The Diminishing Population of Progressive Thinkers

Martin Luther King was one of the greatest orators of any generation. Armed with that ability, and combined with an uncompromising belief in his values, he created a powerful movement that defied extraordinary odds. But just decades later racism remains a powerful force in the US, and throughout the world. We celebrate the man. We quote him often. But why have we not heeded his words?

Or maybe we have not understood them.

I don’t see a lot of people using light to drive out the darkness. I absolutely see the hatred of sexist and racist ideas. But that just feels like we are trying to use hate to drive out hate. My Facebook feed is littered with people of different ideas and values attacking one another on the subject of the day. And how often have these discussions resulted in someone changing their minds. I can’t think of a single example.

So what’s the best case scenario? That you win the argument and your opponent shuts up and goes into hiding? Well, maybe they will. And maybe that doesn’t seem so bad to you right now, compared to the alternative. But just because you can’t see them does NOT mean they are gone.

One of my newest beliefs is that progress is an illusion unless it includes everybody. Because there is this effect that I call the ‘diminishing population of progressive thinkers’.

Let me try to illustrate the concept below. Consider the following progressive chain of beliefs (along with the date it was realized in Canada – source here):

  1. Belief that homosexuality should be legalized (1969)
  2. Belief that homosexuals should be able to immigrate to Canada (1978)
  3. Belief that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military (1992)
  4. Belief that “sexual orientation” should be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act (1996)
  5. Belief that same sex couples should have the right to marry (July 20, 2005)

It is my theory that the people who support a certain belief will always be a subset of the previous level. Anyone who supports belief #5, also supports belief 1,2, 3, and 4. But someone who supports belief #1 does not necessarily support 2,3, 4, and 5. The result is that at any point in time the most progressive beliefs hold the fewest supporters. This is what I call the diminishing population of progressive thinkers.

When a society is going through a fundamental change in values, eventually the most progressive thinking can create a backlash from the most entrenched traditionalists. It happens when the gap between the traditionalist and the progressive becomes too wide. It is at this point that the traditionalist will dig in their heels and, because they have much greater numbers, force a halt or reversal in progress.

What really stood out for me in reviewing the timeline above is how long the process took, as well as the amount of resistance encountered. When we are fighting for change we need to primarily focus on getting a vast majority of the population on board with the base values of our movement before we can legitimately move forward in an irreversible way.

Progress moves like pulling a 300 pound rock up a hill with a bungee cord. If you sprint up the hill as fast as you can you are going to get suddenly, and dramatically, pulled right back to where you started, or even worse. As an evolving society we need to find that moment of tension where the static friction is broken and that rock begins to move.

We must keep our hands on the pulse of our country and maintain an alert awareness of where we stand. We need to understand the roots of those old ideas that won’t let go so we can meet them where they are, without the demands of what they should be. Then you can move that damned rock up the hill so it never goes back.

So does this resurgence of racism in the west mean that Martin Luther King has failed in his mission? Or was he simply too far ahead of his time? In the name of efficient and effective progress we need to close that gap with the people who disagree with our values. Because if we isolate ourselves with the people who only agree with us, we end up with a society that can never evolve. Like it or not, where-ever we are going, we are going there together.

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Was Donald Trump a Necessary Evil in the Name of Progress?

Can we all pretend for a moment that things just went slightly differently on Tuesday night?

Let’s say two results changed: First let’s imagine 60,000 Trump votes in Florida switched to Hillary, and second that she received 70,000 more votes in Pennsylvania. That gives her enough seats to win. If this was the case, and assuming the results were accepted and Trump conceded, life would soon continue on much as it was under Obama.

America would have quickly reverted back to pretending that the racist and sexist portion of their population was a distant minority. And they would have got back to pretending that an economy that’s rebounding nationally is obviously good for everyone regionally. And this ‘Trump supporting’ part of population would once again feel ignored, and retreat back into those communities where they are surrounded by people who believe what they believe.

America could then comfortably go back into denial about who they really are. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful qualities about Americans. They have this wonderful spirit of entrepreneurship, of sticking up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, and strong beliefs in freedom and opportunity. But like all of us, they have a dark side. And you can never conquer your darkest demons until you are forced to admit they exist.

