When the Messenger Kills the Message

A doctor holding a cigarette can hardly convince you to stop smoking. If an envoy armed to the teeth talks of ceasefire and peace, those words will sound hollow.

Anyone can tell you there’s a new letter in your mailbox, and you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. All you have to do is go and check. But some messages only the right messenger can deliver. When the stakes are our identity, a random delivery-man-for-hire won’t — and shouldn’t — do the trick.

There are two lessons in this dynamic. The first is obvious: Be careful who you listen to. Marriage advice from a woman who’s been divorced three times might not be the most dependable.

The second is about the important messages you deliver: Make sure you’re entitled to pass them on. Don’t hand out life-changing advice you haven’t tried. If you really want to be of service, first become the messenger you need to be in order for your story to stick.

After all, the most powerful messages are the ones we don’t need to hear at all. Make us see and emulate rather than listen and follow — and where you can’t, perhaps it’s best to let someone else deliver the message.

Not Every Flaw Must Be Illuminated

Film maker Werner Herzog believes psychoanalysts are “a disease of our time.” Why? Not every bit of the human psyche needs to be understood in order for that psyche to function. In fact, it sometimes works better if we don’t poke around in it too much.

“When you inhabit a house, and you illuminate every last corner of the house with strong lights, the house becomes uninhabitable,” Herzog says. “Human beings, illuminated to the very last corner of their darkest soul, become inhuman and uninhabitable.”

Every house needs some light for you to navigate it well — but light it up too much, and you can barely move around at all, let alone with confidence. Everyone has trauma. Every soul has dark corners. Some reflection on our flaws can be very helpful. Reflect too much, however, and once again, you can barely move at all. Self-paralysis through over-analysis.

You’re not perfect, but you don’t need to justify every shortcoming in order to move past it. Learning is as simple as not repeating a past mistake — knowing the why may help, but in the end, it’s changing your behavior in the present that matters. Keep flowing, and don’t let intellect keep you from doing a good thing.

The Eventuality of Everything

As he stares at the gigantic iron gate protecting what once used to be Tokyo’s subway network, Shinra Kusakabe voices his amazement: “I can’t believe trains used to run underground.”

What seems to be a perfectly unremarkable comment in the year 2271 and the world of Special Fire Force Company 8 sounds a bit odd to those of us still living in the year 2024. “Trains run underground all the time. How could that ever not be normal?” Thank you! What a great follow-up question!

Take something so ubiquitous it’s almost boring, like a smartphone, roads, or the ability to order anything on Amazon, and imagine a world in which it has become a memory of the distant past. How would that world look like? What else would be different? Did the shift occur because we have evolved or because we have regressed?

Perhaps in the year 2271, the world’s knowledge will no longer be at your fingertips inside your pockets. Maybe communication will once again have to happen on pagers allowing only for a limited number of characters. Or, maybe, you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without needing a phone at all. Perhaps the high-tech lenses in your eyes can render perfect 3D-holograms to chat with right where you stand.

If roads were no longer a thing, would we once again struggle to cover long distances? Would we built specialty vehicles to navigate the terrain, or skip the ground altogether and use jetpacks to fly through the air? If we could no longer use Amazon, would it be because drones deliver everything we need right when we need it without us lifting a finger, or because global supply chains have vanished and we’re back to growing carrots and herbs in our own yard?

The possibilities and explanations are endless, and that is the point: We don’t believe it because we don’t notice its gradual progression from one day to the next, but in the end, anything can happen. Remember the eventuality of everything — for better or for worse — and don’t take today’s reality for granted. It might look very different in a few short tomorrows — perhaps so different even, we might one day say things like, “I can’t believe trains used to run underground.”

It Doesn’t Matter If Your Time Is Borrowed

One week, my girlfriend was sick with the flu. I was happy to take care of her, but of course I was a bit concerned I’d catch the flu myself too. One day, I woke up and felt a bit funny, and I thought: “Oh dear, here we go. Now I might be living on borrowed time.”

I spent a good chunk of that day worrying about actually getting sick, and I tried to do various things to prevent it. I ate some fruit, took some vitamins, drank lots of tea. I also tried to get in some work on a weekend, just to make sure. But eventually, I realized: It doesn’t matter if your time is borrowed.

If you get sick, you get sick. And if you don’t, you don’t. In the meantime, you should do whatever you would do anyway. You can’t let a future that’s not here yet overthrow your plans.

