Since death is the only certainty…

Editor’s note: I actually wrote this in like March or something and somehow never posted it

I’m currently reading Buddhism without beliefs which is basically what mindfullness has become. There is one difference, while mindfullness usually only incorporates the practices of meditation under a different name, Buddhism without beliefs advocates for a bit more introspection added. But it does this without any of the dubious religion-y aspects of Buddhism.

One of the things they recommend to meditate on was this question:

“Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?”.

At first, it feels quite Nihilistic. But it’s in a way just a re-framing of “Will it matter in 3 months”. Where as anything that won’t matter in 3 months isn’t worth ruminating about. (TED talk)

After a while, this sense of liberation comes in. In that, So many things become trivialities that we don’t need to bother with or worry about.

Accept and Affirm When Things are Bad. Only Then Can You Truly Make Them Better

A former colleague talked about his experience applying for jobs:

I wrote a bit about this on Twitter, but thought it could be a useful post. You can see my original reply and the conversation on Twitter.

I think that this forced universal positivity will kill your ability to reflect and improve. Too many leaders (and I have been guilty of this in the past) believe that we can fix all problems with encouragement. I myself haven’t fully moved past this.

I think it relates to accepting things for what they are and to the Buddhist Noble Truths. It’s much easier to diagnose overly optimistic / forced positivity in others. Once in a while, when I’m doing it I catch myself. But most often it’s in retrospect or it’s when I see someone else do it. When I catch it in myself or in others I try to refocus the conversation. Step back and re-read our shared goals. What’s our vision and mission? If that’s the case, are we truly achieving it? Am I, or are we deluding ourselves with vanity or proxy metrics?

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.”

Maybe Confucius or something

Lying to yourself and others that things are great seems like a good strategy. I mean, if we’re positive about it, it’ll be easier to climb over this actual obstacle. We won’t despair, we’ll keep marching on and eventually we’ll get there, right?

But if we don’t see things for what they are, if we don’t find the truth and tell the truth, we’re postponing the pain and suffering. And not just postponing but increasing it. When we’re finally forced to come to terms with the outcomes we’ve helped create, the pain of having wasted all this time and energy in the wrong path is crushing.

We can only build good relationships with neighbours by calling things by their name.

Paraphrased from Angela Merkel

That being said, that’s not a free pass to just shit on everything you see. Some use radical candour as radical honesty, but the key part is to care. Radical candour, the book, talks about caring personally and challenging directly. I think, in many cases, you can’t care personally. You can care about the mission of your organization, if you deeply care about a mission and challenge directly…. You can perhaps shorten the amount of time spent lost in the wilderness.

I say and write all these things like I know what I’m doing. that I’m able to at all times act in the way I wish I could, as some sort of Aristotle or Buddha, asking questions to people and helping them come to the realization of the truth themselves.

But as a human, I exist in the real world, I’m right at times, wrong at times. The real world is messy and unclear. We don’t have a scorecard at the end that tells us if we optimized for the outcomes we aimed to achieve.

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Shakespeare

The First Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that “all existence is dukkha” with dukkha usually being translated to suffering. But can also be understood as being incapable of being satisfied. That while there is the “common” suffering of old age, illness and death, there’s also this yearning or craving for more that we can’t satisfy.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

We keep having these expectations and these hopes. We expect that this new shiny thing will bring us happiness, a new game, a new car, a new “thing”, a new relationship, a promotion, a bigger house, a vacation, etc…

But it never does. We’re always wandering and craving for these impermanent things and transitory states that are ephemeral. We continually grasp at the shadow of happiness, and are left disappointed.

Books are too damn long (Seeing Like a State)

I’m reading (actually listening) to Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed because everyone keeps raving about it, and while it is an interesting book and it does a good job at setting the premise, and is great at showing the hubris behind believing one can mast complex systems (as opposed to complicated systems) it has the same problem most books have, which is that it’s needlessly long.

Now, of course, this was exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to it in the car and it’s not really easy to skip ahead.

But still it has the same problems I find in many books, it takes a chapter to repeat over and over the same point. Yes with varying anecdotes and the like, but it’s the same thing. And it’s not like there is more “proof” in the extra pages in each chapter, it’s just repetition of data points and examples.

I feel like most books could be cut by 80% but then have links to supporting evidence and supporting examples.

I loved the part about the architecture disasters of trying to instill order by Le Corbusier vs the embracing of complex systems of interdependence by Jane Jacobs.

