The Rise of the “Catering” Boss

“Kill ’em with kindness.” Or at least that’s how the saying goes. In today’s emotionally charged environment, we’re seeing more of a shift away from the “get it done” attitude toward leaders who constantly worry about offending people. Many times this applies to the relationship between a boss and his subordinates, but mostly it shows itself in a manager’s relationship with those people he has decided it’s most important to please. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we see all manner of fawning prostration as they try to make people like them.

This would be fine if they only kept these kinds of activities confined to their own area of effort, but too many times they allow this to bleed over into their expectations of their employees. It’s bad enough when your boss goes out of his way to bend over backward for a customer, but when he forces you to do the same it becomes nearly unbearable. The absolute worst of this is when you are asked to do things that aren’t part of your job description in pursuit of these shallow goals.

For example, I currently work as an administration and logistics specialist for a construction company. The purpose of my position is to provide office support for the staff and to track and intake materials as needed. Part of those responsibilities includes certain things that I really hate, like having to run to various stores to pick up things, which for me is a gray area, but it’s close enough that I don’t argue it. I fanatically avoid going to the store in person for my personal needs, only venturing forth when I simply can’t find it online or absolutely need something immediately.

I’ve spent a long time being frustrated by some of the things I end up having to do, but most of them are only just outside what I have agreed to do as part of my position, so it isn’t worth getting angry about. Recently, however, my boss has been asking me to coordinate getting lunches to some of the high level workers out in the field because they don’t have the ability to leave what they’re doing until they get back to their starting point. I don’t mind helping people out during situations like these, but my problem is that it is every single time they go out. This isn’t a situation where they unexpectedly ran over the time they thought and don’t have the ability to get food. My boss is just catering their lunches.

This really just rubs me the wrong way from a principle standpoint alone. Our normal field workers don’t get this special treatment. They’ve been bringing their own lunch to work for years, having the same kinds of restrictions because of the nature of the work the company does. At no point have we gone out of our way to, not only purchase, but deliver food to people in the field. The only reason this is even a thought in anyone’s head is because it makes the boss look good to the customer.

Being already disgusted by the suck up nature of this in the first place, you can imagine how frustrated I am that I have to spend time out of my day forced to not only place and pickup the order, but also to deliver it in person to the people in the field. Nowhere in my job description or resume does do the words “delivery driver” or “caterer” or anything related to food services appear. This is most definitely outside my job description, but like most things I just suck it up and do it because at this point it isn’t worth fighting over. I only have a few months left before my job runs out anyway, and making waves after four years is just pointless.

The purpose of this article isn’t really to complain about my personal situation, though it obviously helps a bit to vent about it. This example is meant to highlight the kind of behavior that has become more prevalent in today’s working force. In the past, you might expect this kind of thing if you had taken a job as a personal assistant, or perhaps as an intern hoping to ingratiate yourself into a large company. It was understood that these kinds of things were part of the job. But when you are in the middle of your career taking a job with an inferred list of job responsibilities, there should be no time when you are asked to do the kinds of personal servitude tasks like I described above.

Even in the Marine Corps, I was never asked to do something that was purely for the convenience of people who outranked me. There was always a unit goal in mind with every order. I’m sure my boss would probably argue that it fosters good will with the customer, so it’s good for the company, but frankly I find that to be a bunch of crap. These are grown men and women who can certainly figure out packing a lunch for the day like everyone else, and the only reason this is a thing is because we want to suck up to a customer. It’s completely disgusting.

Despite the personal rant, there is a message in here somewhere. Perhaps it’s to warn my readers that these kinds of bosses do exist and you should be wary of who you work for. Or maybe I just want to point this kind of behavior out to people who might be bosses in the future so they don’t participate in this kind of debasing activity themselves. However you choose to view this particular article, just try to understand this one point: employees are not your servants. Unless they explicitly agree to a very broad scope of duties, you’re not paying for their time; you’re paying for the skills you called for in your job description. No employee should be asked to do things they didn’t sign up for, especially when the goal is making yourself look good.

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How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

In a recent post, I discussed how our relationships are starting to fray due to the advent of certain technologies like cell phones, but that isn’t the only reason why things are starting to change in the way that we deal with the people in our lives, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Our newly developed dependence on instant communication and social media are terrible things to be sure, but they are only extensions of a more basic problem that some of us tend to have more than others. Were it not for this particular flaw of the human race, we might handle these new technologies better, but unfortunately we have and always will suffer for this age old problem: a constant need for attention.

While we all deal with this to some extent, the problem is clearly more highly displayed in women. Men, while we appreciate certain kinds of attention, rarely get much out of social currency all by itself. It is typically a means to an end rather than the reward itself. It is much like money in that we use it as a measuring stick for other areas of our lives. Social interactions on their own hold little or no value to a man, his focus being much more on his goals than how he is perceived by others. Perception is certainly important to a man, but it isn’t critical to him.

A woman, however, lives and thrives through her social interactions. Nothing is more critical to her than how the important people in her life see her, and to some extent even the people she doesn’t really care much about. There is a constant drive within a woman to satisfy this need for social interaction, and women can approach this common need in several ways. While we tend to think that most women build large networks of friends to satisfy this need, it has been my personal experience that many of them try to focus most of their attention on one person: their chosen partner.

