When young lifetips grow up, I imagine they look up to the successful ones that made it onto tiles, memes or calendars. In comparison to the three life lessons I shared previously, this fourth one has a greater chance of ever becoming an inspirational quote of some sort.
Jesse Frederik first introduced this lifetip to me in somewhat confusing terms:
You don’t have to believe everything you think.
To me it means that it’s OK to let go of ideas you may have had in the past. For example, I used to think vegetarians were delusional, annoying and unhealthy. Now I believe that being vegetarian does not mean forsaking flavor, nor do I have to dress in hemp and grow dreadlocks. Also, it’s just undeniably better for the planet than maintaining a meat-based diet will ever be.
Another interpretation of this motto would start by breaking with the commonplace assumption that a person’s internal thoughts are always a monologue.
I suppose we all know the catholic mantra “What would Jesus do?”. It is a way of internalizing the voice of someone who’s morality you would want to apply to specific dilemma. Without getting to psychological about it, I hope we can agree that every person also has a “What would my mother do?” checkpoint, that pops up at specific moments (not always conveniently).
The happiness gurus of the 21st century might say the line refers to the negative thoughts we all have sometimes. Thoughts such as:
I am not good enough.
The world is unkind / dangerous.
I can’t do it (so I’m not even going to try).
A meaningful (and sad) metaphor that is sometimes used in this context is that of the domesticated elephant, that has been chained and ‘broken’ at an early age. During this time, she may have struggled to free herself but failed, leading her to believe it is impossible to do. Once grown, the elephant obeys orders to move and carry heavy objects. The same chain would be no match for the power she could apply to it as an adult elephant. At that point though, what keeps her from trying, is the belief that she can’t.
Evaluate the thoughts you have every now and then. Don’t be afraid of changing a strong opinion you may have had out of fear of being seen as inconsistent or unstable.
Discuss your insecurities with the ones you love and trust. It will oftentimes be those moments, when you vocalize your thoughts, that you realize that is not what you believe at all. Saying them out loud will reveal their untruth. Just like a ridiculous dream, that makes total sense until the moment you wake up.
As January passed me by, I realized I had very little mind-rubbish to clean out. So I decided to wait until the end of February to go through my mental cobwebs.
I hope everyone had a wonderful leap day!
Musing: What is pride?
I’m not sure when, where or why it started, but something triggered me to try and decipher the concept of “pride”.
I know the word has somehow gotten entangled with the LGBTQ community, but that is not the aspect of it that has been on my mind.
What I have been gnawing on, is the feeling of pride in general.
How do you describe it? Does it have something to do with love? It usually has to do with an accomplishment, I guess.
You can be proud of yourself, which I kind of get.
But how is it that you can be proud of someone else? What is that and how does it work? If a mother is proud a child, you could say she feels pride for having created a being that is now accomplishing so-and-so. But how can I be proud of a friend? Is it the same as saying “I am happy for you”?
I’m still untangling that one… Insights are welcome!
Films / Series
I started watching ‘The Good Place‘, which I found wildly amusing. Such an interesting storyline!
Questions of morality and defining what makes someone “good” remind me of some of the episodes in Black Mirror. Contrary to Black Mirror though, the Good Place does not emphasize how shitty we are as a species and actually let’s you sleep comfortably at night.
I also watched A Monster Calls, which is a beautifully touching movie about grief. It reminded me of ‘Big Fish’. I definitely cried.
I also re-watched the Avatar (Last Aribender) TV series, which first aired 15 years ago. I have an odd fascination for the series. I admire the simpleness of the individual episodes and the intense complexity of the overall story. I started watching the Korra spinoff years ago but it didn’t quite have the same effect on me.
My wonderful friend Zeef gave me tickets for Avi Kaplan‘s concert in Paradiso, Amsterdam on the 22nd of January. It was awesome. Anyone who has the chance to see him live, should go. His studio songs are good, but live he is breathtaking. My favorite song of the set is a song he hasn’t released yet, but I’m sure he will soon. It’s called Nature Girl. Once it’s available on Spotify or YouTube, I’ll be sure to post it.
