Cat licking another
Communication

The Two Currencies of Relationships

Every good relationship contains two things: intimacy and mutual service. I don’t just mean romantic relationships; whenever you find a relationship valuable, it is because you’re getting at least one of those two needs met by that relationship. When you find a relationship hard to sustain, or damaging, it’s because it fails to provide (or provides negative and damaging forms of) these two qualities.

There are lots of kinds of service. To do something on someone else’s behalf is a service. To show someone how to do something is a service. To help someone to accomplish something they were trying to do but couldn’t complete on their own is a service. Some services are offered in exchange for material benefit (money or other things valued by the servicer) — and so form a direct relationship of mutual service — and some are freely offered with no expectation.

And so it is with intimacy. Simply being in the vicinity as I do a thing is a kind of intimacy I might want to receive from another person. Their being my compatriot in doing a task is a richer version. A friend with whom I feel safe to disclose emotions, hopes, and more is richer still. And finally, there’s the thing most people think of with the word “intimacy,” intimate-partner relationships where you’re more honest, open, and supported than you are anywhere else.

All models are wrong. Some are useful though, and I think this one passes the test. When you’re looking to “debug” a relationship with someone that’s not taking, it’s almost certainly for an imbalance in (or lack of) these two things.

I service the pets in my life when I give them food, water, and shelter. I may receive (given the reality of modern life, nearly useless) mutual service. More likely, I continue to keep them well for the sense of comfort and camaraderie their companionship provides. This is the reason that owner-aggressive pets are rarely tolerated for long.

When a relationship doesn’t ever seem to click and work with someone, it’s probably because one party in that relationship feels they’ve not received either intimacy or service that makes it worth continuing. This is why you’re frequently advised to offer value — usually service, but sometimes the solace of commiseration — to strangers before you ask for something you need from them.

It’s not a revolutionary idea, this intimacy and service thing. But I found it clarifying, useful, and thus worth a note.

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Life

In 2014, I was 28

It was my birthday on Saturday. I was born 29 years ago from the date. And to follow up a thing I started last year, I’m going to take it as an opportunity for some very direct navel-gazing.

Work & Finances

In 2014, I was making good money working in a company I co-own and excited about what I was doing. It was mostly a complaint-free experience. Fueled primarily by a single enthusiastic client for our consulting at Press Up — if you’re looking to solve a hard business problem and think web technologies could help, hit us up — I made a very respectable middle class income.

There was one less-bright part, though. In a tiny company, I was essentially at the mercy of myself as a boss. And I was an irresponsible one. I let myself drive a little too hard for too long on a specific project. The result was me putting too much of the rest of my life on hold and burning out a little too fast and hot over the summer months. Vacations postponed, workouts skipped, and social events suffered through with as much angry preoccupation as I could muster.

But it wasn’t all bad. More personally, I made some positive changes. I’ve made some (very modest) progress on what I hope will eventually be the best quotation site on the internet. I finally dropped from my regular time-sinks a project where I basically just linked to things on the internet. The time investment just ended up not feeling worth it. And I made my first ever microsite (which could use a more skilled designer’s touch).

Wholistically, career-wise, it was a good year. Fred and I were able to hire our first employee and she’s brought a welcome new energy to our work. We’ve made something more of a name for ourselves as well, not to mention starting to work on making our fractured attention across various side-projects start to resemble money-making businesses in their own right.

Health & Fitness

During my time being 28, I didn’t really lose weight which I’d hoped to. In fact I gained almost a dozen pounds (some of which I’d lost during the early part of the year). But what’s important to me is that I only gained about a dozen pound, and I know that I can get rid of them and keep them off. I know this because I’ve been successfully keeping off the almost-100 pounds I’ve lost over the last few years.

A large part of being able to have the confidence in keeping them off is that I’ve learned how I can effectively lose weight. And I know how to stay active. I love cycling and that’s one of the best things I’ve done this year. I really enjoy it. It took me far too long to learn, but exercising can be fun if you find something that agrees with you, and finding something that agrees with you is possible and a good goal for everyone. Hate jogging? Try other things that keep you moving!

