The Skills I Intend to Give My Daughter

The only thing I know about the future is that it will be different than today. This presents an interesting dilemma when it comes to deciding how to raise my daughter: what world will she spend her life inhabiting? What can I impart that can last, can remain useful? Many, most of my ideas will –inevitably- be dismissed as the laughable prejudices and stupidities of the past, so many of my skills will be rendered outdated within my lifetime (let alone hers); so much of what seems absolutely vital today will be dragged out with the tide into the sea of obsolescence; my ‘best guesses’ are fragile sand-castles destined to be crumble in the face of the lapping waves of time.

What can I impart that will be worthy enough for her to carry forward, into those years I myself cannot go?

Ultimately I don’t… I can’t know. But to look at my own life, I think I can spot a few concepts, qualities, skills (and meta-skills) that I have utilized (or sorely missed the use of) throughout my whole life:

  1. Attention Management It is a truism that in this particular moment, we live in an age of information hyper-abundance. Funnily enough, men and women complaining about the glut of information and the discussing the problems of the endless mewling of distractions has been a common refrain since we’ve had the written word to record it. Moreover, even a human being alone in the most Spartan, barren environment imaginable is receiving more information than they can possibly hope to keep complete within their awareness: the sounds of their own heartbeat, the feel of sunlight playing across their skin, the way the breeze tickles the small hairs across their nape and on and on. There is more information held within a grain of sand than can fit within the human head (even if most of this data is beyond the scope of our senses). Regardless, I bring this up only to point to the fact that being able to manage one’s attention –most especially in the arms race of experts and algorithms who get ever better at convincing us to direct our attention where it is most useful/profitable for them- is something I believe was vital yesterday, I know is pivotal today, and am very confident will be critical tomorrow.
  2. Mood Management For me, this is so strongly related to attention management that I’m almost against listing it separately as –other than pharmacology- nothing shapes our emotional landscape so much as choosing where\how to shift our attention. But, there’s other tools by which we manage mood (or how it is managed for us): conscious use of exercise, socialization, eating… every aspect of our physical\mental input\output gives us a lever by which to move our emotions (always leverage though, never tyrannical control). It is the primary social superpower to be able to stoke a particular set of emotions in others and then suggest how people should *use* those emotions. To be able to decide for oneself how you wish to feel, to nudge oneself in that direction but most importantly to decide what actions one will take in response to feelings is a massively important set of metaskills. Advertising, the media empires, the ‘news,’ the public face of political communication, charities, girl scouts selling cookies are all about inducing millions of people to feel a certain way so they’ll act a certain way; to be equally as adroit, as calculating in the emotional management of oneself can feel almost inhuman but is is perhaps the only to thrive in a media environment that would see you sobbing useless in response to tragedies about which you can do naught, supporting policies that only lead to the needless suffering of yourself and your fellows.
  3. The Full Compliment of Relationship Skills Relationships are not skills, but there are dozens of skills that you can develop that allow you to develop better, richer, more satisfying relationships. As long as there’s humans, as long as one wishes to remain human in the fullest sense of the term; relationships will be there. These are the skills I think about here are being able to signal that someone is important to you, separating your feelings and issues from those of your dance partner, parsing out which issues are manageable/acceptable and which can not be abided, setting boundaries, wielding accountability, practicing honesty and vulnerability and on and on.
  4. Goal Setting There are ultimately two paths, though we tend to jump back and forth between them in an endless drunken stumble: an individual can have their aspirations determined by the suggestions or arguments of others, or one can set their own (or, this might be impossible, but it is a worthy ideal to chase). I think a lot about the William Blake quote, ‘I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s …’ I hope I can teach my daughter to set her own goals, to orient herself to and for her own ends, and give her the tools to create a framework wherein she can evaluate herself in the pursuit of her ideals.

But what else? What am I missing? If you have kids – what skills (rather than values) are you trying to teach? Whether or whether not you’re reproducing, what skills do you have that are valuable now, and that you’re convinced will be valuable in the future?

In My Friend’s Story, I’m the NPC to Their High Level Bard

Note: ‘NPC’ means ‘non-player character’ in a video or tabletop game which is contrasted with PC or ‘Player Character’ the avatar of a real person in a game world.

 

I have a friend, let’s call them the bard. The bard is kind, enthusiastic, and playful. They talk a lot about how much our friendship means to them, have given some wonderful gifts, and we’ve had some great times together. And yet, there’s a something there that frustrates me… a way in which this friendship feels unsatisfying that is difficult to wrap in word and explain.

And I think I’ve finally realized what it is: to my friend the bard, I’m an NPC. An NPC they’re fond of certainly, but like all NPCs there is a way in which I’m not truly real. Oh, certainly, the bard will act like I’m real; when they’re interested we’ll go on adventures together or fight monsters. But the moment the bard isn’t interested, they’re fully not interested. We only hang when I’m relevant to the adventure or crisis de jour for the bard; they’re fundamentally bored by the details of my life (as a Player Character in an RPG would be uninterested in the mundanity of an NPC’s farming unless therein lay adventure to be had there).