If you’re into Avi’s music and also enjoy bands like Coldplay or Keane I’m sure you would also enjoy Dutch band Haevn. I was about to say they just released a new album, but it turns out it’s actually an old album that I’m only now discovering. It’s music that’s comfortable to have on in the background but also interesting enough to listen to on the foreground.
And for the true romantics among us, I recommend John Legend‘s song Conversations in the dark. I know, I should’ve mentioned it before Valentine’s day… But hey, there is always next year,
I just remembered I also recently stumbled upon a Youtube vid in which John Legend explains the lyrics and meaning of his song Penthouse Floor. If you didn’t already love him, you will now:
Other recent discoveries:
Cynthia Erivo (yes, thanks to her Oscar performance)
I realize all of the above musicians are quite… eum… solemn? Apparently that was my mood these last two months.
At work our laptops run on Linux and I’ve been considering switching over at home as well. The only thing stopping me is that, at work, I can ask my IT-buddies to help me update or change things which makes me feel like I would completely fail with my own PC at home… I’ve watched a few tutorials. It’s a lot of Abracadabra lingo, but the steps seem doable. All I’ve got to do now is find the balls (and time, I guess)…
My list and taskmanager app of choice, Wunderlist, will be discontinued this May, after having been taken over by Microsoft. Booooo!
I tested a few non-Micorosoft ( I know, I’m childish that way) alternatives and came to the following conclusions:
It’s too strictly a planner thing.
It all revolves around what will I do today & tomorrow
It wants me to order everything in projects… So even my groceries are a project now?
In Wunderlist I have a lot of useless lists (names I would give a Cat, Places I want to go, Gift ideas for my mother, etc) which I wouldn’t know where to put in todoist.
Looks pretty basic, but turns out having a lot of different pages and views
I found it all kind of confusing , especially since you need the premium account for a lot of the options. It annoys me that all the stuff I can’t use are constantly in my face (Todoist did the same btw).
A bit rigid in its layout (every category always has to have the four priority blocks).
I did some experiments and could definitely work with it…
CONCLUSION: OK, but not quite.
I used it for a few weeks now and kind of of like it.
I am annoyed by the limits of the “free version” which makes me not want to switch to the Pro-version (because it makes me feel like I don’t have a choice).
CONCLUSION: It’s the one I’m sticking with for now
I’ve been recommended this one by several people.
CONCLUSION: Haven’t tried it yet.
Today is the 1st of March. It’s my dad’s birthday. Happy 73rd, daddyo!
UPDATE: WordPress tells me this is my 200th post on this blog. Congratulations to me!
The third post in my series of Lifetips will be dedicated to the benefits of hierarchy. It is actually a very improbable lesson to ever be coming from a Dutch person’s mouth, as we tend to have very little respect for these things.
Then again, maybe countries that actually understand and respect the implications of hierarchical structures wouldn’t need this lesson in the first place. Perhaps they could, however, explain it better than I (or Rutger Bregman, who brought it up in his April 2019 podcast episode) can.
Bregman poses that progress may not be possible in a purely egalitarian atmosphere. Hierarchy is needed in order to move forward on the long run.
The fact that western societies have increasingly been promoting “nice guys”, has softened our culture, as well as our politics. For our institutions however, too many nice guys is a curse. At some point, somebody needs to call ‘bullshit’, even it hurts someone’s feelings or means that all the work that has been done so far will be thrown in the bin.
An example that was given by Jesse Frederiks was a plan that journalist platform “the Correspondent” had upon its conception in regards to its compensation model. The initial plan was to let all the employees decide on the salary levels among themselves. The idea was that there would be full openness on the matter, with everybody having knowledge and insight into the division of the company’s money.
Long story short: it didn’t work.
Everybody was pretty relieved when they went back to a more traditional model, with specific people responsible for such decisions.
People that didn’t agree with the slice of the cake they ended up with, could complain about bad decision making by people elsewhere in the building and then bond over it with direct colleagues around the coffee machine (instead of having to blame them for it). Also, not having all the facts, turned out to be a relief to many.
Without hierarchy, direct colleagues would have to decide on a course of action together and battle out their differences face-to-face. This inevitably causes some friction, which makes working together increasingly difficult.
So perhaps certain positions require people who do not mind being disliked (for the greater good)?
Those at the bottom of the food chain do what they are told, without having to debate why and how.
With a person higher in rank calling the shots, foot soldiers can bond with their comrades over their shared suffering. At the end of the day the work gets done and everybody (except maybe that one guy) can go out for beers to celebrate.
In the YouTube video below Jordan Peterson (who Im not sure suffers from that Mr-Nice-Guy-complex) gives his explanation of why hierarchy is necessary and how left- and rightwing thinkers can (must?) keep the ranks from falling apart or being corrupted.
Sometimes you need an asshole to stand up, that doesn’t care if people like him or not, to get the job done. It’s OK to hate him. But recognize that you couldn’t have done it without him.
What do you think? Do you believe in an egalitarian system? Or is really hierarchy really indispensable for stable community structures?
As I explained in the introduction of Lifetip #1, this series of blogs is inspired by a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode in which the hosts name a dozen of their most important lifetips to humanity.
The second lifetip I am going to try to discuss here is one that is actually more of a complaint than it is a concrete and practical lifetime recommendation.
It all revolves around economist Jesse Frederik venting about modern day tendencies to search for new cures for age old problems. He complains that people keep coming up with new fancy ideologies, which they present in spiffy TED talks and best selling books, without appreciating all the ideas that previous thinkers already explored.
My summary of what this life tip boils down to, is the following:
Try to understand existing theories before searching for (and accepting) new ones.
The internet has never been so influential. We have gotten accustomed to having news and information at our disposal 24/7. We don’t even need to remember anything ourselves. We just need to remember the Google search terms needed to find something and regurgitate whatever the WWW-beast feeds us. We can look up the same thing a million times instead of making an effort to actually memorize the information we are pointing our eyeballs at.
If we are forced to deal with a complex theory, we watch the 10 min breakdown on YouTube (or TikTok or whatever kids are into these days) instead of reading the actual book. Even an elaborate newspaper article is a challenge, let alone a peer reviewed academic piece.
The abbreviation TLDRis the ultimate 21st century (online) conversation stopper. As much as I hate that, I must admit there are times when I can’t work my way through blogposts that take longer then 5-10 minutes to read.
Soundbites & Blurbs
Despite our faulty attention spans, we are more opinionated than ever. Politics, gender, race, anthem singing etiquette, Scandinavian teenagers and their braids. So many things to disagree on and so little time!
We are in constant need of quick facts and snappy comebacks to reinforce our opinions. You have to avoid talking about “the pros and cons” and “consequences on a macro level” if you don’t want people to walk (or click) away.
Even if you happen to be one of the rare ones who actually read Karl Marx’ whole Manifesto, you have to be able to present its content in bite size portions if you ever want to use it to convince someone about the correct implementation of communism (which I am assuming is what Karl Marx wrote about… TLDR).
The popularity of TED Conference Talks on YouTube is another clear sign of the amount of information we have become comfortable dealing with in one sitting. TED Talks are 10 to 30 minute mini-lectures on scientific, cultural, political, and academic topics.
As much as I love myself a good TED talk, I do realize the emphasis is sometimes more on the “feel good” aspect of an idea than on the actual science behind it. I’m not saying that the content presented in TED Talks is incorrect per se. But one could argue that the talks that make the cut, rely more on the talent of the speaker and the video’s potential as click bait on social media, than on the actual relevance of the topic.
Catchy new theories make for interesting conversations around the coffee machine. Their simplicity make them appealing, either because they confirm a popular idea or because it works well as a “fun fact” on social occasions.
Simple theories are becoming more accepted than complicated ones, following the “It is true because I get it”-logic.
