München Musings

Published: 2014-11-09
Tagged: photography thoughts

I've been laying low recently, studying the way I do things and trying to figure out how to do them better or even how to define "better". A recent trip brought on a bout of reflection.

It seems that reflection is an integral part of the human condition so avoiding it by being busy makes the brain go haywire. Funny thing though - reflection helps us notice the fact that a good part of what keeps us busy is completely meaningless. I don't want to steer into the complex question on what is and isn't meaningful, so I'll constrain the topic by tackling the part where things are meaningful if they bring you closer towards your goals. This seems obvious, but I quite often find myself expanding time and energy throughout the day on things that, while giving me a warm fuzzy feeling of doing stuff don't actually bring me closer to any one of my goals.

Throughout the years I've managed to skim various communities and ideas pertaining to productivity. I stayed at the fringes trying to extract key points of everything from GTD to T4HWW and other collections of capital letters. I was lucky not to get pulled into the the Utopia of Books With Fruits on Their Covers aka productivity for productivity's sake. All of this boiled down to the idea that all of these tools and systems are based on one central tenet - that of focus.

Funny. It seems that because of so much discussion, the word has lost all meaning. Focus should allow a person to inspect his or her habits and optimize them. Focus should allow for better decisions. Focus, in general, seems to be the wunderwaffe we all seek. On the way to attaining this holiest of skills stand many obstacles such as discipline, environment, our very own bodies, energy levels, random events. Despite seeming to be the core of the whole spectacle, I've found little direct instruction about how to cultivate this skill. The information out there is legion and sometimes inconsistent.

The only way to get it, it seems, is the old fashioned way: methodically collect information, process it, and synthesize little precious blobs of knowledge. One such unexpected occasion was my trip to Germany.

First things first though - why am I even interested in this? I can't remember when exactly, but sometime around late highschool, I became interested in the idea of quality. To keep things short I'll just say that I relate quality to goodness. The more productive I am, the more goodness I am able to bring into the world or at least, take away some of the badness. There's always a feeling like I'm not doing as much as I can to this end, whether it's keeping the environment healthy or being the best I can be to people close to me (not to mention living things in general), so I've always been on the lookout for ways to make better decisions, to align myself with my goals, and for making the biggest impact. This, at least to me, seems like a problem closely related to that of the productivity problem.

Enter Germany, Munich to be precise, and what I think is the protestant work ethic. With a small nudge by the most trusted person in the world, everything product of action of the German people I saw seemed to perfectly echo Alfred Krupp's words: The purpose of work should be the common good, then work is a blessing, work is prayer. Hopefully, this isn't the mind projection fallacy on my part.

The buildings seemed to have been built with the welfare of their occupants in mind - the windows let in the right amount of sunlight and the walls kept out the right amount of cold outside. The subway cars are quiet enough to do away with noise canceling headphones. Most buildings, even ones built post WW2, have underground garages to keep the traffic flowing. The amount of bike paths and stands shocked me - no more having to dodge cars nor carry your bike up flights of stairs, nor having to tie it down to street posts (at least in the quantity seen on NYC streets). The attention to details, and the right details at the same time, made me think of a grand machine with the sole purpose of ensuring a high quality of life to the people making up parts of the machine.

Before anyone thinks that I'm blinded by the riches of the city, I'll hastily add that I'm now going back to the idea behind Alfred Krupp's words above, which captured a significant portion of my brain-time over the last few days.

Life looks like a constant struggle against death that was made somewhat easier through society. However, society brought on its own share of suffering that is to be fought. Both death and suffering can be fought by alleviating the dangers of death or by nullifying the externalities wrought on us by society. This takes work.

By work I do not mean only the part of our lives that we are paid a wage for, I mean the purpose of our life. Then the day job becomes only a smaller part of our work. Things like exercising, eating right, showing kindness, learning new skills, exploring our planet, meeting its inhabitants, reading books, writing books, hell, creating anything, and many more activities. I'm a strong believer in the whole "be the difference you want to see in the world" thing.

Believing is not enough. It takes work. Not just any work, but work with focus, otherwise Bertrand Russel frowns upon us. Find something to focus on and kill your ennui.


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