Find Community, Give, Receive, Repeat

Last night at a beer garden here in Atlanta, I got to see what a healthy modern tribe could look like.

I was meeting with dozens of new and old participants, alumni, and team members from Praxis, the startup apprenticeship program that helped launch my career. If it sounds like a staid old business conference, it wasn’t.

The atmosphere most closely resembled a family reunion more than anything. People were snapping photos and perching on picnic tables, and everyone felt free to talk to everyone else. Shared values and mission brought together people of different genders, ethnic backgrounds, places, ages, religions, and more.

Because of all the differences we brought to the gathering, there was this beautiful cycle of exchange at play – particularly between veterans and beginners. I received affirmation and welcome from mentors and role models. They received thanks and praise from me. I gave affirmation and welcome to younger, newer members of the community. They in turn honored me for my experience.

Everyone had a role to play in the cycle of exchange that comes with a healthy community – and everyone walked away with something. Communities like last night’s little ephemeral gathering provide opportunities to work, explore, play, support others, and receive support and encouragement ourselves. For me (and I suppose for many people), it felt good to play our roles well within that.

The giving and receiving of a healthy community (reciprocal respect and affirmation) is just *right*, and last night’s event was a small glimpse of what life can be like inside that flow.

What if that giving and receiving wasn’t an exception?

What if we engaged ourselves meaningfully as members of as many communities as possible? Or as meaningfully as possible in single communities?

Obviously adding value and receiving value from community isn’t something that can be done haphazardly. But given that stable, geographically-fixed tribes aren’t a thing anymore, we are going to have to work harder to replicate the feelings of closeness and reciprocal respect and love that we need.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to get community (and especially that reciprocal respect-affirmation cycle) in jiu jitsu classes, at church, at work, in my small group, and with my accountability partners. But even these small pockets of integrated community aren’t enough. I want to go deeper into relationship there, and I want to cultivate more areas where I can find reciprocal respect and affirmation.

I’m not one to harp on how we *need* other people (we do to some extent, just like we need independence). But community – and giving and receiving inside community – is not so hard to find and not so hard to recognize as one of life’s great gifts. Let’s make it the rule, not the exception.

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The Wheat and Tares Grow Up Together: Morality and Judging Historical Eras

Is the 21st century a time of great moral progress? Or is it a time of decadence? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. In my view, the answer is “both.”

On one hand, humans are progressing. The internet and software are breaking down barriers between people and people groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other great prejudices (at least in their traditional forms) are losing their entrenched hold on the human mind. Individual humans can be freer, more creative, and more generous than ever before.

On the other hand, humans are regressing. We’re putting more and more faith in centralized governments (contrary to the lessons of the 20th century) and giving up more freedom and responsibility. We’re abandoning our commitments to friends, family, and ideas of honor and the sacred. We’re allowing ourselves to be addicted by digital stimulants from porn and video games to news feeds and notifications.

We like to be able to put simple moral judgments on historical eras, and every era presents difficulties for the person who wants to put simple labels of “good” or “bad”, “progressive” or “regressive” on any time in human history.

Jesus once told a parable which amateur cultural and historical judges (like me) should consider:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about historical eras, but the metaphor of the wheat and the tares (the King James version of weeds) is a good one.

In any and every time, no matter how much we idealize or condemn, there is always wheat, and there are always weeds. The 16th century had exploration and cultural renaissance, but it also had religious warfare and barbaric tortures. The 19th century had abolitionism and industrialism, but it also had colonialism and imperialism. The 1st century had Stoicism and Christianity, but it also had mad emperors and slavery.

For all of these eras and all times (including our own), it does us good to remember the command to “[Let] them (wheat and weeds) grow up until harvest.” I read this as a metaphor for the wisdom of reserving blanket judgment.

We may one day be able to say that the centuries in our rearview were “good” or “bad.” But the harvest of consequence has not yet happened for the 21st century, and it’s hard to say that the harvests of the 19th and 20th are fully ripe, either. It is too soon to judge. Let time do that. In the meantime, resist the urge either to burn the fields or to swallow the weeds.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Why Be a Peasant When You Can Be a Knight Errant?

What adventurous boy or girl didn’t grow up wanting to be a knight?

All of our favorite stories, video games, and histories let us imagine ourselves spending our lives as a series of adventures. Yet somehow most of us have chosen to be peasants.

There wasn’t much attraction then to the idea of serving a lord, tying down to a fixed point of earth, and living on the good graces of the powerful. But when we’ve chosen our careers, we’ve generally chosen to commit our whole working lives to serving on the land of another while a whole realm of people with quests awaits.

By “whole realm of quests”, I mean the markets – known and unknown – that we could be serving if we were entrepreneurial. And the alternative to being a “peasant” in this world of markets is being a “knight errant”* – always in search of entrepreneurial opportunities.

We see one form of “knight errant” work quite literally in the gig economy. It’s now possible (if not easy) to for many people to support themselves doing gigs they choose, from driving people around to making deliveries to creating designs to walking dogs. For every skill, there is a freelance opportunity, and for every opportunity taken, there are “knight errant” virtues to gain: resourcefulness, courage, stamina, independent judgment.

Peasant life may be more comfortable, but a quest-based life is going to be more interesting. We’re heading into a world in which the average “workweek” can have multiple quests. The work will take many forms, God willing. And with that variety, we can count on work requiring more of a spirit of knightly adventure from all of us.


*If you think the analogy silly, consider that our term “Freelance” was first used to describe mercenary medieval warriors.

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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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