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Education Lifestyle Productivity

First Principles Thinking

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

Elon Musk (1971 – )

First Principles Thinking is a powerful mental model for creating non-linear outcomes.

Big thanks to @SahilBloom for sharing these ideas on Twitter.

First Principles Thinking is how people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates make good, long-term decisions without needing to know everything about a complex situation.

It requires a willingness to ask hard questions.

It also requires a willingness to answer hard questions.

First Principles Questions

If you’ve read my post on The Importance of Questions, then you’ll know that I believe questions are the keys to unlocking the knowledge to get whatever we want. Access to everything we want is locked up in someone else’s head, and questions are our keys.

If we can ask the right questions, we can get anything we want.

That being said there are some questions that we can ask to get us primed for First Principles Thinking.

Here are a few of those questions:

What is the problem I am trying to solve?

We waste a lot of time and energy trying to solve the “wrong” problem. If we can identify exactly what it is we need to do, then we can eliminate a lot of that waste.

Focus is powerful when applied correctly.

Identify the right problem, before trying to solve it.

What do I know to be true about this problem?

Write down everything you know to be true about the problem. (Don’t just run through them in your head.) Writing them down allows us the judge the ideas accurately.

It wouldn’t help to include things about previously attempted solutions too.

Why do I believe these “truths” to be true? How do I know they are true?

Clearly identifying the source of our beliefs is key to understanding the beliefs. It also allows us to analyze our thought habits on a deeper level.

It’s crucial to be ruthless in their validity and integrity. If we lie to ourselves here, we won’t be able to make sound decisions later on.

How can I support these beliefs? Is there real evidence to support them?

Find hard, tangible evidence that proves these beliefs to be true. If you can’t find it, or the sources aren’t reliable, then you’ve learned something about those beliefs – they’re shoddy.

Are my emotions clouding my judgement and reasoning?

Emotional decisions typically produce bad (and expensive) outcomes. Remove the emotions from the process. Emotions have a place, but not when making long-term, complex, and important choices. Intentional and planned decisions are what’s needed to push things beyond what they currently are.

What alternative beliefs or view points might exist?

Acknowledging and understanding other viewpoints is a skill that cannot be cultivated enough.

So much lies beyond what we understand. Everything has something to teach us.

Seek out other beliefs. Embrace them. Let them enrich you.

But also, evaluate them on their merits. Ask the same fundamental questions about them.

What are the consequences of being wrong in my original beliefs?

There’s risk in everything, even what we already know. It’s important to understand the stakes and manage risk. Otherwise, the downsides can wipe us out unexpectedly.

We have to know what will happen if we’re wrong.

First Principles 101

First principles starts with questioning our beliefs.

Asking the above questions will us help drill down to the fundamental truths of a problem and ultimately identify a better solution. (Assuming there is one.)

If this starts to seem like we’re thinking like insatiably curious children, then we’re on the right track.

Let’s start with some definitions:

First Principle – a foundational assumption or proposition. It’s foundational in that it cannot be deduced from other assumptions or prepositions.

First principles are like elements. They can’t be broken down any further.

First Principles Thinking – a problem-solving technique that requires breaking down complex problems into their most basic, foundational elements.

The main idea is to take a bottom-up approach; ground ourselves in foundational truths and build up from there.

Typically, when we encounter difficult problems, our inclination is to rely on base-level assumptions that we’ve been told are true, or believe to be true.

We do this because it’s quick and easy, but also because those ideas have probably been true in the past.

This leads to unimaginative, linear solutions that just mimic what has been done before.

This is known as “Reasoning by Analogy“. It leads to solutions that are the same as something else. It has its place, but it’s not great for solving complex problems in need of imaginative solutions.

“Reasoning by Analogy” is a great rule for dealing with problems in which speed is paramount and novel solutions aren’t the goal.

Solutions are to problems like foundations are to houses.

If the foundation is unstable, the house will collapse. If the foundation is sturdy, the house will stay up.

First principles help create a sturdy foundation.

Elon Musk & Space X

Let’s check out the case of Elon Musk and Space X to see First Principles Thinking in action.

Complex problem: how to send a rocket to Mars.

First logical step: obtain rocket.

Musk, as rich as he is, discovered that buying rockets wasn’t a feasible plan. He found that they go for a whopping $65 million each.

Now now the complex problem is getting more complex and we’re further from the solution.

It’s time to apply First Principles thinking – let’s start with asking why do rockets cost $65 million?

The answer to this question is pretty much – because that’s how they’ve always been built and how much they need to cost. Tradition essentially.

Not exactly an iron clad answer.

But now we know that we can think of rockets in an entirely different way.

Time to ask even more basic and fundamental questions – What is a rocket made of? What are the value of these materials on the open market?

Musk finds out that rockets are made of Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. All of which cost about 2% of a typical rocket.

Musk decides that he can build his own rockets, for much less than $65 million.