This is where we run into a lot of problems in our modern social paradigm. If our goal is to satisfy the needs to two very different people in a romantic relationship, then it is critical for us to truly understand the needs of each party and the ability of each to satisfy the needs of the other. If a man places little or no value on social interaction, preferring to focus on goals and accomplishments, then he is ill equipped to provide what a woman needs in her socially based existence. He can certainly try, and many modern men do, but it is clear that most of us simply are not capable of satisfying this need. A divorce rate of more than fifty percent certainly speaks to this, and while this certainly isn’t the only cause, it is definitely a contributing factor.

One of my favorite quotes comes out of one of my all time favorite video games: World of Warcraft. In the game, you can play all manner of different characters, from humans to orcs to even playing an undead character. One of the more entertaining features of the game is the ability to have your character speak one of the pre-recorded “jokes” by typing in a certain keyboard command. Among the more hilarious of the jokes is spoken by the female blood elf, an apparently evil leaning race, where she says the phrase “how can I miss you if you won’t go away?” The joke is obviously meant to highlight the haughty nature of blood elves, but it certainly resonates with this particular topic.

A woman is always going to struggle when she places all of her social attention on a man. Most of us simply aren’t capable of putting that much effort into social interaction. A man doesn’t need to be in constant communication with anyone, even the person he has chosen to spend the rest of his life with. For many, like me, we value having plenty of personal time to focus on the things we are interested in. It doesn’t mean we don’t love or want to be with the woman we love; we simply don’t need the same things she does.

This is where we circle back around to the technology aspect of things yet again. In the past, a woman didn’t have constant access to her partner like she does today. A man went to work and didn’t speak to his wife until he returned home from the day’s work. Couples spent most of the day out of communication with each other, and by the time they finally had the chance to talk the day was nearly over and they actually had something to talk about. Men and women both went on outings with friends and couldn’t give their significant other play by play updates on what was going on, so the events had a two-fold pleasure in first having the experience and then being able to relive it later as they told their loving partner all about it in person.

It just doesn’t work that way anymore, unfortunately. Women used to have to just live with the fact that there would be certain portions of the day where their social urges wouldn’t be met and they had to be content with getting what they could when it was available. Now, they have a free pass into the lives of others, specifically their partners, constantly seeking the attention of their chosen companion because they feel like it should just be so easy for us to reciprocate. They don’t understand that we just don’t work like that.

My current relationship struggles through the fact that we’re not able to see each other in person very much because of our very different work schedules. She often asks me if I miss her, and more often than not the phrase that pops into my head is that favorite joke from the video game: how can I miss you if you won’t go away? This attitude doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with her, because I do, but if I rarely go more than two hours between interactions with you, how can I ever truly miss you? You’re always there, yearning for another social interaction, trying to extract energy from me that I don’t have to give you. I’m never given a chance to miss you.

The last several decades have been focused on trying to teach society about what a woman wants, and men have spent a lot of time and effort trying to learn. What is sad is that very little effort has been put in by women for the other way around. They assume that men are so simplistic that they don’t have to consider any of the variables that most men come with. Sure, we might have the three big basic needs of food, sex and sleep, but that’s just the first level of the pyramid. Once you get past that we still have certain ways that we work, and women would do well to start focusing on those things if they want to have truly satisfying relationships.

A man will go to the ends of the earth for a woman who truly values him, but won’t move an inch for one who makes him feel like he’s just there to service her. Most of the time the difference lies in that tiny line in the sand labeled respect, and for a man there are few things that are more important to him than that highly prized commodity. If a woman can learn to respect a man’s ways and bend her expectations to accommodate them, just as she expects him to bend his to accommodate hers, things can be so much better for both. It’s a two way street, ladies.

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Smartphones Suck…

This isn’t a new topic. Many others have gone over this ad nauseum, but as someone who has borne the brunt of the consequences for this brave new era in which we find ourselves, I feel it necessary to point out some of the drawbacks inherent in some of the new technology that we find ourselves living with today. We human beings are incredibly innovative and come up with some amazing inventions that drastically improve our lives, and we always seem to think that anything we create is going to be good and helpful. Unfortunately, we usually can’t guess the unanticipated consequences of the new things that we create and there is a massive shift in a negative direction.

The example for the purposes of this article is probably the single biggest change in the way our society works ever: the smartphone. For most of our existence, we relied on face to face communication to get things done. Placing ourselves in someone’s life required some physical effort in the form of either going to visit them in person, or by writing a letter and waiting for it to arrive. With the advent of faster methods of communication like telephone systems, things didn’t really change that much because we still had to put some traditional methods of effort into place to get that communication. It was still just basic communication.

Unlike the past where it wasn’t reasonable to be in constant communication every moment of the day, the smartphone has radically changed the way we view interacting with others. First and foremost, little or no effort is required to impose yourself on someone else because you can simply tap out a few words on your phone and then shoot it off into the void confident it will arrive. The person on the other end has little choice but to receive your message, regardless of if they want to or not.

It is this removal of a time and effort investment to communication that bothers me. The new normal is for people to be constantly talking to each other all day, every day. It used to be that you had to wait until you met up with someone before you could catch up on what was going on. Even husbands and wives had to wait until they got home from work to find out how their day went. Now, we get a play by play as it happens, constantly bombarded with the goings on of another person instead of being able to focus on what we’re doing in the moment, and then we wonder why there’s nothing to talk about when we’re finally together with someone. It’s all already been said.

When you have no reason to come together anymore, it creates a sense of isolation. There is no longer any reason to physically interact with anyone when you don’t have anything new to talk about. If you’ve spent the entire day experiencing what someone else is going through via your smartphone, once you’re finally in person there is no real interest in continuing a conversation. The natural instinct is to look for mental stimulation elsewhere, because you’re certainly not going to get it from the person you spent your day getting constant updates from.

