life lesson

Life Lesson: Treat the Body Strictly

No!As Seneca, the Roman Stoic who advised treating the body “somewhat strictly,” wrote in a letter: “Avoid whatever is approved by the mob, and things that are the gift of chance. Whenever circumstance brings some welcome thing your way, stop in suspicion and alarm… They are snares… we think these things are ours when in fact it is we who are caught. That track leads to precipices; life on the that giddy level ends in a fall.”

From the New York Times, October 12, 2008.

life lesson

T.E. Lawrence and my social media revolt

“Their ideal was ease in which to busy themselves with others’ affairs.”

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926)

Seven Pillars of Wisdom can be a chore to read. It’s massive, and Lawrence at times muses like Holden Caulfield to the annoyance of the reader.

But there are many gems found throughout that have stayed with me, like this, his thoughts on the military man, the veteran:

“Some of them had obeyed the instinct of lawlessness: some were hungry: others thirsted for glamour, the supposed colour of a military life: but, of them all, those only received satisfaction who had sought to degrade themselves, for to the peace-eye they were below humanity.”

Most of my favorites, though, have little to do with military matters, language, or his travels. The one that sticks with me most is the end of the quote I opened with. Lawrence, in pure orientalist fashion, expresses his thoughts on the Syrians:

“All these peoples of Syria were open to us by the master-key of their common Arabic language. Their distinctions were political and religious: morally they differed only in the steady gradation from neurotic sensibility on the sea coast to reserve inland. They were quick-minded; admirers, but not seekers of truth; self-satisfied; not (like the Egyptians) helpless before abstract ideas, but unpractical; and so lazy in mind as to be habitually superficial. Their ideal was ease in which to busy themselves with others’ affairs.”

“…busy themselves in others’ affairs.”

It was 2006. I was still fresh out of the Army and I shot out like a rocket ship. I had a full time job and I went to community college full time, trying to catch up with my education while not sacrificing my livelihood. I exercised daily and had a healthy social life. I was busy and happy.

“You should start a Facebook account,” my fiancé said.

“Why? I have a MySpace,” I replied.

I held out for a year. I just wasn’t interested.

Eventually, I relented and created a Facebook account, my modest little garden on the internet. I started connecting with ‘friends.’ Old friends and new. I was in college and meeting lots of people. It was fun. I have always enjoyed socializing online. AOL chat rooms. Internet forums. Online video games. This was a natural evolution of that.

I’d meet someone and say before leaving “Are you on Facebook?”

I enjoyed it. Pictures and comments and the opportunity to display your best self in a steady parade of best selves.

But something changed. The whole experience is no longer fun. It’s exhausting and depressing and it’s making me nuts.

More and more I’m finding myself rotating through a digital cycle of Facebook and Twitter, clearing out my ‘reds,’ those cruelly painted notifications designed to excite my brain and grab my attention. I’ll sit down at my computer to do something and find myself some time later staring at three open tabs that each say ‘Facebook (1)’ and I wonder what the hell it was I meant to do in the first place.

Or I find myself staring at a Twitter avatar, a brilliant, tiny photograph next to a quip, some moral grandstand that dares me to respond. I click ‘reply’ and tap out a response and stare at it, cursor blinking, asking me, “done?”

I think, and delete it. I almost always delete it. I don’t want to get sucked into a whole thing.

Except sometimes I send it and get sucked into a whole thing. Then comes the reply, an electric torpedo from the dark. And I’ll send another one back. And then I have to go out and actually do something in life.

I’m at lunch, checking my phone. My wife rolls her eyes. I’m waiting for a reply. Pitifully, my phone allows for ‘push notifications,’ allowing someone to reach me like a vine growing out of my phone and wrapping around my neck.

My day can be ruined by what someone says on the Internet. And I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of writing little notes and pressing enter, sending it into the ‘stream’ and watching it get carried away, or rather, pushed away by other peoples’ notes. I hate waiting and wanting those other people to look at my note and think it is so great that they’ll pass it along to their people, all sending their own little notes.

I’m tired of the ridiculous conspiracy theories from people I respect, and trying to gently make the correction.

Mostly, I’m tired of the unending gazing. The incessant scrolling. The comparing and wondering. The constant tugging from the social media ether-space, beckoning me to check again, to see what’s going on.

I can no longer stand to have people I don’t know or with whom I share some limited, past experience, suck me into their world and all of their problems. It’s too much. I’m sorry, is it wrong to be interested chiefly with one’s own affairs?

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media. I wholeheartedly believe in it as a tool for fun and personal growth as well as a platform for mobilization. I’ve made some of my best friends through it and it allows me to maintain and develop relationships in a way not as readily available in the past. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the role of social media in an Egyptian social movement, using Facebook to reach out to and interview some of its leaders.

