Constructs that constrict

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Every December, Mary and I spend seven days on the Queen Mary 2, traversing the North Atlantic from London to New York. It is an incredible experience; I want to be on that exact trip every year until I die.

This year we took my four-year-old grandson, Benjamin. Prior to leaving, I determined that I would assume a new role in Benjamin’s life; in addition to being his favorite adult playmate I would become his tutor. 

So I developed a plan. Every day after lunch, we would meet for one hour to study mathematics, vocabulary, and other subjects, then go swimming, then take a nap. If he completed that quadfecta (eat, study, swim, nap), he would get a present (I felt it necessary to include some extrinsic motivation).

When working on addition and subtraction we used our ten fingers as the main teaching tool. It’s amazing what you can teach using your ten digits (and math can get more involved when you include toes).  

Which reminded me of an interesting, hypothetical connection that Fred Hoyle (a famous British astronomer) made about our fingers and computers. Hoyle speculated that if we had been born with eight digits instead of ten, we would have adopted octal arithmetic instead of decimal arithmetic. (He assumed that early humans learned the basics of math using their ten fingers just like Benjamin did on the trip.) Since 8 is a power of 2, we would have discovered binary arithmetic early on and since electronic computers are built on binary numbers, we might have invented computers a century earlier than we did.

Things that give order to our world can also restrict our thinking. Our division of time—24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year—is helpful but highly suggestive and can become deterministic. 

We inherit structures and systems from the past that both assist and mislead.

For instance, do you know why American trains run on tracks 4 ft 8.5 inches wide? You’re not going to believe the answer. Click here to read all about it.

https://aviationhumor.net/the-us-standard-railroad-gauge-is-4-feet-8-5-inches/

Do you know why the letters on our computer keyboards are arranged very inefficiently, such that it slows down our typing speed? Because when mechanical typewriters were first invented people could type faster than the mechanics could accommodate (are you old enough to remember the levers getting jammed before they struck the page?) so engineers designed the keyboard in such a way as to slow down the typing. More efficient keyboards have been developed but people refuse to learn a new approach. 

Beware of constructs that constrict. We’re helpless to change most of them (railroad tracks, keyboards), but some of them can be altered. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

I don’t envy, and neither should you

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Envy is the most stupid of vices, for there is no single advantage to be gained from it. Balzac

I have many personal defects but there’s one vice I don’t struggle with: I don’t envy anyone. 

As a young professional I struggled with envy, but perhaps age and maturity have dimmed that vice. Now, I can honestly say I am free from the debilitating and distracting feelings of envy. When someone wins, profits, or is acknowledged, I am happy for him or her. 

Envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. We resent the advantage enjoyed by another person and we often desire to possess the same advantage, coveting what someone else has.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.” Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. Not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his or her envy, Russell explained, but that person may also wish to inflict misfortune on others, because of their advantage.

Most situations in life are not zero-sum scenarios (in order for someone to win, someone else must lose). To the contrary, there’s usually ample room for everyone to do well. So why be envious of others? And even in zero-sum situations (for instance, only one team can win the Super Bowl each year), why not graciously rejoice with those who come out on top? Is there any redemptive value in envy? I don’t think so. Someone else’s victory is not your defeat.

  • Envy is spawned when we have a limited and myopic view of ourselves and the world: embrace the vastness of time and space and envy will dissipate. 
  • Envy is also cultivated by a self-centered, self-reverential worldview: prefer others and envy will lose its grip. 
  • A perpetual attitude of gratitude will help guard against envy: be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have.

Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of your own and it has no benefit.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

Breaking barriers

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

On May 6, 1954, middle-distance athlete Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in recorded history. The 25-year-old native of Harrow on the Hill, England, completed the distance in 3:59.4 at Oxford. At the end of the year, Bannister retired from running to pursue his medical studies. He later became a neurologist.

For hundreds of years, running a sub-four-minute mile was thought to be humanly impossible. Many predicted it would never happen. Then Bannister did it, breaking the previous record by 6/10th of a second.

Interestingly, within one year of Bannister breaking the record, 37 other runners ran the mile in under four minutes. The next year, 300 runners did the same. Today, high school athletes do it regularly. Once the mythical barrier was punctured it ceased to be an impregnable obstacle.

In 1999, Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj set a new world record for the mile – 3:43.13  minutes – an incredible 16 seconds faster than the “impossible mark.” 

We are often limited and constrained by artificial boundaries. Conventional wisdom tells us that something can’t be done, and we acquiesce to the suggestion, considering it to be fact.

In my opening illustration I gave a larger-than-life example—breaking a world record—but let’s make this more accessible.

  1. Personally – have you been inhibited by the artificial boundaries set by your upbringing, environment, or friends? I grew up in a low socio-economical culture; it took years for me to think outside that box.   
  2. Professionally – are you in a small box with a low ceiling? Rethink your career aspirations. Years ago, my daughter was in a dead-end job in Dallas so, in a bold and audacious move, she moved to New York City, enrolled in a master’s program at Columbia, and got a job at American Express.
  3. Organizationally – does your group ever challenge the status quo? When was the last time you challenged your team to excel?

Using these three categories, list three areas of your life in which you might suffer under the yoke of “it’s never been done before” or “only exceptional people can do that.” And then dream about how to make progress in each area. You might not get into the Guinness Book of World Records, but you’ll exceed your current level.

Here’s a video of Guerrouj setting a new record in the mile-run.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.