From Belief to Practice

Richard Holloway writes in Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity,

I would like to suggest that we ought to switch the emphasis in Christianity from belief to practice, from Orthodoxy to Orthopraxis, from believing things about Jesus to the imitation of Jesus. There would be three challenging elements in such a determination, none of them easy to follow. The first would be a resolution to love rather than condemn sinners; to seek to understand others rather than rush to judgement. The second element would be an active pity for the wretched of the earth that worked to change their lot. Finally, there would be a mistrust of power and violence, both personal and institutional, and an active opposition to them. This was the programme that got Jesus crucified. Following it today won’t make us popular, but it would be a more creative response to the confusions of the human condition than the endless disputes over doctrine that have so disfigured Christian history.

Thinking Like a Radical Pragmatist

American author and entrepreneur Ryan Holiday writes in his introduction to The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph,

I am unsure when philosophy became a tedious, pretentious field divorced from reality. Philosophy was originally designed to be a disciplined practice for thinking through the best possible solutions for everyday problems. This book is a return to these roots with stoic philosophers and their philosophies mentoring the reader on how to best manage seemingly disadvantageous situations and how to exploit rewarding situations. Perhaps this is desirable to you:

Start thinking like a radical pragmatist: still ambitious, aggressive, and rooted in ideals, but also imminently practical and guided by the possible. Not on everything you would like to have, not on changing the world right at this moment, but ambitious enough to get everything you need. Don’t think small, but make the distinction between the critical and the extra. Think progress, not perfection.

We Have Good Reasons to Fear Saying No

Greg McKeown in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,

We have good reasons to fear saying no. We worry we’ll miss out on a great opportunity. We’re scared of rocking the boat, stirring things up, burning bridges. We can’t bear the thought of disappointing someone we respect and like. None of this makes us a bad person. It’s a natural part of being human. Yet as hard as it can be to say no to someone, failing to do so can cause us to miss out on something far more important.

Opening the Door of Wisdom and Compassion

B. Alan Wallace and Steven Wilhelm write in Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up: A Practical Approach for Modern Life:

Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn over the ground. As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out, “You idiot! What’s wrong with you? Are you blind?” But just before you catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped into you is actually blind. He, too, is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: “Are you hurt? Can I help you up?”

Our situation is like that. When we clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion. Then we are in a position to heal ourselves and others.

Wishful Thinking and Self-deception

Sam Harris writes in The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values:

There is a sense in which all cognition can be said to be motivated. One is motivated to understand the world, to be in touch with reality, to remove doubt, etc. Alternately one might say that motivation is an aspect of cognition itself. Nevertheless, motives like wanting to find the truth, not wanting to be mistaken, etc., tend to align with epistemic goals in a way that many other commitments do not. As we have begun to see, all reasoning may be inextricable from emotion. But if a person’s primary motivation in holding a belief is to hue to a positive state of mind, to mitigate feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, or guilt for instance. This is precisely what we mean by phrases like “wishful thinking”, and “self-deception”. Such a person will of necessity be less responsive to valid chains of evidence and argument that run counter to the beliefs he is seeking to maintain. To point out non-epistemic motives in an others view of the world, therefore, is always a criticism, as it serves to cast doubt on a persons connection to the world as it is.

Evaluating the Facts of the Past and the Possibilities of the Future

From Benjamin Graham’s The Interpretation of Financial Statements,

If the market price of some issue appears out of line with the facts and figures available, it will often be found later that the price is discounting future developments not then apparent on the surface. There is, however, a frequent tendency on the part of the stock market to exaggerate the significance of changes in earnings both in a favorable and unfavorable direction. This is manifest in the market as a whole in periods of both boom and depression, and it is also evidenced in the case of individual companies at other times.

At bottom the ability to buy securities—particularly common stocks—successfully is the ability to look ahead accurately. Looking backward, however carefully, will not suffice, and may do more harm than good. Common stock selection is a difficult art, naturally, since it offers large rewards for success. It requires a skillful mental balance between the facts of the past and the possibilities of the future.

Conflict and the Insistence on a Particular View of Things

Norman Fischer quotes a Chinese Zen poem in his Tricycle (Summer 2011) article Beyond Language: Finding Freedom Through Thoughts and Words:

What makes us miserable, what causes us to be in conflict with one another, is our insistence on our particular view of things: our view of what we deserve or want, our view of right and wrong, our view of self, our view of other, our view of life, our view of death. But views are just views. They are not ultimate truth. There is no way to eliminate views, nor would we want to. As long as we are alive and aware there will be views. Views are colorful and interesting and life-enhancing—as long as we know they are views. The Chinese Zen masters are asking us to know a view as a view, and not to mistake it for something else. If you know a view as a view, you can be free of that view. If you know a thought as a thought, you can be free of that thought.

What Makes for a Great Team?

The best teams succeed because of the conditions, not the causes. When certain conditions are established within effective teams, whether deliberately or by happenstance, team productivity can blossom within those conditions. Applied mathematics consultant John D. Cook argues in his essay on group projects,

The best teams have people with complementary skills, but similar work ethic. Academic assignments are the opposite. There’s not much variation in skills, in part because students haven’t yet developed specialized skills, and in part because students are in the same class because they have similar interests. The biggest variation is likely to be work ethic. It’s not uncommon for the hardest working person in a group to do 10x as much work as the laziest person in the group. The person doing most of the work learns that it’s best to avoid working with teams.

Working with people with complementary skills is a blast, but you’re unlike to experience that in an academic project. You might get some small degree specialization. Maybe one of the mechanical engineers on a project has more artistic ability than the other mechanical engineers, for example. But this is hardly like the experience of working with a team of people who are all great at different things.

Lamenting The One-Size-Fits-All Culture

It is time to stop designing the world to fit the “average” human. The utmost opportunities lie in regarding people as individuals with a set of jagged features or a summation that differs from every other person anchored in their distinct life experiences, strengths, skills, knowledge, interests, goals, and narrative. Todd Rose writes in The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness,

It is not that the average is never useful. Averages have their place. If you’re comparing two different groups of people, like comparing the performance of Chilean pilots with French pilots—as opposed to comparing two individuals from each of those groups—then the average can be useful. But the moment you need a pilot, or a plumber, or a doctor, the moment you need to teach this child or decide whether to hire that employee—the moment you need to make a decision about any individual—the average is useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because it creates the illusion of knowledge, when in fact the average disguises what is most important about an individual.

Catholicism: Shame and Punishment

American-Irish author Malachy McCourt writes in You’ve GOT to Read This Book!, a compilation by Gay Hendricks and Jack Canfield:

Ninety-nine percent of teenage boys admit they think of nothing but sex—and the other 1% are liars. It’s a universal phenomenon, and yet this natural human urge was made out by the Church to be sinful. Though the clergy blabbed on about the love of God and what have you, it was really all about shame and punishment. Catholicism—at least in Ireland—seemed to me obsessed with the sins of the flesh.

You had to swear you would never masturbate, touch yourself, or even have an impure thought. Otherwise you would end up burning in hell for eternity. You went to confession and did your penances, but you knew you were only postponing the inevitable: With that storm of impure thoughts raging continually in your head, what were the chances that you’d die in a state of grace? Suffused with remorse and weary of feeling ashamed and of considering myself doomed in this world and the next, I began to question what I now saw as the Church’s dogma.