Normal People Look for Causality

From the book Be Unreasonable by Paul Lemberg:

Freedom comes from responsibility. Be completely responsible for your actions and your results. Normal people look for causality, something or someone to blame for the way things turned out. Unreasonably lay claim to every miracle or debacle within your sphere of influence; make them all yours, for that’s the only way to exert dominon over them and gain freedom. Being unreasonable is about being totally responsible for everything around you and completely irresponsible about transgressing cultural norms.

I quote this passage in particular because the sentence “normal people look for causality, something or someone to blame for the way things turned out” stood out for me. I work in a rather typical corporate environment, one in which people often ask “why did this Outcome Xyz happen?” when something wrong happens, not so much looking for a solution, but someone or something to pin the blame on.

I am guilty of doing this too, but always seek to propose a solution or two if sufficiently within my area of expertise. Sure, Department Abc may have caused the negative outcome, but then what? Is it really enough to say they caused it?

I believe it’s always useful to the organisation and to the all parties to give a possible solution, even if it may not be the optimal or best solution. Apart from being a possible solution to the problem, it will help to alleviate some of the tension inherent in such a situation.

Regrets at not living a fuller life

Imagine you’re 80-years-old, on your rocking chair, looking at your grandchildren running along in the large garden of your beautiful house, acquired almost 40 years ago. At that time, the house cost you a “small fortune” and (at least according to the stories you’d tell anyone who’d cared to listen), though you’re able to afford multiples of them now, it’d then took you “years of blood and sweat to have had been able to afford it”.

Just this afternoon you’d welcomed a blogger who wrote for an online magazine focused on “success and what it takes to achieve it”. Most of her questions were the standard fare, things like asking about what sort of qualities you thought were necessary to succeed in today’s world (“hardwork and luck”); what qualities you thought you possessed when you achieved the success you did in your yesteryears (“luck and lots of love”); and what lessons you thought you could share to help others achieve the sort of success you achieved (“wear sunscreen”).

But there was one question that hit a raw nerve: that of whether you had any regrets in living the life you’d live, and if so, what they were and how others might learn from that. It hit a raw nerve because try as you might, you never could forget the many trips overseas you’d forgone for the sake of career success in your younger days. Trips, which due to a horrific leg injury sustained in your later life, had to be “put on hold indefinitely”. Sure, overseas trips for you were common now after retirement, but they’d never have been the same than if you’d be been, in your words, “fully functional.”

You’d always felt that you could probably have toned down your emphasis on career success and “lived a little more. I’d probably have made it, and just as well.”

But you shouldn’t be too upset with yourself, especially if, financially and career-wise, you feel you’ve “got it made.” The thing about looking back and regretting decisions is that in your imagination, the alternative course of action (as opposed to the course of action you took in reality) is always going to be better. The “trip” you imagined yourself taking wouldn’t have included the little inconvenience of travel: airport delays; items missed during packing; the sprained foot occurred while overextending during a hike, in which the manly guide you felt your wife kept eyeing laughed his laugh while carrying you over his shoulder and trudging on.

There is a saying that you’ll always more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did. I don’t disagree with it, because I’ve often been victim to such feelings of regret. But I do think that when it happens, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice if we just let it at that. We should always remember that when we regret the things we didn’t do, comparing it to the things we did, we are pitting imagination versus reality, and in most cases, imagination’s going to come out on top.

What is more, I try not to believe that anything is better than anything else. I always try to frame it in terms of “different to”, as opposed to “better than”. Sure, he may have a gazillion dollars,  a trophy wife, and is well-loved by his community, but he’ll never know what it’s like to be poor , have a skank for a wife, and disliked by everyone and the kitchen sink.

And that’s his loss.

How to write shorter, better e-mails

Each time I complete writing a lengthy e-mail, I save it in my drafts and let it sit there for a while (sometimes, just a minute or two would do). Then, returning to it, I look at it through the eyes of my recipient, and imagine how I’d read it if I had only ten seconds to do so, and had plenty of other work commitments on my mind.

Almost always, I’d find that e-mail unclear, unpersuasive, and unreasonably long, leading to a rewrite that’s clearer, more persuasive, and shorter by 50% to boot.

This change of perspective, though simple, can provide you with a dramatically better e-mail.

The Unconsoled (A review): Just like Monkey Island

I recently completed the book The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book was borrowed from the library, and was quite a serendipitous find — I had, in fact, wanted to borrow the book Never Let Me Go by the same author, but it was already on loan.

After reading the first ten pages, I knew this book was special because, honestly, I disliked what I’d read thus far. To ascertain if this was due to “reader issues” or if it was down to just being a bad book, I looked to Google and Amazon.com, where I found that I wasn’t alone. Many reviews for the book were downright negative, and comments along the lines of “wasted time”, “unreadable”, and “rubbish” were not uncommon.

What was more worrying, however, was that though there were plenty of positive comments as well, they seemed to be written by readers of the book suffering from cognitive dissonance, people far more interested in opposing the naysayers than reviewing the book critically because, I suppose, after going through 500 pages of literary purgatory, you really don’t want to believe that you’d put yourself through all that for naught. (You’d feel better about yourself if it was, after all, a good book.)

But every time I thought about putting the book down, I’d think about my great enjoyment of The Remains of the Day (a splendid book by the author I had read earlier), and the fact that on the cover of this book was a blurb proclaiming this book a prize-winner (ah, marketing). So what’d happen is that I’d give the book the benefit of a few more pages, by which time there’d be a story arc or two that made me go, “I wonder what happens next,” and I’d tell myself, “after this I’ll stop.”

But I never did stop.

After about a hundred pages on, I knew I was hooked. The style of writing, though unsettling at first, slowly caught on. Especially amusing was the fact that the style of the story reminded of — and of all things — the game Monkey Island! The protagonists of each reminded of the other (full of dry humour, wry remarks, and very human flaws); and while just like how Monkey Island was filled with surrealism and fantasy, The Unconsoled was just that as well (just without the voodoo).

All in all, I have no idea whether or not to recommend the book, but all I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and my guess is that if you enjoyed Monkey Island, you’d enjoy this book as well.

Let me leave you with a video of some great Monkey Island scenes: