Embracing the Limits of Pleasure

Sam Harris - Limits of Pleasure

Happy New Year! My New Year’s Resolution is to post in a bit more regular (and timely) manner on this blog. One of the podcasts I enjoyed over my holidays was Sam Harris’ “The Limits of Pleasure” which explored why humans do very often seek out and value what is, for all intents and purposes, failure. Or worse, suffering. He spoke with Paul Bloom, the author of The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning:

  • Why do people get pleasure from certain forms of controlled suffering? Why do we take hot baths, go to saunas, do martial arts, run marathons, go to scary movies, listen to sad songs…Some suffering is not in the service of ‘pleasure’ but in the service of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’…If it didn’t involve suffering, it wouldn’t be meaningful.”

The discussion explored the dynamic of embracing suffering appreciating that it’s not about getting an anvil dropped on your head. Instead, Bloom identified a couple of characteristics critical positive suffering:

  • Voluntary – “My argument is about ‘chosen suffering’. ‘Unchosen suffering’ is a very different thing.”
  • Moderate – “The suffering that does us the most good is of the intermediate sort.”

Embracing Collapse

Gingerbread House

While we all scramble to get the perfect Christmas gift and host the perfect Christmas celebrations, don’t forget that the spirit of Christmas can have the spirit of embracing failure as well.

Curating Failure

With Advent upon us, we will all be decking the mall with…failure. Well, at least the Mall of America has:

  • “This November, the Museum of Failure—a traveling exhibit of retail blunders, marketing catastrophes, and spectacularly bad ideas—kicks off its US tour at the Mall of America. If you never knew that the toothpaste brand Colgate launched frozen beef lasagna dinners in the ’80s, the Museum of Failure has the receipts: Its display includes the full-color waxed cardboard packaging. (Must have been that sus-looking ricotta that sent toothpaste lasagna to its grave.) The Museum of Failure originated in Sweden, and has since toured internationally in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Its producers couldn’t be reached at press time, but the exhibit has already created a fair deal of buzz. ‘Eighty to 90 percent of all innovation projects fail—everybody in the business knows this,’ says museum creator, psychologist and innovation researcher Dr. Samuel West in a travel video highlighting the museum. ‘Where are these failures? Companies sweep them under the carpet, and pretend they don’t exist. The Museum of Failure takes these failed products, puts them on display, so that everybody can learn from them’.”

If you can’t travel to Minnesota due to the pandemic or some other reason one of my favourite vloggers, Tom Scott, offers a video walk-through (see above).

One item that it out of stock (along with many other products from the brand) is “Trump – The Game” boardgame, but you can at least see it in the Museum of Failure (see bottom).

Museum of Failure

   

Museum of Failure 2

Embracing the Game

  

  • “I’m being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children” – Nicholas, in “The Game”

This is the weekend of “The Game”. No, not the film about a multi-millionaire loses everything including his life in order to completely fulfil it and find happiness (see trailer below). Though that would be most fitting and does belong in any “Embracing Failure” film list. No, I am referring to one of the oldest rivalries in sports – the Harvard v. Yale game. It turns out that the 1968 rendition of this legendary match-up is the subject of its own film treatment – see trailer above) which too earns a spot on the film list for its tale of legendary glory for failing to win a game.

  

Embracing Mortality

Getting older

· “Health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process.”

Day of the Dead is celebrated from 31st October through today and celebrates loved ones who have passed on and celebrates, in a cheerily macabre fashion, the whole world of the dead.

My wife and I celebrated the milestone ever closer to our own mortality with a “60ulies and 60sties” Halloween-themed 60th birthday party 60 (“Decaying flesh, creaking bones, startled delirium…all part of the scary freak show called aging. To celebrate their 60th year of being undead…”). I’ve never been fazed by milestone birthdays, but this one does make me feel as a I am in a new chapter of my aging. I do feel older. I do feel the wear and tear of aging on my body. I do sense the inescapable limits of our time on this Earth. But we decided to lean into it completely with festive ghostly gala.

