What’s Sex Got To Do With It?

For those who have been following my 150-year goal of coming up with a new system to foster lifelong learning from conception to death, you will know that I tend to look at a whole system to judge the success of a particular solution. For instance, increased pay for teachers is a nice thought, but pointless in light of the nature of the public education system to ignore the individual, forcing unnatural age grouping, and reward the average.

So it was with some interest that I read Why We F*ck by David Cain. At first, it struck me as an article I would more likely find on The Good Men Project, a good source for discussions around human sexual experiences. David quickly traces mankind’s current (last couple thousand years, or so) insistence on monogamy to the agrarian development of property:

Much like today, when a landowner died others wanted the land, and the issue of who had legal claim to it had to be settled. The most intuitive arrangement was for a landowner’s offspring to inherit it.

So for the first time ever, it became absolutely necessary for a man to know that his children were his. In the age before birth control and paternity tests, there was only one way for a man to be certain:

He had to make 100 percent sure that his woman never, ever had sex with anyone else.

And so men came to control land by controlling women’s sexuality, and the new “normal” sculpted by this economic trend is still the primary model for us today: sexual monogamy. To secure themselves economically, men demanded virgins and had zero tolerance for any hint of non-monogamy. Fidelity was enforced by vicious social contracts including religious dictates and cultural beliefs, for which women were humiliated, stoned or worse for even expressing the desire to bed with another man.

So monogamy appears to be a cultural phenomenon that has its origins in economics of all places. There isn’t necessarily anything instrinsically wrong with it, but looking at the divorce rates one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a round hole, while humans — biologically at least — carry square pegs.

Interesting as that premise is on its own, David’s thoughts later in the comments are what really got me thinking:

I think culturally enforced monogamy is more likely to create heartbreak and unrealistic attachments than a culture in which it is accepted that people may express love to multiple people.

Which brought me to ponder this: what system would accommodate physical intimacy with more than one at a time? As with most entrenched systems, the interdependencies make it very hard to only “fix one symptom” of a bigger problem. In the one we address here—the foundation of most societies active in the 21st Century—so much of the legal and tax structure is based on the understanding of transfer to heirs that just thinking what would happen if lineage was not easily determined makes the head spin.

It’s the 200+ comments where the discussion of this topic really takes off. I won’t transfer all of that here, but encourage those of you who like a good mental exercise to read this first, then explore more of David’s blog. I think you will enjoy the expanse of topics and depth of thought.

And if you have any ideas on how to build a better societal system, feel free to start that conversation here!

Mentoring Means Asking Tough Questions

The management of the company that employs a friend of a friend asked all employees to find a mentor. Interesting in and of itself. But the story starts when my friend, asked by his friend to be his mentor largely out of respect for his technical knowledge, turned to me to ask what it meant to be a mentor. Here was my response:

Thanks for the compliment and for keeping me in mind.

I find the best thing I can do for a protégé is to ask questions that inspire them/wake them up to the need to ask themselves what they really think or why they are doing something or what they really want. While your friend may be asking for technical help, I find that most people do not need much help in technology (external) issues, but internal (thinking) issues. So while he is asking for a mentor because his work is telling him that is a good thing to have, he is trying to apply it to his work knowledge, and that is not what mentoring is good for. He needs a teacher or a coach for that. Send him to Google and YouTube with a plan for what to search on and how often to check back in with you on what he has learned and that piece is done.

The best gift you can give him is to help him think through his current circumstances from the start: why are you in that job? What do you really want to do with your life? What tells you that this job will get you there? When you sit silent in the mornings (I recommend a meditation routine for all my protégés) do you feel good about the people you work with and the work you do – or not? If you could do anything you wanted, regardless if whether or not you could live off it, what would that be?

Do you see where I am going here? The biggest value you can offer to your friend is to facilitate a discussion he has to have with himself. In the end he will have learned more about how to administer a network, but he will also know—for now—why administering a network is the right thing for him to be doing. Even more important, he will have gone through a process he should do routinely in order to be sure that what he is doing is right for him.

