Cover Stories

Better Humaning

Breaking the Chain of “Maybe”

It's an epidemic. It's coming for your social life. But there is a vaccine.

There’s a modern scourge upon us, and every get-together, plan, and social event is vulnerable.

I don’t know when it started, who’s to blame, or if it can be defeated, but I’ve begun vaccinating myself against it. And if you or your social circle have caught a case of the Maybes, or you want to prevent an outbreak, here’s what you can do.

The first step with any epidemic is understanding the problem: What is the Maybes, how does it spread, and why is it harmful?

Continue reading → “Breaking the Chain of “Maybe””
Better Humaning

Building a Daily Meditation Habit

100 Days of Mindfulness

About a year ago I committed to writing on this site every day for 100 days in a row. Today, I’m committing to something similar and different: I’m going to start meditating every day, for at least the next 100.

Let me explain why, and how I plan to do it.

I’ve had an inconsistent meditation practice for about a decade now. At its best, I meditate every day for a streak of a week or two. At its worst, I meditate once a month.

But here’s the thing: I know that meditation makes me happier, calmer, work better, think clearer — it makes me better. Every time. I can even verify this for myself with some [obviously slanted] data: looking back at my journal, and comparing that against the records from the meditation app I use (Calm), I can see that on days I meditate I almost always finish every task I set out to do in the morning. I’m also more gracious, thoughtful, and patient in my responses.

On the days I don’t meditate, well, I get by, but I’m a bit messier. And sometimes those days turn into weeks into months. That’s what’s happened these past few weeks.

And the science backs this up, right? We all know this, if we exist even a little on the internet. Just google “the scientific benefits of meditation” and bask in the bazillion hits of glory.

Continue reading → “Building a Daily Meditation Habit”
Better Humaning

“Proud” and “Humbled”: I do not think it means what you think it means

‚ÄúBut if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.‚ÄĚ - George Orwell

There’s an epidemic happening, people. It’s in my Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter tweetsfeed and my Google+ hahakiddingIdon’tcheckthatfeed. I believe it’s evolved from the fairly harmless confusion of their/they’re/there into the now dangerous misuse of “proud” and “humbled.”

The short version: people are saying they’re “proud” when they are really affirmingly excited, and they’re saying they’re “humbled” when they are really proud.

The Longer Version

I’m not going to call people out directly, because I don’t want them to feel like sad pandas. So instead of quotes (or screencaps, because I just saw several outbreaks of this plague, which led to this article), I’ll give you a couple broad reenactments of what I’m talking about.

Opening Argument

People of the jury, honorable judge, and all you scumbags in the nosebleed seats: I am humbled to be here to have this opportunity to present this case, and will be proud of you knowing that, after I present the evidence, you will likely come to the conclusion that these words are being falsely represented all on your own.

Exhibit A: The “Proud”

“I’m so proud of [this group that did something cool / this person who did something cool / Smokey the Bear who, unlike you, prevented forest fires]. They’re so great.”

Exhibit B: The “Humbled”

“I’m so humbled that [this great thing has happened to me / I’ve accomplished or been recognized for this thing I did / I won an Emmy (I’ve got some¬†bourgeois Facebook friends)].”

Exhibit C: The “Proud” Definition

1. feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself.
2. having, proceeding from, or showing a high opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, or superiority.
3. having or showing self-respect or self-esteem.
4. highly gratifying to the feelings or self-esteem: It was a proud day for him when his son entered college.
5. highly honorable or creditable: a proud achievement.

Exhibit D: The “Humbled” Definition

1. to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase.
2. to destroy the independence, power, or will of.
3. to make meek: to humble one’s heart.

(thanks, Dictionary.com)

Closing Argument

So as you can likely see, when people say they’re “proud” of someone else’s accomplishments, they’re really saying they are entitled to some honor or credit in the accomplishing of those accomplishments; and when people say they are “humbled” by other people recognizing them for their accomplishments, what they really mean is they’re proud of how awesome they are. Can I get an Amen?! *Drops Bible* *Storms Out of Courtroom*

Judge: “Why was he holding a Bible?”

