What a profound pile of…confusion.

rogers

This is an image with the tagline “what a profound little paragraph…” that’s getting a lot of shares on Facebook, and bounced around in email threads decades before that. I disagree with a lot of the statements, so I did some reading, and what I learned amazed me. Since my research turned up so much, I decided to post it here instead of Facebook.

If you take the time to read this post, thank you. If you want to share, or comment, even better. But what I’d really like all of us to do, above all else, is research what you read before sharing it, even (or especially) if you agree with it.

Now to the image.

This is a false source

Note that this quote is attributed to Dr. Adrian Rogers, in 1931. Adrian Rogers was a pastor and author, and served 3 terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since he was born in 1931, it’s doubtful he came up with this quote that year.

Dr. Rogers did use this quote in a sermon in 1984, but he didn’t come up with it. The original author was Gerald LK Smith, in his magazine The Cross and the Flag, a right wing white supremacist magazine known for denying the Holocaust.

What’s really odd to me is that Smith also worked as a recruiter and organizer for the Share Our Wealth society, a social movement founded by Louisiana governor Huey Long during the Great Depression. Here are the key planks of the SOW movement:

  1. No person would be allowed to accumulate a personal net worth of more than 300 times the average family fortune, which would limit personal assets to between $5 million and $8 million. A graduated capital levy tax would be assessed on all persons with a net worth exceeding $1 million.
  2. Annual incomes would be limited to $1 million and inheritances would be capped at $5.1 million.
  3. Every family was to be furnished with a homestead allowance of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country. Every family was to be guaranteed an annual family income of at least $2,000 to $2,500, or not less than one-third of the average annual family income in the United States. Yearly income, however, cannot exceed more than 300 times the size of the average family income.
  4. An old-age pension would be made available for all persons over 60.
  5. To balance agricultural production, the government would preserve/store surplus goods, abolishing the practice of destroying surplus food and other necessities due to lack of purchasing power.
  6. Veterans would be paid what they were owed (a pension and healthcare benefits).
  7. Free education and training for all students to have equal opportunities in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life.
  8. The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program was to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.

I find it astounding that Smith, presumably quite a racist, would be in favor of such progressive social support ideas. Maybe he took it for granted (this was the 30’s) that the SOW plank would only apply to whites?

So at this point we have a quote from an author who worked for what could be described as a socialist organization, being endorsed and shared on the Internet by people I’m guessing disagree with socialism. The Internet is an amazing place.

My objections to the content of this paragraph

Since I’m so long winded I’ll repeat the sentences here, with my responses, so you don’t have to scroll up and down.

“You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.”

Nobody is trying to legislate the wealthy out of prosperity. The richest 1% in this country take in almost 23% of the pre-tax income in this country. Even if the tax code on the richest were 80% or more, they’d still be not only prosperous, but rich. But those tax revenues could fund schools, infrastructure improvements, and create real jobs, here in America, instead of moving those jobs overseas.

“What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.”

This sounds like a logical law, but it’s meaningless. This is not a one to one zero sum game. Social security is a program that provides benefits to those who can no longer work, because those who can work pay into it while employed. The relatively minor contributions of the majority make it possible for the system to provide benefits to those who can’t support themselves, but those who pay into the system also can also receive benefits. The taxes that we pay for infrastructure and schools benefit everyone, not just the poor.

And the vast majority of poor in America are working, they just can’t get jobs that pay enough to live on.

“When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation.”

Maybe, but this is a straw man argument: that’s not the way our country works right now, and there’s no government system designed to work that way. In fact, the truth in America right now is that the richest 1% don’t have to work, because they benefit from the labor of the other 99%. And that may be the end of this nation.

“You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

Absolutely untrue. If you take one million dollars, stashed away in a bank vault, producing no products and generating no tax revenue, it is worth exactly 1 million dollars.  On the other heand, if you split up that 1 million, and give $10,000 to 100 people, those people then spend that money on products of value to them, creating jobs for those who made the products, jobs for those who market the products, and jobs for all the people that those people then do business with. That generates wealth for all involved. This is the way economies grow.

I don’t have all the answers, because economy and politics are complex subjects, but I found the history of this “quote” quite interesting, and it’s amazing to me how much of what’s shared on Facebook is distributed without any sort of critical review. There are concrete benefits to social media, but the costs to our collective intellectual capacity may outweigh the benefits.