It’s hard to draw a map these days. Once you’ve made the effort, stick to it. Keep charting your path, and deal with each obstacle as you encounter it. I’ve never seen him sick with the flu, but Hagrid from Harry Potter sure knew a thing or two when he said: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”

The Force Is Real

When he was a 21-year-old college student, Noland Arbaugh had a diving accident that left him completely paralyzed from the neck down. Today, he is known as “P1,” the world’s first cyborg, or by his alias “ModdedQuad” — all of which are references to him being the first patient in Neuralink‘s human trial of its “generalized brain interface.”

Within mere weeks of receiving the small chip implant into his skull, Noland has become able to do things no other quadriplegic can do. He routinely beats the Neuralink team at chess on his computer. He plays Mario Kart. He even stayed up all night one time, playing Civilization VI, one of his favorite video games, which he hadn’t been able to play with his usual persistence in years due to his disability.

And how? How does Noland does all of this? With nothing but the power of his mind. “It was like using the Force on a cursor,” he says, “and I could get it to move wherever I wanted.” Of course Neuralink requires software and a wireless connection to function, but now, wherever those prerequisites allow for it, Noland can control digital devices telepathically — and according to Elon Musk, the company’s founder, that’s only the beginning. From restoring speech to smell to motor functions, in theory, the possibilities are endless.

The road is still long, and Noland is only one of thousands who’d want and deserve this technology. And yet, already, he says: “It completely changed how I live. I’ve heard that people who stay up late at night, it can be a sign that they don’t have anything to look forward to the next day. That’s basically how I lived for eight years. Since I started doing all this, I’m in bed by 9-10 PM. I’m waking up at 6-7 in the morning, just excited for the next day — and that’s something that I never thought would happen to me ever again.”

If Noland’s words, tenacity, and spirit are anything to go by, the future will look a lot brighter tomorrow. For today, this Star Wars Day, we take pride in the fact that Yoda and his allies are no longer the only ones to wield the Force — and we’re grateful that, after chasing their vision for 50 years, even those of us who can’t walk at all are finally getting a chance to catch up.

Consistency Beats Effort

If you could magically implement a workout routine for the rest of your life, would you rather be guaranteed to do ten push-ups every day or have a 50% chance of doing a 100-push-up session every three days? The math says the latter will get you more push-ups, but will it also make you healthier? Happier? Will it make you feel good about your workout routine?

I’ve been doing a daily workout for more than four years. I don’t do it to get stronger, look better, or prepare for some athletic event. I do it so I know I’m moving a little bit every day. After 1,000 days, I no longer have to track it. When I’m sick, I do the minimum, and when I’m healthy, I do my target numbers. Sometimes, I experiment and try new exercises. Most of the time I don’t — but I never have to think about my workout. I know it’ll always get done, and that feeling is priceless.

Consistency beats effort because no single session, no matter how momentous, can guarantee you’ll show up again tomorrow — but with consistency, in the long run, effort is guaranteed. Your big break may not happen today, or tomorrow, or even when you think you need it the most, but like flies drawn to the light, greatness will quietly accumulate.

Choose consistency, forget the when, and let the universe do its thing.

Respect Your Brain

Last night, I lay awake for three hours, unable to fall back asleep. I had many thoughts. Only one of them was interesting: “All these thoughts, my entire reality, is coming out of my brain.” Every moment I spent worrying, every idea I had, every story I told myself and every random rabbit hole I chased down in those three hours — it all started from a three-pound lump of flesh between my ears. Fascinating, isn’t it?

It made me wonder how the damn thing keeps going. Not just restlessly during those three hours, but consistently every day. How can one tiny, organic machine create billions of worlds, one for each of us, and then continue to evolve that world thought by thought, second by second, for decades? Talk about a supercomputer. And yet, I seem to have so little control over it.

“If I could get this thing to settle down, I’d be sound asleep again in a minute. Shouldn’t I be able to do that? Just tell it to calm down and go back to sleep?” I think I should. I think everyone should. Good tools come with manuals, don’t they? Why not this one? Why can’t it work out of the box?

What’s more, I’ve meditated every day for the last four and a half years. Isn’t that how we’re supposed to get more control? Wasn’t that enough training? Apparently not — because the tool is actually an ally with a mind of its own, quite literally, in this case — and the training never ends.

