Monday, February 23, 2009


For about the last month I’ve been troubled by this issue. It’s been popping its head into just about every aspect of life and I’ve been trying to figure out a pretty way to describe it for a blog post. Nothing profound has hit me just yet but I really feel a need to get this off of my chest.

I’m not sure what caused me to start thinking about this but I’ve really taken notice of how many of the problems that we face every single day are nothing more than just selfishness.

Last week I was driving somewhere with the family and a guy in a BMW was tailgating and zipping back and forth from lane to lane without signaling. His driving was really distracting. He would cut in front of people with only inches to spare and it forced everybody around him to have to be in high alert so that there wasn’t an accident. After about three miles of watching this guy we pulled up to a light and he was only three cars ahead of us. His selfish, reckless behavior had profited him maybe 50 feet of road at the expense of annoying everybody else around him.

This is just one simple example of how selfishness makes our lives more difficult but it caused me to start thinking of the hundreds of other issues that we must contend with daily we can blame completely on somebody’s selfishness.

How many divorces could have been avoided if either party had thought about the other more than they did themselves? Sadly in most situations selfishness reigns and the spouse’s feelings and needs are a distant second.

The current housing crisis is nothing more than thousands of people selfishly mortgaging a house that was far too much for them to afford.

Multi-level marketing is little more than just hoping that you get your payout before the house of cards fails. In the recruiting videos they focus on the few millionaires at the top of the pyramid and ignore the countless backs that the scheme is built upon.

We’re bailing out investment banks whose CEOs felt they were entitled to gold plated antique toilets and gold plated helicopters yet didn’t feel they had to return a viable product for their investors.

I’m very bothered by all the crap that’s marketed under false pretenses. I think in most cases the sellers of homeopathic, chiropractic and other alternative treatments know full well that what they are selling is just false hope and at best placebo. Yet it makes them richer so they continue. I know of one case where I’m sure the practitioner knows he’s a con artist, but continues to sell something that he personally does not believe is effective.

I personally believe that we are now fighting a war in Iraq that was more about establishing a legacy than it was about fighting terrorism. Had all personal ambitions and desire to clear a family name been shelved I wonder how differently the last several years have been. put selfishness aside, would things have been done differently? I think so.

On a much smaller scale I have a hard time even talking shop with some coworkers because they have such a desire to outdo the other person’s opinion that they frequently destroy any basis on fact just to be right. The focus quickly drifts away from finding the right answer to the question and is becomes all about saving face.

Years ago coworker and I once proposed a project to some folks at work. After vetting the idea for a couple days I realized that the idea had major flaws. I accepted this and went back to the drawing board. My co-sponsor however refused to admit defeat and even denied the existence of the flaws of our idea. His selfish desire to have his idea get accepted blinded him to the fact that if put into practice it would have adversely affected our customers. I wonder how many folks at much higher levels and with much more influence than my friend and I have forced their plan into company policy even knowing that it was inferior just based on their own selfish desire to have their plan enacted.

I don't have a plan to make the world more selfless. I've just found that by stepping back and analyzing my own motives perhaps I can lessen my selfish impacts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Small Talk

As you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I did a year or so ago. Well having to talk to a lawyer about something I posted has that effect. But the truth is I was loosing a little motivation to blog for months before then.
I don’t like talking about shallow subjects. I like talking about things that matter, things that interest me, topics that I'm concerned about and my person struggles. Predominantly these issues fall in the categories of things that other people are very opinionated about. I’ve been given the typical family party advice several times. “Don’t talk about religion politics or controversial subjects.” Well I’m not comfortable with that kind of small talk. If we’re not talking about things that really matter then why talk at all?
I blog about things that matter to me. This is a place for me to voice my concerns about things that may upset you if you disagree with my position. Please feel free to leave a comment no matter which side of the issue you may take. I'd much rather have an honest open disagreement on something that matters than be forced to agree on something like which actresses are gaining weight.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Current Reading List in No Particular Order.

This is my current reading list some of these I've started already, others I've just loaded to my mp3 player and others I've just picked up from the library.

Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct
By Michael McCullough

I listened to a "Speaking of Faith" podcast with McCullough and felt I had to read his book, too.

Nauvoo Polygamy "... but we called it celestial marriage'
by George D. Smith

A continuation of my quest to understand early LDS history.

The anatomy of peace : resolving the heart of conflict
by Arbinger Institute

Recommended by some Facebook friends.