The smartphone, while an incredible advancement in technology, is perhaps the biggest single factor in the increasing failure of modern relationships. Men, naturally somewhat isolationist by nature, have little patience for the incessant and constant desire for communication that women tend to obsess over. In the past, we had the buffer of space and time. Now, we have no choice but to be overrun by it. It creates a real sense of angst when we can’t even get away for a few hours without a text message sounding off on our phones along with the inevitable complaining when we don’t reply “fast enough”.

It creates an obligation to be “connected” every moment of the day, never having a moment that is truly for yourself. For someone like me who values my alone time, this is a huge problem that causes significant issues in my relationships. It isn’t that I want to be alone, but I can’t be tethered to my phone all the time, and people just don’t seem to understand that concept anymore. I yearn for the days before smartphones when there were natural blocks to such intrusions and everyone found it reasonable to patiently wait for communication from the important people in their lives.

Unfortunately, we can’t just turn back the clock. Smartphones are here and they have radically altered the way our society works. As we move into the uncertain future, these problems that we have now are only going to get worse and more prevalent. We have become far more “connected” than ever before, but in reality this is just an illusion. Human beings thrive on illusion, though, and the stimulation that many people receive when that text tone goes off is nearly irresistable.

It simply grates on my nerves.

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What Does a Man Need?

I’ve probably made this reference before, it being so common, but we all understand the idea behind the simple phrase “men are from Mars; women are from Venus”. There are inherent differences between the two sexes that stem from both physiological and social sources, and there is a lot of pressure from all directions for us to conform to these templates of human existence. Many people try to focus on the social aspects of these kinds of behaviors, but the reality is that it is baked into our genetic code. Whether you choose to believe it is by design or by millennia of evolutionary development, men and women are simply different.

Not being a woman, I can’t really speak to that particular experience with any sense of authority, or even a real sense of understanding. Men, on the other hand, are quite simple. Women seem to want to complicate things, and the modern man has succumbed to this skewed way of thinking, much to our own detriment and at a cost to the quality of our relationships. A man doesn’t really need much to be happy or feel important, but the things we need are critical to our sense of self worth.

Of utmost importance to a man is a sense of value being added when he does something. The idea of doing something “just because” isn’t something that sits well with most men. Busy work is probably the worst thing you can do to a guy because it feels like such a waste of time and energy. This is the reason why men tend to focus on projects rather than just doing random things, because he gets a sense of progression as he moves from one part of his work to the next. Few things give a man a sense of value more than getting something he sets his mind to completed.

It is this sense of progression that give a man his sense of value, not money. When it comes to being in the workplace, money is usually more of a marker for how well he has progressed through his career rather than an end in and of itself. It clearly defines how far up the ladder he has climbed and provides him with a sense of accomplishment, not because he’s worried about how many things he can buy (though he does) but because he wants to have some evidence that the work he is accomplishing is generating valuable results. Money is just a by-product of this.

This is why we see so many working men who make a good living yet still struggle with being satisfied in their work. Once a man reaches the point where money is no longer his limiting asset, or to put it more plainly once he’s past the point where the bill collectors are hounding him, his focus shifts primarily to yearning for getting satisfaction out of his work. No matter how good his job might be, a man needs to feel that sense of progression. Stagnation is the bane of a man’s ability to be content.

This is perhaps one of the most critical causes of depression in men today as we continue to move forward in this technologically advanced world that crams men into roles that are basically meaningless and provide no sense of real value. Most of the jobs we have today have little tangible result from the effort we put into them. They consist of simply a series of mindless tasks that don’t appear to really do anything, or in my case a lot of sitting around waiting on something to do and then being frustrated when those things turn out to be valueless, menial labor. A man cannot be content if his work means nothing.

The interesting thing about human beings is that we are creatures ruled by the forces of nature, despite our ability to think beyond it. No matter how hard we try to deny our biology, it eventually comes back with a vengeance to balance the playing field. As we move into the future and these issue continue to compound, there will come a point when the men of the world grow tired with the kind of mindless work that has become prevalent in our modern societies and rebel against the system in their yearning for meaning. It is simply a matter of time.

What do you think about the value of work? Is it enough to just get paid, or do you need something more from your efforts? How do you find value in the jobs that you do; is it even possible? Sometimes a change is required to break free from the negative things that grab a hold of us. It can be painful, but the first step in figuring out what to do is learning to truly understand the situation. At some point, a decision must be made and actions must be taken. It is wise to be proactive and prepare yourself for events like this.

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Nostalgia Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

For most people, our memories tend to be filled with a range of events both good and bad, exciting and tragic, meaningful and superfluous. Sometimes we have certain events that stay crystallized in our minds for the rest of our lives, the importance of the event so great that it shapes the course of everything that follows it. Regardless of how we view whatever memories we might have, we have a tendency to want to romanticize the way things “used to be”.

The crazy thing about this is that science has proven many times over that our memories are highly unreliable. When put to the text using objective evidence, most people are unable to recall even the major details of what we think would be highly memorable events. One example of this is when a hit and run accident was staged in front of a group of people and afterward they were asked to describe what happened. Few people could even agree on the color of the car, and no one was even close to getting a reasonable estimate on how fast one car hit the other. Human memory is extremely pliable and it doesn’t take much to shift the objective information we absorb through our senses into a new reality shaped by our viewpoint of the world.

