BeliefsMon, 22nd Aug '16, 1:35 am::
I fully expect everything that follows to be a long meandering brain dump of multiple subjects connected by nothing but my mental model of how the world works. Usually when I write about something other than my day-to-day routine, I treat it like a school essay and try to making a point with logical arguments. But what I've noticed is that behind my persuasive arguments is a set of core beliefs that rarely changes. And I'm not the only one. Behind almost everything I've read, heard, or seen are someone's core beliefs making a point. Listing and comparing our beliefs divides us. But discussing how our beliefs work, can help us communicate better.
Before we get to heart of our belief system, let's start with a simple opinion: The world is better/worse today than it was 20* years ago. You can rely on facts, anecdotes, or personal experiences to form an opinion on this statement. Maybe two decades ago you had a great job and cost of living was low. Or maybe you were in a bad relationship and felt stuck in life while today things are great. Your opinion is yours to have, share, defend, and sometimes change. But beneath the facts that bolster opinions or heartwarming experiences that sway them, are beliefs that seldom rely on numbers but predispose which facts and stories we listen to.
Do you believe the average person is good? If I randomly picked just ONE person out of the 7+ billion people on the planet, without seeing their face, would you trust them to return your lost wallet? Don't overthink this. Just ask yourself if you believe that to be true or false in the average case. Now ask yourself what you would do.
Do you believe the average person is lazy and unmotivated? In other words, if they could get just enough money to eat, live in a modest apartment, and afford the bare necessities of modern life, would they accept that life and quit their job or instead continue to work hard to get even further ahead in life? What would you do?
If you believe the average person is honest and hardworking, and feel the same way about yourself, realize that you are living in a world with other people who believe that while the average person (that includes you) is dishonest, lazy, and unmotivated, they themselves are good, industrious, and quite motivated. This isn't a comparison of who is right vs. who is wrong. This isn't about people having different beliefs. This is about people having contradictory beliefs about each other.
There is a famous exercise in Game Theory called the Prisoner's Dilemma (if you don't want to read about it, watch this video). In my mind, our beliefs about the goodness of an average human pits us against each other in a world-wide Prisoner's Dilemma where we all try to guess if everyone else is an honest, productive person and act accordingly. And that I think is what leads us to have differing opinions on whether the world is better or worse off today.
Our beliefs guide us to seek evidence, which helps us form our opinions. From a cold scientific, rational perspective, there is a very strict requirement for what constitutes evidence and so if you take that route, you will arrive at the currently accepted scientific consensus. But what if you believe that the scientists who came up with the conclusion that you find hard to stomach, were funded by organizations that benefit from the very conclusion? Certainly you wouldn't be wrong to believe this because there are countless examples of that. Well, then you find yourself questioning not just scientific research but news media, social media, education systems, governments, corporations, and pretty much every institution with power and means. And you would be in your right to be skeptical! Because if you believe there is corruption and greed at almost every level, you will find ample evidence to support it if you dig deep enough.
The difficulty in trying to comprehend the world today is that it is so big yet feels so small. With so many people, all things good and bad that could happen, happen daily. And with the world being so connected, we can find evidence of almost anything to match our beliefs - logical or not. The world as a whole did not know about the Nanking Massacre or Armenian Genocide for decades. Yet news of a single hero giving up his life to save others spread around the world within hours last year.
There are just too many nuanced and seemingly conflicting facts in every single aspect of our life for us to weed through. So regardless of what scientific, political, and economic theories we study, we tend to believe in some core things that cannot be easily quantified, justified, or articulated. Beliefs about race, gender, and religion are strengthened by events that we experience, which motivates us to seek additional examples to reinforce our beliefs. If you believe that women with same experience and skills are paid less than men for the same jobs, then you can find ample evidence to defend it. You may even support laws to curb the injustice. Or you might believe the wage gap is a myth with evidence to the contrary.
I have friends and family on both sides of almost every issue and what's interesting to me is how rarely does evidence change anyone's opinions. Evidence contrary to our beliefs is either an immaterial exception or further proof that the opposition is grasping at straws to maintain their lie. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Whether you support Clinton, Trump, any of the 3rd party candidates, or none of them, your beliefs are what their campaigns are piggybacking on.
On the economic front, Trump is fueled by the opinions that illegal immigration and Obamacare are the primary cause of hardship for most Americans today. Many in the media mock these openly without trying to understand why people feel this way. Beneath these opinions are the beliefs that people who break the law do not deserve amnesty and that we are better off when we can make the financial and healthcare decisions for ourselves and our families without the Government's mandate. The former is about Government not presently doing its job to stop illegal immigration and the latter is about the Government overstepping its authority. In other words, Government is doing more bad than good. While we can come up with arguments for and against these beliefs, realize that these are not purely academic ideologies we are arguing about but rather what they believe is necessary for the good of their community, country, and world.