Getting back to reality, with those painful results from Tuesday night America can’t hide from it anymore. They are like an alcoholic who finally has to admit they have a problem. But the truly wonderful thing about recognizing your problem is that this is a place of redemption. And it is the only place where real progress happens. You would never make great strides towards that future utopia absent of racism and sexism until you stop fooling yourself into believing they’re not there. Yes these are dark times, but this is rock bottom and the only way left is up.

Unfortunately the prototypical American approach for expediting change seems to be confrontation and brute force. They send troubled kids off to boot camp, yell at each other on talk shows, or troll the comments on social media. But this will NEVER work for values. Ultimately, this just pushes people into hiding until they see an opportunity to emerge again, likely with opinions more entrenched and extreme than ever.

American politics is also incredibly divisive. This is because of extremely long campaigns, an adversarial two party system, and relentless 24/7 news coverage. But in spite of all of these forces pushing the two sides apart, now more than ever we need a reason to come together.

Because I believe our potential for progress is directly reflected in the strength of our desire to find common ground. To get to that place where we are talking about values we need a starting point. And I believe we can all agree on a fundamental need for the following: Peace and Prosperity. Because during wartime people vote about peace, in peacetime people vote about prosperity, but in peaceful & prosperous times people vote about values.

Donald campaigned on, amongst other things, achieving prosperity in Middle America. Hillary’s camp retorted with talk about his values. But if you are concerned about getting food on the table you don’t give two shits about values. Just like if you are at war and a bomb might fall on your house, you don’t give two shits about jobs.

If you create a world where people are confident that there will always be a roof over their head, and food for their family, then and only then will everyone be willing to have open discussions on their values.

This is achieved in basically two ways. Social programs or job creation. If Donald can successfully create more well-paying jobs in Middle America then we should all rejoice because that brings us closer to that place where we can finally have meaningful discussion about values. The country then becomes an environment in which the root causes of sexism and racism can begin to be addressed in ways that will truly affect change.

Lets not kid ourselves either. The change from wartime to peacetime can be quick, repairing a broken economy and creating job can take years, but changing peoples core values takes generations and we must be patient.

In the meantime Americans must be more vigilant than ever in defending those core values. Because, as of January 20th, 2017, they won’t be represented in the Oval office. It will truly be a difficult time to be a Muslim, Black, Hispanic, or even a Woman in the US right now and they need us not only by their side, but standing on the front lines.

Four Basic Areas of Need

I think I have a slight addiction to constantly looking at the same problem from different perspectives….

The general approach I have been taking up to this point is basically this:

  • Find out what I am best at
  • Use it to say or do something important
  • Turn that into a career
  • Become incredibly successful!

Easy right?

In my latest iteration of trying to figure out what I should do I decided to abandon the constraint of immense success and get right down to the very basic needs of my life. What is the simplest perspective I could take for determining my requirements for happiness?

In doing so I came up with the follow four basic areas of need and a description of what each entails. They are, in order of importance:

  1. Health of the family unit – Relationship with my wife and children, with our extended families, having sound parenting tactics & strategies, having regular activities, and being a family that eats well
  2. Being a good provider – Have a functioning home where repairs are done promptly, keeping our cars well maintained, doing my job well, and having a balanced budget
  3. Having an outlet for Self-Expression – Having a creative outlet like blogging or video editing, and dressing nicely or in a way that is more reflective of who I am.
  4. Having fun along the way – Going to movies, building a home theater, taking full advantage of living in Ottawa/Manotick, planning more date nights, building and cultivating friendships.

After coming up with this list I wondered ‘If each of these four items were functioning at a high level, how would I feel?’ The answer was that I would be pretty damn happy!

I don’t need this immense success I thought I desired. I don’t need to change the world. I don’t need massive accolades or financial success. I really just want a simple life where these basic needs are met.

I think that when there is a feeling of helplessness in any one of these categories you begin to overcompensate in the others. Having a young family can certainly exacerbate such a feeling.

Having kids definitely was a shock to the system. All the free time I had for simply having fun went ‘Poof’! Much of the extra money we had for unplanned house repairs is now spoken for. And the level of stress in our home went way up with a dramatic decrease in sleep quality, not to mention the constant attention required during daylight hours.

