Nothing of Consequence

©#74A few people who I have run into lately have asked the standard question: “What have you been up to?”, a troublesome question of cultural dimension.

My answer lately has been, “Nothing of consequence.”, and the reactions to that have been interesting to note.

One of the more mature human beings I know, Mark Lyndersay, took it in stride, perhaps because I have been uncharacteristically open with him a few times.

Others, though, seem boggled by my response. The modern human condition, most certainly as fatal as it ever was, comes with a need to demonstrate some level of progress to others. It is expected that the progress will be exaggerated to some degree – some overdo that – but there is this need to report some level of moving forward in the context of society.

Buying a house. Buying a car. Getting a better job, or promotion, a new significant other, the removal of an old significant other… all the way down to minutiae, like buying new clothing or something that somehow is supposed to improve status.

And this, in turn, is used by others who are connected to you to show others the value of their status being connected to you, and so on. This is how those networks are built.

So to tell people you are doing nothing of consequence, whether true or not, is amusing, and I think productive.

It’s a reality check. When I think of what I have worthy to report, I think of what will be remembered not even 100 years from now, but 20, and in this day of age it boils down to…

Nothing of consequence.

Snorkel Depth

Fountained.I haven’t published anything online recently. I write that without apology and most certainly without remorse.

Simply put, I did not feel like writing. I’ve been adjusting to the new prison of my life, where I now no longer need worry about what comes next as much as paying attention to the now and also reflecting on the past through different eyes.

It has been sort of like the tilt-shift photo here at top. It looks nice, but that lack of symmetry of the plants is not quite right.

Not long ago, I almost broke my silence to write about the experience of using up a bottle of dish washing detergent in my new home – my first permanent home – and the feeling of permanence it gave. But that feeling past, and therefore wasn’t permanent, which in itself is irony. The litany of bottles of dishwashing detergent that I have used since has become the norm, and that becoming the norm is itself the change.

Most of my life, I gauged the size of the bottle of the dish washing detergent I purchased to how long I expected to be at a place. I do not do this anymore.

There are other small things that cropped up like these, novelties to me, but I imagine so normal for others. That the way I am now living is closer to what most consider normal is actually a collection of small treasures and poisons for me.

Most of my life – why does the phrase ‘natural life’ get used, as if an unnatural life were possible – I have effectively lived by what I could carry to the next place, and the next place.

That affects how you deal with everything. If you’re constantly on the move, you compartmentalize, always ready for that next leap, always ready to jump at an opportunity regardless of geography, or relationships.

Part of the latter, too, is that what I do at any given moment has always been more important than the people. My life has taught me that people leave, that we leave, and that nothing stays the same no matter how strong of a connection.

The last season of ‘Ray Donovan’ on Netflix was great writing this way. “Forgive yourself” was a large part of it, but then, if and when we do forgive ourselves, what is left? If we forgive ourselves, what happens to us? And in my own way, I’m finding that out too. Brilliant writing for that show, by the way, worth watching. 

Maybe he knows a different way of doing the same thing. Should be interesting.I’ve been reading as well, of course. This book, while not an original thought to me (similar to some things I have learned over time), was also an enjoyable read.

 

Where I live now – allegedly a community – there are people at different levels of the social structure of society. Some are great, some are annoying, but I have the luxury to contemplate them all in the solitude of my new world. Each a character, each with their own stories. And, as I fall into place in my own world, water filling a depression, I cannot help but love the fact that not caring as much about them leaves me understanding them better. Their passions and loves on their sleeves, they run amok.

And I see pain, and sometimes I feel that pain, which is yet another reason I stay to myself. Buddha was on to something, and maybe Buddha did right by himself or not – we will never know.

So I don’t know exactly what is coming next. I am slowly returning from my submarine view of myself, my life, and the people around me.

Sometimes it’s pleasant, sometimes not, and without anger or regret, my tropisms will lead me to what is more pleasant to me. That, in and of itself, is a new novelty…

Leaders, Managers, Bosses.

boss leaderOver the last decade, I’ve had to explain way too often the difference between leadership, management, and being a boss. There are people with training that will disagree with some of what I write, if not all of it, but you can notice my level of concern with what they think by the fact that I’m publishing this.

Leadership is the ability to lead – and it requires a few ingredients that can vary across cultures and groups. Probably the most important aspect of leadership is trust.

People have to trust the leader, which is the constant political debacle of humanity. How that trust is formed varies around the world (When Culture Collide: Leading Across Cultures is a good resource, though the Caribbean suffered some laziness). That trust in someone as a leader is the most important aspect.

Regardless, that trust hopefully comes from some demonstrated ability, as well as a communicated vision that people agree on. The leader, as it is, doesn’t have to come up with the vision – this is a common misconception; visionaries aren’t always leaders and leaders aren’t always visionaries. The leader simply has to lead toward the common vision.

To continue leading, the leader has to retain the trust of those following – which is really the trickiest part of it all – while adjusting for changes in the vision and allowing for what people are willing to accept and sacrifice. People may take off their shoes a while to swim, but they are unlikely to be willing to have their feet amputated and fins installed.

We could get into the fine points of how to retain trust and so forth, but that varies from group to group and leader to leader. There’s no real school that can make everyone a leader, there is no book that will allow people to magically become leaders, and there’s absolutely nothing you can read on the Internet that will make you a leader.

It gets even more interesting. In different times, different skills and abilities – perhaps even talents –  are needed to become a leader. In business, it’s rare to find a CEO that transitions from startup company to mature company. In complex technology products and services, different people lead different aspects of the project and hopefully some people at the top steer everything the right way with a common vision across the projects.

I’m not sure how it works in governments because I’m fairly certain it doesn’t.

So, that covers leadership.

Management, on the other hand, is not really leading. Management is simply a matter of making sure that the leaders are at their most effective. If someone has written that somewhere before, please let me know – I’ve yet to hear someone with ‘management training’ say it.

This does not mean a manager cannot be a leader. Traditionally, managers are expected to be leaders to some degree, but it’s just not necessary – they have to empower those that they manage to attain the common vision of a business, and that is really not so much about getting people to agree to a common vision but making sure that they work toward it for the pay that they get. In this, a manager is a boss – and a boss is not necessarily a leader, either. In fact, I’ve encountered bosses who were neither managers nor leaders – they’re more prevalent than you might think.

A boss is basically the person that can hire and fire people. Hopefully they have some management ability. Hopefully they have some leadership ability.

A Different World.

A creature from another worldIn writing an upcoming post on KnowProSE.com related to information theory and an unannounced software project I’m fiddling with, I found that there was a need to explain reasons why I see the world differently than others.

So, some of the key things that allow me to see the world differently:

  • I’m a Third Culture Kid. I had to define my identity instead of simply having a hand-me-down identity.
  • I’m an atheist who became one by exploring multiple religions and, after weighing merits so forth, consciously decided none were for me. I’m not an anti-theist. I believe religion does have a use for people, I just have no use for it, and I only mock religion when it’s being used as an excuse to do disagreeable things.
  • I’m better traveled than most.
  • I’m largely self-educated and have not stopped that self-education.
  • My life has not been one of constants but variables – until lately, no ‘home’, periods of ‘regular’ work offset with the majority as a contractor. In the words of someone who came dangerously close to knowing me, “you lead a non-linear life”.
  • Worked in multiple fields, ranging from medicine to software engineering, tangible work to intangible work.
  • I have little sense of permanence.
  • I’m much more interested in the best path, or the truth, than being right.
  • I read a lot, but sometimes well off the path of what is popular, and consider everything in multiple contexts.
  • I’m not worried about what is popular.
  • I’m rigorously pragmatic.

All of this means a few key things about me that confuse a lot of people when they deal with me because I’m not something formed in cookie-cutters of culture. This means that sometimes, I have to appear a chameleon to move things forward, but largely I’m just someone who…

Sees the world differently.

And I look for others who do.

 

Comm Failure

Arctic CommunicationsI’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about communications, information, and how one can weave ideas into the fabric of other people’s minds.

Writing has always come easy, and for a long time was something I took for granted because it simply helped me or hindered me. If someone didn’t understand what I said or wrote, I took it upon myself to get better at communicating. Lately, though, I find myself feeling less responsible for what people don’t understand or misunderstand – no one likes a pedant, not even other pedants, and there are some people who are simply unreasonable and unreachable. I turned to writing long ago because shouting at walls makes no sense.

Yesterday, two people took issue with this article about the digitized paper processes of Trinidad and Tobago, and it was a little revealing. To understand this, you have to understand that getting a credit or debit card in Trinidad and Tobago is a daunting process that many people don’t qualify for. It’s a bureaucratic process that, instead of getting approved in one day, can take months (I know) – and even then, teeters on the brink of whether or not you’re presented well to whoever is behind the Mastercard or Visa system associated with it. Because the majority don’t enjoy this luxury, I didn’t write about it.

Two people took issue with that. They began commenting on Facebook about how one didn’t have to print bills because you could pay with the credit or debit card… which is true, if you can get one, and in the weighted world of finance specific to Trinidad and Tobago, is not the majority of people. Further, the point about those who lacked that financial luxury taken for granted elsewhere – in the U.S., banks give out debit cards like candy, as an example (more really, most banks don’t have candy anymore). So those who don’t have the financial tools in Trinidad and Tobago, the majority, have to print out the same bill.

It’s not as if one can depend on the local postal service to get you your bill on time, assuming that the relevant service provider has sent it on time – so people interested in uninterrupted service end up going to the website and using their ink and paper to print the very same bill – which is 2-3 pages, usually, when really, done right, you could just print one and go to a more convenient outlet to pay. Parking at the offices is always problematic, so they have ancillary places where one can pay.

Why do people have to print out all those pages? Largely because the bills are inefficient and have been for as long as I remember. After all, one might just hand someone the account number and the amount to pay – and they should be able to handle that, but because of receipts and bureaucratic fail-safes, and because… well, because they just digitized a paper process.

And that was the point of the article. I’ve written more than enough about the failure of banks to provide better online payment services for more people, but these two people were stuck on their ability to pay their bills online.

