Friday, May 28, 2021

Letter Two to my Future Self

Hello again,

I was just looking for something and ended up stumbling upon something I wrote about the etymology of "Hocus Pocus." If that link doesn't work, check webarchive.org.  I see that it has been saved twice since 2003 when I wrote it.  Just today, a new acquaintance read the previous letter and expressed her feeling that everyone should read it, so I am encouraged.  Thanks, Natalia!  What's amazing to me is that there seem to be parallels between my first letter and that write up about hocus pocus from 2003.

I sit here to ponder for a moment how I might express the parallels and I haven't found anything yet.  Okay, here's one: I treat each claim I make and its opposing claim with equal respect.  I did it in 2003 and I did it nine days ago.  It is my habit.  Okay, maybe not each claim, but at least the ones I think might be important.  I find great value in being precise and accurate.  There are often small benefits to it that we don't see until later, small benefits to treating opposing claims with the same amount of  respect, and also small benefits to being precise and accurate.  Precision and accuracy are different things.  I'll leave it to you to find the differences.

If you don't mind doing homework to get to know me better (or to more quickly regain the ground we lost if this brain already got re-integrated into the rest of the universe), you can visit my page on everything2.com and read through other entries I wrote.  Speaking of which, one of the impactful events in my life was "Nine Eleven."  I compiled a book about it, using the writings of others: Everything2 Remembers September 11, 2001.  In any case, I was inspired to write this letter when I rediscovered the everything2 website.  Here is the list of everything I wrote on that site.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Dear Future Me, Letter One

The sooner you start reading this, the better.  There are a lot of things to learn and it will take a long time to learn enough of them.  In this letter, I just want to give you some pointers.  Remember yesterday when you made some kind of decision about how you do something?  Maybe you have to go back before yesterday, or maybe you really did make that kind of decision yesterday, but you don't see it that way yet.  In any case, your brain stored it.  You'll wake up every day of your life until and unless you reconsider that decision and change it, and your brain will bring it up each time you need to do that thing.  That's how we all work, and I have been working that way since I was born.  I'm writing you this letter because that brain that stored all those decisions is going to wear out and stop working properly, and this body it uses to do my bidding won't do it any more.

People will tell you things and sometimes you'll believe them even if they aren't true.  We like to build up our sense of self as a person who "knows" particular things, but we don't actually know them.  You "know" your name, but if you choose to ignore people who use it and answer to a different name, then you'll really be changing your name, even if there's no legal name change.  It's not really knowledge, but your decision. You "know" that two and two make four, but again, you decided to use a definition of "two" and "four" that make it so. You "know" that if you drop an egg from six feet above the cement, it will break open when it hits the cement, but someone could catch it and drop it again from a half a centimeter, and then maybe it won't break.  In any case, what you know or think you know isn't what you are.

A guy named Jack Kornfield said "Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two, our life flows."  In my experience, he's right, and so you can choose to be nothing or everything, honoring either the claim that love makes or the claim that wisdom makes.  Over time, you can honor them both.  This will help you have humility, avoid being egotistical or selfish in the way that degrades your experience of life, and it will teach you.

Think about the things you "know" as either definitions or working assumptions.  Be spry and adaptive.  Sometimes people will use words in a way different from how you use them.  Be curious and kind as you explore what they mean, and gently invite them to appreciate how you would interpret what they say given your way of using those words.  This opens up great conversations about language and understanding.  When you talk to someone who uses a particular word differently from how you use it, try to stick with their meaning, and use different words when you want to use it in your normal way.  This will help to avoid confusion and arguing.  The beautiful thing about a working assumption is that when you get the right kind of evidence, it's easy and natural to update the assumption.  If you pretend that your working assumption is something you "know," then you will resist some kinds of evidence that show imperfections in your "knowledge."  This is called "cognitive dissonance."

What you are is nothing and everything.  If you want to keep learning, remember that whatever you feel like you know can become ever more accurate if you leave it open to adjustment by calling it a working assumption.  Your skill at living will get better faster when you do these things, and I have one last request.

If you can put these two ideas into your own words and tell them to other people, and then ask them to do the same, we will have created an oral tradition.  It will be largely immune to the degrading influence of political authority and also to the petrification that happens over time.  These two forces, I think, have a strong negative effect on the experience of life.  At some point, I hope you it will make sense that you and I are one, that we thought up this letter long before either of us was born, and that the wisdom of it wended its way through time, into my mind, out my fingertips, and now is something you can extend to our future selves.