But it just belaboured the point. It went on and on about the visuals from the sky metaphors and just kept repeating itself. I got it, your premise is that this is bad and this is why. Giving me 3 more anecdotes about how it was bad in other circumstances is not actually giving me real evidence of this, so I’m not going to change my perception of the truthiness of what you’re saying based on you repeating it 4 times with 4 different examples. That’s not actually giving me real evidence, it’s just showing me more cherry-picked examples to prove your point.

What it should do, it give the premise, give an example to understand context and get a sense of the ramifications of the premise and then, if you have any, link to supporting evidence in the annexes. No one needs to read the same thing 4 times.

I suspect part of the problem is that, if this was a 50 page book instead of a 500 page book, people wouldn’t pay $15 for it. One thing I like about Sam Harris(1)note that this is not an endorsement of Sam Harris, I disagree with some of his opinions is that his books are “short”(2)relatively speaking, around 100 pages for Lying (Which is an interesting read about how you should just tell the truth) and Free Will((I’d suggest also reading the critical review by Daniel Dennett and Harris response). Taking away your thoughts on the content and the arguments in the book, I much prefer this method of reading and understanding someone’s thoughts vs the traditional model of a book.

I suspect there are reasons (be it just that the system is set out that way, that people won’t pay for content in different forms, this is a proven form, etc) But I feel like there needs to be something that’s a bit longer than Blinkist, but shorter than a 16 hour audio book / 500 pages of repetitive text.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. note that this is not an endorsement of Sam Harris, I disagree with some of his opinions
2. relatively speaking

Wisdom vs Knowledge

I feel like I write this blog post every few months. Or maybe I don’t actually write / publish it, it’s hard to know what I’ve been thinking about writing and what I’ve actually written(1)https://stephboisvert.ca/2018/04/08/wisdom/(2)https://stephboisvert.ca/2014/01/11/know-thyself/.

At some point in life you start to learn about self actualization & self transcendence and the paradoxical way that self actualization leads to self transcendence. Somehow, having a better realization of one’s self leads to a realization that there is no real “self” without everything around it. We aren’t this “self” in a vacuum, we are part of something bigger.

It’s a bit like if you think about the human body as a collection of cells. While yes, the cells are all distinct and unique(3)Just as everyone named Chad is “unique” but really they form tissues that form organs that forms a body.

The cell has no concept of me. It doesn’t understand what a “Stéphane” is. And yet, there is no Stéphane without cells.

Anyway, the original subject of this post wasn’t supposed to be on self actualization and that, but rather on how often we come to learn things, usually waves hands in the air “deep meaningful things” about the state of the world, consciousness or ourselves. On how to be compassionate or on how to self regulate or on how we always alternate between the victim, the saviour and the villain.

But that wisdom is ephemeral. We forget. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we forget about the actor observer bias and we just muter to ourselves about their incompetence.

It’s not enough to “know” stuff. We need to live it. We need to integrate it in our daily lives. And to me, that is true wisdom.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. https://stephboisvert.ca/2018/04/08/wisdom/
2. https://stephboisvert.ca/2014/01/11/know-thyself/
3. Just as everyone named Chad is “unique”

On thinking yourself smart.

I remember when I was about 15-16, that’s when I started to feel smart. That I knew things and understood things that others didn’t. That I saw the world for what it was. And while I thought I was all unique and shit, but as you dear reader know, it happens to basically everyone.

And the funny thing is that, at that time, you really believe that you may be smarter than many folks. Somehow, it doesn’t strike us as strange that people who’ve lived twice, three, four times our lives may not be wiser.

And, I mean, it’s easy to think that you’re smarter than most people, just look at the world today. Everything is a fucken mess. People don’t all wear masks, people have parties. Racism is still prevalent. I mean just looking at the US, it’s pretty hard not to feel smart….

Then, in retrospect you kinda see things you missed. Some wisdom in others that you didn’t have at the time. It’s pretty easy to see it in hindsight, but in the moment…. not so much.

So what makes us think that now is any different? I mean, as humans we have a “now” bias. We only live in the now, it’s all we know and it’s currently the smartest we’ve been(1)kinda, I mean, my 19 year old self was way better at calculus than I currently am so what makes us believe this time is any different?

Now of course you probably see the false dichotomy happening. I / We as humans may be silly and ignorant while also being smarter and wiser in different respects.

Not only that, but it varies from day to day. There are many things I “know” that I don’t incorporate in my day to day. I know how to lose weight… it’s not currently happening. I know how to be compassionate, it doesn’t happen every day….