It is this tendency to see the world through our own personal lens that causes us to look into our past and see value where the never really was any. No one likes to think bad things about themselves, and we all want to have amazing and positive lives, so it’s pretty natural for us to want to think that things were better than they really were. Many times we end up looking at our current situation and compare it to this false rosy image of the past and begin to believe that things were just better back then. Convinced thoroughly that we remember things correctly, we are unable to see that the past just wasn’t as good as we remember it to be.

An example of this lies in the very well known phrase “they just don’t make them like they used to”. While this does apply to a small number of things, this really isn’t a very good expression in our modern era. The reality is that most of the things from the past are far inferior to the quality and utility and safety of the things we have today. For example, many people love the look and nostalgia of classic cars, but when viewed objectively they were incredibly unsafe, had suspension systems that made them difficult to handle, and were very unreliable compared to modern standards.

The same thing applies to things like old video games, which most of us in the gaming community tend to romanticize quite heavily. We remember the feeling of how it seemed so amazing that we could do this incredible thing with computers at the time, and in our minds we remember that feeling of awe the first time we played something like Doom or Master of Magic. When we go back and play those old games after twenty years of rapid improvement, however, that nostalgia is quickly shoved aside when we see the comparably terrible graphics and clunky interfaces that make them very difficult to live with after becoming accustomed to the streamlined and beautiful games we have today.

In reality, nostalgia is rarely justified. New things are almost invariably better than any of the old things we used to have. Even the average car performs better than many of what were considered the super cars of the past, with top speeds and zero to sixty times not much slower than some of the most expensive cars from thirty or forty years ago. Games like Call of Duty or Neverwinter are far superior to the examples given above in both visual quality and economy of gameplay. Things are simply better today than they were before, and it is only our sense of nostalgia that makes us think that it would be better to go back.

Perhaps the best way to get the best of both worlds is exemplified in the classic car community. You can purchase something like a replica of the classic Shelby Cobra Mustang GT, which is basically a modern sports car with the classic body mounted on top of it. With this option, you are able to get that classic feel that your memory tells you is amazing while still getting all the good things we get from modern technology. Perhaps this is the main idea behind many of the video game remakes we’re seeing today such as Final Fantasy 7, where the story is mostly the same as it was back in the nineties but with much better graphics and an updated combat engine. New tech that caters to our old memories.

We all tend to romanticize the past, and there really isn’t anything wrong with that so long as there is no way to go back and verify the truth of things. Once we go back and actually look at something that used to be important to our memories, however, we get that dose of reality that shatters the nostalgia that made whatever it was seem so amazing. If we really want to experience the past in a positive way, it might be necessary to either remember it probably wasn’t as good as we think it was, or figure out a way to apply what we’ve learned since then to make the old something new again. Nostalgia is a great feeling, but it is rarely the truth.

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Everyone Can’t Do Everything

Since I was young, I’ve been told that I can be anything that I want to be. The implication that was silently included in that statement was that if I worked hard enough, there was no job or position or achievement that I couldn’t reach if I just did all the things required to get there. Nearly every member of my generation and beyond has been told this over and over again until we came to the unfortunate place of actually learning to believe it. For many, it is an immutable truth that no amount of evidence to the contrary can overcome. It is ingrained in who we are.

One of my favorite quotes in modern times comes from the political commentator Ben Shapiro in which he states the simple but effective phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings”. Like most things when it comes to politics and ideologies, I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of what Shapiro has to say on certain subjects, but we do agree on this one thing: no matter how you feel about something, sometimes things are the way they are and there isn’t anything positive you can do to change it. The only other option is to burn it all down, and that rarely leads to a good outcome for anyone.

There are many things in the world that people want to do that they simply aren’t capable of doing, no matter how hard they try or what they learn or how much help they get from others. When it comes to getting something done, some people are just ready made for certain tasks while others are so prohibitively misaligned with something that they do far more harm than good. It isn’t their fault that they struggle or fail at a task; it just isn’t within their scope of ability. There isn’t anything wrong with being unable to perform everything you put your mind to.

The mistake that many have made in the past has been attributing things that really have nothing to do with the performance of a task. The color of your skin has nothing to do with your ability to perform complex mathematics calculations, for example, and your gender has nothing to do with your ability to form a logical idea. For most of our history our prejudices have found limitations based on things that don’t really apply, and it is because of this that we are experiencing such an unrealistic revolution in things like feminism and continued race tensions. Because of unreasonable prohibitions that occurred in the past, the reasonable judgements of the present are unfairly questioned and people are labeled as prejudiced when the truth is that not everyone can do everything.

As an example, for much of my time as a Marine Corps musician I was on track to become a Drum Major. I spent a great deal of time leading the various units I was a part of in performances both big and small because I was good at what I did and I impressed my leaders with my ability to do the job. Many of my qualities were very much suited to performing in that particular capacity. I’m right at six feet tall, which makes me slightly taller than average and gave me a much better position to not only create an imposing bearing but also ensure that the band members in the back were able to see what I was doing. My voice, while not particularly deep or resonant, could be projected quite far which made me able to participate in large parades to communicate over long distances. I also have a strong sense of spatial awareness which allowed me to not only be aware of the band behind me, but also to have a natural ability to perform the specific movements with the ceremonial mace used to direct the band. All in all, I had a lot of things going for me in the pursuit of that particular goal.

