Inspirational thought on priorities

For the 2014-07-23 meeting of the Toastmasters club of Port Orange, FL, I will give the inspirational thought and the theme of the meeting is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Here is what I came up with:

Fellow Toastmasters and guests, for tonight’s inspirational thought I will share two quotes and my thoughts.

Quote from Robert Heinlein, science fiction author (1907 – 1988):

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

Quote from Tony Robbins:

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.”

My thoughts:

In the theme of not “sweating the small stuff,” it is important to regularly take a good hard look at your daily routine. Ask yourself—are your actions bringing you closer to who you want to be, or are they of no long-term consequence? Do you spend too much time reading the news? Do you spend too much time responding to mundane emails, texts, and Facebook posts? Do you spend too much time organizing things that really don’t need to be organized? Do you spend too much time helping friends, family, and strangers, while neglecting your own goals and projects? Practice saying “NO!” more often, and reclaim this time to pursue your true creative desires. Then, you might find yourself gaining confidence, respect, and momentum.

Toastmasters table topics for “Singing in the Rain” theme

For the 2014-07-16 meeting of the Toastmasters club of Port Orange, FL, I was the table topics master and the theme was “Singing in the Rain.” Here is the introduction and topics I came up with:

The purpose of table topics is to help improve members’ extemporaneous speaking skills by giving them an opportunity to practice impromptu speaking on topics they do not have advance knowledge of.

1. Talk about a hurricane, snowstorm, or other bad weather that affected you. What was it like to go without electricity for several days? Did you have a lot of cleanup work to do after the storm?

2. Talk about a time when you’ve had a party or beach day rained out, OR talk about a day when you were worried it would rain but the storm passed over.

3. Have you ever kissed someone in the rain? Share your thoughts on how bad weather can be romantic.

4. Discuss how trying to use an umbrella can actually be counterproductive, especially over short distances where you have to extend and collapse the umbrella in the rain to avoid getting water in your car.

5. Have you or a friend or family member had any close calls with lightning? Share some tips to stay safe in a thunderstorm.

6. Do you sing in the shower? Why or why not?

7. Share some tips for hurricane preparedness or disaster preparedness in general. Feel free to include tips about cutting down dangerous tree branches and securing doors and windows.

Overcoming Narcissism

Whenever people suggests they “deserve” to be treated better, an interesting question to ask is: “What are you basing that on?” If we look at how they treat others and it does not measure up, perhaps they deserve to be treated no better than their worst behavior toward others? If their expectations for respect are based on accomplishments that do not exist, then such respect cannot be deserved without commensurate achievement. If their expectations are based on their innate worth as human beings, regardless of their diligence or lack thereof, then we should be dealing with an issue of human rights. More often however, we are dealing with a symptom of narcissism (namely, an unearned sense of entitlement).

Moving forward, I would like to discredit the just-world hypothesis and its manifestations, such as karma and destiny. There is no empirical evidence that people get what they deserve at a universal level. I also propose that it is empowering to believe that people who unfairly hurt you are not bringing “bad karma” upon themselves, nor are they any more likely to experience hardships in their lives, except to the extent their behavior endangers their property, relationships, or freedom, or the extent to which you seek justice against them. The reason this is more empowering than believing they will “get what’s coming to them” is because it is closer to the truth. The truth does not have to be encouraging to be empowering. Discarding your belief in fairness allows you to recognize that regardless of your wishes, nothing good will come without continuous, definitive action by you.

I would also like to instill the belief that past events are the best predictor of future events. If you expect to be successful in the future, ask yourself what you are basing that belief on? Nearly 100% of the time, looking at a person’s actions in the past year is an excellent predictor of their future accomplishments. Your stated goals and intentions are meaningless. Everyone is very “busy,” and it is very easy to say that you are going to write a book without writing anything, that you love travel without going anywhere, and that you are a visionary without having produced any fruits. It is far harder to accurately assess your track record and acknowledge that reaching your aspirations will require fundamental changes in the habits and behaviors that govern your life. Without fundamental changes, you cannot expect dramatic improvements.

Although this is seemingly unrelated, Pual Arden’s quote, “it’s better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t,” is often wrong. You can interview anyone who regrets committing a murder, having an affair, or making a bad investment to see evidence of this. As an impetus to overcome fear and pursue your truest desires, this belief is wanting at best. I find it is far more motivating to look at trailblazers in your desired field who do not allow sociocultural disapproval to inhibit their lives. Become envious—even jealous—of them, and let your competitive instinct drive you to become better and faster than them. I find this strategy to be far more effective than worrying about hypothetical future regrets.

Overcoming narcissism does not necessarily require “settling” for something less, nor eliminating your love of power and adulation. An alternate route is to prioritize actual achievement rather than the illusion of achievement. Then, you can enjoy admiration as a byproduct of your accomplishments, and avoid descending into madness. It is very important to do what you love for intrinsic reasons rather than for prestige and authority. Only then will you have the motivation to work continuously despite many years of being unnoticed.

