Questions, Quotes and Quips Blog

Unintended Consequences

March 18,  2021

According to sociologist Robert Merton in his 1936 paper titled The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action, deliberate action motivated to cause social change (distinct from instinctive behavior) results in outcomes that can have unexpected benefits, unexpected drawbacks or perverse results.

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Between the benefits and the drawbacks, there are differences without a distinction. Both would not change the course of ones actions; however, within the perverse results category, the end result is the complete opposite of the original intent. With this in mind and fully aware of the varietal outcomes, still, we move steadfastly in the intended direction of our internal motivations oblivious of what really lies ahead.

Technology can be considered one of the deliberate actions meant to cause change to/for our society and it reaches across many avenues from travel to communication. It is of communication and it’s transformative power for our commonwealth that this little piece of prose is about.

From the letter to the telegraph to the telephone to the internet, we can trace the evolution of our attempt to stay connected through the generations. Much has been written of the lowly letter from the lonely lover to the love of his life and the cherished reception over many months and many a mile by pigeon, pony or postal person. The letter holds its hallowed place in history’s halls next to the cuneiform script and the birth of our earliest attempts to write.

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With the advent of the telegraph, we began to bridge the chasm of time and distance. Messages converted to dots and dashes were sent electronically over wires to an operator at the other end who then decoded it for the recipient. We traded in the personal, hand written missive for the speedy delivery of telegraphy of which we were still not contented, nor were we satisfied. 

From the telegraph to the telephone, we were able to redeem some of the personal satisfaction associated with the evolution in our correspondence. To hear the voice of the sender brought by this new technology was a joy unspeakable in its day. No need for an interpreter to relay a simple message and many nuances were now readily obtainable through intonation and modulation not previously available in the dot or a dash. Loved ones were as close as you could imagine whether across town or country or a continent.

From Samuel Morse to Alexander Graham Bell to ARPANET, quite possibly we have again traded in our benefits for unintended consequences. No longer are we satisfied with one voice, we want to hear and be heard by many and at the same time. 

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The nuances that we gained in hearing one voice over one direct line are lost in the multitudinous cacophony of voices talking over each other all vying for attention. The shouting matches and name calling online with family and friends and strangers that we know nothing about take on epic proportions. Things we would not say nor speak of a generation ago when face to face now have become fair game in this faceless communal. Now in our struggle to evolve, instead of the strongest being the ones to survive, the new mantra should be “only the loudest survive.”

Perhaps in our efforts to cause social change, we do stumble and fall short of our intended goals and perhaps in our attempts to draw closer to all of our fellow travelers, we find ourselves more distant than ever.  Can our ability to communicate keep pace with our access to communicate or does our biology not stand a chance against the onslaught of the digital blogosphere?

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Can we find again that personal touch each of us crave or are we just destined for that last incarnation of our kind and surrender to the inevitable, the consummate unintended consequence?

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"I think it's brought the world a lot closer together, and will continue to do that. There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything. The most corrosive piece of technology that I've ever seen is called television - but then, again, television, at its best, is magnificent."  

-Steve Jobs

Hurtling Through Space and Time

February 22,  2021

Feeling the speeding up of time as we age and slow down calls to mind a life which began with boundless energy waiting for time to speed up. 

As a child, we hurtle through the day then wait for time to catch up and get older. Then, as the young parents who chase after those children in turn hurtle through the days and years to then find themselves older, slower, and the days and years hurtling onwards towards infinity. Such is our sense of time and speed and it’s relationship to our place in space. Although we may think that we are at its mercy, is it possible to take a step back and view life from a different perspective to change the way we feel?

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Consider this, the earth spins on its axis once every 24 hours, making the average speed at the equator approximately 1,000 MPH. In addition, we are revolving around the sun in 365, 24-hour days, making the yearly trip at an average of 67,000 MPH. To expand our sense of speed even further, consider also that our sun, one of 100,000 thousand million stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, is revolving around its center at 490,000 MPH.

As if this speed is not enough to boggle the mind, we must also try to comprehend that our galaxy and our neighbor galaxies are moving 1,367,016 MPH towards the Great Attractor, a region in space approximately 150 million light years away. Considering that a light year is the distance light travels in one year and that it takes 8 minutes for a beam of light to travel from the sun to the earth (93 million miles), that puts the speed of light, our current fastest known speed, an astounding 186,000 MPS — that is, Miles Per SECOND!

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All in all, we are moving fast, very fast, and being pulled in all directions. In this hectic, frenetic pace we find ourselves, as we attempt to navigate amidst the hustle and bustle of a so-called civilized world, it is no wonder that we should feel it’s hurtling effect on our lives.

But fear not, the fact that we even have any understanding of a moment of peace, a day off, a leisurely stroll along the beach, a weekend get away or an early retirement, is reason to believe that time and it’s seemingly relentless pace beckons us to make it stand still, even for a moment and smell that flower.

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“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” — Henry Van Dyke

The Dispassionate

January 25,  2021

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Much praise is heaped on those who have a passion, a word whose definition indicates having a strong, powerful and compelling emotion or feeling. Often these feelings are linked to the amorous and romantic in nature. Passion is also highly regarded for those who pursue arts and literature, music, medicine or mathematics. Passion is also found in religion and politics as well as astrology and astronomy, physics, metaphysics, the quantifiable and the unquantifiable.

 

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Many of these examples call to mind the passions that can best be described as love in nature. However, love is not the only emotion or feeling that can be considered passionate. Hate too can be aroused to the point of passion. Many examples in history speak to this and the blood lust hatred that is aroused when a passion is left unchecked.

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It has been said that there is a fine line between love and hate, so how is one to know which is which? Can it be plausible that which we think to be love might be hate in disguise? Is hating what we think is hate really considered to be ok?