Remember this: a mentor may not take their protégés to fun places. That’s someone else’s job (friends, spouses, etc.). You as his mentor are there to ask the tough questions and keep making him dig deeper. Use the law of five whys – keep asking why until you really arrive at the essence of the issue. (“Why are you doing this job?” “Because it’s all I could find” “Why?” “Because I tried for 3 months and this was the only offer.” “Why did you stop there?” “Because I had bills to pay.” “And why did you stop looking after you found this job?” and on and on until you finally hear something deeply personal, e.g. “Because I don’t think I am that smart!” NOW you have something you can address and work on fixing!)

Is this making sense? Is this something you want to do? If not, it’s best to suggest your friend find a life coach, someone who does this for a living. On the up side, it’s a good thing to do for others and for yourself. I ask myself the same questions that I ask those who come to me for counsel. I’m not quite as tough on myself as I am on them, but it does force me to evaluate my own circumstances routinely to make sure I am on track.

I am sure there are good books and blogs on the myriad of questions that you can ask someone in a role as mentor. Let me know what you find. Let me know what you decide to do, will you?

Thanks again for the trust and value assessment!

John Maxwell on Leadership and MentoringI trace my own developing understanding of mentoring back to books my mentors gave to me, both to understand their approach to me, as well as to leave to a third party the training of the fine points of mentoring. The definition of mentorship talks about “an ongoing relationship of learning, dialog, and challenge.” Since many of my mentors lived a great distance, books became a good way to provide progress between interactions. Among the more memorable was John Maxwell, a prolific author on the topics of leadership, teamwork, and mentoring. His books came to me in a period of my life when I aspired to own and manage companies, a focus that has since passed I might add. Knowing that such a role was not going to be successful based solely on my limited experience as a paperboy and lawn service, I looked to other successful business leaders and asked them to share their time and experience.

Regardless of your occupation, level of community involvement, or interest in being relatable to others, I found great value in reading up on leadership, teamwork, collaboration, and mentorship. Have you done such reading and found it of value? I’d be interested in hearing your stories. Maxwell tells a short story about the inspiration behind creating the Big Brother movement. Even in something as simple as counseling a child wise enough to ask for help, great things can be done to help them, and through them many others. Witness the impact of Salman Khan and his Khan Academy, all sprouting from an attempt to help his young cousin understand challenging math concepts from a distance.

Who have you been mentored by? Who have you mentored? I would appreciate hearing from you!

Stephen

The Occupy Movement is About Flaws in the “Progress” of Mankind


Prologue

Key to understanding the challenge I am about to relate is the opening phrase of the following blog post: “I am still reading”. That’s right, I had not completed my reading of the Occupy Bucharest Manifesto before I was moved to write a post about it. As a result, I offered an evaluation of this document based on an assumption that was incorrect. Instead of this being the compilation of a group’s thoughts, it turned out to be one person’s thoughts, someone who was quick to comment on this blog and reach out to me through Twitter, Luca Oprea.

While my premise—that this was a collective product—was premature, my respect for the quality of the ideas and delivery remain true and accurate. Luca is a remarkable thinker, and I look forward to learning more about his ideas and efforts.


I am still reading through this manifesto by the group at Occupy Bucharest, but this struck me as being a remarkable observation:

Occupy Wall Street can be seen as a basic, natural, global response to this fundamentally flawed state of things. The mindless segregation of life and energy flows from human consciousness is what led to the existence of the flowing crowds of Spain and Greece and Portugal and the rest of Europe. They have very little past and no apparent future, and as such cannot be understood through economic theory, although they are created by it. Fundamentally, human communities should cover the full spectrum of evolving life, from primary biological production, through innately collaborative social life, to consciousness and then mind.

Instead, the current state of things sees rural and urban areas feeding off of each other in production cycles that deplete the earth, social ties, and individual lives. The reason is simple – while they may appear to be separate and different communities, in fact they are only one community, its production and social flows stretching over very long distances. Capitalism speaks of competition, consumption, business and trade as essential factors which create value, but the reality is that these are low level processes which only make sense between partially developed communities.

