Contempt Is the Most Contemptible Emotion

There’s a downside to self-development: it can be very easy to start developing contempt for the people you’re passing.

People who don’t go to the gym start to look like slobs. You* start to judge people who watch TV instead of doing creative work. You condemn people who spend more money than they make.

Of course, you notice this contempt *just* as you are beginning to improve. You forget that hardly a moment ago you were in the shoes of the people you find contemptible.

You used to not know a barbell from a bellhop. You used to watch TV for much of your waking (non-school) hours. You ran up a credit card balance just last year – one that you’re still trying to pay off.

Your contempt isn’t just a cause of memory loss – it is a pernicious lie. You were *just* recently the same way these people are now. You didn’t lock yourself in a category of shame or judgment then, so why are you doing it to them?

You still have many contemptible elements about yourself that you don’t judge yourself for. You still haven’t started going to the gym *really* consistently. You still wake up at 8:30 (or later) sometimes. You’re still late for things.

What makes you think you have any right to judge? Your contempt is hypocritical. What’s more – it’s cowardly avoidance of responsibility.

When you dwell on your contempt for others, you’re just shifting your responsibility. Instead of dealing with the root of your own self-loathing, you project your self-loathing onto others. You take the small self-improvement you’ve done and immediately use it as a weapon. Instead of facing your own weakness, you seek out weakness in others.

Maybe feelings of contempt are inevitable. Maybe they’re part of the path of overcoming our own insecurities and faults and failures. But it’s not inevitable that we have to indulge in contempt. 

If you are on the path of self-improvement, contempt will bring you low. Watch for it, notice it, remember its toxicity, and move past it. If you keep your eyes ahead (and remember where you started from), you won’t have much mental space for it.

*And by “you” I mean “I.” These are faults of mine.

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This Is What Peace Looks Like

When I walk in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park these days, I get a few moments where I see at a deeper level.

I see hundreds of smiling people. I see couples in love, parents with children, and happy dogs trotting ahead of them. I see people playing soccer and football, throwing frisbees, roller-blading, running, biking, picnicking, and doing (popsicle) business.

I see extreme diversity and cultural integration. I see people respecting each other and sharing a park with each other, despite differences in belief, sexual orientation, race, politics, nationality, and ethnicity. By and large, people in a park on a sunny day genuinely don’t care about divisions.

I see people wearing all kinds of clothes, rocking different hairstyles, riding around on the strangest contraptions (hoverboards?), and generally doing what they want to do. By and large, people in a park on a sunny day don’t care about control.

And I realize something: this is what peace looks like. This is what freedom looks like.

This – here, now, concretely, in front of me- is a small vision of what I and all of my idealistic friends and forebears talk about when we talk about the world we want. This is what people have fought and died for. This is it.

Peace becomes far more interesting and compelling when it has a face. And that face is far more beautiful than any of the allure of war and conflict.

War has only one face: the death mask. But in the park on any random Saturday in Atlanta, I can see far more faces and far more expressions of human joy and creativity – with new expressions being born every weekend.

We have a lot of work to do still. Most of the world is not so lucky. But it helps to have a solid image of what we want to spread. Peace isn’t an abstraction: it’s a park full of happy people.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Mental Deadweight of Permission

Permission is the enemy of speed.

Everyone knows this. But I think what’s less discussed is the negative psychosomatic effect that permission has.

Just knowing that you have to ask permission adds a certain friction that makes everything a bit slower.

You have to think about the mood of the reviewer. You have to think about their availability. And you inevitably spend time wondering what the permission roadblocks are going to be. Even if a permission process normally happens quickly and efficiently, there are so many variables brought in that create mental friction for the creative.

That mental deadweight disappears with the disappearance of unnecessary permissioning. The total amount of time to create may not even significantly change with the de-permissioning of something. But, importantly, the total perceived amount of time to create does shrink, giving the creative person a serious morale boost and mental freedom.

For me, knowing that I don’t have to report hours or ask permission for overtime means I’m more likely to work longer. And knowing that I don’t have to ask permission to publish these blog posts means I find fewer excuses not to publish these every night. I don’t have to think about anything but the resistance to creativity that’s already there.

Don’t put up any more walls if you don’t have to – and (even if your permission processes are efficient) take a hard look to see if you can remove them. You’d be surprised by what a gift of speed de-permissioning can be to yourself and your colleagues.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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I Don’t Want To Make the World Feel Smaller

Should we really want travel make our world feel “smaller”?