No, social media is great. Just not for me. I can’t survive in it. It’s quicksand. Others, I’m sure, walk along like it’s a gorgeous beach, waving and smiling and enjoying the sunset, in Instagram, of course. I take a few steps and sink.

That’s my problem.

So, I’m in rebellion. I declare war on social media. I’ve deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone and I’ve resolved to checking them both just once a day. From my computer.

Oh I’ll still post. To withdraw completely would be to lose. To win is to control this beast. To use the space and turn their weapons to my own use. To pillage the trains left smoldering on their tracks, as Lawrence did with the Arabs.

Take back your day. It’s a revolt.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

life lesson

Life Lesson: Find your own way

This is how I land nav.

I’ve wasted a lot of time looking for the ‘right answer’ on the internet. It’s not always necessary to try to find the ‘right way’ of doing something, or looking to see how others did it before. Sometimes (and often) it is best to go with what you know.

As great as the internet is, it can pull us down rabbit holes of worthless information. The information you’re looking for isn’t always out there. Sometimes you need to be the trailblazer. But if you do, please post it on the internet somewhere to make it easier for the rest of us.

And if they have a phone number, call them. One phone call and you can be done.

life lesson

Life Lesson: Arguing with irreconcilables (or, posting in the comments)

This one took me a long time to learn. Everyone’s got an opinion, and lots of people like to share it. Reasonable people can be convinced by a good argument to think differently.

Then there’s what I call the “irreconcilables.” These are the folks who feel so strongly about something that they have decided they cannot be convinced otherwise – regardless of facts, statistics, new evidence, or anything else. I’ve wasted great amounts of time and energy arguing with irreconcilables only to find myself at the end having wasted my time and feeling exhausted.

Irreconcilables exist all over the place, but you can find them in their greatest numbers in the comments section of blogs. Don’t argue with them. It’s fruitless. You can post your thought in the comments, but know that attempting to convince an irreconcilable of anything they have declared they disagree with is futile. Better would be to state your thought and move on.

Don’t argue with irreconcilables. You’ll be much happier for it.

life lesson

Life Lesson – Don’t disappoint the stork

I get pretty sentimental at movies, and occasionally, while watching commercials. I found this one at wimp.com last year in London. It’s an advertisement for monster.com in which a stork goes through great trouble to deliver a baby to a family, only to visit him again years later to find him bored at a crappy job.

It’s a reminder that in this overly cynical world, it is a small miracle that any of us are here, and we should put our time to good use.

life lesson

Life Lesson – Fear Inertia

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” or so the saying goes. I’ve always found that when I’m working and get into a “flow,” I accomplish a lot. As soon as I stop to sit down or take a break, getting started again takes a massive effort, and I usually fail. I can accomplish most of what I need to get done in a short period of time if I simply DON’T STOP MOVING.

Thus, one of my life lesson’s is to “fear inertia.”

in•er•tia. noun.
1. a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged: the bureaucratic inertia of government.
2. Physics. A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

When I start getting tired and gravitate towards the couch, I try to remind myself of how much extra effort it is going to take to get going again. Sometimes this works and I’m able to keep going. Other times I give in and plop down, ending the work.

Developing a healthy fear of inertia can help to overcome the tendency to stop, and result in a more productive person.

life lesson

Life Lesson – Positive Mental Attitude

This is the first in a series of articles about the life lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years. Some of these I’ve learned on my own, others I’ve been taught. These are things that work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you.

More PMA than he knows what do with.


Shortly before I got out of the Army, I started to collect a couple of tenets that seemed to make my days go better. Short sentences or phrases that when repeated, would remind me of some truth that can get me past a bad day or tough obstacle. These tenets needed to meet certain criteria. First, they needed to work. Second, they needed to be easy to understand. Third, they needed to be easy to apply. If they met this criteria, I would write them down somewhere. The idea is that these things are so good, they are worth living by. Over the years, I’ve collected 27 of them.

The first one I learned from a colleague in the Army. Positive Mental Attitude – PMA. It’s the best life lesson I have in my arsenal. When applied, I can’t go wrong. The idea is simple, be cheerful and positive as often as possible. Little is gained from being negative. As individuals, we are ultimately responsible for our actions and reactions. The only person I control is myself, and I can choose how I react to anything that happens, ultimately creating my own reality. That sounds airy, I know, but it works. If you try to be positive, over time it happens naturally. There will be days where it’s near impossible to look on the bright side. But trust me, it can always be worse.

There’s a quote that encapsulates this idea better than I can put it down on this blog. It is popularly attributed to the German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And at the risk of landing on On Violence’s “quotes behaving badly” series, I’ll admit that I don’t know who really said this, as this page says that the quote is misattributed to Goethe. Whatever. It’s a good quote:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make a life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture, or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de–escalated, and a person humanized or dehumanized.”