The way I reacted was to hone in on that ‘Self Expression’ aspect and try to make it solve all of my problems. If I could do something that would lead to extreme success, then I could leverage those results to fix everything else, right???

But upon reflection I don’t really want that at all. I am very optimistic about looking specifically at those four aspects and making sure I am always doing something that is helping me improve in each one. It seems so much more achievable, and that in itself is all the motivation I need.

Try-Fail-Learn-Adapt

If I’m lucky enough to have you paying attention to what I have been doing on The Passionate Why, you will have noticed that I haven’t been putting out much content lately.

The truth is that after 6 weeks of going hard at it and fitting the extra workload between 5 and 7 on weekday mornings I was absolutely exhausted. I still have more material to talk about but I don’t have the energy to keep putting it together.

Couple that with the fact that it is so much harder to grow a YouTube audience than I had expected and I have been forced to re-evaluate my approach. Instead of going balls to the walls on making videos, blogging, twittering, googling, and everything else, I need to refocus on those things that I enjoy the most.

The more and more short videos I see on YouTube, the more I realize that the style that is making them popular is really not my style. They are full of exaggerated personalities and click bait titles.

I have attempted to learn from the most viewed videos and emulate their approaches but there is so much work required. You have to really believe in the content you are putting out there to have the energy to promote it to the extent that is required. And while I do like the content I am producing, I sometimes feel I am just trying to pump out stuff to meet my self imposed deadlines.

I am beginning to think that I am more suited to making short documentaries about the topics I want to discuss. Maybe around 20 to 30 minutes. Of course this means I won’t have content to spit out on a regular basis to help build an audience, but in the end I  should have something I am more proud of and more willing to promote.

So for the upcoming weeks I am going to look more deeply into this approach. I am going to figure out what I want to talk about, how I would do it, what other equipment do I need, and then start moving forward. I have no timetable for this approach but don’t forget about me! 🙂 If you stay following my blog, my YouTube channel, or my Facebook page you will know when ever I have something to show.

Thanks for watching/reading!

What I Learned From Being in a Bank When It Was Robbed at Gunpoint

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It was the spring of 1997. I remember seeing the guy in front of me in line at the Scotiabank but I gave it no extra thought at the time. It was only after everything happened and he started running away that my mind started spinning.

The whole thing went down fairly quietly. The guy got to the front of the line, passed the teller a note, his hand was in a paper bag and he said he had a gun, the teller gave him the money, and he ran away.

There are a few things that stood out to me that day. I remember the bank manager coming out to calm his employees. I remember that the first cop to show up was on his bike. I remember them shutting the glass doors and locking us all in, which certainly caught the attention of all the passers by, in the middle of the day.

Not much happened for a while until a detective showed up and started taking our statements one by one. When it was my turn he took me into a room and started asking me questions. Nothing too out of the ordinary but I was impressed at the level of detail he used in capturing my response. Every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ was written down.

After telling him it was a man, he asked me how old he was and I replied “older”. The detective asked “Why do you say that?” I replied that I have no idea.

And I didn’t. I never saw the man’s face. So how did I even know he was male? I just inferred he was a man from the clothes he was wearing. But why did I say he was old? He did sprint away after the robbery like he was on fire. The funny thing is that the officer totally accepted that reasoning.

Sometimes we just know things and can’t explain why.

But did I really KNOW that he was old? Or had I subconsciously gone through the exercise of eliminating all other reasonable possibilities.

There is a branch of philosophy that deals a term called ‘Contrastivism’ which suggests that knowledge doesn’t exist. That we can only know something once all other possibilities have been eliminated, but there will always be more possibilities. For instance can we be sure that someone is dead, or is it possible that they are in some kind of coma that perfectly imitates a dead person? For more details you can watch the video below.

Now lets take the perspective of another famous philosopher, Rene DesCartes. DesCartes wondered how we could be certain of anything at all. So he went through the exercise of abandoning all of his beliefs and then examining them each one by one before accepting them again. But what he found is that he could know nothing for sure. Our senses are the first place he looked to as a potential source of certainty, but anyone who saw that white & gold / black & blue dress from a few years ago knows that the senses are far from perfect. He ultimately & famously concluded “I think therefore, I am.” once he realized the only thing he can be sure of is that he was thinking. See a great 10 minute video on this topic below.