The challenge of writing well is so large that most will never address it, much less accomplish it. But this manifesto immediately establishes itself as a record of deep

The National Architects Union Headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. Another well-designed manifesto.

thought. Cogent, succinct, and nothing short of visionary, that this document was developed by a collective is all the more extraordinary!

Have you ever wondered how it was the the United States Declaration of Independence was so well written? The language is refined, focused and accurate, so much more effective and compelling than the majority of all written work of that day, and ever since. I have often tried to imagine the mindset of Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the first draft, the level of concentration of John Adams and the others at they read it and suggested edits. What amazing clarity and understanding! We saw it once again in the US Constitution, but not as much in some of the amendments, and even less in the reams of legislation that have been generated by federal and state bureaucrats ever since.

I believe the key difference is in the thinking that comes before the word, perhaps that’s not obvious, given the vast quantities of words with no meaning that are published by the minute. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues were all focused on an urgent need for freedom from tyranny and how to make that happen, on this they thought long and hard.

No doubt, the people in Bucharest spent considerable time discussing what brought them together. The process of writing well—the distillation down to the fundamental issues and then to convey them in compelling words and phrases—is no mean feat. This evidence of those thoughtful conversations tells me that many of the Occupy sites are having similar conversations, and that alone could be enough to justify the movement, in my opinion. As a species, humans do not gather together often enough to tap into the astounding power within their minds.

Some points about the dark road where capitalism has taken us will be argued by those who feel it is a perfect system. Regardless, in my opinion the writers of the Occupy Bucharest manifesto have done what few writers, much less groups of writers, have done in recorded history. It is well worth your time to invest in reading this document for understanding. I would love to hear your thoughts on this (to include how long it took you to read it!).

Recycling, Efficiency and “Cheaper By The Dozen”

I was a fairly voracious reader as a youth. I read a large number of Tom Swift books and was always looking for books that taught me things about life (such has space ship design from Edward Stratemeyer’s Tom Swift). One such book was Cheaper By The Dozen, a story of what it was like to live with two time and motion study experts for parents. Though I vaguely remember actively trying to incorporate some of what I was reading into my life, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much of my habits were dictated by the logic and reasoning conveyed in that book.

Water saving recommendation on a shampoo labelFor many years the push to conserve water in all that we do has been escalating: shorter showers, no rinsing dishes before they’re loaded into the dishwasher, not leaving the water running unless you’re using it, etc. It wasn’t until I read the label on a shampoo bottle that I suddenly realized:

  1. How urgent the need must be that manufacturers are sacrificing valuable label space to be seen supporting the cause, and
  2. How I must be doing things most other people are not doing.

For as far back as I can remember, it has never occurred to me to stand still in the shower waiting for my shampoo and then conditioner to have its effect. Is that what research says most people do? What else would motivate the “Turn Off The Tap” tip on this bottle and millions like it? Why aren’t people doing the next important thing, such as soaping their bodies? Who in their right minds turns on the tap to wet their toothbrush (a nonsense habit to begin with), and then leaves it on while they brush their teeth? Evidently enough to warrant using tax dollars to fund an EPA program called WaterSense to educate kids, parents and teachers on how to conserve water.

I could go on with all sorts of other examples where people waste their time and our limited resources, but it’s depressing to spend too much time on the evidence of how few people think as they go through their lives. And I am no shining star, I waste a lot of time during the day, at least according to my wife on the days when she is around to watch me. The summary lesson I suggest you ponder on is this: evaluate. Routinely evaluate every habit you have, every tradition you carry out, reconsider everything you do every once in a while to be sure what you are doing makes sense, and is the most efficient and least wasteful way to do it. Does it make sense to leave things in a different place every time you use them so you have to waste time looking for it the next time (much less infuriate those who always put it back in the same place so they could find it blindfolded it they had to)? Does it make sense to not take a moment before putting produce back in the refrigerator to properly wrap it so it will still be usable when you need it again? Is there any reason to throw out (recycle – supermarkets often take plastic film back) food bags other than holes or dirty beyond being able to be cleaned? Take the 5 minutes at the end of every day to clean the dozen or so zipper-seal plastic bags you used that day!