Note:  I’m leaving this blog up for archival purposes, but I’m no longer writing copy for it.  I wrote this post a year ago, to debunk a meme that was making the rounds on Facebook.  With respect to those who have taken the time to share their views, I have no wish to participate in a perpetual discussion on economic theory, so comments are no longer allowed.  Feel free to share your opinions on your own blog.

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Getting serious and personal about blogging

forkintheroad

I’ve taken a few days off to reflect on my life since taking the YourTurnChallenge, and I’ve decided to make some changes regarding the role of blogging in my life.  I labelled this “personal” not because I’m going to share more (or fewer) personal details and opinions, but because these are my decisions, and apply only to my situation, at this point in time.  You may come to a different decision, but you might find some thoughts of value here.

The goal of the challenge was to build a habit of “shipping” daily, and since it was centered around blogging that was our focus.  That makes sense if blogging is your primary mode of creativity, but my goal at this point in life is to build my studio glass skills, and grow a healthy following for my work, so that I can afford to continue working in glass.  So I need to hone my craft and “ship” my glass.  My initial focus during the challenge was my studio blog, www.steveghilliard.com, where I write about my studio work and studio glass in general.  From that point of view the challenge was a success in that it taught me what it took to write consistently, and my blog statistics showed me which posts my readers liked best.  My activity also attracted some readers from glass art forums.

After a week or so I had the itch to write pieces that didn’t fit my studio blog, so I resurrected this blog, which initially had no particular focus, but was just a place to get comfortable with WordPress and share my thoughts.  This quickly became my default venue, to the point that one regular reader of mine didn’t realize I was still writing for my studio blog, since they had only subscribed to this one.  I was still trying to write everyday, which at that point meant blogging.

About two weeks ago I discovered the idea of writing “morning pages“: three pages (750 words) every morning, on any topic.  You’re not writing for public consumption, you’re just doing a brain dump, writing out anything that pops into your head, with no regard for grammar or spelling.  The original prescription was for three pages written longhand, but I can’t do that, because I get serious hand cramps after more than a few lines.  And my handwriting is indecipherable.

The morning pages practice helped me clear my head, and I discovered something unexpected: I have a hard time keeping up my productivity (measured in pages/hour) because I fall in love with my own writing and endlessly re-read and revise.  I don’t do that at all with morning pages (with one exception*), once they’re “dumped” I move on.

So almost two months after the challenge I’ve gone from being a glass artist who needed to spend more time in the studio and building my tribe to that plus an author of two blogs, with a morning pages habit, a growing itch to write long form fiction, and a desire to participate in the ongoing YTC community. And participating in the community means reading their intoxicating writing (in addition to the book list I already had), and participating through social media, without letting it consume all my time.   Sadly, I still only have about 16 waking hours each day.  Moderation and prioritizing are in order, so I’ve decided the following:

  • I will continue morning pages NO MATTER WHAT.  Consider it the writer’s equivalent of brushing my teeth.
  • My primary focus is going to be studio work, at least 20 hours/week.
  • My secondary focus is going to be my glass studio blog, and the glass arts social communities.  My goal is one well crafted blog post each week, possibly additional short posts depending on what I’m up to, and daily participation in the glass art networks, limiting myself to one hour per day.
  • My third focus (at least for the next month or two) will be deciding on a direction for this blog.  I would like to maintain a regular schedule for it, and it’s enormously flattering to have so many people following it, but I have a lot of ambitious ideas, and I need to avoid overcommitment.  So I’m considering this blog third in terms of importance, but may drop it from my list if I can’t find a clear purpose for it.  I definitely won’t be posting every day, and I want to maintain consistency and quality, so we’ll see how it goes.
  • My fourth focus is rationed participation in the YTC community.  I’m following the blogs of several people that interest and inspire me, and I enjoy the discussions in the Facebook group, all of which take time.  I’ll try to skim everything, but I may miss some good writing now and then.  I’ll do my best to keep up, and I thank everyone who has expressed interest in my writing.

