Life lesson from a salt shaker

Salt shaker

When I sat down to breakfast one morning in Honolulu, I noticed that the salt shaker’s cap was very loose.

Ah, I thought to myself, something in the world that needs a bit of fixing; I put the cap on correctly. A minor triumph to start the day, restoring order to the universe.

A moment later, I tried to use the salt shaker and nothing came out.

It turns out that Honolulu’s morning air was so dense and humid that all the salt stuck together. The previous occupants of the table (or perhaps the wait staff) had loosened it so that you could pour a clump out and sprinkle the salt with your fingers.

This is a small life lesson on the power of delusion, of seeing the world how you want it to be instead of seeing it how it really is. I saw the salt shaker as “wrong” when in fact it was perfectly right for the environment it was in. I wanted things to be different than they were instead of understanding why the world worked in that way in the first place.

It’s a small, painless cautionary tale for everything in life: see the world the way it is, not the way you want it to be. Once you do, you might understand the world a little bit better. I certainly did.


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Simple travel tip: USPS flat rate large box

When I travel on business, I occasionally do pick up things from my travels, such as interesting trade show giveaways, the random souvenir, client materials, etc. After a few trips, you learn to minimize what you pack and travel with. Going on the road is easy – you have total control over what you pack. Coming back after travel? You can get some interesting wildcards in your luggage.

Consider then, what it costs to bring some extra stuff back:

average_baggage_fees_-_Google_Search.png

Depending on what you’re carrying, the checked baggage fee may cost more than the items are worth.

For less stress, less heavy lifting, and less money, this has become my new best friend:

Priority_Mail_Large_Flat_Rate_Box.png

The USPS charges $18 for half a cubic foot of space. Granted, that’s not as large as a checked bag, but I don’t have to carry it with me. On my most recent business trip, I had a half cubic foot of extra stuff, and this did the trick. $18 later, my luggage was about 15 pounds lighter and I didn’t have to worry about fitting into an overhead compartment nearly as much. In fact, for future trips, I may be able to even ship basics and avoid the larger bag entirely.

Next time you’ve got some business travel and a little more cargo than you anticipated, don’t forget about the $18 box from the Post Office.

Disclosure: I was not compensated or asked to write about the Post Office’s large box.


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Does connection breed conformity?

My teacher Stephen Hayes pointed out recently that conformity seems to be on the rise again. As someone who grew up during the 1950s, he’d certainly have the perspective and experience to know this, but we can see it for ourselves.

One way bacon street sign

Despite tools and technologies being more freeing than ever in our communications capabilities, our ability to express unpopular opinions is lesser than ever.

Consider what happens to someone who expresses an opinion such as opposing marriage equality. They are immediately excoriated for their narrowness and bigotry.

Consider what happens in political parties. If you’re not all in, you’re branded disloyal. A good example is the Republican party – if you don’t agree with and endorse the entirety of the platform, you are branded with the epithet “RINO”, Republican in name only, and any influence you might have had evaporates. (not to mention financial support, if you’re running for office)

Consider what happens when you tweet something that exhibits temporary poor judgement, as many have. One short sentence can ruin an otherwise exemplary career as the tidal wave of negative opinion crushes you.

Consider what happens even when you express disagreement with simple, popular memes like the Internet’s ongoing love of bacon. You may encounter vigorous opposition even from friends in a reaction disproportionate to its importance.

What breeds such intolerance, across political views, across parties, across cultures and nations? Ironically, a big portion of it may be the very tools that let us communicate more freely, the technology. We have more reach than ever; we can communicate more to each other than at any time in human history.

Reach tends to homogenize opinion. In the old days, you would have clusters of opinion and lots of variation because there was no way to know what other people thought beyond very slow moving mass media. Your personal opinion of interracial marriage may have been contrary to the times but because the tv and radio had to focus on bigger news, no one outside of your drinking buddies at the bar ever heard it. No one tweeted it. No one periscoped it.

Today, something you say can reach millions of people. Millions of people can respond to you in turn, for good or ill, in an instant. There’s enough bandwidth on the Internet for you to be heard – and for those who oppose your views to be heard as well.

What should you take away from this understanding? The micro-communities in which it was safe to express your opinion can still be had, but you must now make a proactive effort to create them. Expressing authentic opinions to your friends is best done outside of the public eye; from private Facebook groups to Slack teams to apps like Path, take the initiative to protect yourself from the mob.

As long as we have greater interconnectedness, expect greater consequences from mob rule. Only when our channels have fragmented so much that mega-networks like Facebook no longer exist will you see a return to how we used to express opinions more honestly.


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