Break the Dunning-Kruger effect
A 1999 Psychology study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger described a phenomenon in human behavior that seems to apply to a large percentage of the human race. It manifests itself when people have an opinion about things they don’t know shit about. If they would’ve let the online community (by which I mean me) give their findings a name, it may have ended up being called the Kim Kardashian effect, but they decided to name it after themselves, which…. I mean… sure.
And now, it is time for some painful irony.
You see, what I really want to do now is embed a relatively short YouTube video to do some of the explaining for me. My attention span is waning and so is yours, so just click play below. You can thank me later.
People that know the least about a topic tend to think they know the most. It is only after you actually learn something that you realize how little you really know. Even actual experts in their field aren’t as self assured about their knowledge as the complete dimwits are.
It’s a crispy cold day today, which is my favorite kind of weather to be sitting in a train as it makes for beautiful skies and landscapes.
The month of December was actually quite a good one for me. I managed to keep my schedule quite empty during the christmas holidays (which in my case was just two days, but still…). I’m so chilled out, I hardly feel I need a mindcleanup at all, but I’ll give it a shot!
After running into some of Amber Run’s collaborations with a choir called London Contemporary Voices I ended up on a YouTube channel called “Headphone Sessions”, which I thought was quite awesome. This in turn brought me to Sam Brookes, who has a very Decembery vibe, imo. Click play below (but also cruise through the songs on the Headphone Sessions YT channel).
I just finished watching Netflix’ series called the Witcher, based on a bookseries, written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. My bf told me he also knew and enjoyed the accompanying videogames.
Without having any of the context (didn’t read the books, didn’t play the games, never heard of the author) I actually very much enjoyed the first season. For a Netflix series the acting was quite good and the special effects were not disappointing or distracting.
I definitely recommend the series to anyone who’s slightly into sci-fi and fantasy and look forward to the next season (which is expected no sooner than 2021).
the Dutch King’s speech
Of course a lot of impeachy things happened this last month but I don’t really feel like reflecting on any of that.
The first part of his speech was mostly an optimistic enumeration of our country’s qualities. The king reminded us that “freedom” is one of the terms most frequently used to explain what defines us as a nation, but that freedom does not come without a price.
This last year we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, which means we have had three quarters of a century of peace. The people that fought for our freedom are in their nineties and soon there will be no one left to tell us first hand about the price of freedom but also the weight of the lack thereof.
The king pointed out that in order for freedom to thrive, we must put trust in one another and let our personal bubbles overlap a bit. He emphasized the importance of tolerance:
If we start threatening people with different opinions, we undermine exactly what we hold dear. To be free, we must allow contrarious thinking; in ourselves and in others.
King Willem Alexander – 25-12-2019
I loved this part of his speech. It is always valuable to be reminded that other people’s opinions are allowed to differ from ours. Even more valuable is to be reminded that it’s OK to have an opinion that differs from the rest.
Small sidenote: the king used the term “dwarse denken” to refer to the type of thoughts we should be accepting of. Dwars is another one of those wonderful Dutch words with no English equivalent, that can mean all sorts of things. You can say one street runs ‘dwars’ in reference to another street, meaning they intersect. It can also mean diagonal, skew or wayward. When used as a word to describe someone, dwars can mean ‘contrarious’ but also ‘tenacious’ and ‘obstinate’. It’s usually not said as a compliment, even though it’s a trait most Dutch people seem to have…
The king went on to remind us that we are really doing very well as a nation, but that in our ambition, we can sometimes be to hard on ourselves.
This part of his message seemed to be aimed at people who thrive for instagram-perfect lives, but crash and burn in the process. We all know the kind. He described how he often had to remind young people that it is OK to be imperfect. I mostly hope he also tells his daughters this, who seem to get all the troll shit of the world spilled out over their heads every time they appear in public.
The king then ventured onto thin ice, saying that happiness is an elusive thing that can not be obtained by force. Sure. And that’s when the most privileged person of our nation made me cringe; he said happiness comes “suddenly, as a gift from heaven”.
