I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong …Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom — Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m reading a collection of essays written by scientists and professional thinkers who answered the question What Should We Be Worried About? which also happens to be the name of the book and so far it’s entertaining and terrifying. I’m learning about things I never knew and I’m now worried about (like “Singularity” — the name given to the phenomenon of super-intelligent machines taking over) and the book has re-ignited old, dormant worries (like the breakdown of society’s fragile, complex systems i.e. financial markets, the Internet, the power grid, the food supply). I’m sure the editor of the book, John Brockman, had no problem getting contributions because it’s easy to identify what’s wrong. The biggest problem for the contributors and editor was probably narrowing down their list of worries.
Just the other day while lying in bed and over the span of five minutes, I came up with a list of things that irritate me, piss me off, baffle me or just plain suck. Here’s the partial list:
1. The acronym LOL — I haven’t used that acronym or any other popular texting/messaging shortcut in five years or more. I read an article in Vanity Fair about a police department that was trying to capture a pedophile who found his victims online and in that article they printed the conversations between this creep and an officer posing as an underage girl. They were hard to read because it was all “btw” and “omg” and “gyri” (I made that up) and the one I despise the most “LOL”. I was so repulsed by it that in my mind LOL and all other online shortcuts are linked with child molesters. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I feel.
Beyond the fact that it’s popular among pedophiles, LOL is overused and doesn’t in any way capture real enjoyment or real laughter.
From Marcel Kinsbourne’s essay “Social Media: The more together, the more alone”:
Evolution notoriously has no foresight nor is it embodied, but if it were, it would be spinning like a top in its grave as LOL supplants the joy of present laughter. What a waste!
2. Twitter updates during Live TV — Last Saturday night, I was watching a very competitive fight between 2 welterweights on the pre-lims of UFC 171. During the action (not between rounds or between fights when it would make more sense) the audience learned that Mario Lopez was tweeting that he was looking forward to the main event later that night. Wow. Then we learned that Shane West (who?) also was looking forward to the title fight. What? Why do we need to know that? It pulled me out of watching the fight and into a long rant about how we are now routinely subjected to meaningless tweets for no good reason on television shows. If Mario Lopez or Shane West had something interesting to add, I would welcome it. Something like:
@mariolopez says — Shane West and I just had sex during the pre-lims
That would have been worth reading. Or, if Pope Francis tweeted that he was watching the fights. I don’t need to be distracted by meaningless crap. Interesting crap, maybe. We live in a culture that encourages and promotes distraction. That’s what those tweets are about — “Don’t pay attention. Paying attention is lame. Here’s some inane shit to irritate you.”
3. People who regularly post meaningless things online — I know this guy who posted this on his Facebook page: 123113. It took me a while to figure out he was noting that it was New Year’s Eve. This bothered me for many reasons:
- I spent time trying to figure it out.
- When I figured it out, I realized it was meaningless.
- Four people liked his meaninglessness.
- He had an opportunity to write a nice, simple message like “Happy New Year’s Eve, friends!”
- It’s meaningless !!
Here’s my point: I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but one of the good things about it is it gives everyone a platform that allows them to share the things they care about. You have no idea who is viewing what you post or how it affects them. I follow some random guy who posts interesting quotations and links to articles and videos I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. He doesn’t know who I am, but the way he has used his platform has enriched my life.
I could go on and on with this list of sucky things. It’s fun and easy to write about what isn’t working, what annoys, what’s missing, what shouldn’t be there, what’s unacceptable, how I’m right and everyone else is wrong, how fucked up the world is. It’s harder to identify what’s right or what is working. You never notice it until it stops working.
Our brains are biased towards negativity. The Buddha’s Brain author, Rick Hanson, writes that “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones”. The Velcronization of negativity occurs with practice and conversely, the slipperiness of what is not wrong can decrease with practice.
OK, instead of practicing discontentedness, let me try practicing contentedness.
What is not wrong?
What Should We Be Worried About? made me contemplate the fragility of the complex systems in our lives and how remarkable it is that they haven’t broken down or don’t break down more often and how grateful I am for it. For example:
1. The food transportation system that allows me to enjoy tropical fruit all year round in Canada. What is not wrong? Cold, sweet, juicy mangoes.
2. The power grid — It has broken down and it could again and it’s surprising that it hasn’t. One night, the lamp in my bedroom stopped working and the overhead light was burned out. I didn’t realize how much I relied on light until I didn’t have any. Why didn’t I just go into another room to read/write? I have a routine. What is not wrong? Reliable electricity and light bulbs.
3. Good movies — Movies are fragile, complex systems if you think about it. No one makes a movie with the intention of making a bad one. I suspect that movies that come together well are a fluke and those producing them just got lucky. So many things could have gone wrong and I enjoy pointing those wrong things out. It’s fun. It’s not as much fun when a movie gets things right. A wonderful film is satisfying, but not as enjoyable to discuss.
But that changes today! I’m happy to write about The Sessions which is the true story of poet Mark O’Brien who was forced to live in an iron lung due to complications from polio and hired a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. There was a moment during his first session with the surrogate Cheryl that was so intimate that I felt I was intruding on it by watching it. What is not wrong?Movies about something, that make you feel something like The Sessions.
4. The body is the original fragile, complex system. Watching Mark’s story in The Sessions reminded me of how fragile the body is and how fortunate all of us are who have one that works. One that allows us to walk (unlike Mark), to breathe without a contraption (unlike Mark), to turn the pages of a book (unlike Mark). What is not wrong? A healthy body.
5. The last thing I wanted to mention that is not wrong is the attention and recognition actress Lupita Nyong’o is getting for her performance in 12 Years a Slave. I know everyone loves her right now, loved her touching Oscar acceptance speech, thinks she’s awesome but what I love about her is her loveliness. She’s very much herself and I think that adds to her beauty. She is a beautiful lotus flower, not a lotus flower trying to be a magnolia flower to paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh.
That’s enough “touching positive things to make them bloom”. My system can’t handle too much of it.