I don’t wish sleepless nights upon anyone, but know that sleepless nights are not the end of the line. They’re simply your strongest comrade-in-arms having a hard time. You can show him or her compassion. You can try to coax them into settling down. But you can’t make them do everything you want, and that’s a struggle you share with eight billion other souls on this planet.

Keep training your brain, but most of all, remember to respect, love, and care for it.

Mind Your Elders

Yesterday, my grandfather told me that his great-grandfather, a man who must have been born around the year 1870, used to do a lot of walking. The Franco-Prussian war had just ended, and there wasn’t always a lot of work to go around in his tiny village.

Skilled at playing the violin, he offered to give lessons to folks in the city, which they gladly took him up on. There was only one problem: The city was 15 kilometers away, and cars wouldn’t even be invented until 1886, let alone mass-produced and affordable. So he walked. That’s an eight-hour round trip for perhaps an hour or two of paid employment. But back in the day, that’s how it worked.

My grandparents did a little less walking but still quite a lot. Grandma routinely walked three kilometers to catch the train to Kaiserslautern, a bigger city with more opportunities to work. She remembers ladies with egg baskets sitting next to her, carrying a hundred of them on a two-hour commute just to get to the market and sell their wares.

Grandma also walked to and from school, of course, and by the time she got home, it was often early afternoon. “Today we’re harvesting potatoes,” her father might have said, so off to the field everyone went. After a few hours of digging, it may have been grandma’s turn to feed the horses, and then, well, “Remember to do your homework!” That’s one of the few things that has stayed the same across her generation and mine: Every morning on the bus, someone was trying to finish their assignments.

I only walk to work when I want to. A 15-minute walk to WeWork used to be a planned and welcome luxury for me. Now, with an office in my apartment, I don’t have to leave the house at all. I might go on a stroll after lunch or meet a friend for some co-working, but by and large, my commute is zero minutes, zero kilometers. What a long way we’ve come — literally!

I’m not the perfect grandson by any means, but whenever I do spend time with my “elders,” I realize that much of my comfort ultimately goes back to their commitment. It is their steps that led to decent work, decent pay, and the decent life my parents enjoyed, their sacrifice in turn enabling my sister and I to live even more “decently.”

Of course, modern work also has its challenges and demands. Some might prefer a daily four-hour hike to endless Slack messages and brain-draining meetings. But good things happen when we mind our elders, and bad things when we don’t.

Every day, you can turn on the news and see some warlord or dictator somewhere, driving their country into ruin and suffering under the pretense of eternal glory. When you google their names, you might find the year they were born, and when you see the number, you may realize they appeared just in time to forget the lessons of their forebears. How could a child born into prosperity post-WWII possibly know about the dangers and pain of countries fighting? Often, they can’t, and that’s why some come to believe that it’s a perfectly sensible thing to try.

Whatever your ancestors can teach you, every now and then, go out of your way to remember it. It may not even be a literal detour you’ll have to make, and it’ll likely save you plenty of walking down the road.

The Myth of Constant Growth in Relationships

In the How I Met Your Mother episode “The Exploding Meatball Sub,” Barney’s crazy sandwich concoction is far from the only thing to go up in flames.

Ted’s new girlfriend Zoey is both intelligent and pretty. Unfortunately, she’s also the head of the campaign trying to keep Ted’s skyscraper from being built in order to preserve an old building.

“Isn’t it hard for you guys to be on opposite sides of something like this?” his friend Lily, who sees eye to eye on almost everything with her husband and college sweetheart Marshall, asks. “Some of us want a partner who challenges us to grow and evolve,” Ted replies. As it will turn out, that’s baloney.

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Cleanse With Benefits

I have a million things to do and don’t know where to start. So, instead of doing any of them, I cleaned out my parents’ TV cabinet.

Behind the two glass doors, I found old DVDs, some custom-burned CDs — one with a broken case — and dust. Lots and lots of dust. I took out the movies, checked the web to see if they’re worth anything, and chucked a good 80% of them into the trash. I removed the plastic splinters from the broken case, rearranged everything, and wiped away the dust.

After I closed the glass doors again, I, too, felt a bit cleaner. Calmer. More organized. I still won’t be able to do everything on my list today, but I’ve since managed to do some of it without freaking out — and that’s worth more than the best plan that never gets put into action.

When you don’t know what to do, clean something. Folding the chaos in a battle you know you can win might not end the war, but it’s enough of a morale boost for you to keep fighting the good fight.