Last week I took a flight on Delta Airlines, and their pre-flight advertisement followed this theme of a smaller, more accessible world as it showed beautiful images of people frolicking in tropical water paradises. etc.

I don’t blame the good marketers of Delta for pursuing this theme: it’s a common one.

The world must once have felt very big. I imagine the feeling of European sailors in the days of Columbus or Magellan.

As our world has grown more connected – by flights, by container ships, by the web – we have also come to think of it as a smaller place. It’s hard to feel the same distance from China or Morocco when you know you can get there in a day by plane.

But this feeling of distance – great or small – is simply a matter of imagination. Landmasses (setting aside continental drift) have more or less been equidistant for millennia. Nothing has changed about actual distance. But we have imagined the world as shrinking in proportion to its accessibility.

We imagine “making the world a smaller place” by growing our means of going around the world.

Why couldn’t we imagine a bigger and deeper world instead?

Viewed properly, I think travel *can* make the world larger – in making a reality out of foreignness, or in taking us deeper into the experience of different cultures. The travel and access we have now makes it possible for humans (who might previously only have *imagined* a big world) to experience just how much more there is of a place than the imagination will hold or allow.

The triumph of making the world feel smaller only goes so far. People want bigness. People want to be awed. People want to feel small sometimes, so that in going on adventures they can feel large.

I think right about now we really want our world to feel bigger.

Maybe Delta could appeal to that longing, which will surely grow with time.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Yes, I Do Have An Enemies List

It’s a powerful thing to name your enemies. By naming them, you can keep always in front of you what you’re up against.

So I figure I ought to take a page from Arya Stark’s playbook and start keeping tabs on my list of enemies.

Some of my enemies are emotions: despair, terror, vindictiveness, arrogance, numbness.

Some of my enemies are philosophies: authoritarianism, statism, socialism, fascism, anti-human religiosity, sexism, racism.

Some of my enemies are habits: procrastination, stagnation, indebtedness, dishonesty, lateness, failed promises, conformity.

Some of my enemies are attitudes: contempt, subservience, helplessness, status-seeking.

You’ll notice there are no people on this list. That’s because all people are capable of change – all people are capable of being my friends, or at least of not being evil.

If I’m going to choose enemies, I also might as well pick ones that I’m never going to fully defeat. A good long battle will make me strong for a good long time, and a big-enough enemy is a good motivation for a struggle which will take a lifetime.

Another grace of my particular enemies list is that it makes my choice of tactics simpler.

With enemies like procrastination, I can know that any action I take toward a creative goal is a victory- and any procrastination is itself a defeat.

With enemies like despair, I can know that giving up would be the only form of failure.

With enemies like authoritarianism and statism, I can remind myself that I can only win by respecting the freedom of others. The way of power isn’t open to me.

Finally, I think I’ll find that listing out these enemies will make it far harder for me to subconsciously slip into treating them as friends. If I remind myself routinely that vindictiveness is an enemy, it won’t find any hospitality in my heart.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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That Look College Opt-Outs Get

There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed over the nearly 5 years since I decided not to go to college. I’ll call it the college opt-out look.

It happens like this:

PERSON: Are you in school? / Where did you go to school?

YOU: Oh, I didn’t go to university.

PERSON: Oh.

Accompanying this response is a look that suggests you might be less bright than you appear. If the person is nice, they might half-heartedly add something about how “college isn’t for everyone.”

Immediately accompanying that, you’ll find in yourself a desire to justify yourself.

This is a test: will you seek to soften the blow of being different?

“Yes, but I have an awesome job.” 

“Oh, I was accepted into X college/got X scholarship. I just wanted something more.” 

“I didn’t need college – I’m already smarter than my peers and know how to teach myself.”

You could say all these things. But that would be ego and insecurity talking – the same ego and insecurity that you chose to disregard when you chose your own life path around education.

There are going to be plenty of people who believe that you are ignorant, lazy, or unwise for not going to college. They are going to give you plenty of chances to deal with the awkwardness of having made an unconventional decision. You will want desperately to say something to wipe the look of pity or contempt or condescension from their faces.

Or you could own it. You could decide not to bat a lash. You could acknowledge the fact that you don’t have a degree, and move on like it’s not a big deal – because it isn’t. What *is* a big deal is how you live your life and what you do with it.

You might have to put up with some looks of pity, contempt, and condescension. But you can learn to smile inside in response. You’ll be in solidarity with your fellow opt-outs. You’ll be respecting your own decision enough to state it unapologetically. And you’ll live loudly enough that anyone who knows you knows that any prejudice around college opt-outs is nonsense.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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