The book of general ignorance
by Mitchinson, John

Referenced on an episode of Skeptics Guide to the Universe

The Count of Monte Cristo
by Dumas, Alexandre

Saw the movie last week and really enjoyed it. Thought it was about time I actually read the book,too.

Death from the skies! : these are the ways the world will end--
by Plait, Philip C.

The only "Dr. Phil" I trust.

A good dog : the story of Orson, who changed my life
by Katz, Jon

Recommended by some Facebook friends.

The greatest inventions of the past 2,000 years
by Brockman, John

Just looked like a cool read.

Intelligent thought : science versus the intelligent design movement
by Brockman, John

Recommended on an evolution blog that I frequent.

What are you optimistic about? : today's leading thinkers on why things
are good and getting better
by Brockman, John

Just another book by Brockman that looked interesting.

What is your dangerous idea? : today's leading thinkers on the
by Brockman, John


Lies, damned lies, and science : how to sort through the noise around
global warming, the latest health claims, and other scientific
by Seethaler, Sherry

I love reading about the intersection of science and politics.

Why we make mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in
Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
by Hallinan, Joseph T.

This book seemed to fall in line with a few other books that I've read in the last year or so.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible

When Victoria recommended that I read a book that her book group was reading I confess to being a little hesitant. You see the book is on Oprah’s suggested reading list. Of the few books that I’ve read from the Oprah list I wouldn’t recommend any of them. But the more I heard Victoria sing the praises of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver I decided to read it based on her glowing reviews and ignore Oprah all together. I’m very glad that I did.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a mother and her four daughters who are carted off to the Belgian Congo in the early 60s by the fanatical patriarch of the family. The story has a very interesting perspective. Most books are written either in first or third person. Kingsolver used a combination. The story is told first person but the narrator rotates pretty evenly among the five women in story. I found this approach to be very engaging. You grew to understand the motives and feelings of each of the characters much better than had the story been told in third person or from just one of the perspectives. Even with characters that I didn’t really identify I somewhat felt that I could understand why they reacted the way they did because of the authors unique approach.

The different perspective also allows the story to explore several different themes concurrently. Only to touch on a few: the loss of faith in the face of tragedy, overcoming handicaps, poverty v. wealth, ethnocentrism, the appeal of communism in the third world, the role of women, etc. Each of these themes and more are covered in great detail.

The story jumped around a bunch in time. Multiple flashbacks and back histories made the story unfold not quite chronologically. You had to pay attention to keep up. In the hands of a lesser author the multiple flashbacks would have been very awkward. However, Kingsolver made the transitions beautifully and told the story with much more feeling than a truly linear timeline would have given.

She did not waste a sing word in this entire book. Every sentence, ever word and even the punctuation is clearly thought out and serves a role. Whether it is a metaphor to foreshadow future events, a misplaced idiom, or just a quick poem that leads you to better understand the mind of one of the characters, every mark in the book serves a purpose.

Her brilliant use of several different languages to tell the story also gives a richness and a depth to the people of the Congo. Much is made about the fact that several different meanings can be inferred by just slight differences in pronunciation of the Congolese words. These differences in meaning exaggerate the ultimate futility of the father’s quest to bring Jesus to the savages and also add a new determination to a handicapped child whose nickname has an insulting and also a noble interpretation.

The family is from Bethlehem, Georgia. Even that detail was not casually assigned. The metaphor of a going to Africa and bringing “Christ out of Bethlehem” was brilliant. I live about 20 miles from Bethlehem Georgia. The historical references to places and events in Georgia we appealing to me. Being personally familiar them it created an interesting juxtaposition with the much more foreign descriptions of Africa.

The book is historical fiction. None of the main characters actually existed. However the political events in Africa of the 60s are described perfectly. If only for the political history this book is well worth the read. But it is so much more than just a history book.

I’ve heard of people dismissing this book out of hand simply because some of the characters are sympathetic to Communism. To them I encourage to put your presuppositions aside as I did. Read the book. Yes there are some comments in the book that are sympathetic to Communism. Kingsolver brilliantly explains why the promises on Communism would appeal to a people without a penny in their pocket, and even look on pockets themselves as a luxury.

Each of the five women who tell this story turns out dramatically different. Some I identified with and others I didn’t but Kingsolver’s style helped me understand each one. I will not forget the lessons I’ve learned and the fundamental questions that this book has caused me to re-ask myself.