Absence of Honesty, Absence of Growth?

In a social world, each of us are quite familiar with the balancing act that is The Social Contract.

This contract is what we universally sign up for when we become friend, lover, sibling, or spouse, to name just a few of our more important relationships.

Our more general social contract is essentially the golden rule, ‘Do onto others as you would have them do onto you”, (let’s disregard the fallacies within this phrase for the purpose of this post) and this is fine if we limit it to door holding, old lady streets crossings, and birthday wishes etc.    But I think we reach  a point of diminishing returns where kindness can lead to enabling self-sabotaging rationalizations or learned helplessness in situations where a good hard kick of the truth would go a long way towards self-improvement and emotional growth.

But the truth can hurt… a lot.   There’s no denying this.  The truth forces us to face aspects of our personality and lives that we would ideally rather ignore, and most do.  Humans are essentially a species that have evolved to take the path of least resistance, and to blindly follow pleasure and avoid pain.

The older we get the more truth we try to run from (pain), the more regrets we pile up in our minds (pain), and the more we start reducing our risk tolerance to avoid all of consequences that might occur (pain, pain, pain).   But within the vulnerability of risk, lies the greatest sources for personal pleasure; achievement, experience and love.

Yet what do many of us do… find a group of people that agree with all of our opinions, are scared to tell us when they disagree, and never ever push towards the reality of who we have the potential to be.

Fuck. This.  

I think we all need to be a little more honest in our relationships, to shine a light on the lives of those we care about when someone is playing it too safe and letting their potential turn to dust, or just being a douche. Because maybe your opinion is spot on,  maybe its dead wrong, but these conversations need to be had.

Instead, we sacrifice the awkwardness of these  critical moments in life to avoid risking friendships and engaging in difficult conversations; because its easy to gossip of the follies of others, but to actually make a difference in someone’s life, maybe that’s too much responsibility for us.

I know I personally do this all the time, so I’m certainly not immune to this mistake.   You just get to a point where sometimes trying to shine this light of truth becomes more like a flame thrower on a hay stack, and then you just become the dickhead who keeps telling people what the “need to do with their lives”, and even I hate these people.  Its a tightrope for sure.

Yet the fact does remain, without facing the truth, no matter how radically painful it might be at times, true personal growth is impossible.   Without being forced to face our demons, we’ll all “happily” run away from it for the rest of our lives, pretending everything is fine.   But fast forward 40 years and I’m sure the house that bullshit built will come a tumbling town.

If we surround ourselves with yes men and mindless cheerleaders tooting our horn for us at the exact moment we need to  pull the car off the road, nobody grows, and instea everyone quietly moves along together up the escalator to no where.

Are You Creating Your Destiny or Just Moving Along?


Now with all that being said, an important question presents itself:

How do we all make an effort to have more honest relationships without sabotaging those connections?

For example, since its probably the most common example of misguided kindness, lets take weight gain. At a certain point, we all need to be told if  we are letting ourselves go and need to lose some weight.  This simple and quick conversation from someone you love or respect is a necessary reminder that just because you are pretend that your additional 35 pounds isn’t noticeable… it really is.

That’s not to say that this fact should be brought up with every meal or social occasion, but in my opinion, I will take 3 friends that will be honest with me and have a vested interest in my true happiness than 100 friends that tell me what they think I want to hear.

If we are all honest with each other for a moment here, nobody on the planet actually has a friend who is happier when they are overweight. Sooooo why do we protect them from the truth?   It’s clearly not for their benefit, we know they’re miserable about their body image, but we refuse to help them out because we don’t want to be the bad guy. We don’t want to risk that friendship.

Again, we are self-serving creatures who are avoiding pain (possible confrontation) at the cost of someone else’s happiness. If you don’t believe me, google the global obesity numbers… they speak for themselves. And no, it has nothing to do with McDonald’s

Sam Harris wrote an interesting essay called “Lying”, and in it he says when we shy away from telling our friends and family the truth, we disrespect them by taking the ability to make better decisions out of their hands. We hide our real feelings by masking them with platitudes or silence in public and yet discussing the truth when they cannot hear it.

Everyone loves to be told positive things about themselves, and we could all use a healthy level of this but the truth cannot be escaped, and this is a point I think everyone forgets or just refuses to admit.

As I mentioned, this is something that I struggle with as well, because there are very few people that you can be honest with, because  people don’t want to grow, they want to escape and exist without hassle.  They just want to avoid the mirror until they reach the top of the escalator.

In the end, the only person we can truly be honest with is ourselves; which is always the hardest part.  So we can start there for now, but remember to be kind to yourself.

Just as we all make mistakes, we all have the right to make tomorrow better.

Good luck. :)




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My Latvian Evening

Regardless of race, gender, nationality, occupation, or social status… I have always LOVED meeting new people.  For a variety of reasons, the last couple years I had fallen away from this open mentality and been digressing into a state of exclusivity and myopia;  two things I’ve always been fundamentally against.
Thankfully, 2012 is slowly transforming me back into the man I thought I had lost, and restoring a lust for life I nearly let slip away. Go figure, it took an evening out with a new friend to make me fully appreciate this.

A couple weeks ago I met a charming girl, originally from Latvia but now a Swiss resident, who was kind enough to give me a ride home from an ex-pat social meet-up we had both attended.   We got along fairly well, and reconnected again a week later for a few drinks and a midnight walk around the city. We discussed a myriad of topics from traveling, films, literature, and the dichotomy of European and American culture.

For those of you that don’t know me, substitute in any storied European city, and this is essentially my perfect evening.

I made these plans almost out of hand, as a “fun way to spend some time”, not realizing until already on my way to meet her that I was essentially going on a date.  Cue sweaty palms… it’s been a while.

