Saturday, 31 December 2016

I am aware that this is the last day of the year, but I have been too busy until now with projects that I really enjoy to think about all the work I have done this year on projects that I really enjoy.

I saw my family twice this year – in February and in December. The first time was great. The second time was also very good, but also very special.

I also made enough money this year to still have some money in the bank.

And now I am going to rest.

For about an hour. Then I will continue working.

One of the reasons 2016 was special – a trip to the area in the Free State where my maternal grandfather was born in 1900.


Why do we need to make money?


Why do I, or you, need to make money? Believe it or not, but there are people stupid enough to forget the answer every now and then, and then it falls to someone in the vicinity to explain.

I am one of these simple-minded people. Fortunately, I have enough complexity within me to awaken from my trance after a few minutes, and then I can usually scrape together enough brain cells to formulate a response.

The explanation goes like this:

Reason number 1. You need to survive (if you don’t want to survive, none of this applies to you). To survive, you need money to buy food, pay rent, and pay for water and electricity. You also need to buy clothes and occasionally medicine. It will also help if you do something that will make it easier to survive a year from now, ten years from now, and when you are much older than you are now and probably cannot or wouldn’t want to work anymore. Your survival may also be closely linked to the survival of people close to you for whose survival you are responsible. This means more money for food, clothing, medicine, and other items.

Reason number 2. If your survival has gathered enough momentum, it makes sense to make your survival worth the effort – otherwise, what’s the point? To make your survival worth it, you need to do things you enjoy. That means you’d need money to buy books or play sports, or go to the movies, or cook for the fun of it, or dozens of other things that people do for pleasure, or because it makes them feel happy and generally positive about life.

Reason number 3. You might want to assist others in their struggle for survival (doing so might even be something that makes your own survival worthwhile). Odds are good that you will need money in your efforts to help others.

Reason number 4. You may also want to assist other people in their efforts to make their survival worth the effort. Again, it’s not always necessary to lay cash on the table, but it will probably ease the process.

So, there you have it – or perhaps rather, there I have it, once again. We need money to survive. We need money to make our survival worthwhile. We need money if we want to help others survive, and we need money to help other people change their opinion if they think their survival isn’t worth the effort.


A good and successful day is built layer by layer


Who begins their day with a manifesto on their lips, and a finely worked-out blueprint in their heads?

The fact is, most people’s days start with necessity: you get up because you need to go to the bathroom, because you are hungry, and because you have made arrangements with people and businesses, and if you do not show up, you’re going be in trouble.

And so begins your day. Eventually, you shower and you brush your teeth, you get dressed, and you go somewhere to earn your bread and butter, or to otherwise be of value to the community.

Layer upon layer your day is built up. Here and there you make a mistake. Here and there you say something or you do something that embarrasses you, but after a few minutes or an hour or so you are in full swing again.

By the time the day is over, you will perhaps look back on a good and relatively successful day. Did you start with slogans rolling over your lips, and a neatly printed plan waiting next to your bed for you to follow like an obedient robot? Most likely not, although you may have had a good idea of how you would like your day to progress.

So it is with other endeavours and projects that you undertake. You have a good idea of what you need to do to achieve reasonably good results. You have a good idea what you should do to stay out of trouble. You still make the occasional mistake, and every so often you slide on a banana peel. But successful results, like a good and successful day, is built up layer by layer – ten, twenty, a hundred big and small actions and steps following after another to produce a good result.

Slogans are good. Manifestoes have their place. Surely you have to know what you must do. But success is more often than not the result of layer upon layer of small, seemingly insignificant actions. Just like a good and successful day.


Not exactly on the same topic, but in the same spirit: Scott Adams wrote the following in a blog post at Dilbert.COM: “The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.”


Was it worth the time and money because you learned something about yourself?


You get to know yourself in varied situations: by travelling to foreign countries, by spending time with people you don’t really like, and in trying times, alone or with other people.

You also learn about yourself by speculating with money, say on the financial markets. You observe how you feel and act when you end up with some profit, and how you feel and behave after a loss. You also learn how you feel and how you act after a catastrophic mishap.

How long it takes you to give up is another important thing you learn about yourself, as well as how long you keep doing something simply because you don’t want to give up, even though a stick blind man can see you’re getting nowhere.

Does it qualify as giving up if you shift your experience to something else, or when you apply things you have learned to an entirely different market? Would you then still think you wasted your time? Would you still think you wasted your money?

How do you calculate “profit” when it comes to self-knowledge? And does it necessarily mean it was less of a waste of time just because you learned a few useful things about yourself?


Where do you draw the line for murder?


On Friday, 5 October 2007 I wrote a note which began as follows: “Is self-denial – the denial of your values, of who you are – justifiable if the end result is good?”

I sketched a situation where someone who seems to be a good person commits an evil act, but for good reasons.

Long story short, I decided not to use the original text because I think when a “good person” commits an evil act – such as murder, for a good enough reason – like saving a hundred lives, he did not really act against his moral values, and he did not really sacrifice his “good conscience” in the same way as someone sacrificing life or limb to save someone else.

Nevertheless, I thought, surely one must draw a line somewhere.


Say someone saves a hundred lives by deceiving someone else and then killing them in the middle of the night – after winning that person’s confidence. The person feels very guilty, but the world is a better place. Is this not also a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?


Say someone ends up providing long-term shelter to two hundred homeless people by deceiving someone else and then killing them in the middle of the night – after winning that person’s confidence. The person feels very guilty, but the world is a better place – those two hundred people will have a warm place to sleep. Is this also a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?


Say someone saves a thousand people’s feelings by deceiving someone who insulted their religion and then killing them in the middle of the night. The person feels guilty, but the world, so he believes, is a better place because the community feels that justice was done. Is this a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?

Many people would need a few minutes to contemplate the first two scenarios. I believe fewer people will need time before condemning the third scenario. The question remains: Where does one draw the line?