Still, I’m not as desperate to embrace the reality of my mortality as Ezekiel J. Emanuel’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75”. The piece is a bit of a depressing glass-half-full catalogue of all the things that get worse with post fifty aging. In his analysis, I don’t think he adequately filters out the variable of lifestyle changes.  He makes time series comparisons about how 70-year-olds today live less healthy lives than their counterparts from a generation ago.  But so do 30 year olds.  The question should be “do 70 years old today live that much more of a less healthy life than 30 year old today than the difference was a generation ago.” In any event, as much as I embrace the finitude of my time here, I still want it to enjoy as many sunrises as possible.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Nightmare Before Xmas Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween! When the youngest children get to immerse themselves in everything spooky and scary. Seth Godin recently posted a piece which lauds the embrace of fear that so many of us shirk from in his post “Afraid of Afraid

  • “Our culture has persistently reminded us that the only thing to fear is fear itself, that confessing fear is a failure and that it’s better to lie than to appear un-brave. And so we pretend to be experts in public health and epidemiology instead of simply saying, ‘I’m afraid.’…The bravest leaders and contributors aren’t worried about appearing afraid. It allows them to see the world more clearly.

In the same way that Santa Claus teaches children about embracing fallibility of truth, perhaps Halloween teaches them to embrace fear.

Embracing Unfortunate Events

  • “A series of unfortunate events that somehow led to the best conclusion possible”

Sometimes unfortunate events aren’t a expansive as pandemics or the like, but even small events can have a huge ripple effects. And some times those small adversities can turn to major upsides.

JxmyHighroller is one of my favourite YouTubers with his insightfully geeky commentary into NBA performance. And his most recent episode, “How One Mistake Changed the Entire NBA” was as uncanny as it was quirky an exploration of failure gone good in the league.

JmmyHighroller walks through a number of misfortunes starting with when Anthony Carter’s agent “forgot” to fax a notice to the Miami Heat in 2003 so his contract lapsed resulting in Carter being let go and missing out on a $4 million final payment (his agent paid most of the lost wages to him over time). This seemingly cringeworthy mistake led to the Heat having the salary cap room for team president Pat Riley to sign Lamar Odom away from the Los Angeles Clippers. The following season Odom to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal joined another dividend of misfortune, Dwayne Wade led the Heat to its first championship in franchise history.

At this time, the Heat had “tanked” to the bottom of the division and in their final game they faced another cellar-dweller, the Toronto Raptors. Each were vying for the worst record to in order have the best draft choice in a draft class rich with talent:

  • “The final game of the season came down to a ‘tank off’. And in the most petty game of the season, the Heat came out on ‘top’…So in the most poetic fashion imaginable, the team that out tanked the Heat picked [the highly rated] Chris Bosch with the 4th overall pick…Meanwhile the Heat had to settle for the 5th pick. And they got a young guy out of Marquette. Some 2 guard named Dwayne Wade..the face of their franchise for the next 13 years and the greatest Heat player of all time…It was the worst victory that a team could have at a time that ultimately turned it into the best victory.”

Embracing Lockdown

COVID silver lining

Not that I would wish a pandemic on anyone much less the entire world, in the spirit of embracing failure, it does turn out that the silver linings to the ordeal have been numerous. With the UK government declaring an end (well sort of) to the pandemic, we were reflecting on the overall impact of the past 18 months:

DOWNSIDES

  • Grief – Friends lost to the affliction and many more who suffered considerably.
  • Social – Missing friends and family including 6 months not seeing the kids.
  • Fitness – Rowing, basketball, ballroom dancing, golf all eliminated.
  • Travel – Paralympics, Easter in Italy, skiing all cancelled.

UPSIDES

  • Couple Time – Always precious in our busy lives.
  • Films – Got to see hundreds of movies we’ve always wanted to see.
  • Lori’s Career – Time to build her business and the shift to tele-treatment gave her more capacity (as opposed to an exhausting commute).
  • Projects – Backburner DIY, organisation and creative activities finally gotten around to.
  • Remote Working Shift – The new normal favours our lifestyle and workstyle (cf.  Dynamic Work UK)
  • Home Cooking – More time and effort to produce interesting home meals expanding our skills and repertoire.
  • Other Contagious Diseases Reduced – No colds, flu all year.
  • Politics – The virus, which is immune to propaganda, exposed the incompetence of the Trump administration freeing the world of that problem.