Community & Relationships

I’ve lived an anomalously quiet and self-contained life thus far. This has its advantages, but in the last year I’ve much more consciously appreciated its limits and disadvantages. It’s not that you can’t go through life as your own little island — though really you can’t — but that your life can be so much richer and more interesting if you let people in.

My writing in the last few years has said these things more loudly than my actions have. While I penned a series on kindness in 2013, for example, I was still rarely making a strong effort with the people in my life. And I’ve hardly reached the level I’d say I’m proud of.

But I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made. Progress in being more available to people and in being more honest with them. Progress in actually attending social gatherings other than those of a few of my best-known friends. And managing to walk away from them happy that I’ve gone. Progress, even, in not having to drag myself mentally kicking and screaming to these events — though I admit I can still throw quite a “I don’t wanna” fit. But progress. Real honest progress in being more of the person I want to be.

If you’ve read this and want to help me meet more people, send me an email at david@www.frozentoothpaste.com. Or leave a comment. I’d love to know you better!

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Life

Personal Annual Report: In 2013 I was 27

I had an idea about half-way through last year that doing an annual review was a pretty good idea. I also had the idea that it would be nice to anchor it to my birthday which is at the end of January. Dates are mostly meaningless, but that one would be memorable to me and unconventional.

I think the best structure for me to do this regularly and keep the reviews a reasonable length and in-line with my mission for the site is pretty simple: I’ll decide three themes for the year, and throw as much as I think relevant and interesting into them. The themes will probably change with time as my interests and the parts of my life in need of reform change. This 27th-year wrap-up is the first I’m writing, but I don’t think it’ll be my last.

Continue reading

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Life

Simple Truths, Commuting, and Wisdom

Anyone who’s been reading Frozen Toothpaste long knows all too well about my theory that just about every important truth about life can be quickly reduced to a statement so banal that people ignore it. The classic example I reach for is “money can’t buy happiness”, which almost everyone acquiesces to at some level. Few people dispute the truth of the idea, and yet people run themselves ragged in dogged pursuit of money.

What I’m starting to come around to is the idea that it’s not simply that these cliches are cliches that makes people struggle to understand and and act in accordance with them. Rather, there’s a whole second level of the complexities of “money doesn’t buy happiness” that people don’t ever consider. Continue reading

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Technofuturism

Money as a Game

I’ve been thinking a fair amount lately about the idea of “gamification”–yes, it’s an atrocious word but a useful concept. I’m sure there’s value in thinking about how we can bring the most successful aspects of games into the concrete world of physical people and objects. I know there are many activities I should be doing that I’m not. Many tasks that the right game-like inducements could make automatic, and maybe even enjoyable.

It was while considering this that it crossed my mind that money is the most successful game idea that exists in the culture. Now certainly to say that money originated from the world of games would be, at best, generous. More likely, it’s just flat out wrong. But the thing that’s interesting about money–and the possessions that we understand to be it’s correlates–isn’t how it came to exist but what it represents about human psychology and games.

Before I get too far, I want to be sure to acknowledge that money is hardly a game when you don’t have enough of it. Possessing money represents a tangible ability to to feed, water, shelter, and clothe ourselves and our families in a safe and easy way. But for the majority of people in first world, this is no longer the way it operates. Any country rich and egalitarian enough to assure that none of its citizens go hungry, homeless, or uneducated effectively eliminates the survival value of money. Even outside of such a society, any income above the locally defined poverty line is beyond sheer survival. It is in these situations that it makes sense to talk about money as a game.

One of the most powerful aspects of money as a game is how score-like it is. Just like the score you rack up as you progress through a level in Mario or a game of Tetris, net worth is a concrete signal that you can use to judge whether you’re advancing our falling behind. Very unlike personal relationships, or professional or personal development, money is almost always transparent. You never have to wonder where you stand with money. You can easily identify that you’re $200 richer than you were a week ago, but there’s no easy way for you to know that you’re 200 points better at not being a jerk.