Rather than accept the truths that he’s been told about rockets, Musk grounded his problem-solving efforts in First Principles.

Today, Space X has rockets that are safely delivering humans to and from space and the dreams of colonizing Mars are closer to being realized.

Methods of First Principles

There is no set way to establish First Principles.

However, there are a few methods that work pretty well. One is known as Socratic Questioning. It’s a technique where we use systemic questioning to drill down to fundamental truths.

Some questions that can be used for Socratic Questioning are as follows:

Why do I believe this to be true?

How do I know this is true?

How can I support this belief?

What alternative viewpoints might exist?

Question everything. Never stop asking why. Become an endlessly curious child.

The world is already full of unimaginative, copycat solutions and this only leads us to predictable linear outcomes.

Using First Principles Thinking is difficult and time consuming, but it’s also a solid path to conjuring creative solutions that lead to non-linear outcomes.

Aristotle defined First Principles as “the first basis from which a thing is known.”

The world’s greatest thinkers and problem solvers use the same methods when solving complex problems: grounding themselves in first principles and building a solution from there.

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Education

Origins and Influences of Western Education

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

Aristotle (Greek Philosopher)

People who want to do well in school usually feel that way because they’ve been told that it’s the primary route to doing well in life.

Performance in school is usually measured by grades and those who get A’s are considered the cream of the crop. It’s no surprise that students tend to fall in love with A’s.

I know plenty of students who will do anything for the A. It’s so prevalent in society, I was able to make a profitable tutoring business based on this need with little business experience and marketing. Some students genuinely needed help, most just want the A. My tutoring is what helped me pay for college, as well as inspire my writing.

Those who are interested in a fancy career, a nice house, and respect from others are the most likely to fall in love with the A’s. Mainly because they believe that having the A’s will get them a fancy career, a nice house, and the respect they desire.

However, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that.

Sometimes people who succeed in school, fail at life.

And other times the people who failed in school, succeed in life.

The Issue with Curriculums

There are many reasons for this, but I’m going to start with the school curriculums.

Most curriculums were created for students to succeed in The World of Academics, not reversed engineered to help students succeed in The World Beyond.

The typical school curriculum is not tailored to The World Beyond and the skills needed to succeed within those curriculums are not necessarily the skills we need in everyday life.

Many students pick up on this well before they enter the job market, and educators have to dedicate a lot of energy to prove they’re teaching relevant information. Students are asking me at younger and younger ages why they have to learn what they’re being taught in school.

The worst part (in my opinion) is that as time goes on, more of the curriculums become harder to justify.

Origins and Influences of Western Education

To understand why this is the case, we’ll have to look into what influences these curriculums and why are they even being taught in the first place. After all, all institutions were brought about through tremendous effort and intentionality, and to carelessly denigrate an institution without understanding its purpose or origins increases our chances of undoing valuable work.

The education system has roots in the Industrial Revolution back in 1760. The West had a massive transformation turning their textiles, agriculture, and handcrafts into large-scale factories with machines ran by factory workers. Since there was a high demand for factory workers, the school systems were designed to educate as many people as possible with the goal of employing them at the factories.

At the time, this was a great thing. Factory jobs provided people with a higher quality of life (believe it or not) and were highly sought after. Nowadays, most people get higher education specifically to avoid those kinds of jobs.

We can still see echos of this influence just by looking at a typical school schedule:

  • Start in the AM.
  • Take your 10-minute break roughly 2-3 hours in
  • Back to work
  • Lunch around the 5th hour.
  • Work again
  • Go home.
  • Repeat.

It’s just like working at a 9-5. Just like working in the factories. (Except breaks and lunches were monitored in the factories.)

It’s not like this system wasn’t good. It was wonderful at the time. It was effective and helped launch the Western world into the marvel it is today. We would not be here without industrialization.

Without industrialization, we wouldn’t be in the Information Age – when not knowing something is a matter of choice.

Today we have the ability to learn anything at any moment and talk to anyone in the world at any time. We can know almost everything that everyone else knows in mere moments.

But the education system hasn’t been updated for this. There have been small improvements here and there, but not enough to address the issues that many students are dealing with today.

The same teaching methods are practiced year in and year out and are becoming exponentially irrelevant, especially with the growth of accessible technology and information.

There are almost no efforts to teach students more effectively and efficiently.

There have been some curriculums that are updated and more tailored to today’s dynamic and complex world, but traditions from the industrial revolution carry the most weight.

The industrial revolution wasn’t the only influence on our education system. The content which is taught has a long line of historical influence that worth’s paying attention to also.

Much of today’s school curriculums are based on the curriculums of medieval monasteries, the ideas of 19th-century German educationalists, and the concerns of aristocratic court societies.

This is why the underlying assumptions of most school curriculums are that:

1) The most important things are already known.

2) What currently is is all that could ever be.

3) Being original is dangerous.

Wrong Messages

Students are implicitly being taught that the only way to go about life is to ask permission and beg for acceptance.

Ask permission to use the restroom.

Ask permission to answer questions.

Ask permission to work at a job.

Ask permission to make money.

Ask permission to buy something.

Ask permission to make something.

Ask permission to live.

Too many people believe that you aren’t successful until someone else has given you permission to do something.

So many people believe that they’re limited by the income approved by their “boss.” Many people think their boss intrinsically knows their value and compensates them accordingly.

Too many people believe that we cannot create opportunities for ourselves.

We’re taught to deliver on expectations, not change them.

We’re taught to regurgitate ideas instead of originating them.

We’re taught to respect people in authority, rather than honestly contemplate the possibility that no one else really knows what’s going on.

There are liberating perspectives that can enrich the experience of our lives. If we search further than what our current systems are spoon-feeding us, then we will find a new and beautiful world where we can exercise our will to our fullest expression.

Critical Targets

Now, I’m not just bashing the education system with no respect or regard for its miraculous achievements. It’s incredible that we have an institution that educations its young so they can go out and be enriched and powerful.

However, there are cracks and imperfections, and given the nature of a youth’s education, the consequences are not trivial. School teaches us so much, except for two critical subjects:

How to Work – how to choose the right job for us and work in a way that doesn’t take away from our lives.

How to Love – how to form satisfactory relationships with others and ourselves.

A great education trains us to:

read well – this way we can learn and expand our understanding

write well – so we can learn to think and communicate powerfully

think critically – to think about thinking and see past the obvious

develop our characters – which determines our opportunities

build our best selves – so life is worth the pain

There is a huge need for a reversed engineered curriculum that allows students to develop skills needed for The World Beyond. Something that shows students how to be outwardly obedient, but inwardly independent.

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Lifestyle Productivity

The Ocho System

“That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.”

Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

I got this wonderful idea from American athlete and writer, Joe Holder. The Ocho System is a powerful framework based on the principle:

One helps others. Others help one.

Improving one area will prove all of the areas. Holder presents these areas in the context of wellness and fitness, but I can see this being a broader life philosophy.

Part of what makes this so powerful is taking on the possibility that:

None of them are well, until all of them are well.

Like I said earlier, this can apply broadly across life. So this can apply to our families, communities, and different parts of ourselves.

I had a few experiences in college and shortly afterward that helped me see the world in a different light. I personally discovered the interconnectedness of everything and it’s had a profound impact on me. If my actions affect everything around me, then my actions matter. Suddenly, everything became meaningful and important. As opposed to my semi-nihilistic worldview before — everything isn’t connected and some things don’t matter at all.

Holder has integrated the fact that everything is interconnected with The Ocho System.

There is no one, there is just all.

It is impossible to ignore the effects of one thing on another.

Holder said that The Ocho System is about taking control of physical health and allowing that to bleed into other areas of our lives.

Personally, I think this goes much deeper than our physical health, but the physical is a nontrivial aspect.

It plays off the number 8 and is designed to create an infinite feedback loop of wellness and gratitude. Working on The 8 makes us well, which makes gratitude easier, which makes being well easier. It’s a great way of creating a success spiral.

8 Core Components

Physical Health

Emotional Health

Intellectual Health

Environmental Health

Spiritual Health

Occupational Health

These are developed in the context of our bigger life purpose. Simply working on these parts of our lives isn’t enough, they have to be developed in service to something bigger.

How do we know what the context is?

Just ask why.

Why develop physical health?

Why develop emotional health?

Why develop intellectual health? And so on, and so on…

Answering why will help us when we’re not feeling as motivated to keep up the work.

Developing each of these areas takes time, effort, commitment, discipline, and drive. However, it gets easier the longer we work on them. Like I said earlier, working on these areas creates an infinite feedback loop of wellness and gratitude which makes upkeep much easier too.

I recommend writing down the goals that improve each component. People who write their goals down tend to accomplish their goals more often than people who don’t. Writing down our goals provides a smaller scale clearly articulated purpose.

For me personally, I try to do something every day that benefits each of these areas. I have daily goals that, if met, would improve or maintain my current levels.

A few of these goals are as follows:

Running and Kettlebell Swings for Physical Health

Journaling and Creating Music for Emotional Health

Reading and Writing for Intellectual Health

Cleaning and Responsible Networking for Environmental Health

Meditation, Reading, and Writing for Spiritual Health

Working on my Businesses for Occupational Health

These are just the things I try to do every day. I also try to keep these areas in mind when I’m doing most things. I want the actions I take in the day to benefit me in the best way possible and I can do that by ensuring my actions benefit one of the 8 areas.

I also want to include another way of looking at the “one helps others, others help one” principle. The Ocho System can be applied broadly and works well for health, but if you really want to zero in on improving your physical health check our the Five Core Biomotor Skills.