Similarly, on the economic front, Bernie was fueled by the opinion that decades of rigged economic policies by the richest of the rich are the primary cause of Americans' hardships. Beneath this opinion is the belief that sound Government policies can curb corporate greed, or in other words, a belief that Government can do good. Clinton is fueled by the opinion that political obstruction preventing Obama from enacting the necessary policies is the primary cause and she is the one who can fix it. This is a mix of both the beliefs - people who believe that Government that can do good being impeded by others who believe that Government cannot do good.
I'd imagine that your belief in Government being capable of doing good or not is partially derived from whether you believe that people are good or not. I say partially because even if you believe the average person is honest, you might believe they don't work in the public sector for long, thereby making Government corrupt by attrition. The reason I keep bringing these types of beliefs up repeatedly is because there is no way to prove them either way - they really are something you have to accept on faith alone. With millions of people working for the Government, you can easily find evidence to prove any stance. So what you rely on is your belief that there are or aren't enough good people in public sector to help steer the country in what you believe is the right direction.
I have avoided listing my own beliefs and opinions because my point wasn't to convince you to see things my way. My point was to show that the world is so noisy, there is no point in blaring more noise at people who disagree with us. But instead, listen to the muted melody lost in the cacophony. Even the person you most vehemently disagree with has core beliefs you can rightly respect if you only cut through the mountain of opinionated drivel.
* I picked 20 years because there is more variability of viewpoints in that. Would be boring to compare today to 2 years ago (not enough time) or 200 years (only for history buffs).
Random news appearanceMon, 18th Jul '16, 9:55 pm::
We were on an impromptu local TV news segment this weekend, mainly Juliet. We didn't get anything at the auction but it was fun to bid items up real high and not have to pay. Check out the video here. This was both Naveen and my first TV appearance. Juliet was in a medical news segment last year through her work.
Now and thisTue, 12th Jul '16, 1:30 am::
I don't usually miss the past and rarely do I compare my present to the days bygone as if things are somehow worse now. Growing up, I always wanted to just grow up. Now that I'm done growing up, I think I made the right call. As wonderful as my childhood summer vacations were, I don't pine to go back to simpler days. I like now and this.
I like the present not because of what I possess or have done. I like the present because I no longer have the harrowing urge to prove myself. My entire childhood and youth was driven by the excruciating compulsion to prove my skills and abilities. Whether it be classroom, computers, or even the odd running trail, I felt an obligation to better myself and beat my past performance.
For years, I believed that the only reason I kept improving is because I kept pushing myself constantly. But the last couple of years have led me to believe otherwise. Self-improvement by persistence is not the same thing as self-improvement by pressure. All my life I conflated the two, causing me to accept the negativity of stress, neurosis, and disappointment in myself as natural companion of development. Thankfully, that was only in my mind.
I don't know what freed me from the obsession to prove myself but it couldn't have happened at a better point in my life. I am now learning more about the fields I am interested in than ever before. I am spending more time with my wife and son than I imagined I would before he was born. I am thoroughly enjoying my work and hopefully writing better code than I did in the decades past. And I am not doing this by forcing myself. I am merely doing it by casual repetition without any expectations. I like now and this.
Eye of the stormFri, 24th Jun '16, 12:00 am::
You know that feeling when you've been driving in the rain for what seems like hours and you suddenly pass under a bridge or an overpass and for a brief moment in time, everything seems peaceful? That's how I feel right now with zero emails in my inbox. For the first time in many months, I have no emails that I need to respond to or take action against. This ephemeral feeling of calmness is why I even remembered to share my thoughts here.
This year has been busier than most. In addition to email-replying and toddler-chasing, my waking moments have been consumed by family-tending, friends-attending, and money-extending. During the few hours I have to myself each week, I swim, pet our animals, and watch space videos on YouTube. A hundred years ago we thought our Milky Way Galaxy was all there is. And now we are "listening" to black-holes colliding a billion light-years away in a universe that might as well be infinite.
When my inbox has 27 emails nagging me to code this or submit that, documentaries about our ever-expanding universe help me realize my tiny, trifling place in the universe. Knowing that I am forever caught in this tug-of-war between family, friends, and coworkers who need me to do things and a universe that doesn't care if our sun goes red giant, surprisingly helps me calm down. News about politics and economy ruin my sleep if I start to care too much. So now Britain voted to leave the EU. It will slightly and indirectly affect me, along with the rest of the world. But you know what else could impact me and everyone else even more? Solar flares that can fry all of our satellites and shutdown our electric grid! Suddenly a few unanswered emails don't seem so bad, do they?
I don't think Hubble, Einstein, or Feynman unraveled the mysteries of the universe just so I could lower my stress but it sure works wonders. Maybe I should write a book on how to maintain a good work-life balance: Work hard, play with your kids, and watch videos about the 10 billion trillion trillion carat space diamond and 10 billion billion billion liters of space alcohol.
Today I went paddleboarding for the first time when we went to the local beach for one of Juliet's friend's husband's birthday party. The Gulf is finally warm enough to swim in and Naveen had a blast playing on the sand as waves came ashore. Before we went to the beach, I played table-tennis with my dad for an hour and then jumped in the pool for a couple of hours. Six hours of Florida fun in a single day!