I’m doing all this shuffling to make room for one more area of focus, the one that scares the hell out of me:  I’m going to start outlining and character development for a significant work of fiction.  All I have at this point are ghosts, wispy tendrils of plot and character, images that I can only perceive out of the corner of my eye.  Even if I do manage to pull them all together they may amount to nothing, but I’ve got to explore this.

After all, I’m the one who wrote the blog post “Shut up and write“, so now it’s my turn.

 

 

 

 

*Exception: Regarding re-reading morning pages, I discovered quickly that doing that unfocused brain dump usually brings a few things to light that warrant further action. I use Omnifocus “Quick entry” for simple action items, but I’ve also highlighted lines in my daily notes so that I can find them again. But even when I go back to an earlier entry to pull them out, I feel no temptation to review the rest of the day’s scribbling. Maybe it’s because it’s not intended for others?

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Dealing with difficult people

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One of the changes I was looking forward to in moving from a large organization to self employment was no longer having to deal with people I don’t like.  Over the years I’ve encountered several difficult people, not just coworkers, but bosses and clients, and as long as I wanted to keep my job I had to find a way to work with them.  I managed to survive those interactions, but some days I found myself in a rage after a conflict filled encounter, and I dreamed of escaping the situation and never having to face that person again.  My sleepless nights were almost always related to personality conflicts at work.

So when I left my last position to open my own business, with no coworkers, bosses or employees, I thought I’d never have to deal with “jerks” again.  If somebody rubbed me the wrong way, I just wouldn’t do business with them.

It’s been almost a year, and I’ll admit, I’ve come to my senses.  While being self employed does give me more control over the associations I pursue, I still encounter people who drive me crazy, many of whom I can’t avoid.  Either the business connection I have with them is vital, or we’re working together on something that means enough to me that I don’t want to walk away.  I found this again the other day, when I almost dismissed a message from someone getting on my nerves, and then realized that they were asking about a project that means a lot to me.

Here are some tips I’ve used effectively in dealing with annoying people:

1) You can’t change them

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t change people, but you can change the way you react to them.  When someone does something that drives you crazy, instead of reacting in an emotional fashion, take a moment to analyze your feelings, acknowledge them internally, and try to figure out why you’re mad.  Then find a way to respond that will produce a positive result.  Blowing off steam may make you feel better in the short term, but it almost never improves your relationships with others.

2) Consider behavior styles

No matter what terms are used to define them, people generally exhibit behaviors that favor one of four styles: control, persuasion, cooperation or analysis.  Those who take control favor action, while those who like to analyze want to collect all the facts before they make a decision.  When someone annoys you, it may be a matter of conflicting styles: your actions may be equally annoying to them, because you approach the situation in a different fashion.  Spend some time understanding your predominant behavior style (there are plenty of resources on the web) and think about the styles of those you have the most trouble with.  Understanding how you both approach situations will help you find common ground.

3) Consider occupational roles

How you deal with a difficult person will also be influenced by their role in your life.  You might be able to have a conversation with a coworker that you could never have with your supervisor, or the opposite might be true.  Consider the role of this person in your life, the impact that their annoying behavior has on you, and how you might be able to express yourself and explain your point of view without endangering your relationship or job.  Never put up with abuse (it’s illegal), but accept that you don’t have to like your coworkers to remain professional and productive.  Sometimes you have to do it the boss’s way, even if you don’t like him or her.

4) Communicate your boundaries

They can’t fix what they don’t know is broken.  While your coworker sits in their cube, earbuds firmly in place, howling along to their Nine Inch Nails playlist, they may have no idea that you’re trying to concentrate.  Find a quiet time, perhaps out of the office (treat them to coffee) and explain what’s bothering you.  Focus on the behavior, avoid hyperbole (“you always do this” is hardly ever true), and maintain a respectful tone.  You may find that they had no idea their behavior was getting on your nerves.  There’s almost no human interaction that clear, respectful communication can’t improve.

5) Remember to check your filters

We all have filters that affect how we express ourselves, and how we process what others say.  When discussing sensitive or emotionally charged topics be sure to listen with the goal of understanding, instead of just waiting for a chance to state your case, and then try to understand their point of view.  And obey Hanlon’s law: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”  Although “stupidity” might be too strong a term, there are times when people aren’t in possession of all the facts.  That might be your coworker (they just didn’t know better) or you (you might not know why they’re acting the way they do).  Before you get annoyed, take a moment to reflect on what they’re saying (and what you’re hearing) and ask questions to clarify.  Listen more than you talk.