5 Core Biomotor Skills

Coordination

Strength

Endurance

Agility

Balance

Improving one of these will improve the other 4. This is a great framework for starting to take control of your physical health. Just focus on improving one of these things a day and in time you will transform yourself.

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Education Lifestyle

Living Amongst Racists

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”

Maya Angelou (American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist)

Is this racist or my imagination?

Usually, I don’t write on topics like this, but in light of the recent events and my absolute exhaustion from keeping my mouth shut, I am doing to write about how to deal with racism.

At least, how I deal with racism.

Recently in the United States, there’s been an uptrend in racially motivated hate crimes towards Asian-Americans and I can’t help but see parallels to what’s been happening to African-Americans.

Maybe the attacks are due to resentment built up over the past year from the COVID-19 lockdowns and people are blaming Asians.

Maybe the violence is correlational and it has nothing to do with race at all.

The question of “Is this racist or is it just my imagination?” is always buzzing around when you’re a hated minority.

Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t matter. All that matters is how we act in the face of the unfairness.

Right now, I’m watching my fellow Asian brothers and sisters respond to the violence in a way that I’m compassionate for, but must caution against.

I want people who read this to take a few things from this piece:

If you are lucky enough to not deal with racism frequently, then I would like to invite you to reflect on a time when you felt similar to some of the things I’ll talk about. If you can’t remember a time, then imagine your child dealing with those feelings and be thankful you don’t have to experience them. Find compassion for those living in fear, anger, and injustice. It’s tough to be hated for reasons that you cannot control and when that hatred is carried out by the rest of society it eats at every part of your life.

If you are experiencing anxiety or rage because you are part of a hated group, then I would like to invite you to use some of the methods that I talk about later in the post to cope with it. It’s not glamorous and it doesn’t solve a lot of problems outright, but I believe it’s a good enough way forward.

Right now, there is no perfect solution.

Some of My Racial Experiences

I can speak on this because I’ve grown up around racism. In every facet of my life, there have always been questions raised regarding my race. My dad is from Africa and my Mom is from the Philippines. I grew up in a city that’s mostly white and conservative. I’ve dealt with racism at every age and I’ve seen it more than someone growing up in my time would expect. For context, I was born in 1994.

I’m one of few Black people on my Asian side and I’m the only Asian (other than my sister) on my black side.

I’m no stranger to the awareness of my individuality and the knowledge that I’m different.

I was first called a nigger when I was 4.

I’ve been called a nigger countless times since then. The word is almost meaningless to me now.

Every time I meet someone, I have to prove that I’m not dangerous nor stupid.

I’ve had cuffs slapped on for WWB, walking while black. It’s a thing if you aren’t already aware. According to the cops, I looked “dangerous and suspicious.”

In stores, Loss Prevention follows me around – meanwhile little teenage girls all over the world are stealing millions of dollars of makeup.

I grew up ashamed of my hair, my skin, my “exotic” features. There was no Zendaya and it wasn’t always cool to be Black.

Girls didn’t like me because I couldn’t spike my hair. Girls didn’t date me because they didn’t what to be known that they like Black guys.

Because back then (the early 2010s), dating a nigger was enough to taint your reputation. In some places, it’s still that way.

It’s like I’m living in a monster that’s occasionally trying to eat me. Sometimes it is, sometimes it just seems like it is.

It’s impossible to know the difference with certainty.

Repression

For a long time, I was angry about it. I hated who I was because I wasn’t like everyone else around me. The worst part, was I couldn’t do anything with the anger. I didn’t even let myself feel the anger and pain for longer than a few seconds.

I wasn’t allowed to complain about it. I could talk to my dad about it, but it’s not like he could make the anger go away.

He was dealing with it too.

Every Black person I knew was dealing with it.

There was no clear answer.

The rage grew and grew and I kept it all inside. In time, I learned how to sublimate it into work. My father always told me that I would have to work 7x as hard as a white kid to get the same opportunities. (So far he’s been right.) So I turned my rage into work. I worked as hard as I could to prove that I’m not some useless nigger. I worked hard to prove that this nigger is actually much smarter than anyone around him.

This was easier to do when the racism was latent.

But sometimes the injustice was too much.

Sometimes I cried about it. Sometimes I was bitchy.

Sometimes I would get so angry I’d scream as loud as I could.

Sometimes I wanted to kill myself.

Never did I shoot up a school. Never did I take out my anger on other people. Even if they seemed like they deserved it. If no one has said it now, I’ll be the first to stand by this – dealing with racism will incite enough rage in an individual to shoot up a school. That being said, under no circumstances will that make anything better.

Constraining the evil within is fundamental to maintaining peace and harmony.

Besides, if I didn’t handle my feelings properly, I’m just more of the nigger they think I am.

Racism engulfs your life whether you like it or not. Do this and you’re a nigger. Do that and you’re not a nigger.