NEUTRAL

  • Financial – Impaired ability to network, but new roles came to both of us and our cost of living dropped (less commute, travel, dining out, shopping)

Now in reality, it is not the pandemic that had the silver lining, but the lockdown. The lockdown was some seriously hard to swallow medicine for this global malady. From that perspective, the very first upside was that the lockdown saved lives. But the process of stopping activity and halting standard routines and practices did spin-out these dividends which can start to compensate for the hardships suffered and costs borne. 

The title of this blog is “Turning Adversity to Advantage”.  the pandemic is the most profound adversity to affect the post-war generations.  So lets appreciate whatever advantages we can salvage from this ordeal.

Embracing Negative Systems

Embracing Failure - Korea

South Korea’s National Day today is the inspiration for another look at cultural attitudes to failure. Korea has traditionally shunned it, but is looking to turn to more of an embrace as described in thie Korea Times article, Embracing failure vital to foster fintech growth”:

  • · “Experts said one of the biggest reasons Korean players lag behind in the global market is that the government’s approach to new initiatives and regulatory environment not conducive to newcomers, and help is given to prevent small companies from failing, rather than letting them learn from and survive failure. More specifically, the Korea’s current regulatory framework, known as ‘positive system,’ bans everything except for what is allowed, but calls have grown for the system to be changed toward ‘negative system’ so that everything is allowed with the exception of what is banned. The latter framework grants more liberty to players. They explained that under the current system, it is difficult to create innovative and disruptive new services as the regulations and licensing requirements tend to protect existing financial services companies and focus on helping new players avoid failures…For innovation to take place, an environment that enables failures and enables players to learn from such failures is necessary, but Korea has not provided such an environment.”

Another measure being taken is the “Don’t Worry Village” and the “Fail Expo” described Isabella Steger and Sookyoung Lee’s article South Korea’s success-obsessed culture is finally reckoning with its dark side”:

  • · “Don’t Worry Village, a retreat of sorts for young adults figuring out their next steps. The house is the brainchild of 33-year-old Hong Dong-woo, who, after making money from a scooter startup, wanted to open a place where young Koreans could turn for a break from societal pressure…Hong calls it a place where Koreans can go for ‘a chance at trying again.’ Park, who previously studied at a vocational college and now dreams of going back to school and becoming a music producer, says many young Koreans are made to feel that ‘failing once means that your whole life is a failure.’ The idea of embracing failure is gaining traction in a country that’s starting to take stock of the effects on a population conditioned to live under immense pressure to succeed, starting from childhood. The pressure can come in many forms, including economic, academic, familial, and cosmetic. While the hunger for success propelled Korea to develop in the post-war decades into the economic powerhouse it is today, it’s a formula that many Koreans, particularly the young, feel no longer delivers. That has given rise to popular narratives in recent years depicting the country as a kind of hellscape. The government has taken note of those concerns. Last year, it held the first ever Fail Expo in Seoul—inspired by both the International Day of Failure, which was created in Finland in 2010, and the Museum of Failure in Sweden, which opened in 2017—with the aim of changing public attitudes toward failure and success. President Moon Jae-in, who is an advocate of taking life at a slower pace, visited last year’s expo (link in Korean) and acknowledged the hardships facing small business owners and young jobseekers. ‘Let’s all get through this hard time together,’ he wrote on a message board. The second Seoul expo opened in September with the theme #FailBetter. In another context, the slogan could be read as aspirational. But in Korea, where conditions for young people remain challenging, it might be interpreted as an impatient command.”

Embracing Laziness

Dilbert - lazy 1

Work smart not harder. Or be lazy. Especially today which is official “Lazy Day”. Dilbert has penned a few gems heralding the upsides of lazing down always portrayed by the patron saint of laziness, Wally.

Dilbert - lazy 2

Dilbert - lazy 3