825 - Senses

Sensitivities, like muscles, must be exercised to develop. As with any skill, improved sensitivity requires practice, and maintaining improvements is only possible with persistence in that practice.

Talk to a sommelier, for instance. Or a physician.

Or a piano tuner.

Spiritual sensitivity is no different than any other learned skill. Exercise, and it gets stronger. Stop exercising, and it fades away.

It doesn’t even really matter what your definition of spiritual sensitivity is. Maybe it’s empathy — the ability to discern and connect with the emotional experiences of others. Maybe it’s communion with God, whoever and whatever you believe, or don’t. Maybe it’s about an attunement to universal morality, the search for truth, or beauty, or both.

Maybe, probably, it’s some mix of all that and more.

Whatever spirituality means to you, the common fact is that it must be exercised to be developed. When it comes to the truly useful skills, no one gets anything for free.

824 - Addicts

I believe there is a broad spectrum of addiction, or perhaps, rather, that there is real utility in establishing a broad and fundamental definition that covers the whole spectrum of addictive/compulsive behavior.

That way, the solution for a given addiction would depend both on that fundamental definition, and the position it occupies along that broad spectrum.

On one end, for example, would be the latest season of your favorite TV show, or that game you can't stop playing on your phone. On the other end maybe we could look at opioids, or alcohol.

I’m not going to pretend I’m qualified to offer a complete or comprehensive, or even terribly accurate fundamental definition of addiction. But at least part of the definition has to be a kind of learned powerlessness, or the loss of faith in one’s ability to control one’s actions.

No wonder the idea of free will has come under suspicion. We’re all addicts, and addicts don’t have a lot of strong evidence to support it.

823 - Addicted

Anything can become an addiction. Medical science is slowly coming around to this idea, so it doesn’t sound so glib and false anymore, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to ignore the science and just move along.

Addictions are a problem because they steal time. That’s their main function. If I do anything compulsively, to fill time and distract myself from discomfort of any kind, and the thing I’m doing is not making positive contributions to my life, then it is just an elaborate waste of time.

This goes for the extreme one’s that everyone recognizes — like heroin. Especially because it’s illegal, heroin consumes an enormous amount of the addict’s time. In the worst cases, it takes all of it.

But it also goes for the trivial examples of which nearly everyone is guilty — like newsfeeds and social media. Time lost, no value added.

Every time we get a hit, we lose more time. The harder it is to get a hit, the more time we waste. The more time we waste, the worse we feel, and the greater the temptation to distract ourselves away from that feeling with the time-wasting addiction.

Addictive craving motivates us to trade bigger desires for smaller ones. Being an addict is like persistently buying a buck with a twenty. And this, too, is just a function of time. The dollar is tempting because it’s right in front of you, and the twenty is a day, or an hour, or five minutes away. “If I take the buck now,” you think, “I can always go find a twenty later.”

But there’s always going to be a buck in front of you, and it’ll always cost the twenty that was five minutes away.

822 - Me

I update this blog every day for myself.

There really isn’t anyone else. Maybe a tiny handful of people that feel a kind of unconditional obligation of support. People like my mom. Hi mom.

But I didn’t start posting every day on the idea that I’d get some kind of big, meaningful audience for these words. I started posting every day to prove, to me, that I could.

It turns out I can. I can do it every day.

I’m not spinning out any kind of gold, here. I’m spinning out competence and confidence. I’m allowing imperfect effort into the world on a daily basis. It’s a real challenge. It makes me feel vulnerable and a little ugly.

This is good. Because the opposite of those feelings is perpetual perfectionism, which is another way of describing perpetual procrastination.

I’m training myself out of inaction over here. No one has to notice. No one has to care.

No one, that is, except for me.

821 - Unsubscribe

I’m proud of my email inbox. I run a tight ship, so it’s the one medium in which I can be depended upon. I don’t miss emails.