Enter the dispassionate, the one without a passion. Typically one without is not something to be desired; however, to be free and unharmed by flames of a passion burning all in its wake is very desirable. The all consuming passion that can drive an individual mad has no effect on the dispassionate. In highly charged political or religious dogfights, the dispassionate are the ones who escape unaffected and uninjured because of their disconnectedness to an unreasonable passion.

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins” -Ben Franklin

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Questions & Answers

June 3,  2018

In the beginning was the question, and the question was with us, and the question was of us. Many people seem to live their lives in fervent pursuit of the answers to life's questions. This might be an attempt to assuage the apparent frustrations of the need to know. As helpful as answers can be, the importance of the questions cannot be overstated. It was the questions which first appeared in our collective minds and beckoned us to discover the answers. As in the game of Jeopardy, the answer we seek is what is the question.

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To be a searcher after questions is to be contented with conflict. The conflict is this, that all answers to life's questions produce even more questions. The attempt to rid ourselves of this internal struggle by feverishly answering life's questions would seem to deny the very nature of our very paradoxical existence.

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When it comes to answers, they are almost synonymous with opinions...everyone seems to have them and they are anxiously waiting to shower them upon anyone passing by. Furthermore, there can only be one answer to each question! With so many experts out there with all the answers, perhaps this is why we rarely meet those seeking the questions. 

In understanding the importance of the question and why it is vital, perhaps we can come to accept a life without definitive answers and find harmony where there was disharmony. Still the burning question remains: If we could answer all our questions, why would we want to sacrifice our gift of discovery in the process?

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”Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  -Voltaire

The Virtues of Vice and Vice Versa

May 6,  2018

As children, most of us have probably been taught by our parents or guardians the differences between right and wrong, as in the virtues of selflessness and the vices of selfishness. The adage “It is better to give than to receive” is an oft quoted one we might hear with some angst when tempted to satisfy our carnal desires. For the most part, these moral teachings have served humanity well.

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As we reach the age of adulthood, these teachings are reinforced in the real world. Subsequently, we inherit an expectation that “as you sow, so shall you reap,” implying that selfless acts will somehow transform or satisfy our selfish desires. 

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However, what many of us discover is that genuine selfless acts are often taken advantage of by the selfish and resentment starts to build. If resentment is the fruit of our labour of love, might our efforts be misplaced? Would we be better served in re-evaluating our motives?

The truth may lie in yet another paradox of life.  As we recall the teachings of our childhood, the virtues of selflessness and the vices of selfishness, we need to remember another and equally important lesson, and that is of self-sufficiency. How to make it on our own is the ultimate example of a successful parenting job. To be self-sufficient, we need to TAKE care of our own wants and needs knowing that if we do not, we will have to RECEIVE them from others. 

The challenge we all have is to differentiate and balance between the wants and needs of a selfish motive and that of a selfless motive. Give AND take are a natural process in life and as natural as breathing. Sometimes we hold our breath and sometimes we breathe too fast; however, both extremes are unsustainable. When we are faced with circumstances in life that require us to TAKE for ourselves, it is then that we discover the virtues of vice and vice versa.

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“I prefer a pleasant vice to an annoying virtue.” -Moliere

The Rules of the Game

April 22, 2018

When learning how to play a game for the first time, we are taught the “rules,” generally speaking, by one who has already had experience playing the game. Most of the time the game is learned “on the fly” or as it arises. “We will explain that later,” the tutor might say, anxiously wanting to get on with the game. The tutors themselves may not necessarily be experts and may only have played the game once or twice, yet in their enthusiasm we trust.

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All is well until a dispute arises when playing the game with somebody who may have learned about the rules of the game from still other players, maybe even experts or the very least, one who has actually read the rules! This is the time that the rule book is usually pulled out to reference and a discussion begins on how to proceed. A game cannot be played with players playing by different rules (unless you are a politician…but that's another subject).

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Do we play by the book? Playing by the book is usually how the pros play, such as in professional sports teams. They also utilize referees or judges, ensuring fair play and penalizing cheaters.

Do we change or make up our own rules? Rule changes may sound like an oxymoron or a paradox, such as the adage “the only constant is change.” However, this too is an option, as long as the rules are agreed upon before the game begins. Even professional sports leagues occasionally make changes to their rules at the end or beginning of a season.

Do we go our separate ways unable to play together?  Parting ways because of the failure to reach an agreement is always an option. Playing a game and constantly arguing about the rules is not fun so WHY play a game if it’s not fun?

These are all very good and valid questions.

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The game of life has many rules and regulations that have been passed on from generation to generation. Some still function and others need to be updated or eliminated. Our challenge is to try them and put them to the test and see if they are working as intended in order to win our confidence and gain the prize.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  Pablo Picasso

Why Why

March 4, 2018

According to Simon Sinek, (author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and Find Your Why), “Finding why is a process of discovery.”

The discoveries associated with finding “why” are unlike other questions, such as who, what, where, when and how. These inquiries are factual based and can be answered with a general consensus. Why, on the other hand, can only be definitively answered by the one who owns the why. Others can and do question the cause or reason of someone's words or actions; however, what motivates an individual is highly speculative. Nevertheless, in court proceedings we still attempt to discover the motivations of a defendant even if the suspect is deceased, which underscores the importance of discovering why.

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Discovering our own why, what moves us to action, resides internally (i.e., loko); it is hidden from view and often even from our own understanding. It is with some diligence we seek to reveal to ourselves these very personal loko motives and subject them to scrutiny in order to better achieve our goals. 

Why we acted yesterday may be different from why we act tomorrow, which is why “why” matters today!