I’d go so far as to contend that a large part of the much-maligned use of money and material wealth to define success is that people can easily identify material progress. Being less of a jerk is so frustratingly unquantifiable that one has to be hugely better at it for people (including yourself) to even recognize that you have any skill at it. But I can clearly tell that you’re a better businessman than me because you own a million dollar home, drive a BMW, and own this whole restaurant we’re sitting in. But without being almost as unassailable as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or the Dalai Lama, you won’t see how hard I’ve worked to be less of a jerk.

Beyond the ability to know the score with money, it’s got a powerful reward system built into it. If personal development were as easy to score as money, we’d only be halfway there. The other half of money’s advantage is the pleasure that it can offer us. I need a way to get between points A and B: for essentially zero dollars I can walk, for around $200 I can get a bicycle for travel. For around $2000 I can get a beat-up but functional car, for $20,000 a nice new one, and for $200,000 a rare, intricate, and delightful one. This fact has powerful effects on the incentives for the pursuit of money beyond mere score. While we could endlessly discuss the merits of the type of pleasure imparted by say, a new Ferrarri, no one but a fool would reasonably contend that it gives equal pleasure to possess as a simple bicycle.

Wealth also provide a level of the social, cultural, and locational access that many people never see. It is undeniably a qualitatively different experience to be living on $20,000 per year than it is to be living on $2,000,000. Two million will afford you not only the ability to buy free time at will, but also the chance to take that free time in any manner you please. Want to take a few weeks off to see the sights of Kenya with your 10 closest friends? You can. This purchasing of experience is not only wise (research indicates it gives more long-term satisfaction than purchasing things), but is inaccessible to those of lesser means. One wouldn’t even take the time to consider the possibility of an African safari if they and their friends made less than $25,000 per year. This reward mechanic, which is native to money and difficult to imagine importing, is at least as important as it’s scoring value.

Before we finish, it’s worth considering the meta-game of money. There’s a saying much loved by the economics-minded (and damn hard to refute), “You optimize what you measure.” There’s an idea very much in vogue in the last decade “Gross National Happiness.” These are both deeply related to the meta-game.

Because we can only optimize the things we’ve quantified, and we can only quantify rather concrete things, most measures of performance and progress that are used today (and have been used for almost 500 years) to gauge the success of a town, county, or country relate to how well they’ve optimized their money score. This is thus what politicians make their reputation on and what makes countries into magnets. Much of this emphasis on countable measures of development is deeply valid, one clearly is much more likely to have a better, easier, and more enjoyable life in a country with a notably higher GDP per capita. Clearly the Renaissance-era Italian city-states which valued commerce and wealth were better places to live than the backwaters of Scotland. Today, given an even choice, most people would rather be an average citizen of the United States than Chile.

There is much to recommend the use of GDP (or GNP, PPP, etc) numbers. Without them we’d have almost nothing with which to gauge the success of competing countries, methods of leadership, or manners of economic progress. But there is manifestly much they leave out. While China’s a freer place than it was 50 year ago, it’s also true that it’s not the nicest place to live among all it’s economic neighbors. This basic fact is the reason that people are currently infatuated with notions like “Gross National Happiness”. While no one has yet successfully used it this way, it’s possible that if it were ever actually quantified in a universally agreed upon way, GNH could represent a new way for government schemes and governors to be judged that would better represent the whole panoply of things we humans value.

Perhaps there would be great value in striving for such a measure, which would allow people to measure how satisfied they are along all aspects of their life. Certainly a world that sweated GNH points would be qualitatively different than a world obsessed with GDP. But because any attempt to measure GNH would be inherently limited to the factors it decided to value, the notion that it would be an inherently better scoring system deserves skepticism.

And finally, we circle back to this: if you’re looking to create a better achievement scoring system for the world and its people  to judge themselves, you could do a lot worse than emulating the benefits that money has so long provided. If we mean to be serious about this “gamification” business (and not just bullshit it), money seems a good place to start.

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american society, politics, USA

Watching America’s Game

IowaPolitics.comObama Campaigning in Iowa

It’s chaos. It’s a circus. It’s a money parade. It’s undemocratic. It’s pointless. It’s cheap drama. It’s the real American Idol.