On the other hand, there were some members of the program who wanted to be drum majors, but simply weren’t good candidates. Many of these were female, but it wasn’t their gender that made them unsuitable. They were short, so the back rows struggled to see them. They had feminine voices that wouldn’t carry, so in many situations they were difficult to hear. Females in general struggle with spatial awareness as compared to males, so their mace work was just not very clean or sharp because they were always struggling to know where it was at any given point without looking at it, and it looks terrible to watch someone who is supposed to look mostly like a statue swaying about trying to control a moving object.

This is a simple but applicable example of some people just not being suitable for certain things. Several of the drum major candidates I saw during my time were selected solely because they were female and not because they had any real talent or ability for the craft. I don’t really blame them because they just wanted to do something that looked interesting. It’s not wrong to have a dream. The fault lies with the leadership who failed to recognize that they weren’t optimized for that particular position, or knew but were too cowardly of potential social backlash because they didn’t want to be labeled as “sexist”.

Society today is abound with examples just like this one. People are placed in positions they have no business in because we have created racial and gender based quotas so that people don’t have to “feel bad”. This brings us right back to the top where Shapiro tells us that your feelings are irrelevant when it comes to getting things done. You’re either capable of doing a good job or you aren’t. No amount of wishing or hoping or anything else is going to change reality.

The harsh truth is that we were lied to as children; you can’t be anything you want to be. A more true statement would have been something like “you can be whatever you want to be so long as it’s within your natural abilities”, but that doesn’t sound nearly as inspirational, which is why no one ever said it that way. Again, sparing people’s feelings rarely results in a net positive, which is why our society is crumbling the way it is today. Until people stop prioritizing emotion over reality, it will only get worse.

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The Problem with Modern Video Games

I’ve been playing video games for a very long time now. As a nineties kid, I grew up just as they were really becoming a mainstream kind of thing. I can remember my first Nintendo Entertainment System, playing games like Super Mario Bros. and Iron Tank. When I was a little older my biological father introduced me to PC games like Heretic and Myst and Pool of Radiance. I came into the video game arena during a time when the focus was on creating new and amazing things; where the gameplay experience was based on previously unexplored territory and trying to find every possible way to enjoy this relatively new medium of entertainment.

Unfortunately, our society has changed so drastically from those heady times and it has completely changed the way we approach the art form that is video games. No one seems to have the patience anymore for something that is truly innovative and interesting. We have been conditioned to feel like we have to make the most of every minute of our day, which includes our free time. Because of this, even the various forms of entertainment we currently enjoy have an air of impatience about them; an attempt to cram as much into as little time as possible to feel like we’re getting the most “bang for our buck”.

The problem is adrenaline, really. It is only when we get that feeling of excitement that we feel anything anymore. We have become dead to the more subtle forms of entertainment, instead preferring only the brute force methods that get our hearts pumping and neurons firing rapidly. Everything has to be action these days, or at the very least a rapid series of events leading up to it. There is little interest left in today’s gaming landscape for games like Myst where you have to pour over an entire island looking for the one mechanism that opens the door to the next area, or Warriors of the Eternal Sun where you had to spend long hours on the first playthrough exploring the area and fighting off monsters. It simply takes too long.

The problem today is that very little effort is spent on quality story telling anymore. Everyone is fixated on rapid fire, fast paced games like Fortnite, which is a perfect example of what I’m trying to get at here. There is a vague story associated with the game itself, and die hard fans are aware of the lore surrounding it, but the gameplay itself just isn’t about a rich storytelling experience. You hop into a game, run around and kill as many people as you can, and then the round ends and you jump into another one. People can play the game for years and not even realize there is a story hidden in there somewhere. The focus is on the fighting, not a narrative.

A good example of story versus action is the sad example of the Neverwinter franchise. I can remember when the game Neverwinter Nights was first released, and I spent many hours absorbing every aspect of that game. I recently went back to play through it again, and the story was just as engaging today as it was when I first played it. My brain doesn’t really hold onto details for very long, so I can go back an re-watch old television shows and movies, or play through old video games and it can feel almost like the first time. Neverwinter Nights is a game I return to every so often.

On the other side is the similarly titled Neverwinter, the MMO version of the same world that deviated from the mostly turn based style of the original game to conform to the “action RPG” style that exists in nearly every modern game. Like most heavily action centered games, there is definitely a story that you’re playing through in the game, but that just isn’t where the focus is. Even if you’re like me and playing games is mostly about enjoying a narrative, you get sucked into the grindy action aspect of just getting your character to the maximum level rather than really paying attention to what’s going on with the characters. There is little effort into making you care about any of the non-player characters in the game, presented as little more than an interface to use to activate a new “quest” and move to the next step in the game.

This is the truly sad state of video games today. In Neverwinter Nights, I cared about the main characters of the story, developing an affinity for Aribeth and Fenthick and feeling a true sense of sorrow watching the story turn very dark for the both of them. I enjoyed my dealings with Aaron Gend as relationship between my character and his grew. There were great backstories for the non-player companions I could bring with me which allowed me to have favorite characters based on who they were rather than what their stats were. The MMO Neverwinter has none of these things.

I find myself moving away from modern video games, returning to the classic games from my youth. For most things I would say this is simply nostalgia, but when it comes to one of the major passions of my life I can only look around at the current offerings and see the objective and abject failures of creative developers who chase dollars rather than quality. There is little desire to create something truly engaging when people are willing to spend their money on garbage. We have this amazing technology that can create mind-blowing experiences, but we continue to waste it on shiny flashes and empty game play.

