Instead of achieving the good life, how about a good-enough life?

My philosophy discussion group has been pursuing the topic of what constitutes a good life.  We started our quest with a look at ethics and moral philosophy.  Wow. In case you’re wondering, there are no real answers in the realm of moral philosophy, even fewer answers than in other fields of philosophy, if that’s possible!  Is morality something that is universal, with certain moral “rights” that transcend individual societies and cultures, or is morality relative?  And if there really is such a thing as universal human rights, which many of us would like to believe, then how come agreements on what constitutes morality change with history even within one culture?  See, no real answers.

But I did come across an essay from 2 years ago that I think does a great job of addressing our group’s original question of what constitutes a good life.  This essay, entitled The good-enough life: the desire for greatness can be an obstacle to our own potential, by Avram Alpert, suggests that we do ourselves a big disservice by expecting too much of ourselves, as if life is a competition.  He posits that, just as our philosophy group has been realizing from our frustrating pursuit of absolute answers to moral questions, trying to please everyone all the time just can’t work.  Your definition of “best” isn’t necessarily someone else’s definition of “best”.  And that’s all right! Continue reading

Posted in History and Politics, Just wondering | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Map Monday: more fun with projections and cartograms

We’ve looked at map projections before on Map Monday.  To remind you, the most common projection – that is, the representation of the 3-D globe on a 2-D map – is the Mercator projection.

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There are many reasons for this, starting with its ease of use for navigation on the seas, but as we’ve seen in the past, it badly misrepresents the size of many places.  Interestingly, the winners in unfair virtual increases in size seem to be largely the “western” nations. Nice for Greenland and Antarctica though!

As described in The Conversation’s Five Maps that will Change the World, Boston public schools are shifting to using world maps based on the Peters projection, a first for a US public school district.  Their move is in recognition that the Peters projection accurately shows different countries’ relative sizes. Although it distorts the shapes of the countries, it avoids exaggerating the size of developed nations in Europe and North America and reducing the size of less developed countries in Asia, Africa and South America, as is done with the long-used Mercator projection. What do you think?

MM-PeterProjection

The article includes a few different ways of representing the world as a map, including one that has the South Pole at the top of the map and the North Pole at the bottom.  After all, there’s no law of nature that says that north needs to be at the top! Continue reading

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Fitness is freedom

Fitness is freedom.  I wonder how many of us have ever considered this sage bit of philosophizing.  I hadn’t.  As I whizzed down an aisle in our local supermarket a week or so ago, following the COVID arrows in the right direction in order to get to my intended target of the far end of the next aisle, I happened to glance over at the magazine section in passing and was stopped by this splash on one of the covers.

FitnessA

It caught my eye despite my focus on getting to my next item.  As a senior, I can’t tell you how strongly this phrase resonated with me.  We learn to accept increasing numbers of physical limitations, and we try to focus on the things we can do rather than the things we can no longer do.  BUT, and this is an important “but”, being (relatively) fit really does allow you to age more successfully than if you’ve given that up as a bad job.  Fitness really is freedom in your senior years. Continue reading

Posted in Odds and Ends, Running | Tagged , , , , , | 32 Comments

Map Monday: the future of the Arctic with global warming and economic “opportunity”

As most of you know, the Northwest Passage has been in the sights of explorers and traders for literally centuries.  The dream has always been to find a shorter route from Europe to Asia than going all the way around Africa or all the way around South America.  Even today, with the Suez Canal (ouch) and the Panama Canal cutting off thousands of miles, being able to take cargo ships and freighters between Asian and European markets over a northern route would save considerable time and money if only it were a real possibility.

Thanks to man-made climate change, the loss of permanent sea ice is having a devastating impact on the people and animals that have lived in the Arctic for millennia.  Absolutely devastating. But, those same people whose zest for commercial enterprises helped bring us global warming are increasingly seeing that the dream of a  navigable Northwest Passage is coming back to life with a vengeance.  The big question is whether you see this as a silver lining to the climate crisis or a future nail in the coffin for our planet.  Personally, the ramifications for opening up the Arctic sea routes to heavier traffic – and pollution – scare me to death and depress me like hell, but that’s just me.