So if there is virtually nothing that we can be sure of in life, how is it that we move forward? And how come there are so many people with unshakable belief systems?

I think we seek solace in people who act so sure of themselves because deep down we know how much of a mystery everything is, and will always be, and that can cause us extreme anxiety. So when someone comes along claiming to know things for certain, well we’ll jump on that train in one second! Even if it is a sham.

My personal lesson from this is to try and live my life more based on my experiences right now, in this moment. In contrast to trying to figure it all out first, we instead need to act. And then let the response we get from “life” guide us in our next step. This means we have to accept our failures, we need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to forgive ourselves, and each other, every step of the way.

FYI, they caught the bank robber a couple of days later. And he was an older man.

 

Image: Sashkin/Shutterstock.com

Your Performance is not the Problem

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It was late summer back in 1998 and I was finishing off the final work term of my Industrial Engineering degree at Dal. And as everyone is aware, with every single job that you will ever have there is some kind of performance review process to go through.

Judgement day was here and it was time for mine.

Ahead of this meeting I was given a multiple choice questionnaire to fill out that basically described how I thought I did. I filled it out and brought it to the review meeting with my boss. We went through it question by question and he gave his selections for my performance level. Most of his answers were lower than mine, none were higher.

In the discussion following the questionnaire my boss went on to say “When I think of the people that I can count on in this department, your name doesn’t come to mind.” Further he said something to the effect “You don’t really fit in to this environment, and maybe a Government job would be more up your alley.”

Now, I am not going to say I did a great job during that work term, or that I was terribly engaged with the work I was doing. Because I didn’t, and I wasn’t. But there was a serious lack of depth to his analysis of what was going on, and the commentary of what my life direction should be was completely out of line. As well, having just found out I was going to have to write a supplementary exam for one of my courses, he caught me at a particularly vulnerable time.

I had two other work terms for which I had good reviews, but it’s funny how it is always the shitty stuff that sticks with us. That single meeting had an impact on many life choices I made over the next several years. A huge part of my issue with performance reviews is exactly what I described above. The amplified impact of negative feedback.

When you spend the majority of your waking hours at your workplace a poor annual review can haunt you for months. Your self worth takes a hit, your bank account, your mood, it can trigger anxiety and depression. All for what? It seems that many of the side effects of negative feedback can sabotage your ability to improve future performance.

An often overlooked fact is that a person’s performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What you are doing and why you are doing it are VITAL components to how well you do it. Are you accessing your Natural Skillset? Do you have a clear purpose?

This is why finding your passion is so important. When you are chasing your passion, performance management almost becomes irrelevant. Where you need to improve a skill you find a way to teach yourself how to do it. When your tools aren’t good enough, you save up and invest in new ones. When you have no time, you simply get up earlier, stay up later, or stop binging on Game of Thrones. When people criticize you, you tell them to go f**k themselves and you keep moving forward. You are on a mission and nothing else matters.

True performance management is a one person activity.

Yes, there are probably dozens of people that can help you do what you do more effectively. But your actual performance, the level at which you work with what you have in the immediate now, can not be improved by someone else.

But everyone wants feedback. Most of the time I believe people just want to make sure they don’t have the terribly awkward and painful conversation at the end of the year.

What I’ve discovered since launching ‘The Passionate Why‘ is the incredible value of real time feedback.

  • Facebook provides instant info for every post telling me how many people have seen it and how it compares to every other one. It tells me when my viewers are most likely online and even breaks it down by gender.
  • On Twitter a sudden jump (or dip) in followers or re-tweets lets me know immediately when I have done something with an impact.
  • On WordPress I know how many people have read my post, which country they live in, and the search terms that were used. I know the best day to post, and the best time of day.
  • And on YouTube I can track the amount of money that is generated from each video. Very minuscule at this point, but the impact is still powerful and even addictive.

I will take this live, ongoing, unbiased, impersonal, continuous feedback any day over an uncomfortable annual performance review.