The struggle for me is that the shallow part of me struggles with going backward. When I go back to play the old games, it is impossible to not notice the comparatively horrible graphics quality of what was available in those days. It was cutting edge at the time, but impossible to enjoy compared to the visual quality of modern gaming. I yearn for the best of both: great graphics with a truly awesome story and gameplay.

Perhaps one day people will finally get bored with the way things have become and yearn as I do for a return to when videos games were all about something new. Games today are all cookie-cutter. If you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. Games like World of Warcraft or Neverwinter or Fortnite are just the same old games with different art work. I’m tired of the same old thing. It’s time for something new.

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Faith Vs. Recklessness

One of the most prevalent ideas in society is the notion that we aren’t alone. It’s written into our DNA to believe that there is something out there other than just we humans. Most of us believe in some form of non-human intelligence, and faith in a higher power is by far the most common way to satisfy this seemingly primal need. Whether you choose to believe in God or not, there is in our very nature something inside each of us that calls us to look for something more than ourselves. Some of us choose to believe it’s biological; others feel it comes from the outside in a very spiritual place. Regardless of how you choose to see it, few people can honestly deny that there is some form of calling to something bigger.

Either path you choose requires some form of faith. Hebrews 11:1 gives very clear and poignant definition of what the word faith truly implies: “It is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” At first glance it seems that God is requiring us to just blindly jump into whatever it seems like we’re being called to do, but that isn’t really the way it works. There are two key words in that simple phrase that tell us all about how we are supposed to approach faith.

The first word to key in on is hope. No matter how bad things get or what our circumstances might be from moment to moment, there is an ever present part of us that looks toward the future to something better. You may not believe in God, and your situation may have beaten you down to the point that your hope for the future is just barely hanging on, but something inside you convinces you to accept that the future can be better. There is a real substance to this hope that gives you the strength to keep on living, even though your circumstances might seem hopeless.

The second word is evidence, and this is the truly important part of the verse. At no point in the Bible do we see God asking anyone to do anything without some sort of proof of His will for it to be done. The Old Testament is replete with physical examples of this, from the burning bush with Moses to Gideon requiring specific proof that God was there. Even if you only see the Bible as a silly religious text, it can’t be said that the God of the Bible isn’t willing to give us proof. Faith might require belief in something unseen, but it is never truly blind.

At this point, you might be wondering what all this talk of faith has to do with a blog on politics and philosophy, and I can understand this confusion. I don’t typically make a big deal about the fact that I am a Christian, and that’s mostly because I tend to struggle with it a lot myself. It would be a huge lie for me to present myself as a “good Christian” because I simply don’t live my life that way. However, at my core I do believe that God is there and there is something I’m being asked to do, and I can feel the compulsion to do it. It is for this reason that this post is being written.

You see, many people get ideas in their head and start to think that maybe there is something more to it than just being an idea in their head. Their attention is grabbed and the focus in on whatever it happens to be, allowing it to gain strength and form into something bigger and more durable than it really ought to be. Infatuation with the concept takes hold and before too long they are convinced that it is the correct path forward. They jump in feet first with little or no real soul searching, fully believing that they have been given a vision for their future.

This is probably the truest definition of recklessness. Any time we take action that is based solely on a feeling in our hearts, we are gambling with our future. It is this mistake that has caused the word faith to become something of a dirty word in the more secular parts of society. People who claim faith in a higher power end up taking actions based on personal experiences and insisting that it was God who told them to do it.

In reality, God rarely moves without putting out multiple streams of confirmation for the person He is trying to convince to do something. These confirmations won’t be overtly obvious, but will be just enough to show that there is something more going on than just random chance. We will be guided specifically toward whatever objective we have been assigned, not beat over the head with it but gently nudged toward whatever it is we have been destined to do. God never forces; he implies and hopes that we choose to follow Him.

This is the difference between faith and recklessness: it is following what we believe to be true, not based on hunches or gut feelings but on external pieces of evidence that we can bring together to get an understanding of what we’re supposed to be doing. Too many people believe that faith is supposed to be this giant leap into the unknown; the reality is that it is a long and arduous process of questioning God until He provides us with what we need to act. Rarely are we expected to go from complete unbelief to becoming a spiritual warrior overnight. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness before he was ready for God’s call.

One of the more important tools I use to convey an idea is giving a real world example that exemplifies a concept, so for this topic I will use my desire to buy a boat and sail around the world. For many years I have had the dream of buying a boat because one of the activities I truly enjoy and find a significant measure of peace in is sailing. There is something about being on the water and harnessing the wind that truly appeals to me and makes me feel content. The idea of shifting my entire life into a place where I can do that all the time fills me with a hope for finding true happiness.

Unfortunately, there are many variables that come with even finding a boat to buy, much less the many tasks that come with owning one long term. Depending on a couple of other pre-requisites I won’t cover here, I have two paths before me when it comes to buying a boat: I can get a loan to buy a newer boat with fewer problems or I can pay cash for an older and cheaper boat that I have to spend a couple of years fixing up to get ready. Each side has significant pros and cons and there are several reasons for which I tend to lean toward going with an older boat.

The most obvious reason is that I would prefer not to obligate myself to a very large monthly payment for the next twenty or so years when I can’t be sure what my financial situation is going to be over the long term. It was one thing to make that jump with my travel trailer because I can just move it to wherever my job happens to be, but if I’m going to live on a boat I have to be where the work is, and that might not be near the water. And if my ultimate goal is travelling around the world, then my options for work become far more limited. Having a boat payment isn’t ideal in such a circumstance.