While looking at these maps of the exploration of the Northwest Passage through history, keep in mind that for most of the year, the parts that look like water in the maps is mostly ice. This first map shows how many tried, over how many centuries (1587-1941). [Click on any map to zoom in on more details.] Continue reading

Posted in History and Politics, Map Monday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Harnessing your inner Superhero

I bet you never fantasize about being a superhero, at least not since you were a kid.  Kids can dream.  Well, after reading a friend’s Facebook post this morning about his childhood dreams of being a superhero, and especially the significant insights that went along with his reminiscences, I knew I had to share his observations.  Scott MacAfee shared these words of wisdom with his Facebook friends while recounting how much he had loved reading Superhero comics as a kid, as well as describing several scary antics (to mothers everywhere) he engaged in as he tried to conjure up his own superhero powers.  These are Scott’s concluding paragraphs, well worth reading and taking to heart. [The bolding is mine.]

… The great part about comics is that these unlikely heroes had something bad happen to them, then they evolved and used their new ability to benefit the world in big or small ways. This sounds like purpose to me and reminds me of something a great mentor of mine once told me “Find your place, take your place, all of your place, but only your place”.

I read Kingdom Come as an adult. It is set in the future where the offspring of heroes have stopped taking care of humanity; they have become bored, selfish and detached. The old heroes come back and try to punish them, but that doesn’t work, so they find a new way forward together. They reconnect and recommit to their shared humanity, start caring about and taking care of each other again and peace is restored.

What if… comics were/are encouraging us to lean into who we are, be our full selves, develop our talents and skills, share them with the world, and be an example for those that have a harder road to lean into theirs, while at the same time being open minded and open hearted to accepting others as they are could that mean that everyone was actually a superhero?

Or maybe they are just a bunch of short stories with cool pictures and bright colours to occupy kids with short attention spans, I guess we’ll never know…

If that’s not a powerful interpretation of what kids can get out of reading superhero comics, I don’t know what is.  See, Scott, you are a superhero.  So all of you who are despairing of your young sons reading nothing but superhero comics – and there are many of them – take heart.  It turns out that superheroes are actually excellent role models (except for the leaping over buildings in a single bound part of their exploits, that is).

There’s a further lesson for parents of young children who have concerns about their kids taking the important things seriously enough, and what will become of them.

Scott MacAfee has been a friend of my older son since before either of them were old enough to even read a comic book.  This year they and their large group of friends now spread out all over the world are turning 50!  They did all the things your kids are doing now that may occasionally concern you.  You know what those things are, although some things you’d just as soon not know about!  They were kids being kids.

To celebrate the milestone, Scott is writing a remembrance for each of 50 days in advance of his 50th.  Today’s offering was #29.  And his daily remembrances of all the crazy things they did when they were young are bringing smiles and tears to lots of eyes.  The eyes of people I had the privilege of watching grow up.  They’ve grown into caring, responsible individuals: spouses, fathers and mothers, community builders, community supporters, entrepreneurs, and professionals.  First they were our future, and now they are our present.  And we are in good hands.  Very good hands.  I’m proud to know them all.  So for those of you whose kids are still at home, maybe making ramps off their garage roof to see if they can fly or spending all day lying on their bed playing superhero video games, don’t worry.  I know it’s hard to see, but they’re absorbing the values you set for them while they appear to be paying absolutely no attention. Your kids are going to be just fine.

Superman

Posted in Leadership, Life stories | Tagged , , , , , | 37 Comments

Run-walking my way through Tuscany – virtually

A few months ago I posted that I had begun a virtual challenge – within my own timeframe and my own personally acceptable modes of trekking – to trek the St Francis Way.  I chose it because the 503 kms seemed like a distance I could eventually complete this year regardless of occasional setbacks from a complaining body.  When I chose this route I had no idea that the St Francis Way is actually the St Francis Pilgrimage, similar to the Camino de Santiago in Spain (or Way of St James).  This route follows the one taken by St Francis of Assisi 800 long years ago.

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A number of people have asked what it’s like, so I thought I’d give you a bird’s eye view.  I’ve now covered 27% of the route, according to the handy-dandy app provided by Conqueror Challenge.  This is what my path looks like at the moment.  My companion in the map below, PC, is my brother Phil.  I’m waiting for him to pass me any day!

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The app also provides a Google street view of where you are at any time.  At the moment I’m just about to come into Santa Fiora and then Sansepolcro.  In the meantime, I find myself in a flat agricultural area, as my current street view shows. Continue reading

Posted in Odds and Ends, Running | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

To be nice or to be kind, that is the question

The other day an article in the Globe and Mail caught my attention because of its intriguing title, Canada is fighting Covid-19 with niceness … and losing, by Tenille Bonoguore.  The premise of the article was that in trying to be as nice as possible to Canadians during tough times, the Canadian government has severely weakened its efforts to fully protect its citizens during COVID.  This author was comparing the tough-love “kind” approach of Australia in instituting early, no-holes-barred lockdowns and traveler quarantining to the “nice” approach of Canada in trying to keep options more open as long as possible in the face of uncertainty in order to avoid undue frustration and anger.  (She ignores the fact that the Maritime provinces closed their borders to the rest of Canada early in the process.)