Partly this is because Google’s spam filter is very, very good. I’ve been using my primary email address for almost 15 years now, and I basically never see spam. And on those rare occasions when something slips through, I can just report it and feel like a good citizen.

But even with the spam problem basically solved, there remains the “bacon.” The emails you knowingly or unknowingly signed up for by just being a regular person on the Internet.

For all of those, there is the almighty “unsubscribe.”

If I see something in my inbox that isn’t useful or interesting enough to justify itself, I am aggressive about unsubscribing. New things will pop up all the time. Whether it’s because an app or company has inappropriately distributed my email address to one of their partners, or because I was briefly interested in some kind of service or software, there will always be new weeds in the garden of my inbox.

No problem. I’ll just keep finding the tiny link at the bottom, and it’ll be one less nuisance tomorrow or next week.

As I’ve practiced this principle with my inbox, I’ve noticed that it’s become easier to apply it to the rest of my life. What are the things that are failing to add enough value to justify the time they consume?

Unsubscribe.

820 - Rotten

I saw a movie last night (if you’re a fan of Nerd Critic, you’ll be able to guess which one) that has a pretty low score on Rotten Tomatoes. I left the theater feeling pretty salty about that score, and then about Rotten Tomatoes in general.

It’s not that I think Rotten Tomatoes is totally useless and always “wrong.” Both of those appellations are malaprop when it comes to a platform that operates in the way it does. It’s nice when everyone loves a movie and it gets a high score on a popular website, and it’s also nice when a movie is an objective failure (especially when it’s a bad faith failure), and it gets a really low score on that same popular website.

The problem with Rotten Tomatoes is that it is extremely reductionist.

Here’s how it works.

A movie review might itself achieve any level of quality and nuance, but Rotten Tomatoes will appropriate that review as either "fresh" or "rotten." After doing this to every relevant review that exists for a particular movie, they add them all up and perform the simplest possible algorithm: If, out of 20 reviews, 10 were "fresh," the movie gets a 50%. In true academic fashion, anything below a 60% is “rotten,” so indicated by a little green splatch.

This sort of reductionism is incredibly seductive because it makes the world seem simple. Is a movie good or bad? Well, look here, we’ve got a score. Now you know. Easy. Why complicate it?

It's not that reductionism is always bad, of course. You can't live without simplifying some things. The question is always which things. Apply reductionism to people, and you’ve got, at best, toxic identity politics, and at worst, racism.

What about movies? We’ve been heavily conditioned to judge movies with a thumb or five stars, which isn’t much better. And Rotten Tomatoes is peddling this same sort of philosophy.

But movies are art, and art is complicated. You want an opinion? Show up and get one for yourself. And I promise you, no one cares about your stupid thumb.

819 - Integrated

Integrity is to say what you mean, and do what you say. It is to be the same person everywhere, and to all people.

Integration (as it pertains to psychology) is the process of joining together different parts of the self into one unified whole.

It’s been my experience that one leads to the other, and vice versa. It’s also been my experience that one is not even really possible without the other.

So, if integrity seems hard, maybe it’s time to start thinking about how to become better integrated. And if you’re not sure how to do that, it could be helpful to practice better integrity.

They both lead to the same place, which is where you want to go.

818 - Preach

Hypocrisy is a funny thing. Nobody practices what they preach. At least not all the time, and at least not perfectly.

We all preach better than we practice, so are we all hypocrites?

I guess I might as well just own this thing. Yes, I believe this applies to everyone, but of course I am thinking about myself.

Am I a hypocrite for preaching better than I practice?

No. I don’t think I am.

There’s a difference between aspiration and deceit. Hypocrisy is the pretense of good behavior for the sake of appearing better than other people. It is claiming to be something you aren’t, and then cashing in on the lie.

I preach real good, but I will freely admit how far I fall short of my high ideals, so-called.

And I will not stop preaching, because in declaring those ideals toward which I aspire, I help myself get closer to them.