A great predictor of what you love to do is what you have loved doing. If you have spent the past year watching TV shows, despite professing a love for writing, perhaps you should become really good at watching TV shows and teach other people how to notice details and predict the plot of new episodes of their favorite TV shows? If you say you want to do something but never get around to doing it, despite having available time and resources, what does this say about you? That you are a pretender, misguided, deranged, or a lout? Perhaps you should immediately cease telling yourself and others of your aspirations, until you take even one small action to bring them to pass?

Who am I to point out flaws, to criticize, or even to make suggestions if my life is not in order? Do not make the mistake of believing that you should only listen to people who are shining examples of success. It is not—nor has it ever been—about me. Good ideas can come from anywhere. People are entitled to care nothing about you and everything about what you can do for them. To say that you “deserve” better is a misnomer. You have no rights. Whatever you have is a gift. People who say they “deserve” better are like spoiled children who cannot understand they have already been given parents who are far more generous and permissive than average.

Life is a gift. Friendship and politeness are gifts. A gift cannot be earned. A gift cannot be an exchange of value. A gift cannot be deserved. A gift can be withdrawn at any time. Value and treat gifts accordingly, and you will be better able to see the truth about yourself and others. Paradoxically, you will also be more forgiving, because it is easy to be angry at someone for betraying your expectations, but far more difficult to be angry at someone for being true to him- or herself.

Thomas Jefferson quote on friendship

I have started attending the Toastmasters club of Port Orange, FL, and was assigned to give the inspirational thought for the 2014-07-02 meeting. The theme was sunshine, so I found this quote from Thomas Jefferson on friendship, which is also fitting since Independence Day is coming up:

In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want & accident, yours is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, & to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody. But friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; & thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.

October 12, 1786

This quote is from his “DIALOGUE BETWEEN MY HEAD & MY HEART” love letter to Maria Cosway, an Italian-English artist who was living in Paris at the time.

I had written these comments about the quote, but decided not to say them at the Toastmasters meeting:

Good friendships should be nurtured and developed, not only because they are mutually beneficial and supportive, but because they allow us to share and be vulnerable without fear of judgment or ridicule. We should especially endeavor to be true friends to our significant others and families.

Beyond Hipocrisy

Identifying hypocrisy in others is a premier way of discrediting them and is a part of the zeitgeist of 21st-century life. Since people tend to produce such an abundance of accessible information on their webpages and networks, it is easy to analyze this information and discover where they have espoused a belief yet expressed contrary actions or statements. Particularly if someone is criticizing you, they can often be discredited not by analyzing their criticism, but by illuminating inconsistencies in their rhetoric and thus demonstrating their moral inferiority, or at least their absence of moral superiority. The implication is that anything they say to criticize or advise others should be ignored, because they cannot even maintain consistency in their personal narrative.

Anonymous attackers cannot be accused of hypocrisy except on the basis of inconsistencies in their attacks. If you know nothing about your critic, there is no canon of literature or Facebook postings to show they are as fallible and hypocritical as they accuse you of being. Privacy grants superiority, because it means you have no past statements or actions to be held accountable to. You can point out the flaws of others without giving them any ammunition. If you are not interested in criticizing others, privacy at least shelters you from others who want to criticize you.

Self-reporting as a Christian is an easy way to be hypocritical. A Christian is one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ taught his followers to turn the other cheek, to give all that one has to the poor, to love one’s neighbors, and to cut off one’s hand if it causes him or her to sin. Since many people who proclaim to be Christians do not follow his teachings, many Christians are hypocrites. Theoretically, one can call out the hypocrisy of Christians without fear of retribution, because Jesus Christ also said “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone,” which, more broadly applied as a general principle, means that a Christian should not point out faults in others.

Being labeled a hypocrite has a strong negative connotation in Western culture. It can be compared to schizophrenia without the associated waiver of personal responsibility. It is arguably worse than being labeled a liar, cheater, usurper, or thief. It means that one cannot even practice what they impose on others, nor follow what they espouse as personal or universal principles for authentic living. Because the hypocrite label has become quite powerful, it is much more salient to say “person X is a hypocrite!” than “person X is acting hypocritically.” If someone can be labeled a hypocrite, they are discredited now and forever, but if we admit their act of hypocrisy may be an uncommon or isolated incident among numerous statements and actions, the proclamation is greatly weakened.