Tomorrow my mom's brother, Ruskin Mama, and his family are flying down to Tampa. We'll hopefully go to some touristy places and get some pre-summer shopping done. It was cold for far too long. I'm glad summer is almost here.
We just watched The Jungle Book. Even before Naveen was born, we nicknamed him Mowgli. When Juliet was pregnant, I'd often ask her how she and Mowgli were doing. Watching the younger Mowgli in the movie interact with Bagheera the panther for the first time reminded me of Naveen when he first started petting our cats. We loved the movie and I'm sure we'll buy it so Naveen can watch it a hundred times once he's old enough to enjoy movies. Oh yeah, he was at daycare when we watched the movie. Toddlers shouldn't be watching movies.
We just got back from a week-long vacation in Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Here are the photos.
The weather has been gorgeous here in Florida for the past few days and we're making the most of it. Naveen is just over a year old now and has become relatively adept at walking so we can finally do more outdoors activities. Juliet takes him to the local park regularly and today I joined them. We didn't go out much last week because she was sick with a seasonal bug so we were all happy to be out today.
Naveen is learning to talk and babbles a lot whenever he is excited. He has started to point at things and looks at his big colorful beach ball whenever I yell "Ball!" It's amazing to see him learn new things by the day. Last week he was scared of slides and today he was pushing himself down them repeatedly.
My parents are coming back to stay with us next month and I know they are counting down the days. We can't wait for them to see Naveen walking and talking. And Juliet and I could probably use another romantic weekend by the beach.
Happy TwosdayTue, 2nd Feb '16, 1:20 pm::
Today is 2/2, which is two twos. It's a Tuesday, and the year (2,16) consists of only powers of two. It's also threesday: 33rd day of the year with 333 days left in this leap year, so 33/333.
It's a beautiful day outside here in sunny Florida and my bird Echo has been singing non-stop all morning. After a whole month of cold weather with heavy rainfall during which our roof started leaking, our porch got smelly, and my son, wife, and I got sick multiple times with different annoying seasonal bugs, things appear to be going back to normal. The roofing guy just left after making the necessary fixes, the porch smell has all but disappeared, and I haven't coughed once in 24 hours.
It may seem trifling but annoyances like these add to my stress and my mind keeps dwelling on them until I do something about them. But since most of these take time to resolve, there's not much I can to do except wait. That is until I found out a way to trick my mind. I came up with two simple lists: Chaos and Fun. I spent a few minutes and added a bunch of things to my fun list - solving puzzles, playing Wii U, visiting nature parks etc. Then I added everything that was bothering me to the Chaos list - Roof leak, porch smell, my cough, unfinished paperwork that I keep pushing off etc.
Now, whenever something repeatedly bugs me and causes me stress, I immediately add it to the Chaos list and then, pick something from the Fun list to do next. The last thing that stressed me out was the mess of electric cables in our living room, compounded by my frayed laptop charger cord. I'm trying to work and the cords keep getting in the way and my laptop keeps losing charge. So I added "living room electric cords" to my Chaos list and instantly felt happy that I realized it was just an annoyance, not some life-altering trauma. Then I thumbed down the Fun list and picked something I'd like to do next: "Write a blog entry". And here I am, not stressing about electric cords but instead sharing this one trick I found that can make your life just as glorious as mine.
If you are like me and live by a Todo list or detailed calendar, the Chaos and Fun lists easily merge into the daily routine. When I notice something is causing tiny amount of chaos in my life and add it to the Chaos list, I also immediately make a note in my Todo list to fix it at some point in the near future. This way, come Thursday, when I might not be in the middle of being stressed out by electric cords, I can actually solve that problem with an open mind i.e. buy new cords or move furniture around to organize the cables etc.
I call this a mind trick because I am definitely trying to trick my mind into feeling happy and less stressed even though sometimes it feels there is chaos all around me. It works for me for multiple reasons. The moment I note it down, I feel like I did something positive right away, especially if I add the fix-it-task to my Todo list. Then doing something from the Fun list immediately distracts me from whatever it was that bothered me. And I can freely allow myself to be distracted because the thing that was bothering me is not lost in the fog of my mind but rather in an organized list that I can review later. And the best part is reviewing the Chaos list later. I've been jotting things down into my Chaos list for about a year now and despite things feeling completely chaotic all year with our newborn, family, social events, pets, and house issues, the list has never had more than 7 items simultaneously. Compared to my Fun list with double the items, the chaos seems minor. And that's the entire point of this - clear my mind of the repeated annoyances and make handling them seem almost trivial.
Hurts every timeMon, 25th Jan '16, 11:20 pm::
This isn't the first time I am uncomfortably waiting for one of our aging pets to slowly drift off into everlasting sleep and if I have learned anything, it is that it hurts every single time. Milly, my favorite prairie dog, is breathing her last breaths tonight. She's been my favorite since we got her and she always replied to my calls. Every time I would pass her, I would shout "eeeek!" and she would immediately reply back "eeeek!" To her, I was one of her people and to me, she was family.
Here she is in the front, happily digging and burrowing, just the way I want to remember forever. Good night sweet Milly.