That’s right everyone, it’s the middle of America’s presidential politicking season.

I could make a list, but I doubt I need to. You know that many people–in America, but especially in stable parliamentary systems–find this whole mess in which America is now submerged mildly absurd. Myself, I fluctuate between hearty agreement with their bafflement and tut-tutting consternation with the foolishness of the critique.

First, a few points. The way the Democratic party’s contest is held in Iowa is absurd, perhaps even undemocratic. The priority given to Iowa, New Hampshire, (now) Nevada, and South Carolina is, at best, unfair. The rush to have the earliest nominating contest has, this year, been harmfully chaotic but is a direct consequence of the truth of the last sentence. Too much money is raised and spent in the quest for a party’s nomination.

Having made all the necessary concessions to critiques, I’ll now heartily and blindly defend America’s system.

The most important point is that the system I defend is open. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it’s always democratic, but it usually is. And open and democratic are better than most parliamentary systems can claim in nominating their candidates for leadership.

It’s no secret that Gordon Brown was to be Tony Blair’s successor from the first day that Labour took power in Britain. And it’s also no secret that only politicians determined that point. Lay members of the party had no say in who would lead the party. It’s like the way American Vice Presidents are selected–behind closed doors with unknown calculations being made.

But that’s also the way that parliamentary parties pick their leaders, and thus their analog of President. In America, a candidate has to win the support of a plurality of his party’s members, and then a plurality of the country’s electoral college voters (a chastisable system in itself, but not our topic here). This seems to me far more democratic than a system whose candidates are selected by a small group of full-time politicians whose party is than approved by the people.

In America’s system, a candidate must be liked and chosen by normal people. They can’t merely call in a small number of favors within the party, they must be chosen as the best candidate by a lot of non-politicians. And I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. This circus may be a dislikable result of a system that tries to give people–normal people–a say, but it gives people a say.

And then there’s this: I find this game we’re playing–however over-moneyed, shallow, and pointless–at least a little bit exhilarating. The result may not always be perfect, but it’s more exciting and democratic than any other system I’ve seen.

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personal, ruminations

On Writer’s Block, Procrastination, and a Solution

Writer’s block is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you tend to wonder what everyone is so upset about. When you do have it you wonder how you ever managed to write anything.

There are certainly a number of possible causes for the disease. The most likely, if you want my opinion, is that it is caused by lack of confidence. Doubt about the quality of the writing you will manage to tap out, doubt about the quality of the writing you have managed to tap out, and doubt that you will ever manage to tap anything out again.

For me, this seems to be the cause. When I know I have a strong topic to write about, I’m often eager to do the work to put out a solid piece of writing. The issue comes with the fact that this is not so easy as I might like it to be.

Sometimes I’ll worry that what I thought was a great idea yesterday really isn’t so today. Sometimes I’ll worry that I won’t be able to do justice to this great idea. Sometimes I just can’t seem to make a single sentence that seems coherent when read.

I can’t escape the feeling that writer’s block is a natural part of the process. I doubt that you could find a person in the world who hasn’t at one time or another suffered from writer’s block, or it’s good friend procrastination.

For me, and many others as well, procrastination is engendered by fear that what will actually be produced won’t be worth the time that has been spent on it. For that reason, I tend to hold off as long as possible–that way any perceived lack of quality can be justified by an artificial lack of time.

Few things cure either writer’s block or procrastination better than deadlines. The trouble is, they have to be substantial and useful deadline. They have to be deadlines that you as the procrastinator actually are concerned by. An artificial deadline that you create, one that you know to be artificial will never work.

What’s needed is a deadline enforcement system. A service that will hold you to your deadlines. When you fail them you will begin losing things that are valuable to you. Maybe they could begin to drain your savings account. Maybe that could rough you up. Maybe they could just be really disappointed in you.

I don’t know why such a service doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’ll make it.The trouble is I have to create it. Creating an anti-procrastination service without an anti-procrastination service? This may be the most difficult test a procrastinator could ever undertake.

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