Oooooh, no you didn’t just say that did you, your majesty? I mean… Yes, I also wish life got better for everyone who channeled their inner Elsa and just chilled the fuck out, but you know how life can be… Hold on, no you don’t (and no, I have no clue what kingness is like either). And yeah… about the heaven part… I don’t know why you had to drag that into it, man… Bad idea.
But OK. I forgive him. I know what he was trying to say. Sort of. And the sentiment is nice.
Oh wow. It turns out I did need a mind cleanup after all. HAHA! Who knew?
New year’s wishes
I hope you all had a beautifully imperfect December month. For 2020 I predict the heavens will rain down all their happiness on you and your loved ones!
Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik are the hosts of my favorite Dutch podcast: de Rudi & Freddie Show. They discuss all sorts of topics, which at one point ventured into their disdain towards self help books. But, as is typical for R&F, they decided to investigate the popularity of the genre and then ended up coming up with their own list of life-improvement tips.
Rutger Bregman’s first tip, also stars in his most recent book “De meeste mensen deugen”. The title is kind of difficult to translate as there isn’t really an English equivalent for the word “deugen”. The noun “deugd” means “virtue”, and the verb means something along the lines of “to be virtuous”, but it’s used in a much more casual way than the English version makes it sound…
Someone could ask me if I’ve met my brother’s new girlfriend. My answer could then be: “Ja, ze deugt”, which is just basically three words to say that I have indeed met her and that I give her a thumbs up.
Long story short, Rutger’s newest book title translates to something along the lines of “Most people are cool”.
The accompanying tip boils down to:
Always assume good intent.
There will always be moments in life when you are not quite sure what “the other” thinks, feels or might do. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can assume the worst and start preparing (mentally) for somebody’s anger, stupidity or deceit. You can also chill out, assume all is well and nobody is out to get you.
Why would you give people the benefit of the doubt?
Because it is most often right.
Because it is less stressful
Because you avoid making it a self fulfilling prophecy
Rutger insists that trust is the water that we swim in. Having your trust broken (by being set up, robbed or swindled out of your money) is collateral damage. The price you pay for mistrust is not worth the amount of negative energy it brings into your life.
A while ago, somebody knocked on my door. The person at the door was a stranger. He told me he lived down the street from me and that never did this kind of thing but that his sister had just been hospitalized and that he needed a couple of euro’s to fill up the tank of his scooter to go see her.
So what were my choices? I could assume the worst and let my fantasy freak me out:
He’s a junkie who is going to use the money to get high.
He’s never going to pay me back.
Next time he knocks he is going to rob me.
The alternative was to assume he was telling the truth and help the dude out.
In all honesty I did a bit of both: I assumed he was telling the truth, but didn’t count on seeing him or the money back ever again (even though he assured me several times he would be back the following week).
I dug through several bags and pockets to collect all the bits of change I could find (because really, who still has cash these days?) and told him it was not necessary to repay me but that he should pay it forward to somebody else some day.
So yah, I may have “lost” 4 euros. Or did I?
Maybe he really did come back with the money but I wasn’t home.
Maybe the handful of change is still being handed down to people in need, spreading kindness and smiles across the country.
Maybe he was really planning on coming back to rob and kill me, but changed his mind after my kindness (or when he glanced into my house and saw that my house was a trip hazard).
Hold on… That last one doesn’t sound quite right. This positive-assumption thing takes some getting used to, I guess…
Society and politics
Let’s try applying the same logic to a larger scale.
Because if we trust the people right in front of us, we can trust people a bit further away as well, can’t we? And if we do that, we can assume whole groups of people consist solely of good-intentioned folks.
What could we achieve as a society if we put full trust in each other? What would our laws look like if we weren’t always basing them on the assumption that people want to take advantage of the system?
That is some radical thinking, I’m telling you…
Trust your friendly neighborhood charlatan
Have you ever been cheated? Good! That means you put trust in someone. Keep it up!
If you haven’t been scammed at least a few times in your life you may be missing out on the good stuff by being too mistrustful.
My very first stereo was bought with the money I earned during a summer’s work on a potato farm. I must have been 13 or 14 years old.