So how do we navigate that fine line? How do we figure out what we’re currently right about and what we’re currently wrong about? How do we not fall into that trap of binary thinking? It’s easy to want categorical answers. I’m smarter than those people, or those people are smarter than me. But navigating that balance…. it’s pretty much the same pain as my other post.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. kinda, I mean, my 19 year old self was way better at calculus than I currently am

We should probably all be vegetarian and other cognitive dissonances

I find people are strangely defensive about not being vegetarian or vegan (I’m neither). It’s almost as though accepting that we should probably eat less meat would imply that they are a bad person.

It’s logical in a sense, if you accept that we should be vegetarian, then if you’re not doing that, you’re clearly a hypocrite and just overall a bad person for not doing what is “best”.

This happens with pretty much everything. We have a way of polarizing ourselves, just to justify our decisions. That co-worker we don’t like? Well they must be a truly horrible person because if they weren’t, then we’d be an asshole for not being compassionate towards them. We do the same thing with relationships (I’m no longer with that person, therefore they clearly weren’t that great), and even with COVID (whatever your level of risk, you’ve justified it to yourself and everyone else is wrong).

While you may scoff and say that those things are silly and you don’t do those. You do, even unwittingly (skip to the part about the Monet prints, around 9 minutes in).

But what if you don’t do that? What if you sit with the cognitive dissonance?

Now you probably expect some BS about how that’s true wisdom and seeing the truth behind the world or something. But really, it’s just painful. To be reminded day in and day out that we don’t fit our vision of the ideal world. To be trapped in that self questioning, anxiety and mental anguish…. It’s hard to be judgy of people who don’t want to deal with it or are too tired to deal with it.

It’s not that bad

I feel like everytime I express something that isn’t pure bliss everyone freaks out. Which is strange because I feel like when things were really really bad in my life, I wouldn’t talk about it. Relatively speaking, things are pretty great. I have a job that pays well and is challenging. I’m not in any way going to get fired and the economy isn’t going to impact my job.

There’s like a bazillion things going right, not the least of them that I have a over-abundance of peas in the garden, so you know, things are pretty great.

But that doesn’t mean everything is all sunshine and rainbows and lollipops

Shit happens, and even if, in the scale of things, shit isn’t so bad, as humans we seem to have a bias to focus on the dangerous and negative things (probably evolutionary adaptation). So why not talk about them?

I find it’s dangerous not to talk about stuff. Even, (maybe especially) when we’re wrong about it. How else are we supposed to learn and grow? How else are we supposed to try to feed the more information out to the world to slowly arrive at a better approximation of the truths of the universe?

Anyway, thank you for everyone checking in, I really do appreciate it, and you don’t need to stop. Just understand that maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit 😉

On No Longer Being The Best

I’m currently working on a Django app (written in the Python programming language). It’s my first time doing any real work with Python or Django and it is painful. It’s painful because it reminds me of when I started doing WordPress work. I did everything all wrong, I was hacking core, I was doing these clusterfuckeries that would be shameful to show now.

The thing is, I got good at WordPress. To the point where I think it wouldn’t be ridiculous to say that I was one of the top hundred most knowledgeable people on WordPress performance at scale. As for Python and Django, I’m currently in the bottom few hundreds.

And yes, it will pass, I will learn and understand the patterns Django uses, start to understand the magic that goes on behind the scenes and know if the random code sample I’m reading on Stack Overflow is correct or should be burned in the fire of the sun.

But right now, it’s painful. Another part of it is I think the fact that the code is publicly viewable by everyone, something that is great in terms of transparency for the Canadian public but it’s tough to show the flaws of my work so publicly. Part of me isn’t sure if it’s my inadequacies or just that they will be public that I’m worried about.

If I’m truly concerned about the quality of the work that will help the healthcare professionals, that’s one thing. But it being because my ego doesn’t want to show how little I know about a certain topic… that’s less great.

Perhaps I’ll just listen to the wisdom of this song which I believe is a ballad about becoming at peace with one’s own limitations and understanding that growth comes at a cost of pain and feeling uncomfortable.

Anyway, that’s my interpretation of the song….

Killing in the name of

This last month I’ve been listening to Killing in the name of regularly.

While I had an understanding from the lyrics that it was an anthem against white supremacy, I didn’t know it’s full history. It’s sad how 28 years after it’s release, it’s still relevant.

For non-Black Canadian folks, here’s a list of ressources that I found useful (with thanks for my coworkers).

Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses
Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses
Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses
Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses
Huh!

Killing in the name of!
Killing in the name of!

And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya

Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites

Some of those that hold office are the same that burn crosses
Some of those that hold office are the same that burn crosses
Some of those up in congress are the same that burn crosses
Some of those up in congress are the same that burn crosses
Uggh!

Killing in the name of!
Killing in the name of

And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control
(Control!)
Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
Come on!

Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me
Motherfucker!