What’s the problem? Am I a Word Police?

The problem is that words mean things, and our misuse of words, or misconstruing the meaning, also means things. What we’re saying with the above two-punch combo of social-media-back-patting is:

  • This group/person did something worthy of back-patting. I want some of that back-patting, too. “Check out this awesome thing someone else did! It couldn’t have happened or you wouldn’t know about it without me.
  • Ooo, I did something worthy of back-patting myself, but it’s vain and bad to be proud of myself. Oh, yeah, it’s good to be humble, I’ll use that word. “I’m humbled! By how awesome I am.

We’re giving ourselves undue credit in other people’s accomplishments, while not fully crediting ourselves in our own. And all of this, I’m supposing, is because we’re conditioned in a society that reinforces buying into this paradox. We’re supposed to work hard and be special and be exceptional, but we’re supposed to be modest lest we be perceived as egotistical, vain, or “I bet you think of yourself when you masturbate.” Add to all of this a crippling desire to be externally validated for a sense of accomplishment (something we were trained to need by years of grades and ribbons and standardized tests and gold stars), the image-crafting of social media, and a society that creates and worships a small group of elite… and we have a lot of obstacles between us and happiness.

So what can do we do differently?

Say what you mean. If you think someone has done something awesome, applaud them for doing something awesome. You might even be “humbled” by what they’ve done. Cool. If you deserve credit for their accomplishment, you’re more than welcome to be proud of them.

If, on the other hand, you’ve done something awesome, and you want to be recognized, you’re also welcome to be proud. But you’re not humbled, and you’re ruining that word (it’s a powerful, important word), so stop using it. Let’s stop thinking that false modesty is preferred over legitimate pride.

Let’s affirm people in being proud of what they’ve accomplished, and do our best to subvert the discomfort people feel that leads them to being falsely modest. But, more importantly and bigger picture, let’s try to create a space for our friends and loved ones where they don’t need to seek external validation to be happy, where they don’t see accomplishment as a prerequisite for people to appreciate them, and where they feel unconditionally appreciated just for¬†being.¬†We can start by fully¬†learning this for ourselves, and having an open heart with no minimum admission requirements.

Better Humaning

Being Alone Isn’t the Same as Being Lonely

‚ÄúSolitude is fine but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.‚ÄĚ - Honor√© de Balzac

My post about going to see a movie by yourself has stirred up some wonderful conversations. And the title of this post is the most interesting thought that’s come from it, and I want to dive right in.

Being alone isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good, necessary, healthy thing. It’s a time to reflect, to appreciate, to think, to create, to process your life. Reflection and synthesis of ideas is crucial to learning and growing, and for many people this can only be done when they are alone. Kierkegaard nails this with one of my favorite quotes:¬†‚ÄúLife can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.‚ÄĚ Damn, Kierkegaard, I bet you spent a ton of time alone.

So why are we so damned afraid of being alone?

Because we’re afraid others will think we’re lonely. There’s something wrong with lonely people, or else why wouldn’t they have people around them? There must be something broken about them! If you learn someone is lonely, you best stay away from them. Leave them to their cats. Loneliness results in more loneliness; it’s a beast that feeds itself. (Please know that I don’t believe any of this — or at least I don’t want to, but these are thoughts that I hear in my head, because Society)

I’m not lonely!¬†I have 2200 facebook friends. Look at all the things I share. Look at all those likes! I have all the likes! And retweets. Don’t even get me started on retweets. I have to call them RTs because I get so many I don’t even have time for all those other letters. Look at me on Instagram! Follow me! #TeamFollowBack¬†Connect with me! Please, please, connect with me. How am I so damned lonely?! Nobody else feels this lonely. Look at all the friends they have on Facebook. Look at all those likes they’re getting…

We are living in a time when it’s easy to feel uncomfortable being alone, because there are so many ways you can “be” with other people. So we’re never truly alone. And that makes it ever more uncomfortable when we feel lonely.