They were stuck in their perspective – nothing existed beyond their perspective. Even saying that they were correct in that they could pay their bills online while the majority could not was a bridge too far for them.

This ground away at me for all of 5 minutes, before they removed themselves from my audience (thank you!). Their minds didn’t stretch that far, stuck in the ice-tray of their own little worlds they were completely cut off from the rest of the world and liked that so much that they wanted to impose their world on everyone else.

We all do it. Oddly enough, though, it has something to do with a software project I’m working on and a bit of the philosophy behind it. When I write about it on KnowProSE.com, the link will appear below.

 

A Good Man.

Under the Rainbow - Optimism

In response to a friend that asked what a good man is:

I have thought long on this, and deeply.

There is no good. We are all the heroes in our own stories.

To be truly good, we must have a stringent moral compass, which may be incompatible with our world.

We must stand for what we believe in, and that must survive by worth… Or largely, by accident.

We must be well thought, and thus well spoken, which inheriting from the above, means that people must think what we said was of worth for as long as we are seen as good.

We must breathe our own air, and exhale that which empowers the weakest links to form the strongest chains.

We must live not by the rules of society but by the rules we are implicitly imbued with.

And we must die, for all but a few will recognize our worth beyond the cost they see.

We plant the trees we will not gain shade from. We gauge our own worth, and we do not suffer the gauge of others.

We die alone, even around those that love us, for they never love us for the reasons that make us good.

The Bribe

I’m an honest person, which is something everyone says or writes at some point with various levels of integrity. I have references on this honesty, though, and I’ve managed to live my life without too much sway in this regard in adulthood. As I have grown older, I have been even more careful about what I say or write because inevitably, you have to live by it – unless you’re a politician, which I have had the good sense to not be.

I wasted a paragraph bastioning my honesty because I have, on occasion, had to flex, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America where antiquated bureaucracies make corruption possible, though there was one incident with a police officer in Orlando, Florida. You see, you can be honest, but the world itself is made up of systems that less scrupulous characters will take advantage of – but are they less scrupulous or themselves victims of a system? That’s a debate that is best looked at case by case.

One particular incident comes to mind when I think of bribery.

I was in Nicaragua in 2005, part of my wandering through Latin America that was blamed on the publisher of Linux Journal but was simply an opportunity for travel I refused to miss at that point in life. And, as I do, I made friends with people in Nicaragua, and had gotten passable at conversational Spanish.

The day before I was to leave Nicaragua – I think I was going to Colombia next, I don’t remember – a friend needed a lift from Managua to Lago Managua. I enjoyed driving in Nicaragua because of the vast stretches of beautiful landscape, and the old Yaris I had rented was a surprising pleasure to drive only because it was manual, allowing me to eek out every drop of horsepower from the tiny engine. So we went, and I dropped him to Lago Managua, where he was to wait for a boat to take him to the center of the lake where he was setting up internet connectivity – he would later work at Amazon.com – and, with nothing there, I wanted to get back quickly because I was hungry and he dismissed me.

Heading back to the hotel in Managua where I would spend my last night, I had the little Yaris as close to airborne as possible… and a large truck was relatively slowly making it’s way somewhere. I flew past, overtaking it, seeing another truck ahead of it, when in between I saw the car – and as I drew parallel, AK-47s poked their way out of the open windows at the little Yaris. At me. I was already past them at this point, and had the little Yaris screaming for more air at the top of  5th gear.

I really could have used one more cylinder in that engine at that point – I forget what they were driving, but they easily caught me. The flashing lights set me a little at ease, so I pulled over, turned the car off, threw the keys on the dash and placed my hands on the top of the steering wheel. This is the universal way to say, ‘I’m not reaching for anything’.

Once they- there were three of them – saw I was no threat, the rifles got pointed away. They were speaking to me in Spanish about not passing a police vehicle, driving recklessly, and so on – so I decided to not speak as much Spanish as I knew and got them to hand me the Spanish/English dictionary in the back seat of the car so that we could figure it all out. After all, they had the drop on me with automatic weapons, the car I was driving was certainly no RX-7 or muscle car, and I was a very long way from anywhere.

They threatened to take my driver’s license so that they could track me down for a fine, which wouldn’t work – I needed that driver’s license for the next country – and I explained that to them. And then, in halting Spanish, I asked, “Is there a way that we can fix this without getting all of that involved?”

Long story short – it cost me $3 US to get out of that issue, which was probably the whole point – that would easily buy a bottle of rum. I was fortunate they were satisfied with what was in my wallet as well as providing them a good story they could laugh at.

That was a bribe. But it was also a way to get out of a painful situation where I was very vulnerable. I don’t know much about Nicaraguan police, I don’t know that this was the norm or not, but I do know in that particular situation I was pretty happy to leave $3 less, intact, and in good stead with the local police.

The point here is that you can be as honest as you want, but sometimes the easiest path isn’t the one that systems push us toward – and that’s where corruption comes in. Could they have wagged their finger at me and let me go? Of course. They chose not to, because they took me down a path where they got to shake me down. And I allowed them to do so because the alternative they offered in their positional authority was not attractive at all.

My honesty, my integrity – that would have meant little to anyone had I not simply gave them what was in my wallet.