Issue #396
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Hello!

I hope you're well. In case your sense of time has been hijacked by the pandemic, today is Sunday 13th September 2020. Unless you're reading this after then, in which case... oh, never mind.

On my personal blog this week I published:
I hope you're well, and thanks to those people who regularly hit reply and tell me which bits of Thought Shrapnel they enjoy. I'm always up for a chat/debate :)

Lifequakes

One way of thinking about the pandemic is as inevitable, and just one of a series of life-changing events that will happen to you during your time on earth.

Whereas some people seem to think that life should be trouble- and pain-free, it's clear by even a cursory glance at history that this an impossible expectation.

This article is a useful one for reframing the pandemic as a change that we're literally all going through together, but which will affect us differently:
Transitions feel like an abnormal disruption to life, but in fact they are a predictable and integral part of it. While each change may be novel, major life transitions happen with clocklike regularity. Life is one long string of them, in fact. The author Bruce Feiler wrote a book called Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age. After interviewing hundreds of people about their transitions, he found that a major change in life occurs, on average, every 12 to 18 months. Huge ones—what Feiler calls “lifequakes”—happen three to five times in each person’s life. Some lifequakes are voluntary and joyful, such as getting married or having a child. Others are involuntary and unwelcome, such as unemployment or life-threatening illness.
Arthur C. Brooks, The Clocklike Regularity of Major Life Changes (The Atlantic)

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand

Robot saying "I'm not a robot" to people who look like journalists
💬 Welcome to the Next Level of Bullshit

📚 The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

💊 A radical prescription to make work fit for the future

💰 How To Hide A Billion Dollars: Three Techniques The Ultrarich Use To Dodge Ex-Spouses, The Taxman And Disgruntled Business Partners

👣 This desolate English path has killed more than 100 people

Quotation-as-title by Josh Billings. Image from top linked post.

Inside your pain are the things you care about most deeply

I listened to this episode of The Art of Manliness podcast a while back on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and found it excellent. I've discussed ACT with my CBT therapist who says it can also be a useful approach.
My guest today says we need to free ourselves from these instincts and our default mental programming and learn to just sit with our thoughts, and even turn towards those which hurt the most. His name is Steven Hayes and he’s a professor of psychology, the founder of ACT — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — and the author of over 40 books, including his latest 'A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters'. Steven and I spend the first part of our conversation in a very interesting discussion as to why traditional interventions for depression and anxiety — drugs and talk therapy — aren’t very effective in helping people get their minds right, and how ACT takes a different approach to achieving mental health. We then discuss the six skills of psychological flexibility that undergird ACT and how these skills can be used not only by those dealing with depression and anxiety but by anyone who wants to get out of their own way and show up and move forward in every area of their lives.

Something that Hayes says is that "if people don't know what their values are, they take their goals, the concrete things they can achieve, to be their values". This, he says, is why rich people can still be unfulfilled.

Well worth a listen.

The world needs less philanthropy and more equality

I've been skeptical about the motives of philanthropic organisations for a while now. This article in The Guardian is a long read, but worth it.

Here's an excerpt:
The common assumption that philanthropy automatically results in a redistribution of money is wrong. A lot of elite philanthropy is about elite causes. Rather than making the world a better place, it largely reinforces the world as it is. Philanthropy very often favours the rich – and no one holds philanthropists to account for it.
The role of private philanthropy in international life has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s 260,000 philanthropy foundations have been established in that time, and between them they control more than $1.5tn. The biggest givers are in the US, and the UK comes second. The scale of this giving is enormous. The Gates Foundation alone gave £5bn in 2018 – more than the foreign aid budget of the vast majority of countries.
Philanthropy is always an expression of power. Giving often depends on the personal whims of super-rich individuals. Sometimes these coincide with the priorities of society, but at other times they contradict or undermine them. Increasingly, questions have begun to be raised about the impact these mega-donations are having upon the priorities of society.

To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good

Globe linked to ball of energy
🌐 Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society

🧠 Alternatives for the Internet: A Journey into Decentralised Network Architectures and Information Commons

📱 Your Smartphone Can Tell If You’re Drunk-Walking

🚸 Britain's obsession with school uniform reinforces social divisions

🤖 Robot Teachers, Racist Algorithms, and Disaster Pedagogy

Quotation-as-title by Marcus Aurelius. Image from top linked post.

Enforced idleness

Some people think it's the Protestant work ethic, others that it's a genetic predisposition. Me? I think it's to do with the highly competitive nature of western societies.

Whatever you think causes it, the inability of adults, including myself, to spend a day doing nothing is kind of problematic. It's something I often discuss with Laura Hilliger (and she refers to it regularly in her excellent newsletter)

There's a university in Hamburg, Germany, giving out 'idleness grants' for people to do absolutely nothing. Emma Beddington's answers to the questions on the application form aren't too different to how I'd answer:
What do you not want to do? I want not to compare my achievements, or lack of them, with others’. If successful, for the duration of my idleness grant I will crush the exhausting running mental commentary that points out what those with energy, drive and ambition are achieving and enumerates my inadequacies. When one or other of my nemeses tweets the dread phrase “some personal news” (always the precursor to an announcement of professional glory), I will not feel bad, because I will have accepted that “being quite lazy” has inherent merit in 2020.
Emma Beddington, Doing nothing is so easy for me. But how to feel good about it? (The Guardian)

It's always possible to do more and be more, but sometimes it's important to just spend time being who you already are.

What is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above

There is something very strange about walking up mountains only to come back down again. But I love it, as did the French surrealist poet, philosopher, and novelist René Daumal:
You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again…
So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully.
René Daumal, via Brain Pickings

While you're in the midst of self-imposed adversity you can also escape your self-imposed psychic prison.

Until next week!

Doug
Dr. Doug Belshaw is an Open Thinkerer, currently working with We Are Open Co-op to improve our world.

You can connect with Doug by replying to this email, or via LinkedIn and Mastodon. Use the hashtag #thoughtshrapnel

Some say he's experimental, others say he's ungentle. No-one thinks he's accidental.

(it turns out people read this bit! thanks for letting me know)
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