Why We Do Better

In the physical world, echoes muddle. An echoing voice (say, a friend calling out to you in the forest) gets softer, cloudier with each bounce. We hear the pitch, but the message is garbled.

In the informational domain, echoes do the opposite: they clarify. Take an idea and listen to how it echoes in the history of literature, or philosophy, or political action. With each echo, each occurrence, the theme distills, the message sharpens. When history echoes, we understand it more clearly.

This short movie visualizes a speech by Alan Watts. Watts reminds us of something we knew as toddlers:

“The physical universe is basically playful…the same way [as] dancing. You don’t aim for a particular spot in the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance.”

When we watch partners dance, we don’t observe the angle of their elbows, the sway of their hips and grasp for a greater purpose. The purpose is the dance.  We may understand our entire life in this way: the goal is not achievement or completion, but engagement, expression, presence.  In this way, we dance with every moment.

Seven-hundred years before Watts, the poet Rumi echoes:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
In this way, we dance with every moment.

There are many ways to dance. You might smash cake. I might make soup. (More echoes.)

You don’t have to change anything you’re doing. You don’t have to stop; you haven’t been going anywhere. You’ve been dancing the whole time.

In this way, we dance with every moment.

 

Why We Learn

If starving, we’ll eat anything.

If presented with an endless buffet, we’ll eat what we already like – and usually too much of it.

Ironically, when it comes to advice about healthy eating, it works same way. Too much information is just as dangerous as none. We don’t know how to choose.

To navigate the buffet:

  • Search for a person who’s been through the line before, and ask them for recommendations
  • Take only small portions

Better than a buffet is a restaurant, with a chef that you know and trust.

Better than a restaurant is experimenting in your own kitchen.

Why We Fuck Up

There are four possible reactions to reading or watching the news. I shall describe the appropriate response to each outcome.

1. “I didn’t understand this before, and I still don’t.”

Bummer. Perhaps this topic was too complex for the author to effectively capture. You might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic, should you wish to better understand. Stop reading the news.

2. “I didn’t understand this before, now I do.”

No, you don’t. You might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic, should you wish to better understand. Stop reading the news.

3. “I thought I understood before, now I don’t understand at all.”

Hey, you understand! The author effectively captured the irreducible complexity of human nature. Should you wish to deepen your informed perspective, you might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic. Continue reading the news, but please exercise caution.

4. “I understood this before, and now I understand better.”

Please, for the safety of those around you, stop reading the news.