6) Know when to walk away

If you’re at the boiling point, it’s best to disengage.  You may not be able to avoid the person forever (and you need to resolve the conflict to move ahead), but if you’re toe to toe, glaring at each other with fists clenched, it’s time to get a cup of coffee or walk around the block.  One particular coworker that repeatedly got on my nerves was easily distracted and didn’t hold grudges, so if I could disengage until I cooled down I could count on a more receptive encounter the next time we spoke.  They’d forgotten their anger and moved on, and we could work it out.

While being self-employed reduces the need to interact frequently with coworkers, very few live a productive life in isolation.  Finding a way to work with everyone, even those who annoy you, widens your range of opportunities for a rewarding life.

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Shut up and write

“The more you talk about something, the less likely you are to do it.”  My dad told me that several times when I was working on my MS thesis, because he’d seen it many times with PhD students working on their dissertations.  The thesis and dissertation are major papers, often taking years to write, presenting the student’s original research and conclusions.  They are required by many graduate degree programs (particularly in the sciences) in the US and elsewhere.  The difficulty of completion, (particularly of PhD dissertations), leads to doctoral candidates who complete all the other requirements being classified “ABD” for “All But Dissertation” until they complete that work.  Sadly, many never do. 

Dad was a professor of Geography (at LSU for the bulk of his career) and he’d seen students struggle with the shift from taking classes and qualifying exams to completing a major research project and then writing it up.  He’d observed that those who talked the most about their plans and their writing seemed to have to most trouble finishing.

It turns out that studies since the 1930’s have shown that talking about your plans establishes them as “social reality”, providing some of the benefits of completion even though you haven’t actually met your goals.  The positive feedback you get from discussing your plans (ie virtuous feelings and congratulations from friends for making the decision to act) can provide enough positive emotional feedback that it actually reduces the motivation to follow through.  (Links here and here.)

This tendency to substitute discussion for action is related (at least in name) to a book and a movement (in the Arlo Guthrie sense) that might be of interest to writers:

  • Writing coach and teacher Judy Bridges wrote a book in 2011 titled “Shut Up and Write”.  I’ve never taken one of her classes, but was exposed to her book at The Clearing, a folk school in Ellison Bay Wisconsin, when I was taking a class on stained glass.  I’ve enjoyed the book, although I haven’t been disciplined enough to follow through on some of the practical exercises it contains.
  • “Shut up and write” sessions have popped up in several cities, where writers get together on a regular basis to socialize for a short period of time, and then write.  They write individually, but the group setting provides positive peer pressure (you’re less likely to daydream if everyone else has their heads down pounding out the words).  This phenomenon is described at the “Thesis Whisperer” (love that name!) website.  They don’t specifically mention the risk of “social reality” reducing motivation, but I found them when googling for the masthead image.  The concept is similar to a “sketch crawl”, allowing for socialization of lonely authors or artists, but also for dedicated working time.

The next time you’re talking about your writing not going well, think about how much time you spend writing, and how much time you spend talking about it.  You might find that a change is in order.

 

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Blog and belong

legoteam

I’ve been working from home and self employed (not teleworking) for almost a year.  I went from interacting with dozens of people a day to spending 95% of my day alone.  It was a fascinating change, and taking the YT challenge has brought about a huge reversal in my status: I now belong in a group of like minded individuals, and that’s been good for me.

It turns out there’s scientific evidence that feeling like you belong is good for everyone, and that taking this challenge was a form of “belonging intervention” for me.  An article by Amada Enayati on the CNN website summarizing the 2007 work of psychologists Gregory Walton and Geoffery Cohen showed that a feeling of belonging is important for satisfaction and intellectual achievement, and that writing about your experiences, when framed as information to be shared with others, can improve your sense of belonging and satisfaction.  To quote from Enayati’s article:

The researchers provide subjects with statistics, quotations and stories from upperclassmen about their experiences — how they struggled at first but eventually got through it — and ask participants to use that information to write about getting through their own difficulties and how it gets better.