Elevating hypocrisy to such heights is unnatural, unethical, dehumanizing, and an impedance to progress. It paradoxically makes people who say nothing, write nothing, and do nothing morally superior to artists, lovers, and creators. One cannot be a hypocrite if one makes no statements to contradict! Demanding that others maintain the same values, perspectives, and beliefs throughout their lifespans—or even among different settings in a single day (i.e. work life versus home life)—is restrictive and unreasonable. Expecting them to issue a plethora of retractions and apologies when their stated beliefs change is ridiculous. Shifts in personal values often occur gradually and without notice. To say that my 2014 self is hypocritical to my 2009 self is likely accurate, but more importantly, a useless criticism. If I have not been hypocritical, I probably should have been trying harder.

I had the idea for writing this essay before doing some searches and found this blog post which quotes The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The author of the blog post (who is incidentally anonymous) concludes hypocrisy is better than “preaching nothing and lacking morality altogether.” While I disagree with this conclusion and see them as equivalent, seeing hypocrisy in this light is a welcome change and may enable people to take bolder risks and accomplish greater things in life.

It is a common belief that people who claim the moral high ground should be held to a higher standard than ordinary people. This allows their hypocrisy to be parroted by people who are just as hypocritical, under the assumption that as a teacher or public figure, they should—to use two clichés—either walk the walk or get off the soapbox. However, what if the opposite is closer to the truth? Since prolific creators have more “baggage” associated with their past work, perhaps they should be given more leeway when compared with people who create very little? It is easy to contradict yourself when you are adding to a large canon of work. Contradiction might be both inevitable and desirable. If we maintain the same beliefs indefinitely and consider this practice virtuous, we deny ourselves the educational opportunities of playing devil’s advocate.

Who has the authority to say what is right and wrong, what is true and false? If we believe in moral absolutism, we might believe truth is universal and can come from anyone—including people who usually lie. If we believe in moral relativism, we might believe truth is changing and the same standard could be true when taught by one person and false when taught by another. This is not to say that absolutism is better than relativism, or to comprehensively distill either perspective. I am trying to say that both have value and both should be used. Homogenizing concepts that appear diametrically opposed is one of the greatest joys in philosophical exploration. However, it is impossible to experience if you are not willing to be a hypocrite.

To move beyond hypocrisy, we must minimize the stigmas and taboos associated with it. Being hypocritical must be seen as no worse than being angry, forgetful, misinformed, or human. Only then will artists have the freedom to operate without being heckled by a type of criticism that has been given too much power for far too long.

Recommendation Letter from Lisa Doig

Today, I received an unsolicited letter of recommendation on LinkedIn from Lisa Doig, my former supervisor at the Holly Hill branch of the Volusia County Public Library, where I volunteered from January to November 2006 and was employed from 11/16/2006 to 6/13/2008. It can be seen here (by LinkedIn users who are logged in) and says:

“Richard was a truly extraordinary asset to the Holly Hill Library. He was so patient and kind in answering all patrons’ most complicated computer questions; he was always an enthusiastic contributor and participant in library programs and activities; an extremely talented photographer and musician willing to share his work and music with all of us; and otherwise a brilliant, well mannered, well liked young man destined to go very far in his professional journey.”

I enjoyed working at the library under Lisa and she has a passion for helping people find information and for emergency and disaster management. In 2007, I recall her returning from several emergency preparedness drills and conferences with great enthusiasm, stories, and photos detailing what she had learned. Lisa is fluent in Spanish and I wish her the best as she continues in the Volusia County library system while working toward her calling in emergency management, with an emphasis on helping the Hispanic community and non-English speakers.

The Holly Hill, FL library first opened in 1964. It was located at 1066 Ridgewood Ave., Holly Hill, FL when it closed in 2010, but Volusia County continued providing public computers and book vending machines until 2013, which were then also removed. Located at 1066 Ridgewood Ave. (U.S. Highway 1), Holly Hill, FL across the street from the Holly Hill City Hall, it is now a museum and education center (which was previously co-located with the computers and book vending machines).

In my volunteering and employment at the library from 2006 to 2008, I observed many patrons who relied on the library not only for the books, films, audio recordings, and computer access available there, but also for inter-branch loans that were provided for free to Volusia County library card holders from 15 other branches in the county, by a daily courier service that, like the library, was funded by property tax revenue. Patrons could request an item from any library branch in the county and have it arrive in Holly Hill, often within 2-3 days if it was on shelf at the originating branch. They could then return it to the Holly Hill branch as well, and thus many patrons who did not have a car were still able to have free access to over a million physical books and audiovisual recordings. It is a shame that such an important cultural and educational service is no longer being provided in a depressed neighborhood, which was evidenced by numerous bicycle thefts that occurred frequently at the library.

Various LDS Primary Songs (Piano, 2014-05-31)

Me attempting to play various LDS primary songs on the piano on May 31, 2014 at 7:40 PM EDT, to varying degrees of success.

These songs are part of the musical curriculum for children’s classes in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

My camera stopped recording so some of the video got cut off. There are mistakes in many of the songs since I had not practiced many of them in weeks or months before this recording.