Excuses

Sunday, 5 March 2017

My grand­pa used to say to me: “You have more ex­cus­es than Wrigley has chew­ing gum”. He grew up dur­ing the Great Depression, fought in World War II, sup­port­ed 4 kids and a wife run­ning a postal route, was a city coun­cil­man, et cetera, et cetera.

I can’t think of one time that I ever heard him com­plain or of­fer an ex­cuse or fail to take re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for some­thing that was brought to his at­ten­tion — whether or not if it was his prob­lem to be­gin with.

My life has been ex­trav­a­gant­ly deca­dent com­pared to his, but when I’ve been faced with ad­ver­si­ty or failed at some­thing I’ve al­ways kept that say­ing of his in mind, and his ex­am­ple.

  • If you’re held re­spon­si­ble for some­thing that isn’t your fault; there’s no point whin­ing about it — you’re al­ready blamed. Clarify the sit­u­a­tion and help solve it. Take steps to en­sure it doesn’t hap­pen again.
  • If you’re in any po­si­tion of lead­er­ship, the fail­ures of any part of your team are your fail­ures. The in­stant you shift blame, you’re a whin­er, not a lead­er. Spreading blame is worse than a waste of time, it is coun­ter-pro­duc­tive. Are you here to find a scape-goat or get some work done?
  • Don’t com­plain that re­al­i­ty gets in the way of your goals. Don’t in­vent re­al­i­ties that jus­ti­fy your fail­ures. Be hum­ble, be hon­est, work hard, and know your ca­pa­bil­i­ties.
  • Admit your mis­takes but don’t give up; have an­oth­er idea ready at hand. Ask for help, guid­ance, or feed­back.
  • It’s okay to ex­press frus­tra­tion, but it should be done in pri­vate; and the next step af­ter that is called “get­ting back to work.”
  • The dif­fer­ence be­tween an ex­cuse and an ex­pla­na­tion boils down to re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. An ex­cuse avoids it, an ex­pla­na­tion owns it.

When I have in­ter­ac­tions with peo­ple who do not seem ca­pa­ble be­hav­ing in the man­ners de­scribed above, I feel pret­ty safe in as­sum­ing that they’ve nev­er tru­ly been held ac­count­able to oth­ers & prob­a­bly won’t be able to hack it when they fi­nal­ly are.

Quote from Helioscope

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The ag­nos­tics con­tend that pain has evolved blind­ly as a means of caus­ing us to avoid in­jury. There are two things that might be said about the the­o­ry: the first is that a few mo­ments’ thought will pro­duce half a dozen bet­ter ways of achiev­ing the same ob­jec­tive (one of them is in­tel­li­gence — but the more in­tel­li­gent the or­gan­ism, the more pain it is ca­pa­ble of feel­ing). The sec­ond is that by and large it does not work — hu­man be­ings jump their mo­tor­cy­cles over the foun­tain at Caesar’s Palace; dogs chase cars.

What pain does do is act as a mo­ti­va­tor in all sorts of less than ob­vi­ous ways. It is re­spon­si­ble for com­pas­sion and the hot foot; it makes peo­ple who do not be­lieve God would per­mit it think about God. It has been re­marked thou­sands of times that Christ died un­der tor­ture. Many of us have read so of­ten that he was a “hum­ble car­pen­ter” that we feel a lit­tle surge on nau­sea on see­ing the words yet again. But no one ever seems to no­tice that the in­stru­ments of tor­ture were wood, nails, and a ham­mer; that the man who ham­mered in the nails was as much a car­pen­ter as a sol­dier, as much a car­pen­ter as a tor­tur­er. Very few seem even to have no­ticed that al­though Christ was a “hum­ble car­pen­ter,” the on­ly ob­ject we are specif­i­cal­ly told he made was not a ta­ble, or a chair, but a whip.

Castle of Days; Helioscope by Gene Wolfe pp 218 – 219

Quotes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Saturday, 29 October 2011

“A ra­tio­nal an­ar­chist be­lieves that con­cepts such as ‘state’ and ‘so­ci­ety’ and ‘gov­ern­ment’ have no ex­is­tence save as phys­i­cal­ly ex­em­pli­fied in the acts of self-re­spon­si­ble in­di­vid­u­als. He be­lieves that it is im­pos­si­ble to shift blame, share blame, dis­trib­ute blame… as blame, guilt, re­spon­si­bil­i­ty are mat­ters tak­ing place in­side hu­man be­ings singly and nowhere else. But be­ing ra­tio­nal, he knows that not all in­di­vid­u­als hold his eval­u­a­tions, so he tries to live per­fect­ly in an im­per­fect world…aware that his ef­fort will be less than per­fect yet undis­mayed by self-knowl­edge of self-fail­ure.”

[…]

“My point is that one per­son is re­spon­si­ble. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each re­spon­si­ble for his own acts.”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pp 84 – 85

I’m struck at how very ex­is­ten­tial­ist that quote is. Just as I’m struck at how very apro­pos the fol­low­ing quote is to the #oc­cu­py move­ment.

“A man­aged democ­ra­cy is a won­der­ful thing […] for the managers…and its great­est strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is de­fined as ‘re­spon­si­ble’ and the man­agers de­fine what is ‘ir­re­spon­si­ble.’”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pg 256

Advertising ver­sus Lyric Poetry

Monday, 26 September 2011

“There are on­ly so many peo­ple ca­pa­ble of putting to­geth­er words that stir and move and sing. When it be­came pos­si­ble to earn a very good liv­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing by ex­er­cis­ing this ca­pa­bil­i­ty, lyric po­et­ry was left to un­tal­ent­ed screw­balls who had to shriek for at­ten­tion and com­pete by ec­cen­tric­i­ty.”

Mitchell Courtenay in Frederick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants

Old and Young and Old

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

I re­mem­ber when I was a bat­tal­ion in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in World War II, in Northern Italy.

[…]

We were pass­ing through the­se lit­tle old towns. The hous­es weren’t big, but all the gen­er­a­tions were there. The old weren’t put out to pas­ture. They were our best means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They were what civ­i­liza­tion is about: hu­man his­to­ry, work, gen­er­a­tions. Old ones, grand­par­ents, even great-grand­par­ents, talked to the lit­tle ones, and fas­ci­nat­ed them. It was the oral tra­di­tion, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion. Instead of watch­ing tele­vi­sion, the child lis­tened to the old one, learn­ing his his­to­ry of dreams and won­der.

Our young haven’t lost their his­to­ry, it was tak­en from them. We’ve stuffed them in­to a pro­crustean bed. Remember him? Procrustes? If the guest didn’t fit, he’d cut him or stretch him. That’s what we’re do­ing to our young, mak­ing them fit.

Here is a child, born with a sense of won­der, ready to ad­mire and love what is seen and ex­pe­ri­enced. We say, “Watch it now, a lit­tle bit less, cool it, cool it,” un­til this ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of won­der is re­duced to noth­ing.

[…]

If the old per­son can’t lis­ten any­more, he per­pet­u­ates the er­rors of his an­ces­tors. You don’t need him. You need to say, “All right, Grandpa, when did you last change your mind about any­thing? When did you last get a new idea? Can I help you change your mind while you help me change mine?”

David Brower, as quot­ed by Studs Terkel in his book of oral his­to­ry, Coming of Age

If by Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, 27 February 2011

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are los­ing theirs and blam­ing it on you;
If you can trust your­self when all men doubt you,
But make al­lowance for their doubt­ing too;
If you can wait and not be tired by wait­ing,
Or, be­ing lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, be­ing hat­ed, don’t give way to hat­ing,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your mas­ter;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with tri­umph and dis­as­ter
And treat those two im­posters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spo­ken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to bro­ken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your win­nings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your be­gin­nings
And nev­er breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long af­ter they are gone,
And so hold on when there is noth­ing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the com­mon touch;
If nei­ther foes nor lov­ing friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the un­for­giv­ing min­ute
With six­ty sec­onds’ worth of dis­tance run -
Yours is the Earth and every­thing that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son! 

Rudyard Kipling

My mom gave me a framed ver­sion of this po­em on my 16th birth­day. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t re­al­ly un­der­stand it. Later, when I thought I un­der­stood it, I dis­agreed with it on all points. It sat in the clos­et in my old room un­til I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d writ­ten my for my 16th birth­day, the note she’d writ­ten for my 30th, and the hand­writ­ten po­em my Grandma wrote for me on my 16th. Reading “If” at 30 is yet again a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Now I feel like I un­der­stand it; now I strive for the­se list­ed virtues. 

Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.

Amor fati

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

My for­mu­la for great­ness in a hu­man be­ing is amor fati: that one wants noth­ing to be dif­fer­ent, not for­ward, not back­ward, not in all eter­ni­ty. Not mere­ly bear what is nec­es­sary, still less con­ceal it — all ide­al­ism is men­da­cious­ness in the face of what is nec­es­sary — but love it.

Ecce Homo — Friedrich Nietzsche