Mistakes will be made, but not by me

Note: This post references an event that happened in the past.

In concept I love the idea of failure as a means of growth. It’s how you iterate on products, on what you like, on who you are. I also feel comfortable taking responsibility for those failures. If we’re in a team setting and something goes off the rails, I feel comfortable taking responsibility publicly or outside of the team because I feel confident that the failure is not a reflection of who I am. It’s just a thing that happened.

There’s a different kind of failure. One that goes down to shaking your core belief of who you are as a person, one that breaks your internal narrative. I had a few of those growing up, and they always made me sick to my stomach. I would because physically ill, at times for months at a time when something triggered a memory of what I did. Something that triggered the memory that my internal monologue was a fraud.

I often associated that feeling with my anxiety. They were just overblown reactions to events. Having a better handle on my anxiety now, I thought I was done with those days. Nowadays when something bad happens, I know what I did and I understand my actions and the events that lead to it. Even when making mistakes, which I still regularly make, they don’t make me rethink who I am as a person, they are just mistakes.

Recently I did something that, from a 3rd party perspective, would probably be characterized as being in bad taste. But given the context, one I knew of, and had just not thought about at the time, was devastating to someone else.

I was stuck in my own head, thinking only of how current events impacted me, how I reacted to them, how I felt about them, how I could tell myself a story to make me at ease with the events that happened. A shitty self defense mechanism that jokingly downplayed someone else while up-playing myself. A few things made this even worse that I didn’t realize at the time and didn’t even think of it until it was flagged to me. I then thought it was bad but, perhaps as a self defense mechanism, told myself it wasn’t that bad. I told myself there was a confluence of events, it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t wholly responsible, multiple things came into play for this to happen, you know?

When the realization of the effects of my actions fully dawned on me, I felt that same feeling I felt so long ago. I wasn’t sad or angry…. I was disgusted.

I was disgusted by the juxtaposition of the story I tell myself, that I’m compassionate, that I help others, that I, overall, make the world a better place with the impact of what I said had, and will probably keep having on someone else. I robbed them of their safety, I robbed them of the ability to enjoy a moment, enjoy a memory, by poisoning it. When something like what I did would happen to me, I would ruminate on it for days, weeks, even months. I know the effects of what I did, and it is so diametrically opposed to the story I tell myself that I became ill.

Another part of me feels ashamed and embarrassed to even be thinking of how this impacted me. Just another demonstration of the shitty behavior that lead to this. I want to apologize, I want to fix things, but I don’t know how to convey that in a way that doesn’t focus on what the impact has been on me. Quite the selfish apology wouldn’t you say? I wish I had a time machine to undo what I’ve done.

I felt embarrassed I didn’t even realize what I was doing, that I was cutting in a wound I knew existed. Why had I not considered others when I spoke then? I know a few of the reasons I tell myself, but they are all trivial, they don’t undo anything, they don’t fix anything, they won’t even help ease the pain I caused in others. It’s all just stories I tell myself to minimize my actions. To try to tell myself that this event doesn’t condemn me to be the terrible individual it makes me feel like I am.

Even an apology feels shallow and empty at this point. Just Another selfish act to help ease my pain. To help me rebuild this narrative I tell myself about how, on the whole, I make the world a better place. The problem is, I don’t know of a better solution. Self inflicted pain and torture won’t make it better for them, it’s just more internal narrative fixing. How can one apologize and make amends after this?

I can only see a consistent set of small actions, repeated over an extended period of time, towards them and towards others to try to pay down this debt. To try to help heal as many wounds as I can because I can’t heal the one I inflicted.

Nondualism

I’ve always liked the idea of nondualism, I do sometimes struggle with it. I forget, I “other”, I assume bad intent, I lack compassion, etc.

Lucas wrote about it here: https://lucascherkewski.com/study/franklin-other-us/ which was a good reminder.

I find the problem is when I’m in the moment I often forget it. I might get back to it a bit later. Realize I lost it and then be compassionate in the past tense. I’m hoping it’s like all exercise, the more I practice it, the better it’ll be.

Remember the Past to Appreciate the Present

I really loved the Mass Effect video game, the whole trilogy in fact is amazing. One thing I still remember clearly is finishing Mass Effect and having this song come on during the credits:

From the start of the guitar to when the lyrics kick in, the song always spoke to me. While I was perhaps slightly better than in the past in 2008, it was still a pretty big mess. The feeling of longing, nostalgia and what I’ll call hopeful despair that I took from the song really made an impact on me at the time.

I identified with the lyrics, I had always up to that point struggled with being able to be a “full” person on my own. That I shouldn’t need anyone else that I used as a crutch. My happiness, my wisdom, my actions, they shouldn’t rely on there being someone else there with me (in particular as a romantic partner).

And I need you to recover
Because I can’t make it on my own

M4 Lyrics

A few books got me to accept the impossibility of that task. That humans were not built to be that way (by this I mean, being alone, not that the traditional concept of relationship is for everyone).

Once in a while the song comes up in one of my playlists. And it reminds me, in an almost nostalgic way, of the times when I really didn’t have my shit together.

Sometimes it’s good to remember the past to appreciate the present.

“What chance has made yours, is not really yours”

While this quote is again from Seneca, (Or Lucilius I guess?) I think it falls inline with the misattribution bias. Something that I think successful people often fall in the trap of. I am successful clearly because I am better, and not because of some random lucky breaks I go (especially including inherited wealth).

While not the same, I find them similar enough and the comic does a good job of explaining it.