I saw someone post a photo on Facebook last Friday night of themselves with a glass of wine and the caption “Relaxing into a much-needed quiet Friday night date with myself. #DontHate” The irony hurt.¬†If you really want to be alone, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THE WHOLE WORLD, my brain yelled. Then I realized I knew the answer:¬†this person is uncomfortable being alone on a Friday night, and this is how they are trying to mitigate that discomfort.¬†

They are seeing all of their friends posting photos of their fun nights out with dozens of people and having so much fun and internalizing all of this as something being wrong with them. Maybe they chose to be alone tonight, or maybe they got ditched by a friend, or maybe they wanted to go out and don’t really have any friends who wanted to go out with them, but, whatever the case, they were probably terrified they would slip from enjoying a night alone into being lonely on a Friday night. The first is good. The second is bad. And maybe a “like” or a reassuring comment would stave that off.

I knew the answer because I have been that person.

I spend a lot of time on the road traveling alone. And during the day, when I’m performing, or visiting a campus, or flying, eating, writing — keeping my mind busy — I’m on the road traveling alone; I’m not lonely on the road. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the aloneness. I thrive in it. But at night, when I get back to my hotel room and plop down on the bed, I regularly toe the line between being alone and being lonely.

I am usually good at landing on the¬†enjoying a night alone side of the line, but sometimes, usually after a particularly long stretch on the road, of if a show doesn’t go as well as I want it to, I’ll find myself stumbling onto the lonely side.¬†It probably doesn’t help that I have this disgusting and self-body-destroying habit of having a huge pizza delivered to my hotel room and eating it by myself in my underwear. And, as I am typing that, I am reminded of this:

That was at some hotel in some town on the east coast several weeks ago. I spent a ton of time on the road this fall, and was likely sharing that to stave off the internal perception of loneliness that night. Don’t get me wrong, I was also sharing it because I think it’s hilarious how disgusting I am. I don’t really eat animal stuff, and only rarely (once a month or so) eat cheese, but when I do,¬†I do. And it’s also worth pointing out that when someone “likes” something on Instagram they give you a heart. How perfect. But ultimately, I didn’t want to feel lonely. I never want to feel lonely.

I’ve found aloneness to be one of the most powerful influences in getting to the point where I’m at right now, doing what I’m doing, living the life I’m living. By finding a way to enjoy and embrace aloneness I’ve created things and had experiences I would have never had otherwise. Loneliness is a poison, but aloneness is a catalyst. The difficult part is infusing the latter into your life without inadvertently dosing yourself with the former.

Can we stop equating being alone with being lonely? Yes. And we should. Because it’s one of the many ways we’re fabricating unhappiness, and doing ourselves a major disservice. I have been on a long journey that started many years ago into embracing and enjoying aloneness, and I’ve come a long way, but (as I greasily depicted above) still struggle.

I’ve found progress through being mindful of when I’m feeling lonely, intentional in how I allow myself to react to that feeling, and focusing on appreciating the experience I’m having instead of missing the experiences I’m not having.

(Un)Happiness

We Fabricate the Obstacles that Stand Between Us and Happiness

We're convinced that there are challenges -- immutable, concrete, biological -- we must overcome in order to be happy. What if we convinced ourselves otherwise?

You sit down in a restaurant, the server comes over and asks what’ll you have. “I would like a double bacon cheeseburger, please. I prefer my fermented milk on top of pig on top of cow on top of cow.” Then the server replies, “No problem, hun’. Just put together this 5,000 piece puzzle¬†Minimalist Sand Dune¬†and I’ll have your order right out.”

Wait what?

That hopefully sounds absurd. You’d never stand for that. “I’ll eat my heart attack somewhere else!” you might yell. But we do stand for that. We put 5,000+ piece puzzles between ourselves and things we want every day, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Continue reading → “We Fabricate the Obstacles that Stand Between Us and Happiness”