Monday, 31 December 2012

I was somewhat shocked when I was reminded yesterday that we are going to a New Year’s Eve party tonight, with the clear implication that tomorrow is the start of a new year.

If I say I don’t want this year to end, I don’t mean that I want to hold on to what is over and done with. What I want is to get up tomorrow morning – the first day of 2013 – and to continue seamlessly with everything I’ve been doing this year.

I do not want to stop and then start again. I want to continue.

Much value can be tapped from the advice of Mary Schmich: “Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.”

That being said, you are still to a large extent responsible for the huge amount of success and happiness that is coming your way in 2013. And since this is how it is, make sure you do what you can to make it so.


Text from the Mary Schmich article, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” was used by Baz Luhrmann in his 1999 song, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. The original article is in turn similar to the 1927 poem by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945), entitled “Desiderata”. A short excerpt: “With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”


Christmas is a bit like life


Christmas Day is a bit like life.Christmas Day 2012, Johannesburg. Thanks for the picture, Mandi.

If you and your family or friends get together on the 25th day of the 12th month, one person or a few people prepare a whole table full of food, you clean up the house, drag a special tree into the living room and festoon it with lights and small disco balls and dolls and bears and stars, and you buy the children toys and wrap them in colourful paper, maybe sing a few songs, and eat yourself into a new weight division and laugh and joke around and chat, then it’s “Christmas”.

If you don’t do these things, it is only the 25th of the month, in what is coincidentally the twelfth month of the year.

So, it is with life.


Thank goodness children are not like (some) adults


As a child you don’t automatically know how to play chess; you don’t know how to ride a bike, how to do ballet or play rugby; you don’t know how to use a computer; you don’t even know how to read or write until you’re taught how.

As a child, you almost never wavered when it came to something new you had to master. You just did what you were told, you kept trying, and after a few months or a few years you could play chess, or ride a bike, or play soccer or rugby or do ballet, you could read and a short time later you could write, and eventually even use a computer.

Why then, as adults, do so many people doubt in their ability to learn something new? Why do so many adults doubt the possibility that they can master something new?

“I don’t know how,” the man or woman will mutter.

“I’m too old to learn something new,” the 30 or 40 or 50-year old man or woman will say.

“No, good grief! There’s no chance that I’ll be able to do that!” the person will opine, safe in the knowledge that at least a handful of other adults in the area will support them in their belief that they are unable to do something.

“No, Johnny, I’m definitely too stupid for that as well,” Bill will offer his support, and everyone will laugh at something that is actually – let’s be honest here – a little pathetic.

Can you imagine if children suffered from the same malady?

“Oh no, Daddy, that bicycle is so big. I’m going to fall off and hurt my toe,” little Johnny might say, and then he’ll walk away and go sit under a tree.

“Those ballet dances look so difficult, Mommy! I can’t do them!” little Joanna might say, and then she’ll refuse to get out of the car at the ballet class.

“Chess seems so complicated …”

“I don’t know how to draw those curls and lines like the other boys and girls in class …”

“You know I’m afraid of mice, and the computer always makes such funny noises …”

The end of civilization as we know it. The beginning of Zombieland.

“If you think you can do something or if you think you cannot do something, you’re right,” Henry Ford advised.

“What kind of example do you set for posterity if, at the age of 25, you stop believing you can master anything new?” is what I want to know.


My model works, but not for everyone


When someone asks my advice on career, work or ways to make money – or when I give it on my own accord, I always base my opinion on a certain model that I have in my head. This model says, do not put too much weight on what will give you higher status in the community – especially if this improvement will more likely than not be a figment of your imagination, think twice before you insist on making money with something in which you are interested – because there’s not necessarily money in it, and even if there is, you might find after a few years of commercial activity with this passion that you’re not that passionate about it anymore, and do not commit yourself to a career or a commercial activity where you will (have to) do the same thing over and over again, Monday to Friday, until someone finally taps you on the shoulder and says, “Stop! You’re 65. Retire for crying out loud!”

I believe, and have always thought, this model makes sense. I can therefore never understand when someone listens to my well-meaning advice and then do the exact opposite.

But there’s something I tend to forget.

In many cases people get something back when they follow their own instinct and consider status in the community, when they go for something they have always had a passion for, and when they choose a profession or business where they will do the same thing over and over, ad nauseam. They establish a regular stream of income that puts food on the table and pays the rent. They develop a relationship with others in the community. They become part of something. They will tell me, “You know what? It’s true that sometimes the work is boring, but we like what we get at the end of the day and at the end of the month. What we get back, not only money but also the people with whom we work and for whom we work, make up for the things we don’t like. We simply endure the less pleasant aspects of our labour.”

My model works for the individual who wants to be left alone, for the person who doesn’t want to compromise his passion with commercial packaging, and who definitely does not want to do the same boring job every day, over and over until he goes out of his mind. My model works for the person who is not concerned on a daily basis with keeping a family alive, who doesn’t want to endure tedious and boring work.

So, am I wrong?

No. I just don’t always take into account what works for other people, what other people want, and what they’re willing to give up for what they get in return.


Creation, evolution, intelligent design, and as usual, language and truth

Here’s my opinion, briefly, and like any reasonable opinion it is open to debate and counter-arguments:

I don’t believe the development of life forms was a series of random events. I believe there was intelligence – “something” – behind the earliest forms of life.

I further believe that the creation mythology preached through institutionalized religion serve the same purpose as it did two and three and four thousand years ago. Something must explain the origin of life; something that can form part of people’s integrated world views. The creation story provides followers of these religions with exactly that.

Nevertheless, I believe it’s highly unlikely that life forms developed without … some form of intelligence.

I also believe it is highly unlikely that the universe and all life forms originated in seven days or seven years, or seven thousand years, or any other number or date consistent with religious symbolism.

Finally, I believe our efforts – and by “us” I mean ordinary people, educated people, scientists, poets, writers, sidewalk preachers and even theologians – to explain the development of early life forms is comparable to the type of conversation that Org the Cave Man might have had with his cousin about quantum physics shortly after the last Ice Age had come to an end. Neither Org nor his cousin had mastery of adequate vocabulary. And the data available to them was incomplete – to put it academically.

As it is with more things than many people are willing to admit, it is also a matter of language. What exactly do people mean when they say “intelligence” or “intelligent”? What do people mean by “design”? And what exactly is meant by “random event”?

One thing is certain: as long as our minds remain open and the conversation is kept going there is a good probability that we might just develop a better understanding of things in the next thousand years or so.

Read more:

Intelligent Design Creationism: Fraudulent Science, Bad Philosophy.

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: 6 Bones of Contention