I loved farm life and took great interest in everything that went on there. I learned about how to recognize specific diseases and pests. I learned about rules and regulations. I moved to “the west”, as urban Netherlands is often referred to, but still returned in the summer to spend some time on the big harvesting machines.
I went abroad and learned about methods and challenges for farmers in the tropics and ended up writing my thesis on agrarian reform in Bolivia. The farmers I worked for back home were thrilled to hear about what I had seen.
I still love farm life, but I don’t think I love it in the same way that I used to. I am not without critique and I don’t think all farmers approve of my slight change of heart. Where my allegiance lies exactly has become relevant again, now that farmers have been making headlines in the Netherlands.
As I mentioned in my most recent mind cleanup blog, October was the month that Dutch farmers stormed the political capital, the Hague, to protest new laws meant to lower the emission of certain harmful gasses, in particular nitrogen and phosphate.
Farmers feel they are being unfairly constricted in their work, while other sectors (such as the air travel industry) are not suffering the same limitations, despite being equally harmful.
Their demand for respect did not go unnoticed, as thousands and thousands of tractors from all over the country made their way to the Hague. Many were underway for more than a day (which in our tiny country is hard to imagine). As more and more gathered, traffic suffered the inevitable consequences, bringing parts of the country to an absolute standstill. They managed to catch our attention like few protests in recent years have.
As has often been the case when facing complex topics in recent years, our country was very much divided on this matter. Supporters of the farmer protests were the most visible (and audible).
A lot of the signs and banners that adorned the protesters’ tractors were related to a demand for respect and recognition for farmers’ role as the ones that produce the food we put on our plates every day.
This conservative urge to protect and preserve what we have, was fueled by a modern day fear that societies seem to be experiencing that we are losing our identity.
The fact that farmers were protesting measures to protect the environment was clearly leaving sustainability freaks a bit confused. After all, of all our nation’s professions, shouldn’t farmers be the ones to care about this the most?
Environmentalists emphasized that it was right wing politics that should be protested. In their eyes, it is precisely the conservative and liberal parties that ignore the real threats to rural life, being climate change and the wealth gap.
Left wingers concluded that people were being misled and were now angry on the basis of misinformation. This is obviously not a very easy point to make when farmers are already complaining about not being taken seriously.
Also, a lot of people just thought the sight of all the heavy agrarian machinery on the highways was pretty funny/cool. It had a bit of a festival parade feel to it and a lot of Dutch people can’t help but applaud for spectacles, no matter what the idea behind it is.
An increasingly common experience these days is that when one specific topic is being protested, deep down it is actually about something else.
In this case, the protest wasn’t solely about the new law. It was actually about rural Netherlands feeling disrespected, disregarded and misunderstood by the media, urban hipsters and big city lawmakers. The fact that leftist city dwellers based their arguments on the idea that farmers simply didn’t know the facts, didn’t help.
In the days after the protest there were some who said they felt this type of protest was actually not as charming as was being portrayed. After the massive protest on the first of October and a second one two weeks later, the big tractors started to feel as an unfair advantage during protests and quite a threatening one when combined with anger.
All though all these contrasts are not new, they are definitely sharper than before. So here I am wondering once again where my position is in all of this.
How much of my criticism is really just a leftover from puberty making me oppose anything that reminds me of my roots? The degree that I let my annoyance build up to is quite unnecessary and unproductive, but I guess it is also quite telling. At the same time, I refuse to believe it’s just pure and unbridled juvenile defiance that fuels my -eeummm- disappointment…
If I dig really deep down into the crypts of my thoughts-and-feelings-storage I guess I can say I do feel resentment towards the people “back home”. There was very little room for being different and me-at-my-most-normal never really managed to fit in the average mold.
And I guess moving to the city made me realize my attempts at being normal were really just holding me back from being abnormally awesome.
So every time I recognize a pinch of that smothering conservatism in anybody’s rhetoric I guess I can’t help but call BS…
But yeah, farmers really do produce the food we put on our plates and they really do know their shit.