Recycling is a variation on conservation that comes up in my thoughts every two weeks or so when I wheel our single=steam recycling barrel out to the curb and then notice in other neighborhoods that very few are following suit. Though I cannot speak for every community in the US, apparently there is curbside recycling in 9,000+ communities in the US (according to this 2009 EPA report). And yet, that same report tells us that only a little under 34% of the 243 million tons of trash we generated that year was either composted or recycled (and you know how few people compost!). Knowing that fact means that roughly 20 or more times a year I ponder the question, “why don’t people recycle more?”

Maybe people don’t realize how much can be recycled. It’s darn close to everything these days! Due to the vast disparities among the capabilities of recyclers, there is no way to give guidelines here, other than to say do the research. If the list of allowable materials is not immediately apparent on your community’s vendor’s website, call or email asking that it be made so. If your community negotiates the disposal and recycling contracts, speak with your DPW director about what can be sent out to homeowners and businesses to encourage more recycling among your neighbors.

We all know that there are thousands of websites that cover in detail both of these topics, to do that again is not my intention. Instead, I was motivated to write this merely to ask you—close friend or social media acquaintance—to think about what you do from a new frame of reference, that of efficiency and minimal waste. In Scouting we were taught a program called Leave No Trace. I have since found that it is an international movement toward “outdoor ethics,” but the principles applies in the context of this idea of efficiency and reduced waste: responsible enjoyment and active stewardship. Enjoy the resources you are blessed with (time, employment, food, pets, water, a kitchen, etc.), but not at the cost of others. And play an active part in stewarding all our resources. Pick up trash that you see on the ground as you walk your dog (as well as any ‘deposits’ your pet leaves behind), make recycling containers easy to access in your house, you know the drill—THINK!

“The Power Broker” Still Resonates Today

In a high school English class I was assigned a book to read that was so daunting I can remember today the feeling of shock as it was placed in my hands. It was huge! Growing up along the Jersey shore, I knew for a fact that a book this size could function as a great drag anchor for a small skiff or rowboat. It didn’t matter that the teacher was telling us we would use this book the entire semester, it was over 1000 pages, for God’s sake!

As it turned out, The Power Broker was a fantastic read, and served well as the basis for an equally wonderful course. I ended up reading farther each day and week than was assigned, and the emotional high and feeling of accomplishment as I read the last words were totally unexpected. First, I had tamed the beast. But more importantly, I had persevered to gain insight that even at the tender age of 16 I knew would be important to me for the rest of my life.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Vintage)The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my first introductions to the power of good research. A fascinating look into the mind and life of a man who shaped the built environment of the state of New York like no other.

View all my reviews

As the book description out on Goodreads tells us:

…winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city’s politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today.

In revealing how Moses did it—how he developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force—Robert Caro reveals how power works in all the cities of the United States. Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He personally conceived and completed public works costing 27 billion dollars—the greatest builder America (and probably the world) has ever known. Without ever having been elected to office, he dominated the men who were—even his most bitter enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could not control him—until he finally encountered, in Nelson Rockefeller, the only man whose power (and ruthlessness in wielding it) equalled his own.

Robert Moses was clearly a brilliant man on a mission to create beautiful recreational shorelines, parks, pools, playgrounds, parkways and pathways in the City of New York and the counties that surrounded it. The fact that he knowingly abused the laws to make these dreams happen could be argued as criminal intent or political genius. Certainly the millions of people who have enjoyed Jones Beach or the Triborough Bridge would never have suspected that the mastermind behind them and so much more had a racist agenda and a near-pathological belief that he was right and no one was going to stop him.

But the life story of Robert Moses was not entirely about manipulation and devious intent. Looking back, I suspect that the strongest impact upon this reader was the remarkable discipline he exhibited every day. He always worked later than his engineers, then woke earlier to have a stack of paperwork and plans ready for his secretary, who would stop by his house on her way into the office. Then he would work in the car as his driver took him to work (he never had a driver’s license, never had a job—instead writing himself into law … you need to read this book!). And while I have taken a much different perspective on life since, this was formative in my mental image of the hard-working world changer I wanted to be.

Certainly NOT what I was thinking as the drag anchor was handed to me in high school!