Image courtesy of:LeoWolfert/Shutterstock.com

 

How To Discover Your Natural Skillset

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had during this entire journey of finding my passion happened when I decided to take a very specific look at my own history. In the interest of finding out exactly WHAT I should be doing, and HOW I should be doing it, I decided to make a list of all of those skills, or areas of interest, that I had completely taught myself with very little outside help.

These could be things that you did on your own time and never have told a single person about. Or it may be well known that these skills are your specialty. Be sure to leave out any skills that came natural to you without practice. While these provide a certain insight they lack an element of choice which is key in this approach.

For the purpose of this exercise I suggest that you now make a list of at least 10 skills, or areas of expertise, that were self-taught. This may take some time. I would expect anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes as you think back over your childhood, your teen years, early adulthood and so forth. To assist you in developing your own list I have included my list below. It will help provide an idea of what you should be looking for.

  1. Play the guitar
  2. Write a choose your own adventure story
  3. Video editing
  4. Become a ball hockey goalie
  5. Started writing a blog
  6. Maintaining a detailed home budget
  7. Taught myself about Spirituality
  8. Creating Presentations
  9. Beating Mortal Kombat on one quarter
  10. Hip Hop dancing – at least the early 90’s style 🙂
  11. Performing lacrosse type floor hockey dangles
  12. Designing fun trivia questions

Now that you have your list I want you to go through each item on your list and come up with 3 or 4 reasons of WHY you decided to learn that particular skill or area of expertise. Again, to assist you I will provide my list with the reasons for each item.

  1. Play the guitar
    • Coolness factor, Could replicate the work of musicians I admired and the songs I loved, play songs at parties
  2. Write a choose your own adventure story
    • Loved reading them, Fun to Share, Liked creating stories
  3. Hip Hop dancing – at least early 90’s style 🙂
    • To have fun, to impress, create a show, do what others couldn’t
  4. Video editing
    • Simply Loved it, Enjoyment, Coolness factor, To impress and entertain
  5. Become a ball hockey goalie
    • Enjoyed it, Influence the result, Was good at it, Independance
  6. Started writing a blog
    • Enjoyed expressing myself, Liked to write short articles, Integrating with other social media, Liked the immediate feedback
  7. Maintaining a detailed home budget
    • Necessity, Enabled me to relax about finances, Could plan big expenditures
  8. Taught myself about Spirituality
    • Soothed the intensity of my depression, Was very profound, Offered explanations for the deepest questions
  9. Creating Presentations
    • Showmanship, to impress, to be interesting, to be profound
  10. Performing lacrosse type floor hockey dangles
    • Coolness factor, the challenge, Recorded on video to create a show, wanted to impress

Don’t continue to read past this point until you have finished your why’s for each item. The next portion is what provides the most insight and I don’t want to influence your why responses based on how it impacts what happens next.

Now that you have completed all of your why’s we need to look deeper. Which of the items now seems to stand out from the rest. Of all the why’s you have given, which ones resonate most deeply with who you are. The method I used for doing this was that I looked for the word “Love”. If one of these skills could evoke such a powerful emotion than I needed to pay close attention to them. You could use this approach as well, or try something else if you don’t toss around love in this context like me. Look for words that indicate that something deeply visceral is happening here. Maybe the word ‘joy’, or ‘happy’.

Regardless, I took the three items with the word ‘love’ and exclusively focused on them. They are:

  1. Play the guitar
    • Coolness factor, Could replicate the work of musicians I admired and the songs I loved, play songs at parties
  2. Write a choose your own adventure story
    • Loved reading them, Fun to Share, Liked creating stories
  3. Video editing
    • Simply Loved it, Enjoyment, Coolness factor, To impress and entertain

The next thing I did was look at all of the other why’s I gave for these skills. I saw things like Coolness, playing at parties, sharing, creating stories, enjoyment, entertaining.

It didn’t take long for the idea of starting a YouTube channel to come to the forefront of my mind. I would definitely enjoy making cool & entertaining videos and sharing them with others online!

This approach definitely seemed to work out well for me. I am patient zero though. If anyone reading this decides to give this a try I would absolutely love to hear how it went. Please tell me whether or not it provided any insight into what you should be doing with your life. At the very least it should help create a deeper sense of self awareness and act as another big step down this road towards passion.

The next step is about content. In a future post I will tell you how I decided what my YouTube channel should be about.