Website traffic

So as much as I say that I’m writing for myself, it’s always interesting to see the traffic patterns. I can see why people become obsessed with Facebook’s algorithm and making it happy since it is what drives so much sporadic traffic. It’s kinda like the rats and birds that become superstitious, you just start to think that certain things will cause traffic.

All that to say, that no one seems to care about Seneca, but sadly for you, I don’t have anything more interesting at the moment (that’s probably a lie, but my thoughts on those topics are a bit scattered right now).

I think it’s also bit apropos that the topic of that post was on accepting and embracing helping one person and not many. Facebook and Twitter have conspired to make sure I really appreciate that point.

Think Globally, Act Locally

I’ve been thinking about this duality for a while, many years in fact. But for some reason, it showed up in multiple ways today.

I have a tendency to be a big picture person, I see it, and I want to get us there. The problem is that along that road there are a lot of small victories that need to be had. It’s often demoralizing if you know where you should be, and know how far ahead it still is.

Oddly enough, today’s letter of Seneca I read (#7) had these choice quotes:

“One man means as much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man.”

Democritus

“I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all.”

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”

Epicurus

My take away for today is that while there are many big picture items I will strive towards, it’s only by taking small steps, by helping one person, improving one tool, that I’ll be able to achieve them.

The public service is non partisan

As you may know I’ve recently started at CDS. CDS is part of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, making me a civil servant. While I’ve had some fun blogging random, not really useful, thoughts about the current going-ons in politics I’m going to stop. While I don’t think they were partisan in nature ( since they were pretty much all over the place ), the default go to for civil servants is to stay quiet publicly about their personal thoughts on politics. I actually think this is a good, and a very important thing. I think Canadians needs to know that the folks in the civil service are working for the country ( technically the Queen ) and not working for a political party.

When joining the public service you take an oath. Part of it reads:

I solemnly affirm that I will faithfully and honestly fulfil the duties that devolve on me by reason of my employment in the public service of Canada

That oath is no matter what the government of the day is. And I intent to uphold that oath, no matter what the government of the day is. That’s why I won’t be posting any more musings on politics for the foreseeable future.

Refunds as Brand Loyalty

When I started working at Automattic I did 3 weeks of support. One thing that struck me was our refund policy. Basically, whatever the reason, if the client wanted a refund and the credit card processor would let us do it, we would refund. No trying to convince them otherwise (we did try to fix any problems they may of had first, if any), no trying to sell them on another plan etc.

I’ve noticed that when a place offers easy refunds, I’m much more likely to buy things I’m not sure about. Two of those places that come to mind are Amazon and Home Depot. Home Depot is so great with refunds that my default is to buy more and return if I have too many. Now of course, sometimes I don’t return them and Home Depot made more money. Also they’ve become my default store for anything home renovations. Same goes with Amazon. It’s so easy and hassle free to return something that I’m much more willing to take a chance on an item I’m not sure of.

All that to say, if you treat customers right when something went wrong, it’ll probably pay off in the end.

Religion as Community

I was talking to someone who was previously what I’d call a militant atheist. They were very disdainful of religion (something I’ve at times been guilty of in the past). I was talking about how I recently viewed religion in a new lens, the “community” aspect. By that I mean that, for some, the critical aspect of religion is not the specific beliefs, but rather the sense of community you get. The benefit is that you have others who share the same general values as you.

And I say “share the same general values as you” but really, those values are often common to everyone. I’ve rarely met folks who didn’t want to treat others like you’d want to be treated, who didn’t care about others, or who didn’t want to make the world a better place. Maybe I’m being idealistic but I’d attribute those values to a large majority of people.

With a religious community, you’re primed to be kind to others in it. I don’t think this is limited to religious communities. Personally I feel it’s similar to meeting other Franco-Manitobains (and even now Franco-Ontarians), and I would suspect this also extents to other minority groups.

Maybe it’s the big city, maybe it’s the atheism, I’m not sure where, but I feel like we’ve lost that sense of community. Or at least, that it’s less prominent in my life personally.

It’s strange because, let’s say 50% of folks share my values, those of being compassionate, of trying to make the world a better place for everyone, etc. Then why am I not starting from a place where I assume that’s the ones they share and treat them as part of my community?

Why is it that we’re not “primed” for doing the neighborly thing in the city? That without some (somewhat arbitrary) common ground we don’t assume the best intentions, or we don’t lead with compassion. Why are we (or maybe it’s just me) not primed for that outside of our niche community?

I don’t want this post to sound like I’m not critical of many aspects of religion. I feel that many of the religious scriptures of all religions can teach us a lot, it’s just that sometimes it seems like the ground crew implements it in ways that are sub-optimal.

But one thing religion has done well, is bring folks together. Whenever someone was going thru tough times back home, everyone would take turns cooking suppers, babysitting, help with construction after an unexpected accident, etc.

That feeling of community is something I want to focus on in the next year. Of building and fostering a community of friends. If you’re interested in joining, let me know :).

Phone Notifications

I’ve decided to disable all audio notifications on my phone. No more beeps for anything except calendar appointments. Chat, text, email, slack, apps, etc.

All that stuff should really be asynchronous. I don’t need to stop what I’m doing every time someone posts a comment, sends a message etc.

I get distracted way too easily by a beep and it breaks my flow. If something is really time sensitive people can call me (I feel old writing this).

So, if I don’t reply to your message quickly, I’m not ignoring you, I’ve just chosen to shut off all notifications.