No matter what everything is in the context of “more or less nigger.”

It wasn’t all rage though. There was also self-doubt compounded with external verification.

Part of me was worried that the racists were right.

Maybe I really was inferior. It certainly didn’t help Blacks were often portrayed as criminals and low lives. The “maybe they’re right” thought came up often enough to stop me from taking opportunities. Looking back, my life may have been different if I saw myself as someone who belongs to the society they’re living in. But that doesn’t matter now. The older I get, the more I realized that this isn’t the case.

Nothing about my ethnic heritage places me above or below anyone else.

I wish I lived in a world where every human being comes to that conclusion. Perhaps we will build one in time.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back –

Nothing about my ethnic heritage places me above or below anyone else.

How I Cope with Racism

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”

Rosa Parks (American activist)

It wasn’t fair, but I learned a few ways of dealing with it. These are no means a perfect solution, but I’ve fought this uphill battle my whole life.

These methods are what I’ve learned over my experiences. I currently use these practices to deal with the consistent hum of racism that underscores my entire life.

This is how I know how to constructively and effectively cope with racism.

The reason why I’m writing about methods to deal with racism is that if we use the methods that feel natural to us, we end up creating more pain and suffering in the long run.

If we react with our feelings, we will only prove the racists right. They will only see those actions as proof of their ill-informed beliefs.

Focus on Unity Instead of Hate

“An eye for an eye makes the world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi (Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr (African American Baptist minister and activist)

Even though it’s incredibly tempting to. Focusing on the hate only adds to the problem.

It’s so easy to just say “White people did this” or “white people are trash,” but that type of behavior is the same type of thinking that perpetuates the issue of prejudice in the first place.

Assigning people to groups and using them as representations of the entire group is a horribly destructive way of conceptualizing the world.

If you don’t think so, answer this question:

Would you pay for the crimes of someone else with your same eye color?

The beautiful part about the world we live in today is that most people aren’t racist. Being a beacon of light that illuminates our unity in this dark world will attract a lot of supporters who will join us in building a better tomorrow. It’s going to be a long and tough battle, but I do believe in time racism will disappear.

In my post, The Hero of Heroes: Marduk vs. Tiamat & The Significance of Speech, I talk about how people spend at least half of their existence in the world of conversation. Our lives are shaped by the conversations we participate in just as much (or even more) than our physical environments.

That being said, focusing on the hate will just add more hate to the conversation. Focusing on unity will add unity to the conversation. In my experience, paying attention to the nature of our conversations is crucial for not only living a life by design but also combating racism and ignorance.

Aim to Change Individuals, Not Groups

It’s not likely that one person will single-handedly end racism. It needs to be a group effort. Groups on their own do not respond well to change, but people do. If we are going to exterminate racism, it must be done one person at a time.

Groups are solidified in their stances. The beliefs of individuals, however, are more subject to change, especially when factoring in personal experience.

I met a lot of people with prejudices who’ve changed their opinion after spending some time with me. It’s all about connection and showing them that we’re more alike than different.

This doesn’t work in groups. We need to feel a personal connection to change what we believe and that connection is easier found on the individual level.

Sympathize with their Ignorance

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Audre Lorde (American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist)

I know this is asking for a lot and it’s not something I’d suggest for most people, but if you are capable of doing this it can save you so much wasted energy on hatred and anger.

Turn the hate into pity.

Racists have not known, and will never know if they don’t change, any of the pleasures that your culture has contributed to the human experience.

I love so many things about my heritage that the ignorant have missed out on. Honestly, I feel bad for them.

I have great pity for anyone who hasn’t engaged an educated Black person in meaningful conversation. Black Africans intensely value education and the conversations you can get from them are stimulating to the highest degree.

I have great pity for anyone who hasn’t had Filipino food. Filipinos are amazing cooks and essentially hold food as a virtue. People who close themselves off will never try chicken adobo.

Honestly, racists have a duller experience of life.

Show them what their missing.

Don’t be angry at them. Don’t be afraid of them.

Have pity for them. The poor animals locked themselves in a cage.

Find the Bigot in You

I got this piece of advice from Dr. Edith Eger, a holocaust survivor. She used this method to deal with the Nazis while she was in Auschwitz. If she could practice this while being dehumanized in a concentration camp, while they murdered her family and loved ones, then we can certainly find the strength to practice this in the face of modern racism.

While it’s easy to think that another person holds racist and irrational beliefs, it’s much harder to recognize that that person is just like us or rather that we are like them.

Each of us, no matter how “woke” or “conscious” has a little bigot inside of us.

We’re all a little unreasonable attached to a belief or opinion.

The only difference with racists is that their beliefs are prejudiced against a certain kind of people. To the racist, their beliefs are no different than ours and until we can understand that, we will further perpetuate the outgroup vs. ingroup dynamic.