Of course, some of her premises are debatable. I’m sure if we catalogued the full range of national approaches to the pandemic – each nation with its own cultures, national character, and geographic challenges – we’d find holes in each approach taken.  It’s been a one-in-a-lifetime learning process for every country, and it’s not over yet.  However, I was intrigued by her distinction between “nice” and “kind”.

The best way of exploring the nice-kind differences is probably by using the author’s words themselves:

Nice doesn’t want to upset nor offend. It tries to keep everyone happy. It is polite, sweet, often generous. It avoids causing offence. It is quite lovely because it tries hard to be. But it is all veneer. …

Niceness and kindness can wear the same face. More often than not, the kind option is also the nice one. But sometimes – usually at critical junctures – the two diverge because, despite many overlapping features, they are not the same thing.

Niceness is a façade. It is reactive and situational, based on external validation. It worries about what others think, weighing the odds and choosing the path that will get the best response. It is immediate and impulsive. It aims to please – or worse, to appease. It is morally and ethically malleable.

Kindness, by contrast, … strives for decency and fairness. It requires wisdom, strength and a continuing assessment of our own biases and assumptions. Radical kindness has honesty and understanding at its core. It asks questions instead of assuming answers, seeking to understand rather than dictate.

This isn’t the flippant kindness sequined onto throw pillows or the gentle kindness of children’s books. This is a thornier type of kindness, one that weighs heavy on those who choose to embrace it.

It understands that pleasing one often means displeasing another – so, knowing that it cannot please everyone, it doesn’t seek to do so. This kindness takes the long view and tries to discern the best – or least worst – option. …

Kindness can also come with jagged edges. It grapples with reality in all its difficulty. And unlike “nice,” which aims to placate without ever implicating, it understands that life has real consequences that are inevitably borne by someone. …

With kindness at our core, we can enter difficult discussions and be prepared to unapologetically make difficult decisions. Not everyone will like it, but embracing kindness means you are forced to be okay with that. “Nice” lets you have candy for dinner. “Kind” brings the toothbrush. …

Kindness forces you to relinquish control over what others think of you. It forces you to act in ways that are good – rather than in ways you suspect will look good. Kindness combines the emotions inherent to “nice” with the balance required of “fair.” It is the option of adults who have grown beyond trying to please everyone, who have left behind the tit-for-tat of childhood and the insecurity of adolescence. Kindness sees life for all its beauty and difficulty, and doesn’t shy away. …

“Nice” has brought us [Canada in this article] a long way, but “kind” could take us farther. By embracing it, we can all step out of our own shadows and walk into the light.

Hmm. That’s a lot of food for thought for us all, from parents to friends to politicians.  Just to be clear, you can be nice and kind at the same time. But occasionally, to be truly kind, you have to break through the façade of pure “niceness”.  And that’s not always the easier path.

Do these distinctions resonate with you? Do you often find yourself being “nice” when you’d rather be “kind”?!

Bandaid

Posted in Just wondering, Thoughtful Thursday | Tagged , , , , | 40 Comments

Map Monday: why World Water Day is needed

Human beings can’t live without a certain amount of fresh water. Fresh water is a requirement for life, and therefore it would be hard to imagine anyone disagreeing that access to clean water should be a human right. But, as with all human rights, this is not the case around the world. March 22, World Water Day, was established precisely to bring attention to the many challenges to ensuring access to clean water for all of the planet’s citizens.

From an online CBC article this morning:

About four billion people experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year, and around 1.6 billion — almost a quarter of the world’s population — have problems accessing a clean, safe water supply, according to the United Nations.

While the UN’s sustainable development goals call for water and sanitation for all by 2030, the international organization says scarcity is increasing and more than half the people on Earth will be living in water-stressed regions by 2050.

The UN’s World Water Day, held March 22 every year since 1993, aims to raise awareness about the reality that so many people are living without access to safe water.

Let’s look at some world maps that can provide an overview to some of the many issues around these challenges. [I haven’t included anything about the appalling levels of pollution in many freshwater rivers and lakes.] Continue reading

Posted in History and Politics, Map Monday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments