Neil Tambe

Let’s go.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

My Hopes for You Kids

When all you kids are grown up, there are many things I hope I don’t pass on to you.

I hope you don’t get my short height, or uncontrollably growing hair. I hope you don’t pick your nose or intermittently chew with your mouth open. I hope you don’t worry as much about what others think of you or be as beholden to pleasing others, as I am. I hope you don’t have as much youthful arrogance as I did. I always wanted to go on a road trip of the western national parks with your Dada, but we didn’t get to it in time before he passed away. I want to be around much longer, and I hope you don’t have to live with a regret like that.

I hope it doesn’t take you as long to realize how important family is in your life. Perhaps even more, I hope it takes you less time than it took me to open your heart to God.

I hope you don’t get my receding gums or my weak hips. I hope you don’t get my dreadful fear of being alone. I hope you don’t get gout, high cholesterol, or diabetes. I hope you don’t get my knack for verbose answers to simple questions. I hope you don’t get my outdoor allergies or my anxieties about failure. I hope you don’t get my temper or my weakness for fried potatoes.

Most of all, I hope you don’t get my tendency to obsesses over my imperfections, like I am doing now. I hope that if I try with my whole heart, that I can prevent you kids thinking that you’re not enough or not really that good at anything, like your pops does. I pray with my full heart and soul that you believe that what you’ve been given is enough, and that it is special.

Which leaves me in a predicament. Because I know that what you see me doing is what I will pass onto you. I can’t just hope not to pass these liabilities onto you, I have to change some of them. And the hardest change for me is self-worth: really believing that I have at least a few special gifts to pass onto you.

And so while I outline the things I hope I don’t pass to you, I must also try to tell you about at least a few parts of me that I do hope to share with you. Because I must learn to believe something of myself for you all to believe something of you.

I hope you get my curiosity and penchant for asking questions. I hope you get my openness to seeing the good in people who are rough around the edges. I hope you get my patience and love of a good bass drop. I hope you get your Dada’s honesty and your Dadi’s energy. I hope your mother and I can pass on at least a few lessons on how to build a strong, loving marriage. Perhaps most of all, I hope I can pass on the habits of reflection, spending time in nature, and reading.

My hopes are not enough, but perhaps they are a good start.

Book Summary: Stubborn Attachments, by Tyler Cowen

A summary of Stubborn AttachmentsA Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, by Tyler Cowen.

Overall, this book was a quick, no-frills read with a style that individuals who follow Tyler’s Marginal Revolution blog will find familiar and newcomers will likely find refreshing and concentrated with substance. The work is a valuable outline of the well-known economist’s philosophical orientation. Readers may or may not subscribe to Tyler’s argument, but it is clear to understand, well argued, and above all intellectually honest. I personally found it persuasive.

Keep reading for a summary of the key ideas (as I see them) and the questions I would ask the author were I to share a meal with him.

Summary from Amazon / Book Jacket

Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us. So, how do we proceed? 

Tyler Cowen, in a culmination of 20 years of thinking and research, provides a roadmap for moving forward. In this new book, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, Cowen argues that our reason and common sense can help free us of the faulty ideas that hold us back as people and as a society. Stubborn Attachments, at its heart, makes the contemporary moral case for economic growth and delivers a great dose of inspiration and optimism about our future possibilities.

A summary (in my own words)

Creating sustainable economic growth does the most good for humanity (in the long run), so our society should be focused on improving the sustainable economic “growth plus” rate (note: Tyler argues that common measures of economic growth to not reflect welfare appropriately, which is why we need a “growth plus” metric). Consequently, focusing on increasing the sustainable economic growth rate, so long as it does not violate human rights, undermine societal stability, or create environmental destruction is a moral imperative. To do this, we must place much more emphasis on the needs of people who will live in the distant future.

An outline of essential ideas (in my own words)

  • Chapter 1: Tyler makes two “philosophical moves” in this book

    • Don’t take productive economies for granted

    • Rethink moral distance - value future people much more than we do now

  • Chapter 2

    • “Wealth Plus” is extremely important because wealthy periods are when quality of life increases for all people

    • “Wealth Plus” tends to make people happier

    • A lot of happiness studies are flawed because of expectation changes

  • Chapter 3

    • We should maximize the sustainable growth plus rate because that is the greatest way to make everyone better off in the long run

    • There is an important constraint: don’t violate human rights

  • Chapter 4: Tyler argues in detail why we should have a much greater concern for future persons than we actually do

  • Chapter 5

    • We should redistribute (wealth), to a point…for as long as it increases the sustainable economic growth rate

    • If we are optimistic about the future we should redistribute relatively less (because we should deploy capital to where it creates the most growth)

    • If we are less optimistic about the future we should redistribute relatively more (because we can’t use our wealth after the world ends)

  • Chapter 6

    • We are most likely wrong about the long-run consequences of our actions but that shouldn’t paralyze us

    • We should adhere to a common-sense morality (Tyler explains what that is)

Questions I would ask the author (were I to share a meal with him)

I think your view is persuasive, but I find it incomplete. Perhaps that’s intended given the scope of the book. A major shift in thinking is required of a society that subscribes to your point of view, namely that we should value future persons more. How does that actually happen? How do you take “society” where it is and change the thinking of institutions and individual people so that they are more future oriented? How do you make today people care about future people more than they currently do (and then put their money where their mouth is)?

There’s one area that I’d also like to dig deeper. You discuss times in history where high sustainable economic growth rates have lead to lots of quality of life improvements that we value today. In other words (and loosely in your words) we are better off in the long run when we increase sustainable economic growth, even after accounting for uneven gains from growth in individual cases. We are better off because there is less suffering and senseless death, as well as art that’s created and other things of beauty. And this is true.

But is that even a complete picture of what we really want? Isn’t the real dream to have the freedom to pursue our own aspirations and dreams? Couldn’t it be that it’s not the growth in wealth that really creates happiness but that wealth simply creates the space for us to freely pursue the activities which make us happy and give us meaning? Wealth / growth may be a fantastic proxy, but isn’t it merely an enabler of our real aspirations?

I’m reminded of a time I was with my cousin sister in India. We went to a poor neighborhood (in a car, because she is a doctor and relatively wealthy) to purchase some firewood. I do not know whether this neighborhood was considered a slum by Indian standards, but most Americans would probably assume it was a “slum” if they saw a picture.

Nevertheless, she said something to me that has regularly echoed in my head since and will continue to, “they are happy because they have God.” Wealth probably does make enlightenment easier, but isn’t that enlightenment (or whatever spiritual / philosophical term you want to use) the real goal? I’m not disagreeing that wealth isn’t really, really beneficial, but haven’t we missed the point if we increase the sustainable economic growth rate and don’t achieve the mindset we need to actually value the improvements that the growth brings and have fulfillment? As you said, happiness studies are flawed because of expectation changes, but in real life the impact of our expectations and our mindset matters a lot. Isn’t meaning, enlightenment, and our mental orientation at least half the ball game? Isn’t your framework incomplete without a discussion of enlightenment and meaning?

Finally, I think it’s worth unpacking the specific role that different individual and institutional stakeholders have in increasing the sustainable economic growth rate. If the society is a complex system (I think it’s safe to assume that it is) I don’t think we can assume that to achieve a societal increase in the sustainable economic growth rate, individual people, companies, or countries should try to increase their individual sustainable economic growth rates as there are probably systemic dynamics which lead to unintended consequences when those agents act at scale.

Put more specifically, what is the role of individuals, governments, civil society, clergy, politicians, parents, etc. to increase the sustainable economic growth rate? Everyone has a role to play, surely, and what are everyone’s roles? Are there any types of stakeholders where there is a leverage point to really take advantage of? Are there any counterintuitive conclusions about any of those stakeholders’ roles?

The two ways I can think of to develop a feeling of care for the distant future

In his recent book titled Stubborn Attachments, Tyler Cowen argues that we should care much more than we do about the distant future (among other things). It’s so interesting and honest a book I plan to post a review later this weekend. 

But for now, a question I have been ruminating on for many months now - how do I develop care for the distant future?

All I can come up with are the following two. Can you think of any other mechanisms to develop care, or a stubborn attachment if you will, for the distant future? 

The first mechanism is love. When I think of and look at my son, my heart becomes open. I don’t want to leave him in a world with tons of problems. I want to make sacrifices for his future. (And for the future of his spouse, friends, and neighbors).

And because I know Bo will love his kids, I love and want to make sacrifices for them too. And because my grandkids will love their kids, I love them and want to make sacrifices for them, and so on.

My love for my son, translates into a love for many generations after that. A love so strong that it transcends generations is one way to develop a concern for the distant future.  

The only other way I can think of to develop care for the distant future is beauty. There are some things, I think, that are so beautiful and so pure that they are worth something priceless. These things are probably different for different people, but are things like art, truth, God, family, sport, nature, music, and freedom. But it is an understatement to call them things, because they have more gravity than that. They are ideas that transcend a moment in time, because they are intrinsically meaningful.

These intrinsically meaningful things are such special creations that perhaps we just want them to exist in the universe, even long after we’re gone. We care about the distant future because we simply want these beautiful, intrinsically meaningful creations to exist in perpetuity.

I happen to agree with Tyler that we should care much more about the distant future than we do. Which is why I think it’s important to think of the messy, tactical question of the ways we can develop that sentiment. 

Why do you hate meetings?

I’m on a quest to find out why meetings are so bad. Why do you hate meetings? 

Some theories: 

  • They’re very long. Can we accomplish the same goal in a shorter time? 
  • They meander. What are we trying to accomplish here?  Is it compelling, or even clear?
  • The people. Is everyone prepared? Do we even have the right people here? 
  • The organizer. Leading a good meeting is a skill. Does the conveyer have that skill?

Perhaps most importantly is why so we have meetings in the first place, what could we do to accomplish just as much (or more) without so many meetings? 

Some theories: 

  • A process for making decisions is not clear. We have to meet if decision authority is split, or, debate is required. 
  • Information is asymmetrical. We have to meet if (or do we?) if information needs to be shared. 
  • I don’t trust you to do your job. We have a meeting for “accountability.” (This is humourous, because meetings make it difficult to do our jobs!)
  • Working through a problem. We each have something to bring to the table that is not easily activated without human-to-human contact. This is a great reason to have a meeting.
  • Efficiency. Borrowing from Paul Graham, meetings are efficient for managers, but not for makers. 
  • Hierarchy. If someone with higher ranks asks you to attend a meeting, you have little choice to skip.  

Why do you hate meetings? When are meetings totally worth it? What’s the best meeting you’ve ever had? What’s the worst one? 

H/t to Liz for the point about split decision making, I never thought about that.  

Halloween

I had forgotten why Halloween is so much fun. No SATs, no homework, no music classes, no pressures. It’s just a night where you run around in a costume and get candy. It’s care free.  

On Halloween, kids get to be kids.  

A 10 minute reflection that changed the trajectory of my life

The hardest part of this exercise is being honest with yourself. But if you can do that, even 10 minutes may substantially change your life in the long run. I know because it has changed mine.

I had the good fortune of working with a coach during my last semester at Ross. Kathy introduced me to this very simple exercise:

  1. Get a piece of paper and pencil
  2. Draw a line down the middle
  3. Label one side, “How I define success” 
  4. Label the other side, “How society defines success” 
  5. Fill out the page as honestly as you can

The difficult and unwritten 6th step of this exercise is choosing which side of the page to live by - and actually sticking with it.

But you can’t choose a side unless you know what the difference between them is. Showing me that there was a difference was how this exercise changed my life in a big way. 

Hit me with a gosh darn carbon tax

I could probably generate much fewer carbon emissions than I do. Robyn and I could carpool at least once a week. I could invest more in insulating our home. I could probably travel on planes less.

Why don’t I? Because I don’t feel the pain. I need to feel it to change my behavior. Please, hit me with a carbon tax.

Catastrophic climate change may or may not happen. But why risk it? And even if the catastrophes never fully happen, we’re already suffering from the respiratory consequences. 

So I ask, could someone please hit me with a carbon tax? 

Avoiding What Will Surely Make Us Evil

I’ve been missing an enormously important question for my whole life: what are the things that will surely make me a bad person, and how do I avoid them?

Just trying to be a good person is tough sledding on its own, avoiding stuff that will surely make me bad is also crucial. Why? Because context affects our behavior a lot. So I wondered - what are the things that consistently turn people toward doing evil?

Here are some of the big ones I’ve considered, from my own experience and observation. This stuff will make a person do horrendous things:

  • Not dealing with trauma and the hard stuff that happens

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • Wanting more: respect, status, power, wealth, etc. (or being around people who really care about that stuff)

  • Being at the extremes of suffering - being overwhelmed by it (which makes you want to do anything to make it stop)  or never experiencing it (so that you can’t understand what suffering does to others)

And there are more, but I think these categories cover a lot.

I think it is important to avoid these things, so that I do not do the stuff that’s highly likely to make me a bad, bad dude. I’d even go further though.

I think I/we have some moral obligation not to subject others to these things that are highly likely to mess them up and turn them toward being bad. We, as individuals, have so much ability to inflict trauma, loneliness, greed, and suffering on others. It would be a dark, heartless, thing to do to put someone else in a situation which makes them unable to avoid these corrupting forces.

And yet, in America we do this to our friends and neighbors all the time. We don’t give people help with trauma, and stigmatize it. We, myself included, are too busy to talk to our friends, family, and neighbors. We’re workaholics that go to great lengths to show our peers we are cooler than them. We try to insulate ourselves from struggle and leave people who don’t seem like us to fend for themselves.

Given that we mess up the basics so badly, we should expect our culture to be morally suspect. I’m almost relieved that moral corruption isn’t more pervasive here.

 

Working, without losing ourselves, in a world with relentless focus on the metrics

Everyday, especially at work, I feel a tremendous tension to pay attention to my duties without becoming attached to their results. This is basically the tension in Hindu philosophy, and a thread that seems to run throughout other domains of eastern philosophy. 

On the one hand, I have to do my job, and do it well. After all, what’s the point if I am working but our customer is not served properly? That’s especially important to me as an employee of The Detroit Police Deparrment, because my customers are literally friends and neighbors.

At the same time, if I’m all about the metrics and I care about results above all else, it becomes so easy to get addicted to them. And just like any addiction, once you’re hooked you do anything (even something shady) to keep the high going.

So it’s a dilemma - paying enough attention to results to know whether I am fulfilling my duty, without being so attached and addicted to results (and pleasing others) that I’m willing to corrupt myself to keep delivering.

Whether it has been call center employees, non-profit staff, members of street gangs, or warehouse workers, spending real time with real customers has kept me from losing sight of the work, amidst relentless pressure to generate results. It’s a practice that helps me stay committed to my duties, while simultaneously protecting me from becoming a monster that’s so addicted to results that I’ll do anything to get them.

Spending time with and listening to customers is not just good business, it has philosophical implications.

If not “more” then what?

The relentless and arbitrary pursuit of more is something I’ve seen destroy people, families, and teams. I’m not a scholar of history, but I think “more” can destroy companies and nations too. 

But if not more - which I think of as output per unit cost - then what do we measure results by? 

Some ideas: 

  • Simple
  • Humane
  • ”Green” 
  • Stable
  • Honest
  • Fun
  • Slow
  • Quiet
  • Consistent
  • Teachable
  • Automatic
  • Sane
  • Aesthetic
  • Trustworthy
  • Sustainable
  • Durable
  • Safe
  • Resilient
  • Interoperable
  • In(ter)dependent
  • Flexible
  • Serene

I try to pay attention to results, without becoming attached to them. And, I’m generally wary of a results focus (that’s the student of eastern philosophy in me). But even if we don’t fully reject a results focus, our objective doesn’t have to only be “more”. 

What is good vs. How to become a good person

The most important ethical question I grapple with is not what is good, but rather how to become a good person, especially amidst cultural pressure. In our times, distinguishing those questions is essential.

A lot of the moral philosophy I’ve read in the past focuses on the what. What is right conduct? What is good? How does a good person behave? All this is important, but it is theoretical. The most practical I’ve seen this line of inquiry get is contemplating how to create or manage an ethical society.

I don’t often read ideas about how to turn this question inward and focus on the how for an individual person. How do I, a frail, imperfect, falliable, and mortal being become more good than I am now? The first question of what is descriptive, the second question of how is reflective. And more over, I think if one contemplates how to actually become a better, more ethical person, they must also consider what right conduct is and what a good person does. The question of how encapsulates the question of what.

This perhaps pedantic point matters a lot, I think, because of the times we live in now. Individuals hold much more power than they did even a hundred years ago because each of us now have access to much more knowledge and many more tools to inflict harm on others if we so chose (e.g., weapons, a social media megaphone, transportation, networks of people). It’s not just the ultra-rich or members of high society that can strongly impact others’ lives. As a result, we must all  become good people, because if we do not we are much more capable of causing serious harm.

The times we live in also make actually following through on our notions of right conduct harder. Why? Because we have so much more exposure to social pressures from other humans (e.g., via social media, global travel, news media, the internet) than any other time in history. We have to parse through many more messages that try to persuade us to act and think in a certain way than any of our ancestors did. Listening to our own hearts on what is right and what is wrong and actually walking that walk, is a heck of a lot harder when there’s a cacophony of thousands of other voices in your ear at all times.

In this post, I’m merely pointing out the question of how and trying to give a few reasons of why that question is important. But even though I’m tapping out on answering that question in this post, I do have some ideas.

I’ve been working on this question of how for over a year now. The first part (in very rough form) of my answer to the question of how one becomes a good person is here. If you care about the question of how to become a good person, I’m eager to hear your own reflections or have you share a guest post on this blog.

 

Asking “why” - an antidote for short sightedness

Asking “why” or “why are we doing this” seems to be a pretty good antidote to short sightedness. Why? 

Because asking why leads to a conversation that clarifies priorities, rationale, and motivation. I’ve found, at least, that if you ask someone “why?”, it’s easy to determine whether their idea is thought through, selfish, sincere, or clever. I don’t think most people actually like being short sighted, so once that’s revealed it’s easier to change course. Asking why pulls back the curtain.

As a Manager, I’m often guilty of not making “why” very clear. On the one hand, maybe it’s because I’m rushing and feel the pressure of deadlines and performance metrics. On the other hand, maybe I think why is obvious (even though it isn’t). Maybe I don’t even know “why” myself, and I’m just going through the motions. 

I don’t know how to get enterprises as a whole to ask why, yet, other than just doing it. But I’d hypothesize this: enterprises where most employees feel comfortable and actually do ask “why” are probably well run, profitable, happy places to work.  

Thinking about my life backward from the very end I'm speeding toward

When I envision it in my head, I hope my final moments alive on this Earth are surrounded by my family. As many of them as possible, and I hope that means I don’t outlive my kids and maybe not my wife either. I hope that it’s peaceful and not too painful. I hope it’s at least a few decades from now, too. At the same time, I hope that moment isn’t one whose arrival I’ve cheated and delayed at great personal cost.

And amidst that scene, when my life is waning, I think about the last few minutes - the last few breaths, even - and how I want them to feel. The regrets that I hope I don’t have and what my life looks like from a vantage point at the very end.

This is a concept Robyn and I have talked about, in a general sense. And our conclusions are pretty simple.

At the end of our life, we don’t imagine wishing we would’ve spent more time working or wishing we had made more money. Or wishing we would’ve spent less time with our kids and our family. We won’t wish we would’ve drank more alcohol, or wish we had spent less time together. We won’t wish that we had been more popular or powerful, or conclude that we had wasted too much time praying. At the end of life, we won’t ever wish that we had put less effort toward being kind and loving toward other living things.

When my Papa went ahead, the part of me that wanted to be a king died with him. King of a company, king of my neighborhood, king of my peers, or even just king of my own backyard. For my whole life, I had wanted to be the king of something, but once he passed, I just didn’t care anymore.

Being the last person by my father’s side, in his final moments, changed everything. I stopped thinking of my life from beginning to the end, and I instead started thinking about it from the end - the very end - to the beginning. And when I did that, being a king didn’t matter much anymore.

And I feel such tension now with parts of American culture. I don’t care about being the big fish in the pond like I used to (and I used to). But I feel like the culture around me signals that competition, fame, talent, status, and wealth is the point. That I should care about those things.

I don’t want to be that person anymore because to be honest, that final moment doesn’t feel far away anymore. My father was older than 60, but he was a young man. And the final moment doesn’t just feel closer than it used to, it feels like it’s coming faster. Like I’m speeding toward it. Like we’re all speeding toward it, faster and faster.

And I don’t know what my conclusion is here. Maybe I don’t have one yet. I guess I hope writing and sharing this, reveals that I can’t be the only one feeling this tearing between the way I want to anchor my life, versus the way I see the brazen and competitive parts of American culture telling me to. Because at the end, the very very end, I want to leave this Earth without wondering whether I had missed the point, wishing I had changed something sooner.

Full measures and filler time

Some of my time is spent in a full measure of something. Perhaps a full measure of relaxing or exercise. Or a full measure of learning or solving a problem. A full measure of true emotional connection with another person or of service to someone else. Or prayer, or silliness, or stillness, or focus. 

Then there’s the filler. The time that’s neither here nor there. That’s not really fully spent on anything. The time that has an identity crisis and doesn’t know what it’s for. The time used to avoid boredom or fear.

I don’t think the important point here is to avoid filler time. A more important takeaway is to not impose it on others.

How many times have you waited at work for a meeting to start or at a store for someone to help you? How many times have you had wasted time because your work assignment was unclear or was not contributing to anything important? How many times have you had small talk only because nobody took the risk of asking a real question?  How many times have you received an indecipherable mass email that doesn’t even say anything real?

All that imposes filler time on someone else. And if others impose filler time on me, I probably impose it on others. That’s not cool, and maybe even immoral. 

Intergenerational Love and Long-term thinking

Let’s say I have a son named Bo (which I do). But if you don’t have children of your own let’s say Bo is a nephew, an endearing child from the neighborhood, or just a kid you happened to meet that you care about. 

Now that we’ve met Bo, we can make another assumption fairly safely: Bo will have children of his own or meet another kid someday, similar to how we met Bo. Let’s call that child Lily.

I care about Bo. I love Bo. Bo’s future happiness, health, peace, freedom, and prosperity matter to me. But we also know Bo’s future happiness and peace is tied up with Lily’s. If Lily’s future isn’t bright, Bo will be unhappy. If Bo is unhappy, because we love Bo, we are unhappy. 

But Lily will also have a kid she cares about someday too, presumably. Let’s call him Miles. In the same way as before, if Miles’ future isn’t bright, we are unhappy. And so on.  

Because of this love I have for Bo (and the love I have for Lily, Miles, and others, transitively), I’m more willing to make sacrifices for them now. Intergenerational love makes my thinking more long-term than it would be otherwise.

In other words, kids are important, because they extend the time horizon by which we make decisions, perhaps by several generations. 

But love is the key here. If there isn’t love across generations, none of this transitivity and recursive thinking ever happens. If I don’t love Bo, in this example, I will never love Lily, Miles, or anyone after. My thinking won’t be as long-term.

Cohesive, loving, families aren’t just nice to have, in a way, perhaps the future of our species depends a little bit on the love they create and how that love makes us sacrifice now for the benefit of future generations.  

When is a meaningful life even possible?

Perhaps there’s a better question than, “what gives life meaning?” That question is very hard, and we should expect no consensus answer. People and their contexts are too individually different. 

Maybe this question is better - what makes meaning possible? What is necessary and sufficient for meaning to even exist?

The first common thread I’ve found for all “meaning” and “meaningful experiences” in my life is intimacy. Everything with meaning in my life I have, I have deep entanglements with.

My relationship with my wife, family, and close friends is intimate. It’s deeper and more honest than superficial conversation. When I have meaning at work, it’s because I’ve been able to develop intimacy - relationships, understanding, and personal honest exchanges with my team or with our customers. With God, I have only had meaning when I have surrendered and spoken with him through prayer and listened for his guidance.

I only use these examples because family, work and faith are common sources of meaning for people I have met. There are certainly others.

I’m not suggesting that intimacy is necessary an sufficient for having meaning. I am suggesting, however, that it is necessary. Intimacy precedes meaning.

Intimacy is simple, but difficult. It takes two entities simultaneously being honest and true to themselves, while also accepting, listening to, and embracing that sincerity from their partner. That in itself can be incredibly difficult, but to have intimacy it must be done over and over again - intimacy takes time.

But here’s the bigger point. Because we can very strongly influence whether others can have intimacy in a domain, we can really affect whether other people are able to have meaning at all. Let’s take the instance of managers at work.

A moral manager treats people well, helps them deepen intimacy in their skills, relationships with colleagues, and interactions with customers. Immoral managers can destroy intimacy by making people react to fear, never explain why their work matters, and underresource projects so that no depth can be achieved because everyone has to rush. At work, managers have a lot of ability to affect intimacy, which ultimately affects whether their employees can find meaning in their work.

If intimacy precedes meaning, we have some culpability in whether or not others are able to have both.

 

 

Fatherhood is normal

Men our age are choosing to be present, participating fathers. 

We are taking time off work at birth. We are going to Doctor appointments. We are babysitting while our wives have a night out. We are reading about sleep training. We are choosing jobs that let us work from home or with flexible schedules. We are reading bedtime stories.  We are asking questions about parental leave policies.

And encouragingly, we are talking about all this with other fathers we know.

I don’t mean to write this as a celebration of engaged fathers, a retort to disparaging narratives about fathers, or as a pat on the back for any of us. I’m also not suggesting that any of us are or should be the stereotypical “super dad”, that’s not real anyway.

I merely write this to suggest that being a present, participating father is normal. People like us do stuff like this.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think norms were different when we were sons. And If so, I think norms have changed for the better.

Becoming normal is a big deal. 

Being clear about freedom

Freedom is something I care about deeply. I’d even say it’s one of the core motivations of my life - I hope that my works make the world more free and that I am able to experience freedom myself. 

But when I say freedom, what do I mean for myself and others?

  • That I am free from working in bondage or serfdom?
  • That I am free to move about my daily daily life without hassle?
  • That I am free to speak my mind without being jailed? 
  • That I can about my day free from moments where others offend me?
  • That I am free to walk around without shoes or clothes?
  • That I am free to act without all but the most basic laws and government regulations?
  • That I am free from distraction and persuasion to the point where I have control of the content of my own thoughts?
  • That I am free to worship without persecution? 
  • That I am free to drive as fast as I want? 
  • That I am free to indulge in hedonistic pleasures of any sort? 
  • That I am free to transact goods and services in markets without restrictions or tariffs? 

Being clear about freedom matters, because it’s not possible to design systems without clear priorities. And if that’s too hard, we can always defer to Tagore.

 

The Little Quits and Moral Indifference

When I’m on a challenging run, it’s so easy to give up in a hundred different ways. I might pass by our house on a loop 1/2 mile before my goal distance and just think that it’s okay to end early. I might say, I am not going to walk until the stop sign but start walking 1/2 block before I get there. The easiest way to give up is thinking, “I’ll go running tomorrow” and never getting out the door in the first place.

And as I was running today, I realized how many other small, relatively inconsequential moments there are to give up on what I know I probably should do. And it’s not just when running. There’s probably an opportunity to have one of the little quits on most of the decisions I make in a day.

Do I really have to take the trash out right now? Nah. Do I have a second to check the news between meetings instead of staying focused? Sure. I haven’t talked to so and so for years, do I need to call them to console them on their grandmother’s passing? Nah, I can probably just post on their facebook wall. Can I cheat on my diet for the second time this week? Yeah, and to justify it I won’t cheat once for all of next week…I pinky swear.

And so on and so on. There are so many opportunities for little quits. And I’m fairly embarrassed to admit that upon actual reflection I make so many little quits. So many.

There are also opportunities to quit on hugely consequential decisions. Big quits are things like…

Should I fire this person? Nah…maybe I’ll just give them one more chance. Should I get out of this dysfunctional relationship? Nah…maybe they’ll change next time. Do I need to change jobs? Nah…maybe I’ll give it another 6 months. Do we need to abandon this strategy for our company? Nah…maybe if we give it more time things will get better.

What’s interesting is that we probably don’t make big quits fast enough. For example, my father in law advised me once that in his career, every time he had to let someone go he’d wished he had done it sooner.

Little quits really don’t matter much, individually. The problem is for every big decision there are probably several hundred little ones. So as it turns out, over the course of a lifetime little quits may matter more (in aggregate) than the big ones.

But here’s the important point, and it’s kind of a few logical steps out from little and big quits but stay with me.

For a long time - probably for 20 years now, at least - I’ve struggled with the question of the nature of humans. Are we born good or are we born evil? Are most people good, or are most people wicked? Am I good or am I wicked?

On my run today, and thinking of how many times I’ve made little quits - even just on runs - over my lifetime I realized that I’ve been asking the wrong questions.

This whole time, I should’ve been asking about indifference. Are people good, evil, or just indifferent? Do people care about whether they are good or evil? If I really looked at my decisions and my behavior, am I good, evil, or indifferent?

The fact that I make so many little quits, suggest to me that the enemy of good may not only be evil. Indifference may also be the enemy. Why? Because little quits - and the fact I make so many of them - are lazy. They aren’t evil - little quits are too inconsequential for that - but they are demonstrations of the fact that I think it’s okay to let myself off the hook on the little stuff. It’s a signal that the past of least resistance is okay.

But the thing is, it’s not really okay. In aggregate, little quits are not evil. But in aggregate, they aren’t good either.

I am interested in becoming a good person and living in a community of good people. Maybe you are too. If you are, maybe our challenge isn’t ridding ourselves of wickedness. Maybe the real challenge is ridding ourselves of the little quits and the indifference that they represent.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com