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Buster Benson

No advice column.

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reviving Egger
monkey in space
It's so easy to be negative and to get bitter.  These emotions spread out into the world like lusty rabbits.  Gratefulness, breaks, and acts of kindness by their nature don't spread as easily because to spread them is to in some sense negate their intent.  We're hyper-sensitive to people taking too much credit for their good deeds, and on the lookout for any ulterior motive that might give someone a reason to promote another person's kindness or generosity.  I may be exaggerating a little.  On the other hand, hearing about good deeds and acts of kindness on the sly is uplifting.  Also, being positive and kind has what I think of as a horrible branding.  It's dominated by hippies and self-help gurus and people that make me want to puke.  What can be done?  Anything?

I'm thinking about reviving my old Egger McLeod game and making it simpler and truer to the original intent.  Something about encouraging others to enjoy life as much as possible, as a game.  The original hope way back when was to come up with an ungameable game.  A game that you couldn't become so good at that the game lost its purpose.  You know, how once you know how to solve a Rubik's Cube, or never lose at Tic-Tac-Toe, or how to climb a corporate ladder, the fun (and soul) is gone.  I want to invent a game that the better you get at it, the more fun/more soul it has.  Is this naive, in the face of all the negative energy in the world and in our own lives?  Is it elitist or too indulgent to focus on growing instead of shrinking?

Other mini-ideas I have to help myself go in the direction I want to go:
  1. A series of posts on things I run into that I think are great. 
  2. Write about any acts of kindness or generosity that I witness from others.
Desperation and being trapped in a corner can be used for good, if channeled into creativity and action.  The only other path is to become paralyzed, hateful, and bitter.  Which I refuse to accept.

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I've actually been thinking a lot about kindness lately. I talked about this elsewhere, but this bit in Love is a Mixtape has been sticking with me through recent events: "You lose a certain kind of innocence when you experience this type of kindness. You lose your right to be a jaded cynic. [...] People kept showing me unreasonable kindness, inexplicable kindness, indefensible kindness. People were kind when they knew that nobody would ever notice, much less praise them for it...I had no idea how to live up to that kindness."
People have been kind even when I couldn't appreciate it, and that makes it hard to be negative and paralyzed and bitter even though in my head that feels like the most natural path.

Anyway, it's all turned me into a total cheerleader for influencing good in miniature ways, and for reevaluating my own behavior towards others. You know, to try and live up to all of the kindness I've received.

That's the thing about kindness, it's at its purest when it's invisible. But at the same time, it's by receiving kindness that you're most likely to become kind yourself. It's a self-collapsing meme. But maybe it's the silent futility about it all that is the point. Sort of like giving change to the homeless.

That's the thing about kindness, it's at its purest when it's invisible.

God, isn't that the truth.

Wow. Let's do it.

I think it can be hard to take this up because you end up examining your own definition of kindness and why you don't (always) do (enough of) the things that fall in line with it. I think the trick is to kick ourselves/each other off the dock and say "that's OK" and take the focus off self and put it on what could make someone's day. Something like that.

Yes, as soon as you start talking about kindness, everyone has to admit to falling short. And if you talk about it too much, you're a hypocrite. Which is why I think none of us should examine our own kindness, but just seek out and talk about the kindness of others. We risk being assholes for seeking any second-hand reflection of other peoples' good deeds, but at least we're not talking about ourselves. :)

My only problem is that I have trouble thinking of examples. My brain is just not wired to necessarily notice such things naturally. Or, if I do notice occasionally, I don't retain.

Any ideas on what to do?

(I like your tag cloud btw)

I'm reading a book called 40 Signs of Rain (I almost typed 43signs) which reminded me about the prisoner's dilemma problem (background for people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma). Which is an interesting way to think of altruism and all the different kinds of "altruism" there are -- it's not just good people and bad people, there are lots of different strategies.

I think a lot of people act as if they're playing prisoner's dilemma with the world, where if you look at the payoffs:
being good when the world is good -- win a lot
being good when the world is bad -- lose a lot
being bad when the world is bad -- win a little
being bad when the world is good -- lose a little

(I think here I mean good/bad in the positive/negative sense more than the morality sense). But I don't think the world really works that way (first of all, it's not playing).

And I think there are lots of things that are more fun the better you get at them. But I think most of them I would put in the "real" category vs. the "game" category if I had to.

I think if you're doing good (in many senses), some people will be more inspired and some people will be more jealous, and you can't do much about that.

Re: prisoner's dilemma

I like the idea of reducing this to game strategies. Though, it's not really you against the world so much as you against yourself and everyone else. And the game has people who are winning and losing, but no end so never an official winner or loser... just people who retire all their chips when they leave the game.

Re: prisoner's dilemma

Right, what I think is that people act like there's a game, and rules, and people playing against them, people on their team, but there actually isn't any of that, so nobody has to act that way.

Or maybe that there is a game, but it's all in my head so I can play whichever one I want.

See, I would say that 2007 was the year in which I learned that you don't always have to be kind. I am a person who tends toward kind, towards accommodating, toward thoughtful. And what I learned this year is that some people are just jerks and I don't have to put up with it, I don't have to turn the other cheek, I don't have to be friends with people who are mean and who I don't even really like, but was being kind to because that is my default mode of being.

So being kind is good, but being on your guard for jerks is good too.

Yeah, I used to be too nice. And the last couple years I've definitely allowed myself to be more of a jerk to people who take advantage of me. I think we can all agree that being kind to assholes is a waste of time.

It's like Laurel mentioned above... being kind in a world of assholes will make you lose big. On the other hand, being an asshole in a world of assholes will only make you win a little. A more sophisticated answer needs to be applied (which most of us already do even if we can't quite articulate it).

OK. I think a huge part, maybe even the definition of being kind is paying close attention to people, and letting them know you like what you see. The bad branding is a result of people who intentionally set out to "be kind," because that's contrived. I watch this happen ALL DAY LONG, by the way. So, I think you're on to something with that idea about writing down the great things you see every day because that'll mean you'll be paying closer attention to people, which means you'll see kindness AND it'll make you kinder. Also, paying attention skills can totally be a part of a game because there are specific, concrete ways to assess how well you're doing. And I don't think you can ever pay TOO MUCH attention to anything. That's where meditation comes in!

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