On the flip side, there is a huge list of problems with buy an older boat that stack up in such a way to make the decision very difficult. Older boats require a lot more work and few of them are in the kind of condition that would be acceptable to most marinas. Since I don’t make enough to pay for a boat to be parked somewhere while I fix it up, I find myself in that catch twenty two situation of not wanting to buy something acceptable and being unable to find a boat I can pay cash for that will allow me to move onto it right away.

One of the voices in my life has been urging me to strongly consider going with the loan option, and I understand his point. He works on the water and knows all about the problems that come with old boats. This man has been an important spiritual advisor in my life, which would normally lead me to believe that perhaps God is trying to move me into exactly the situation I want to do some kind of work, but this is exactly the time where one needs to be very careful when moving forward. He has made some effort to help me find an option for getting on the water and this seems to be some sort of push toward where I want to go, but it is important to remember that a single confirmation is rarely God making a move in your life.

The reality is that before I can really do anything about a boat there must be several things lining up toward that goal that proves to me that there is something there more than just my personal desire to go live out on the water. An opportunity must present itself, perhaps in the form of a great paying job that I don’t have to be in one place for, or perhaps a specific line of work that would utilize the boat in some way. It doesn’t have to be a sure thing; God rarely gives us that level of confidence. However, it must be something that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that I’m not just moving of my own accord. There is something more to it.

All of this is meant to make clear a very important point when it comes to the idea of faith: it’s not about your feelings. If you are ever seriously considering making a major decision in your life and the only reason you can find to make it is how you feel about it, then you’re just gambling on the vague hope that it will all work out somehow. Even if you have no faith in a higher power, it is a terrible way to make decisions. It is through logic and reasonable evidence of opportunity that people find success in their lives, and we should all strive to find more than just what is in our hearts. The Bible also gives us a very profound point about using the heart in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

In the end, whether you believe in God or not, never be reckless with your decision making. Even if your faith is only in yourself, you should always be looking for some kind of confirmation or good reason to take action on anything. It is through reason that we are able to make good choices, and that requires setting aside how we feel and finding reasons to say no. We should be overwhelmed with good reasons to overcome out doubt. Otherwise, we are simply taking that ridiculous “leap of faith”.

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The Danger of Free Money

There has been a lot of serious talk in progressive circles in the last decade or so about something called “universal basic income”, the idea being that if everyone is provided with a basic living they will be free to pursue whatever interests their hearts desire. This utopian idea, like many others, is an amazing concept that at first glance seems like a great idea, but is ultimately doomed to failure. In theory it makes perfect sense, yet when you consider other variables like human nature you begin to see the cracks in the armor.

Human beings are a strange animal. Unlike the rest of nature, we have an advanced capacity for reason and logic and an eye for the future. Our intellect and ability to create world changing technologies places us far ahead of any of the other biological creatures on the planet, yet deep within us still resides that primal nature that drove us out of the mists of antiquity and into the forefront of our planet. No matter how hard we try to deny it, we are animals just like the rest of creation; far more advanced and dominating, but still ruled by instincts we feel are no longer relevant to modern living.

It is this huge, underlying part of our makeup that makes certain seemingly perfect ideas dead on arrival. Any vision of a utopian future has to combat human nature, which by its very composition is directly opposed to any kind of completely peaceful existence. We are ultimately driven not by dreams, but by the competition of others. It is only in environments of conflict that we are able to truly tap into who we are and fully realize our potential. Whether in wars of physical violence or simply economic competition, it is the hunt that truly drives humanity forward.

Of course, this particular viewpoint is overgeneralized on a macro level. The Christian Bible describes humans as sheep to be led, requiring a firm yet gentle hand to get us to where we are supposed to be. It only takes looking back through millennia of recorded history to confirm this to be the truth. Time and again we see powerful leaders rising to the top of social structures to dominate their once peers, molding nations and sowing chaos and strife at the behest of their whims, their citizens happily going along with the insanity in the hopes that they would reap some reward off the ambition of the powerful.

If history has taught us anything, it is that true ambition is quite rare. The average human being is quite content with a reasonably comfortable life and will even suffer the restrictions placed on him by others as long as the benefit is worth the cost. It takes an unusually driven person to break free of the complacency of the existing system to carve out their own path, and there simply aren’t that many of them out there. They have the vision and drive to see a path to success that few others can, and it is this primal need to conquer that propels them forward into greatness.

For those of us without this particular trait, it is only when we are forced out of our comfortable lives that we find the drive to do more than just sustain what we have. Sometimes we are inspired by those who blaze a trail and it stirs up that primal urge to hunt, but most of the time the changes in our lives are driven by simple necessity. In our need to provide for our own lives, we are forced to become better and more driven, seeking more in an attempt to provide some sense of security and stability in the chaos that is human existence.

This is the insidious danger of a concept like universal income. It removes the requirement for the average person to seek out a means of survival, thereby eliminating any real external force that requires them to seek improvement. It is quite logical to think that if a person was free to do whatever they want they would seek some sort of self improvement or find a way to contribute in a meaningful way to society, yet human nature itself belies this unrealistic expectation. Some people might, but most would simply degrade into laziness.

If you need a real life example of this, you can simply look at the last decade of my life. Since I started my career in administration, I have worked for two companies which paid well but had little in the way of actual work for me to do. This left with with a great deal of free time to perhaps seek another degree or learn things that would allow me to invent something new or any other thing that might contribute to my life or others in a meaningful way, yet I have spent that time doing none of those things…until recently at least. The majority of the last eight years of my life have been spent watching YouTube.

At first glance, you might be confused as to why this would be the case, but if we pay attention to human nature we start to understand. I’ve been given a good living for basically no cost on my part. I haven’t had to work for it; it’s simply given to me. I have to come in every day, sure, and sometimes there are actually real things for me to do, but more than ninety percent of my time is spent sitting at my desk trying to find ways to pass the time until I can go home. There is no ambition, no drive to push beyond where I am, and no reason to change anything. I’m comfortable and mentally trapped where I am because I don’t really need anything more, so why bother?

Obviously I’m only one example, but the point is to illustrate how something like this works. If you look at society as a whole today and contemplate the sheer number of hours wasted on things like social media or television rather than accomplishing anything meaningful, my example looks a lot more reasonable. We live in a society today that has already been hamstrung by a lack of any real challenge in our lives, and without an external factor forcing us to grow, most of us will stagnate where we are.

Universal basic income is by default a terrible lie that will destroy far more people than it helps. Certainly some people will take full advantage of the opportunity and go on to do things with their lives they otherwise might not have been able to, but the vast majority of people will simply grow fat and lazy on their couches, watching inane content in an attempt to pass by their dreadfully boring lives while they wait for death. You may not like the way that sounds, but this is the truth of biological beings of any kind: most of the time we seek the path of least resistance. True value has to be forced on us, and that’s the only way our lives can find any meaning.

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Knowledge Versus Wisdom

On the surface, it seems like knowledge is always a good thing. The more we know, the more prepared we can be for the various things we might encounter in our lives. In our modern day, we have amassed so much knowledge that it can sometimes feel like there is no situation that we can’t deal with simply by looking it up from the vast databases that comprise the global internet system. “Knowledge is power” as the saying goes, and there is some truth in that statement.

However, like most things in life it’s the deeper and more difficult part of how to use that knowledge that tends to get overlooked in the hectic and impatient society we live in today. It’s one thing to understand how and why something works; it’s quite another to figure out the best way to use that information for the best possible outcome. To the woe of many people who place knowledge at the pinnacle of existence, in the end it is experience that gives value to information.

This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Information is critically important, and without it we would have no ability for even basic survival. Knowing how to find food and shelter and defend ourselves from danger are critical elements of human existence. However, it’s one thing to know the steps required to do something and another to actually have done it and figured out how to be successful at it. Having a checklist doesn’t mean you’re actually capable of accomplishing the tasks. It’s only once you’ve done it that you know.

The interesting thing about wisdom is that it teaches us things we never knew we had to learn. No matter how complete a volume of knowledge might be, it will never include all the little details that one learns by actually performing a task. You might get a high level summary of the major steps, or even a partial list of the minor elements involved, but a book has no way of telling you how you will individually cope with performing a task. It is only through experience that you are able to learn what your abilities are.

In our modern day arrogance, experience has become far less important than adding to our checklist of things we “know”. We used to believe that older generations held far more value than we did because they had already gone through all the things we still have to experience. They knew about love and life and how to find happiness because they already did it. Now, however, we think we have the magic key to the perfect life in the form of a shapeless mass of conflicting information. We forgot the lesson that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Information without context is completely useless. It’s one thing to know that two plus two equals four, but if we don’t have some understanding of how to use that information to make it productive in some way, that knowledge does no one any good. Experience using this simple mathematical equation in the real world is what makes this theoretical information something important to know. Anything that can’t be moved from the realm of intellectual thought into practical application is a pointless endeavor.

Obviously, there are some things that on the surface don’t appear to have a practical application, and this is what clouds the issue. Things like art and music aren’t particularly practical from a productivity standpoint, but they have real world value in what they can inspire us to do. Philosophical debate led to the rise of the concepts of individual liberty upon which the foundation of America was laid. Esoteric thinking in the fields of mathematics led to amazing discoveries in the field of physics, which is opening up fantastic new doors to world changing technologies.

This is where the confusion lies. How do we determine what kind of thinking is useful? Wisdom has already provided the answer. We have to experience it and go through whatever the consequences turn out to be. Unfortunately, this means that some are going to have to suffer to learn the lessons of things we haven’t figure out yet. Sometimes these can be very serious consequences, including death. Many times there simply isn’t any way to know how things are going to turn out. You just have to jump and and find out.

Where we run into problems is when we already have the wisdom at our disposal and choose to ignore it. The problem with our modern knowledge- and theory-centric culture is that we no longer place any value on what people went through in the past. In our arrogance we’ve decided that they simply didn’t do it right in the past, and we know what to do now to make it work. Rather than accepting that certain ideas simply don’t work in the real world, we ignore the consequences of the past in pursuit of ideals that were never viable in the first place. People continue to suffer because we can’t let go.

In the end, wisdom is far more important than knowing many things. It is wisdom that allows us to apply what knowledge we have in the best possible way. Knowledge should be something we acquire to enhance our own experiences and provide us with better ways to move through the world, but not be a false shield against things we’ve decided we don’t like. Until you’ve actually lived through whatever it is you’re dealing with, you can’t know for sure what the right course of action is. In almost any case, experience will always trump knowledge.

What do you think about wisdom? Do you know many things but have little experience? How has access to vast amounts of knowledge improved your life? Can you learn more from actually going through things in life? We tend to favor the acquisition of information over participation, but we do this at our peril. It is better to learn how we deal with things ourselves rather than hoping that a single bit of information will allow us to cope. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

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