The bard’s problems are always the bigger issues, the ones that are more pressing and need to get worked on first. There is also the assumption on the part of the bard that I will be interested in whatever the bard is working on/that I’ll be along for the ride; but this never works both ways.

I’ve begun to suspect that, moreso than my other friends, the bard doesn’t quite see me; they see (and interact with) a simplified version of me.

Is this bad? No. Am I being mistreated? No. But it takes work to remind myself that when I’m shiny, when I actually have their attention it can feel amazing; it can feel like we have this amazing depth of connection but that it will always shift off of me when they find something more compelling to focus on. We’ll still go on adventures together now and again, but ultimately I’m increasingly interested in all the work I do tending my shop, practicing my craft, and thus I end up spending my time with people who want to share in all my life; whether we’re adventuring or not.

On Nuking Social Media & Identity Maintenance Costs

Last week, I nuked my social media.

What does ‘nuking’ mean? In the case of twitter, I deleted all previous tweets and likes. In the case of facebook, I deleted all posts, deleted my pages, left all groups except those few related to organizing with individuals in my immediate physical environment. I have setup both to auto-repost links to my work and articles published elsewhere (I fully expect most of my friends to not actually see these as exterior links are heavily suppressed by facebook sorting algorithms). I have set an intention to not post or comment on either platform for 30 days (other than the aforementioned automated reposting) and we’ll see what happens.

This act is part of a long term strategy of social media divestment while Continue reading

On Ethical Responsibilities and Eating Meat

Note: I’m actually looking for your advice & input on this so please share your thoughts if you’re so inclined.
I’ve been turning the phrase, ‘You have a responsibility to become more ethical than the society that raised you’ over in my head recently, considering the implications and the ways I’m meeting (or failing to meet) this challenge. There are some ways I could live a touch more vulnerably, openly and honestly (which would provide just a stitch extra space/security for others to do likewise). There are definite opportunities for me to more fully engage in a practice of charity work with causes that are meaningful to me. There are ways I need to change my consumption habits. And, moving forward I can definitely do a better job of practicing my values publically and politically; even at the risk of disappointment when trying to engage with our janky-ass, democracy-curious, frustrating, brilliant, promising, and combative republigarchy. I have the chance to more fully reject my own immature desire for quick ‘simple’ fixes and learn to appreciate compromise, and developing working relationships, learn to treasure communication with people I can be so quick to dismiss and get better at loving the process, loving the work as opposed to being driven by ego and fixation on the results.
Those things though, I feel like I have a plan (if only a vague one)… clear next actions I need to take next when I carve out the time and energy. However, the ethics around the meat industry (and my complicity in it) are –for me- a little more ambivalent and I’m not entirely sure where to go from here.
At this point, I should point out that I am an enthusiastic consumer of animal flesh. I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with killing a living creature and eating it. Ultimately, everything on this planet was born to die and be consumed-converted into something else (even me).
That said, the way in which meat is produced for me as a 21st century middle class American is an environmental and ethical catastrophe. The mass utilization of antibiotics on livestock threatens to undermine one of the fundamental medical pillars that supports out modern world (effective treatment of bacterial infection). Feedlot runoff is horrendous for any ecosystem it touches (which is to say, just about every ecosystem on the planet). The amount of land required for the raising and feeding of livestock hobbles biodiverse ecologies where it doesn’t destroy them outright. Also, and perhaps most importantly, factory farming represents mass torture of animals at an industrial scale. And this is just a few of my most immediate and pressing concerns… I could easily go on.
And yet, for all that I am unwilling to go vegan, vegetarian, or even pescatarian. Even so, this tension/problem is something I should do a better job engaging with. Here are some options:
  • Hunt More If I’m going to eat animal flesh, acquiring it by hunting (whether hunting of prey populations whose predators we’ve eliminated/suppressed or hunting of invasive species) is probably the most ethical way to go about it. Unfortunately, this requires space to safely store firearms and a deep freezer so isn’t something in the cards for me at the moment.
  • Eat Less This is probably the best options, and one I could create benchmarks around. More to the point, this would take looking into meatless cuisines that I find ‘satisfying’ in the way that I currently associate with meat heavy meals.
  • Make ‘Better’ Buying Choices In this season of my life, money is less of a concern than it’s ever been. There are certain farming practices that ameliorate some of my ethical concerns (usually at an uptick in price). Here though, I’m concerned about being misled by branding/buzzwords that make it *seem* like that harm has been reduced when it hasn’t or (more generally) I suspicious of ‘feel good’ buying since so often it feels like the pointless purchase of indulgences.
For my vegan/vegetarian friends do you have any tips and tricks on how to shift my meals so I miss meat less? For my omnivorous friends who are trying to make more ethical choices about meat, what do you look for when you buy?

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