The participants, who believe they are writing for the next generation of incoming freshmen — an audience many of them relate to and care about — begin to engage with the material and use it to reflect on their own experiences, ultimately coming to the conclusion that no matter how bad they feel, they are not alone.

So when we share our thoughts in blog posts, we may help our readers feel they are not alone, but we’re doing the same thing for ourselves!

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GTD and the concept of context

context 

 I’ve shared a couple of GTD tips previously, and today I’ll discuss another one that can be enormously beneficial, and yet generates a lot of debate in the GTD community.  That’s the idea of context: a collection of next actions that share a set of requirements, like tools or location.  I like to describe it as getting the reminder to take action when you’re in a position to do something about it.

If you’ve ever put an item by the front door so you’ll see it when you’re headed to work in the morning, you’ve already used the context idea.  You might remember you promised to loan “Storm of Swords” to a coworker while you’re eating dinner, and when you get up and put it by the front door, you are eliminating the need to remember that action in the morning, when you will be rushing out the door and have other things on your mind.  The action (“take book to Paul”) is available to you in the context of heading out the door, when you can complete it. 

 Any tool described as a GTD tool provides for the use of contexts.  They’re basically tags that you can use to group tasks with similar requirements, and by convention start with the @ sign.  You might have a context for @home and another for @work, or @online vs @outside, the latter to distinguish between actions that you can only do when you’re online, versus those that require you to be outside (mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, etc).  Contexts are optional, and need to be tailored to your work and your way of working, but I find them very useful.  I might have 4 different projects that each require me to send an email, so I can tag each of those actions with my @email context.  The next time I sit down with 15 minutes free and open my email application I can also open Omnifocus (my GTD app of choice), check the @email context, and fire off those emails, making progress on all four projects, without having to think much about those projects.

Another useful implementation of context is agendas for people you work with.  I currently have only one context in this category, @amy, for things that I need my wife Amy to complete.  Anything we need to do or discuss together gets assigned to the @amy context, and then I can bring that list up at a time when we can work together on them.  The image at the top of this post is a screenshot of a portion of my context list, including tags like @tools and @studio to sort actions that require me to get out my toolbox (“tools”) or that can only be done in my glass studio. 

 Another way that I’ve employed the concept of contexts is to route reminders to the right context, like the example of putting an item in front of the door.  I often remember something I need to do at home when I’m out of the house and can’t do anything about it.  We still have an answering machine at home, so when that happens I call home and leave a message to myself.  Then when I get home and hit play on the machine I get a reminder in the context in which I need to take action.

There’s a lot of debate about contexts, generally coming from people who don’t find them useful, or consider them a waste of time.  When I worked in EITS I needed to track the work of over a dozen people, and having an @person agenda for each team member helped.  Now I don’t need that level of granularity.  I found the same thing with contexts related to computer use, because I initially set up a context labelled “@online” and then found it didn’t help me, because 80% of my actions fell into that category.  Contexts are powerful when they help you sort and filter your list of next actions, but the key is to use them only if they work for you, and only in ways that work for you.

 

 

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Elegy for a dead world

Elegy for a Dead World

This is in the category of breaking news, because I just discovered it and haven’t really dug into yet, but I’m sharing it now for those interested in writing, particularly my friends in the Your Turn Challenge.

DISCLAIMER: this has the potential to consume a lot of your time, though you may find it rewarding and even productive.

I was listening to “To the Best of Our Knowledge” on the radio the other day (link to this episode here) and heard about a new video game called “Elegy for a Dead World”, which is played by writing, and influenced by the work of Shelley, Keats and Byron.  The player controls an astronaut who can move in the four cardinal directions, and you basically explore the world.  At different points in the game you encounter quill pen icons, where you then write.  You may be presented with lines of poetry or prose and have to fill in blanks, but there are no limits on how much you write.  You can stop at any time and your writing is saved, and once you’re done you have written the story of the game.  You are then presented with a graphic novel containing graphics and your writing, and you can share your work with others.  As developer Ichiro Lambe says “it’s simply an environment for you to create in”.  There’s no winning or losing, your reward is your creation.  As I say, I’ve just started, and I can tell it’s going to be an interesting experience.

It’s available for Mac, Windows and Linux, costs about $15, and requires Steam, which is a free download.

 

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