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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Reward Someone’s Faith

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world in which humans had faith in other humans?

Wouldn’t it be nice if people had faith that good wins out over evil, that virtue leads to happiness, and that freedom creates the best kind of society?

Answer: it would be very nice.

But the faith – the core *trust* – in all of these notions is something that gets put to the test every day. And we’re often the ones doing the testing.

When we fail to keep promises, we don’t just make ourselves look bad. We actually *punish* the faith of people who trust that people keep their words. We make trust a liability.

We do the same thing when we condone evil people (cough, politicians, cough), or when we punish people for being better than us (see: all envy or “Puritan” name-calling, ever).

We punish people’s faith in the good all the time.

Why don’t we reward it for a change?

Let’s keep our words. Let’s use our freedom well. Let’s call out the evil around us. Let’s restore victims. Let’s reward excellence and virtue.

We all know we need to better with our lives. But there is a special power to just knowing how our actions shape the faith of those around us. In doing virtuous things, we will be doing more than just meeting some requirements, or pleasing some people. We will be giving a gift.

So many people out there long desperately for truth, goodness, and beauty. They’re caught in a desert. And we have the option to give them the water they’ve been seeking.

When we reward faith, we will be giving them hope. When they have hope, they will act.

And then maybe – one day – they’ll reward our faith, too.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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One More Reason People-Pleasing Fails

People-pleasing is a poor life strategy for many reasons – ones covered elsewhere by many people wiser than me. But let’s just do a quick rehearsal:

It projects weakness and invites domineering. It projects unoriginality/uncreativity and invites management. And it puts a locus of control and standards of quality and success wholly in the hands of other people, reducing you to the role of a butler instead of a trader.

But there is another simple, practical reason people-pleasing will betray the hard work of people-pleasers.

Assuming most people have a tendency to people-please (or at least to conform) – and they do – you can assume about most people what is true about yourself. Namely, most people will never have the confidence to tell you what they really want.

Remember the last time you asked for honest feedback and someone told you that you need more work-life balance, or that you should collaborate more with people, or that you should appreciate yourself more? Sort of feels like bullshit, right?

Most people find it hard to take opportunities (even ones handed to them) to truly voice the things they most want or think. I know I do.

Different people are differently comfortable with openly asking for things. Most of them hold back and repress a bit (or a lot) of what they really want, whether from some sense of fair play or from their own desire to please you.

Of course, (as with most people who repress emotions) they become resentful anyways when you fail to meet those unvoiced wants. The unvoiced wants just boil over later. You find out that your roommate expected you to iron his shirts (odd) or that your coworker wanted you to do his TPS reports (whatever the hell those are). Then you the people-pleaser will be shocked and confused. “Didn’t I do everything they wanted?”

So if you’ll never entirely win with doing what people ask for, what is the solution?

Once again, the old Steve Jobs dictum is true: that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

Your job is still to please people, of course, but it’s not to please people in the incomplete ways they tell you about.

The only way past the resentments and repressions and strange machinations of the human mind is surprise. If you deliver value that people aren’t looking for and didn’t know they wanted, you bypass all of the junk that would be owning you if you were just doing as you were told.

Instead of being ruled by the people you please, throw them a little off-kilter by taking the initiative yourself. You’ll be happier, they’ll be happier, and no one will have to live with the resentment of half-voiced wants and unchosen obligations.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Irresponsibility Is the Youth-Killer

There’s this myth in our culture that youth is a blank check to be irresponsible. “Have fun and cut loose a little,” older folks tell us, not without a little envy.

But being young is not the opposite of being responsible. And to be carefree is not the same as to be irresponsible. In fact, irresponsibility is the youth-killer – the very reason that our older friends and family look and feel the part of the elderly before their time.

The 20 or 30 year-old who eats irresponsibly (“donuts! pizza!” etc.) becomes the overweight and chronically-ill 40 or 50-year old.

The 20 or 30 year-old who manages finances irresponsibly (“let’s go out for margaritas every night!” etc.) becomes the 40 or 50 year-old with no retirement plan and debt which will outlive them.

The 20 or 30-year old who fails to take responsibility in work (“I just want to have a high-status job,” etc. ) becomes the corporate drone, the underachiever, or the sycophantic overachiever at 40 or 50.

The 20 or 30-year old who dates irresponsibly (“I’m just looking for a good time!”) becomes the 40 or 50-year old with one or more divorces.

This should scare you very much.

Time goes quickly (as 20-somethings discover), and action inevitably seeks its consequences. If you would keep your youth, dump this idea that your youth gives you so much margin for error. You can make some mistakes, but you can’t afford to live destructive lifestyles day-in and day-out.

Run like hell from people who want you to squander your youth with them.

Youth is a gift your parents’ responsibility gives you at birth. It’s a gift you only get to keep if you choose the path of responsibility. That path of responsibility is the only thing which maintains the attributes of youth which we (rightly) love: good health, strength, freedom, curiosity of mind, beauty.

These things we value take great work and great care. And they can last for a tremendously long time. There are 70-somethings running long distances and 80-somethings skiing down mountains. And you can be one of them.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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