The post comes from Tim Ferriss' Blog, and for simplicity's sake, I would recommend you go read the article over on his site: Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes
Once you've read that article, you are probably intrigued but still a bit skeptical about the efficacy of this method. Speaking from experience, I can tell you it works. I don't remember exactly by how much the method improved my speed, but I definitely notice a difference between the times I use the technique and those when I do not. Although I don't often use this method for novels, as it somewhat takes the fun out of reading, and does not completely allow you to savor a book in the same way as normal reading does, the method has proved invaluable when reading academic works. I used the method in all of my AP classes back in high school, and it never seemed to fail. So far, it worked well in college too, however I haven't been using it that often, since the books I have been required to read are mostly so enjoyable I prefer to savor them.
From a practical standpoint, reading three times faster may be extremely useful, however it does draw into question the pace at which we choose to live our life. Although optimizing the systems we use to work towards our goals is often a necessary step towards success, sometimes it can be better to just take a step back and savor the moment. Perhaps the time saved by reading faster is useful, but what about the time saved by walking at a faster pace to class? or eating meals faster? At some point, this tendency to speed through life has to stop, or you face the risk of burn out and many other unhealthy side effects.
Starting on Wednesday November 1st, 2017, I am going to be wearing clothes only from a carefully selected group of 24 articles for the duration of the month. This experiment was inspired by the Wool & Prince Founder's own experiments such as wearing the same shirt for 100 days straight. For my experiment, I limited the selection to what would fit in my backpack.
To begin, a bit about why I'm doing this experiment:
Ultimately, it is a goal of mine to travel the world with only this backpack in tow, working remotely from my computer for some extended period of time (1 year - ???). This will involve only having one article of clothing from each category (i.e. button down, t-shirt, pants, etc.) and keeping physical possessions to a minimum. After traveling close to this style last summer, I began to question why I need so many more clothes at home, when not traveling. This really became apparent when packing for college and I realized that a person (me) who tries to lean towards a minimalist lifestyle still had more things than would fit in the car.
I think that after traveling even more in this manner I will be inclined to get rid of all my clothes except for the ones I travel with, but that day hasn't come just yet. Another possible benefit is less time spent in the morning trying to pick out a matching outfit. I know this is something people often tell me I struggle with, and I'm hoping reducing the amount of choices will improve the outcome. Lastly, I like fun challenges like these, I'm not quite sure why but they tend to get me excited about all the possibilities that life has to offer beyond what society deems as normal.
Now that the first week of the quarter at UChicago is over, I thought it might be fun to celebrate by looking back at the essay I wrote which helped earn a spot at this institution.
The University of Chicago is known for its wacky essay prompts which include statements such as, "What's so odd about odd numbers?," "So where is Waldo, really?" and "Find x." Some even go as far as to have writers create their own idiom or describing a portal to an imaginary world. For my essay, I picked a more straightforward prompt: "What is square one and can you go back to it?" Here is my response:
"This fall, I went back home after a year studying abroad in Germany. Before I left the USA, many people from my exchange program told me what a serious commitment studying abroad is. They mentioned that there would be times when I would feel more loneliness than ever before, would have to fend for myself in a foreign environment, and would have to essentially begin my life over again. But what everyone failed to mention, was that the most difficult aspect of studying abroad was not my time spent in the program, but rather, my return 'home.'
On the outside, at first glance, Pittsburgh should be my square one. I am familiar with the city, am a good student and have both close and extended family there. My life in Pittsburgh certainly feels very comfortable. I go to school every day, enjoy what I learn, socialize with friends, and partake in my activities outside of school. After living in the same place for 16 years, I had developed a routine. Yet, somehow this routine was not enough, and, on the inside, kept me away from square one. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed my life and was very grateful for what I had—but still, I found myself feeling drawn elsewhere. That feeling brought me to Germany.
While on the NESA Expedition in South Africa, Ethan and I explored and surveyed numerous caves. Perhaps the coolest part of this experience, was the promise from the Wits team that they would choose one of the caves we visited and name it after us! Here is the map of my cave:
It came as quite a surprise as they only mentioned this to us in the last few minutes of our time on the University campus, and to be honest, I thought they were mostly joking at the time. However, a month or two after returning, Ethan and I now have our own caves! I guess this will just give us one more reason to go back for a visit.
Speaking of our own caves, I think it is a very interesting tendency we have of naming things after people in general. The logical way to name something would be based off of its attributes or location, rather than who discovered it. However, we have been naming things after ourselves, our leaders, or historical figures for centuries, if not millenia. Does it have something to do with our pride, or a feeble attempt to inflate our own egos? Regardless, I think it important to take a moment's pause and consider why we name things in the manner that we do.
"Who should we believe in times of Trump and fake news?"
This article comes from my friend in Germany, Johann. He is the Head Editor for the student newspaper, GO Public, at Gymnasium Othmarschen. I hope it will help you to consider the crucial role the media plays in a democracy from a new perspective.
"'The truth: it's probably somewhere between Tagesschau (a German daily news program) and Russia Today'. When it's getting late and there is nothing else to complain or gossip about, then such sayings can become common. The era when one trusted the major newspapers or even the Tagesschau (literally: Today Show) is now history. A distrust of the press and the main-stream media has established itself in many young adults. This idea is verified by the survey 'Generation What' that was commissioned by the Bavarian and Southwest Broadcasting Corporations. Twenty-four percent of German teens don't trust 'the media' at all, and forty percent are skeptical of the media's reliability. If you look at the numbers for all the people in Europe between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, the lack of trust gets even larger.
In a democracy, critical thinking is imperative. For all intents and purposes, these numbers should be reassuring, because they show that most people won't simply accept what's placed in front of them as always true.
Sometimes people will ask me why the URL for my blog is "justleap." Well it all started off a few years ago when I was creating my old blog/website in preparation for my year abroad in Germany. I knew I wanted a URL that was short, easy to remember, and relevant to the content of my blog.
I happened to be at a local shipping store when I came across the following magnet.
This magnet seemed to encompass what I hoped would become a key aspect of my blog: encouraging others to follow their dreams, even when they seem scary at times, with the knowledge that in the end things will most likely work out, often times just requiring that first step.
However, this summer my friend Nathan Vislosky did intern at the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia.
So what exactly did you do at NASA this summer?
I ran a training feasibility study.
My friend from high school, Alexa, is now attending college at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is the site of the Unite the Right rally that took place about two weeks ago.
The far right groups including Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protestors turned violent and attacked the counter protestors in acts of terrorism which even resulted in the death of one woman.
UVA is a state run, liberal arts university, and as such, was very strongly against both the protest’s ideals and the violence.