“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Not long after Seinfeld, the famous sitcom about “nothing” that spanned a decade and 180 episodes, went off the air, Jerry Seinfeld opened a stand-up act by rhetorically asking his audience: “The question is this…what have I been doin’?” I’m sure the audience expected a long-winded explanation of his luxurious post-Seinfeld exploits. But no, that’s not his style. Known for poking fun at the silliness of typical everyday things, he responded casually by saying, “I’ll tell ya what I’ve been doing…nothin’.” The crowd roared, of course.
Well, it’s been a few months since my last post, and you’re probably tempted to think that’s what I’ve doing (nothing). But I’ve actually been hard at work, doing things like you all do: making money, trying new restaurants, enjoying beach vacations, spending time with family, catching up on Game of Thrones, keeping a watchful eye on the news, not keeping a watchful eye on the activities of Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian, phoning friends, reading books, and playing the guitar. The usual.
But that’s not all I’ve been doing. While working on the redesign of my blog, which I hope you like, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking.
One of the great luxuries of my job as a trucker, which at this point to most of my readers still seems utterly ridiculous, is that I have time to myself. Lots of it. My average day consists of 6-9 hours of driving. Just driving. Outside of that I spend several hours more managing my business, but the bulk of my days are spent with nothing to do but turning a steering wheel.
Instead of simply passing the time away by listening to cool music or talking on the phone, I productively use that time to do three critical things: think, reflect, and read.
As Emerson so wonderfully intimated, the mind is our sanctuary, a truly sacred place set apart from the world and all its activity. Withdrawing to our mind isn’t supposed to an occasional retreat, overdue from the exhausting stresses of everyday, normal life. Rather the mind should be a place we go to enhance the self, to get in-touch with what our life is really like and focus on what’s most important. And when you discover what’s most important, you defer all other outside opinions (the “noise”) to their proper place, behind an attentive mental focus on your personal goals and objectives. You get in-tune with yourself.
My decision a year ago to leave corporate America for a highly un-respected job could not have panned out much better. It was the result of understanding what was most important to me. I acted on that knowledge, that focus, and made it worth my while. I’ve accomplished much, built strong relationships, and carved out precious access to one of the most highly sought-after resources: time. And I can almost guarantee I have more of it than you do. Na-na-na-na-boo-boo.
But that’s not the point. The point is about what I do with that time.
Most people, whether stuck all day in a truck or some corporate cubicle, fail to find time to preserve their self and enhance the way they understand the world. My world is large, by choice, not really by association. I don’t see a lot of people anymore, but I have time now to think about how ineffectively our, especially American, world works. It’s a big arena, a large world, that needs change. It’s an opportunity for serious contribution.
You see, I believe big change is possible, but most people don’t think big enough to do it. Ultimately, that’s why I’m out here: to discover big change that’s possible and help make it happen.
And so, for starters, I read. Improving my auditory skills as well as my knowledge base, I get through two books a week using Audible, a great audiobook tool available through Amazon. Reading, as Emerson would agree, does nothing much for you if you don’t act on what you learn from it, which is why I’m building my intellectual arsenal and learning what’s been understood in the past in order to move beyond it and improve the way we do things. And no, it isn’t always fun.
But one of my most recent accomplishments, one I highly enjoyed, another book of the ivory-tower sort by Anthony Giddens called The Consequences of Modernity, is one of those books that provides a frame of mind, a reference point for big thinking. It’s completely abstruse, hard to read and abstract the whole way through. You’d likely find it very boring, but many of the points he makes will frame my future discussions.
Basically he argues that our world is not after all a post-modern one. Instead, we feel the painful effects of Modernity (a proxy for the hyper-industrialized epoch we’re living in) far more today than ever before. More importantly, though, he contends that Modernity is a juggernaut, uncontrollably running away and causing us deep-seated anxiety and cultural roadblocks. In short, our world is big, tough to manage, and becoming increasingly harder to change.
Perhaps, this seems obvious to some of you. If so, dig deeper.
He offers three potential reasons for why this is so, and they’re important to understand (yet very abstract, I know; but don’t worry, I’ll simplify). First, he primarily attributes the uncontrollableness of our modern world to the chance effect or result of our inability to make sense of ever-changing and competing knowledge claims. Here’s an attempt at an example: as our cultural values change (e.g. whether or not gays should have the right to marry, whether or not we should own guns, etc.), claims supporting or not supporting those values have become harder to discern, harder to know what is right or wrong. But this example is actually too small to do justice to what Giddens is really trying to say. The main point is, knowledge is global, intricate, and variegated and it makes it difficult to make big decisions (or change for that matter).
Second, he thinks that we feel the pains of Modernity due to our own failure, or our inability to navigate and manage things. This is a rather simple concept and straightforward. To understand, look no further than what politicians in our country do to help people out. Not much.
But the third reason for the consequences of Modernity, one Giddens generally walks over and pays little attention to, is in my opinion really the most important: design faults. By “design faults” he means the design of structures and systems that govern our ways of life. For example, our United States Constitution is a design-oriented document, outlining the high-level rule and guide for our country’s operating model. Some might argue that allowing Americans the right to own guns, for instance, would represent a design fault, leading to mass murders and other tragic events. Whether or not it is, in fact, a design fault, I’ll get to that later. After all, my blog is an opinion, an overall argument. But for now, I want to share with you, my readers, how important it is to think big enough so as to have a frame for critical thought and reflection.
Which brings me back to my first point. I will never do “nothing.” My job allows me the opportunity to do what most cannot, and I will see the effort of discovering possible big change to my lonely grave. My next post, and likely many more after that, will look at various design faults that have led to modern day catastrophes, ones that most of us face every day.
Not to innovate, or put more mere band-aid fixes to an incurable situation, I want to seriously consider radical ideas that could actually change the way our world works.
In truth, innovation is only enough to meet the demands of the day, but creation satisfies the needs of tomorrow.
So stay tuned, the fun’s just getting started.