Change Minds Slowly

Everyone does things at their own pace. There is nothing we can do to force that. At a certain level, how someone changes is entirely up to them and most people won’t change quickly. Most people will only change when it’s convenient for them.

That being said – shoving things down people’s throats only creates a backlash.

This is why I’m not trying to promote any hashtags like #blacklivesmatter or #stopasianhate because they will create more of the exact thing they are trying to destroy.

When Black Lives Matter started getting popular, I was worried that there was going to be a backlash. People hate when they can’t choose and everyone in the country was forced to see Black Lives Matter everywhere.

While I agree with the mission (obviously, I’m Black and hurt by racism just as much as the next guy), but I’m don’t support bombarding ideas in people’s faces. That is not the same as spreading awareness. BLM became the “Pop-Up” Ad version of anti-racist movements and it made people mad.

Suddenly, Blue Lives Matter appears. Because you can’t say White Lives Matter or Black Lives Don’t Matter – that makes the reaction too obvious. Even in some of our most disgusting social games, we have a little class.

Blue Lives Matter was not created to support law enforcement.

It was a reaction to Black Lives Matter, and I was terrified of what a racial backlash would look like.

We’ll we’ve seen some of it, but there are other effects that are less obvious.

Now people can put bumper stickers that proudly display their opposition to anti-racist movements. Which is terrifying to see all around you. Where I’m from, people have that black and blue flag everywhere.

It’s both terrifying and disgusting.

Racists now have a unified symbol for hating black people that’s socially accepted and guised under the support of law enforcement.

Blacklash is almost always a result of “forced feeding,” so to speak.

If we shove ideas in people’s faces when they aren’t open to them, we piss them off and they swing back harder.

Back-lashes are everywhere and the best way to stop them is to change minds slowly.

True social change happens slowly anyway.

So let’s tread a little more intentionally and mitigate the damage.

I say this now because I really don’t want to see an anti-Asian backlash.

Be an Exception to Their Rule

“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.”

Oprah Winfrey (American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist)

Focus on being the example of what a “good one” would look like if they existed. People are more likely to change their minds through personal experience. That being said, if someone is to change their mind, they can only change it by their own volition.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with racists and they tell me exactly what they think of Black people or “farmer” Asians, but in the same breathe will tell me that I’m the exception to their rule.

“Oh you’re not one of them Chris.”

“You know the other niggers, not you. You actually care and have respect for people.”

“You’re not even Black, you’re white on the inside where it counts.”

I knew their ignorance wasn’t physically dangerous, so it wasn’t worth getting upset over their statements.

Being “the exception” is me showing them proof that people who they hold in contempt aren’t what they think they are.

Once we see one example, others start showing up more and more. I strive to be good enough to open the door so they can have another positive experience with someone else like me.

I try to plant seeds for a garden I’ll never see.

Ask Questions

In the words of the brilliant astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “It’s not enough to be right, you also have to be effective.”

Telling someone they’re wrong or that they don’t understand something will not bring awareness to their ignorance.

Rather than attack or accuse, ask questions.

Just ask them a question that proves they think the same way as you.

This can be tricky at first, but with some practice, it’s extremely effective.

In conversations, people have two orientations: peace or combat.

When someone is oriented to peace, conversations are easy and smooth. Misunderstandings are no big deal and the stakes are low.

However, when someone is oriented to combat, everything becomes a battle of life and death.

This is when people become defensive or offensive. It’s much harder to change minds or learn something new when people are oriented to combat.

Asking questions pacifies people (orients them to peace) and allows them to come to conclusions on their own. Which is the only way anyone can understand anything. When we hear a question, our brain immediately goes to work on finding an answer.

The magic happens when we don’t have an answer.

Suddenly, we discover that there are things we don’t know and we open up to new information.

This is when people are most likely to change their minds or learn something new.

For example, if someone says they don’t believe in global warming, ask them if they’re still willing to buy a beachfront house even though the water levels are rising due to polar ice caps melting. In the context of race relations, it’s much more difficult to come up with questions but it’s so worth it.

This is one of my favorite techniques and I use it for much more than just dealing with racism. It’s fantastic for dealing with ignorance of all kinds.

Respond, Don’t React

Mindfulness is everything.

Pay attention to how you make others feel and pay attention to how they make you feel.

Monitor your behavior so that others don’t feel threatened. That sounds like a cop-out, but people can only respond well to something that they don’t deem as a threat.

Appear innocuous, change their perspectives. Additionally, mindfulness helps us from reacting in a way that either justifies their (incredibly ignorant) perspective or escalates a situation.

When I hear a racist spout their ignorant beliefs, when I see those Blue Lives Matter flags, I want to beat the hell out of those people. I want to drag them on the ground and curb-stop their faces.

Let me just say that the anger I feel when I’m around those ignorant bigots is intense, but I also know it’s dangerous.

If I act with my reactions, I continue the war, perpetuate hateful ideas, and prove the racists right. However, if I respond in an intentional way I’m much more likely to connect with them and create genuine lasting change.

When I get angry in the face of racism, I use mindfulness practices and ask myself “Is what I want to do a reaction or a response?” If it’s a reaction, I stop myself. Not to be a bigger person (although that’s a good reason), but because it could cost me my life. I’ll say it again because I don’t think people understand how serious that is –

Reacting incorrectly as a hated minority could cost you your life.

That’s the self-preservatory reason to respond rather than react. But there’s another reason too.

People are more likely to positively respond to a response as opposed to a reaction. Most of the time, people will act reasonably with someone who is being reasonable with them. Although, it would require “more reasonableness” to control your reactions in the face of racism. There is a moral and self-preservatory responsibility and in this case, the burden falls on the hated minority. This is why mindfulness is key to fighting racism, we must be aware of what we are even when the world tries to lie.

Pick and Choose Battles

Not every hill is worth dying on. If I stopped to fight every person who’s called me a nigger, I’d never get anything done.

That being said, sometimes it’s worth it to stand up and say something.

Not every hill is worth dying on, but some are.

When choosing to fight, be mindful of the methods I listed off earlier. Respond, don’t react.

Ask questions.

Understand where they’re coming from.

Be an example of excellence.

Find the Humor In It

Dave Chappell is the perfect example of this. He’s taken all of the injustice, ignorance, and evil he’s seen and sublimated it into a beautiful art form.

Pain and the fear of not belonging is at the root of all of these racial jokes.

The jokes aren’t just a way to sublimate the pain. They’re also our best bet in protecting our mental health.

Finding the humor in the darkness keeps things bearable. Being able to laugh in the face of racism, not only makes it easier to not react but also keeps our heads above water. It’s so easy to let anger and fear dominate our minds but if we actively find the humor, we don’t let it win.

Laugh about it. As painful as it is, it’s also absurd and ridiculous and sometimes absurd and ridiculous things are funny.

Allow the Challenge to Make You Better

You must work at least 7x as hard as a white kid to get the same respect, the same chance, the same rewards, everything. It’s unfair, but it’s what is. Accept the challenge, step up to the plate, don’t complain. Complaining just makes you look more like a nigger.

My dad told me that when I was 4 years old. I internalized it and it’s been true for most things in my life. It’s the perspective that fuels my seemingly high levels of conscientiousness.

Being exceptional is a necessity, not an option.

Rather than reject the reality we’re given, it’s much more constructive (and healthy) to accept the challenge and allow it to grow us.

Now, it’s important to not have this spiral out of control and get stuck in a cycle of always trying to prove ourselves. I did that for a long time and it’s exhausting and not sustainable.

Human beings can adapt to extremely uncomfortable environments. We can thrive in seemingly impossible situations. For anyone who doubts this, I highly recommend reading writings from Holocaust survivors, specifically Viktor Frankl and Edith Eger. We can adapt to unfair, unjust, and inhumane conditions and, as Nietzsche would say, it makes us stronger, as long as it doesn’t kill us.

Now I don’t want to make this sound like it easy or that it’s what we’re built for. All I know is that we can adapt if we need to. It’s extremely difficult and even harder to do when under the real-time pressures of racism and bigotry.

I’ve recently found great solace in knowing that our ancestors never gave up, despite enduring more suffering than us modern people, and we have their blood coursing through our veins.

It is up to us to create an environment for other people to feel their feelings without being judged.

We can kill with just our eyes, but we can also love too.

Choose love. Choose unity.

Suffocate the hate. Suffocate the ignorance.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Martin Luther King Jr (African American Baptist minister and activist)
Categories
Lifestyle

On Trials and Stumbles in Creative Pursuits

“Frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?”

Rollo May (The Courage to Create)

This is the first blog post that I’ve posted since mid-February, which means I haven’t published something in well over a month. This on its own isn’t a very big deal, especially since my priorities have been elsewhere, but I feel like it’s too big to just simply ignore.

Originally I wanted to just jump back right into my regularly scheduled content, but I feel like there are lessons to learn upon reflecting on my short absence. So I’m going to slow down and take the time to reflect.

When I started my blog, I intended to write a blog post every week.

No matter what.

I even lowered the standards for what a blog post is. I told myself that a blog post can be about literally anything. I set the bar low, so I can actually hit it every week. I try to optimize my systems for consistency, not necessarily quality. I figured the quality will come with multiple iterations. I like to rig the game to win, especially games that I play on my own.

Unfortunately, the lower standards didn’t matter and I still didn’t post over the last month and a half.

When I first started writing, I knew that there were going to be times when I was going to be tested. I knew that there were going to be weeks when it felt impossible to put out a blog post, but I expected myself to step up to the challenge. When I started this blog, I was excited to see if I actually could step up. I kept it up for over a year and I was pretty proud of myself. There were weeks when it was hard, but given the nature of the things I was writing, it was too hard for me to stop writing and create a relationship with myself where I know myself as someone who doesn’t step up to the challenge.

Recently, I feel like I’ve been truly tested and I let it take me out for over a month. (I’m hoping I can publicly speak on this in a few months.) I reluctantly admit that I’ve allowed the chaos of life to interrupt what I was building.

In fact, I let the chaos convince me that what I was building wasn’t even worth the energy at all.

This was the worst part. I fooled myself into believing that nothing was better than something. This gave way to nihilism, victimization, and apathy. All three of which I don’t have the luxury to entertain.

Once I realized that these were just ideas going on in my head, I was able to separate my actions from my thoughts.

A wise man never believes every thought that enters his head.

Now I’m in a place where I can actively choose to not let this take me down. I can more effectively resist the temptation to self-destruct or abandon all commitments.

The chaos of the recent months is not going to destroy my blog, my YouTube channel, or any of my other creative pursuits.

I cannot let it, especially since the chaos is not of a tragic nature. The disarray is not tragic and, if I can help it, the results of it should not be either. I shall not let a good thing destroy creation. I must look deeper within myself to find the strength to choose to contribute to “more life” rather than death or “less life.”

I can detach from the part of me that wants to give in and make room for more intentional thought habits.

We can overcome trials with a certain level of detachment.

When we’re tested, there are perspectives we can take on that will crush us under pressure and ones that allow us to act with more freedom.

Detachment can be a fine line. Seeing the situation, not from our own perspective, but from another point of view that doesn’t take our personal feelings into account gives us the freedom to act in an intentional way rather than reactionary.

However, it’s possible to be too detached. I feel like that happened to me over the past few weeks and it’s the underlying cause of my stumble.

If I allowed myself to simply give in to what I felt I needed, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, nor have plans for future blog posts. The real tragedy would be the premature death of all of the other creative works I’ve planned around this blog and the lives that would have been touched by those works are left without its influence. I felt like I needed to stop writing and focus on more practical elements of life, but that’s not meaningful enough for me.

While there are practical elements to consider, completely abandoning my creative pursuits would be me choosing “less life”.

It would be meaning dampening down my will.

Extinguishing the white-hot fire within me that makes me human.

It would be destroying my own potential.

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due because I did not come to this conclusion completely on my own through a detached perspective. There were a series of external influences that helped push me in this direction.

I have to thank my students and my fellow writers for reaching out to me during my hiatus. Although no one was explicitly concerned that I wasn’t writing anything or even knew that I was considering dropping it altogether, they all showed me that my work matters way more than I thought it did. The combination of people emailing me to write for my blog and my students asking me about my books and music showed me that I do not create in a vacuum.

I will also have to give a mention to Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. It’s full of fantastic quotes that I felt were pertinent to what I was dealing with.

“If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”

Rollo May (The Courage to Create)

My creative projects have a nontrivial influence on people and I cannot throw that away simply because I’m overwhelmed.

In the thick of my trials and tribulations, I forgot about the world I’ve been working so hard to create.

I forgot that I had a vision for a better future.

I forgot that I sacrificed day in and day out to bring about this vision.

I forgot that I sold other people on this vision – a world where people can live their life by design.

I forgot that I actually love writing and sharing ideas.

I forgot that being creative revivifies me and imbues my life with meaning.

And so I humbly admit that I’ve stumbled.

I did not have a perfect run of things, but that is okay because I am standing back up. I will be up and running in time, but I have to acknowledge that I’m not as strong of a writer as I was when I was being consistent.

However, I do have something new to bring to the table – more wisdom and a more experienced perspective. I still have the willingness to improve, which is the most important ingredient to getting back on my feet.

I’m going to start slow, aim at consistency, and remember that creativity makes me and the world better.

I’m going to fall back in love with the research, learning, and writing process.

I’m going to let go of the judgment and contempt I have for myself in failing to reach my commitments.

Forgiveness of the self is crucial.

While I acknowledge that I probably have enough to finish my book, I want to work on learning more and synthesizing these ideas deeper. I want the process to be full of passion so the book comes out that much richer.

While I learned a lot during my hiatus, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my younger self has real wisdom in him. Usually, when I look back on younger versions of myself, I can’t believe how foolish I was. But now, for the first time, I am surprised by the wisdom and forethought I had. For the first time (that I’m aware of), my future self wasn’t as wise as my past self and that makes me really happy. To me, it’s evidence that I’m growing and I have my own best interests at heart (which isn’t always obvious to me). I’ve developed a new trust in myself that I cannot accurately describe and I hope to take it with me during this journey.

We’ll be tried. We’ll stumble. We’ll rise again.

I’m excited to get back into creating and I hope it’s a fruitful as it once was.

I’m placing my bets on my ability to get back up and I think everyone else should too.