We started off, to our mistake, meeting in a bar smack in the middle of the Basel Tattoo Festival. Beer tents, food vendors, and an evening drizzle greeted me as I stepped off the #8 tram.  Not exactly the atmosphere we had been hoping for, but this place did have two comfortable stools at the bar, and some very inviting bottles of Aperol and Prosecco.

Zwei Aperol Spritz Bitte.

This’ll do just fine.

The evening began pleasantly, exchanging personal histories, interesting anecdotes and a few sly jokes. As we finished our second round, we decided it was time to take a stroll and relocate; and with only three weeks of Swiss Living under my belt, but a lifetime of resourcefulness… I suggested the perfect place.

Walking along the Rhine River to our destination we began to discuss the merits of American vs. European culture. Though she had lived in Boston and New York for a total of 4-5 years, she had a startling difference in opinion between the two iconic cities.

New York she loved.  But Boston… man oh man, what hatred.

Her view stemmed almost exclusively from the fact that she couldn’t seem to find one restaurant, bar, or watering hole that didn’t have a TV.  As she described it, “No matter where you go in Boston all you can experience are people watching TV and eating.”  I found this to be a hysterically funny observation.

As we took the stairs up from the river path into the city, we shared a view/rant on the disparity between Europeans and North Americans being solely an environmental condition.   There are several aspects to consider here, but for the purpose of this discussion we decided to focus on consciousness and appreciation.

Relative to the rest of the world, North America is a fairly “new” continent .  Everywhere you look are new buildings, new monuments, new restaurants, and new billboards… all perpetuating the idea that perhaps history (and art in many cases) don’t particularly matter.

Now don’t mistake me, I think using history alone to guide our future is one of the fundamental  mistakes of human beings, classic lazy logic; but the awareness of history as an influencer of perspective I find much value in; and continental Europe has this in spades.

The awareness of this deep human history in any major European city is nearly impossible to escape. From the cobblestone streets, to the old world architecture and landmarks;  no matter where you turn it’s impossible to not breathe in the realization that there are many that have come before you, and many that will surely come after.

However, it seemed to us, to be a serious defect of too many North American travelers to blow through a sprawling metropolis like Paris or Rome for a couple days, merely to check an invisible bucket list, and show their friends on Facebook  how wonderful their lives are.  Unless you’re <20, I don’t find much excuse for this.

I personally just cannot comprehend visiting a new city bursting with art, history, and wisdom, literally, at every street corner; yet all only coming away with a review that the city is overrun with tourists, is dirty and disorganized.

We defined this personality as the definition of vapid, and the perfect example of people I need to stay away from.  I mean, if you cannot find the beauty in a city like Paris or Rome, my only question is, “What did you expect from a 2000 year old city?”

In contrast, Swiss cities are marvellously clean and superiorly organized, but to judge a major world city – that’s lived through the ages  – based solely on its hygiene and crowd control, well, what we have here is a flawed lens by which to view the world.

As you can tell, our stroll towards our next drink took my friend and I on quite the self-righteous tangent.  And sure, we might admittedly be culture snobs, but it was fun to stand-up on a soapbox made for two for a little while.

We then arrived at our next destination.

She has lived in Basel for two years and yet I’m the first one to show her this place…. meh, this dating stuff ain’t so tough.  😉

Chill Am Rhy  – Set against the Rhine River and lit up like a Christmas tree, not bad Basel, not bad at all.

With yet another Aperol Spritz in hand, I began getting lectured on how comic book movies are a waste of time and the only movies worth watching are those about relationships and real life. This is certainly where I keep my feet planted in North America.

I even thought I was making up some ground on behalf of DC and Marvel, but the debate ended with her considering, maybe, perhaps, one-day if she had nothing else to do, she would watch Batman Begins or The Watchmen…possibly.  On the other hand, I somehow agreed to watch a Woody Allen documentary she recommended at a local theatre a few days later…. which I loved. Go figure.

In an episode of the show House M.D. (One Day, One Room), they suggest the philosophy that our entire lives are a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our life becomes.  And as I watched my date step onto her tram to head home for the evening, with the thoughts of her personal stories and ideas marinating in mind, I realized how incredibly true this is.

The people we choose to have in our lives, no matter for how long or short a time, will either bring us closer or pull us away from who we have the potential to be.

All it took to realize this was a pleasant evening with a pretty Latvian girl.

Europe strikes again.

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Basel The Beautiful…


Ahhh… *cough* *cough*

If there were any doubt left in my mind, the saturation of cigarette smoke in the air was confirmation enough that I was back in Europe.  Nicotine and tar never smelled so good.

Since 2003, my first non-family, two month backpacking trip around Western Europe, I must have reprogrammed my mind to view this continent as my North Star.

To put it mildly, I love it here.

The proximity to so many different countries (split between cultures, languages, and landmarks) and their various revisionist histories opens an endless amount of intellectual pathways for those willing to walk them.    The ability to gain so many different perspectives, within a 1-2 hr flight, in my opinion, is invaluable; especially in countries like Switzerland where most people you meet aren’t really from Switzerland.

Currently I’m hanging my hat in Basel, Switzerland, condo sitting for a good friend of mine and learning to embrace absolute solitude.  Too often in life, I think we let the voices around us dictate our thoughts, actions, decisions, even if consciously we don’t recognize it at the time.

Solitude is hard. Mainly because contextually we classify it as loneliness, the big bad word that haunts the dreams of many; but once your mind has the opportunity to reframe and redefine, the thoughts and possibilities that arise from from within can be life-changing.

One voice is sometimes all we need.

As for my new surroundings, Basel is the 3rd most populous city in Switzerland, a small yet beautiful place that exudes organization and elegance; while at the same time clinging to the natural beauty of its history and of course, the Rhine River.

My condo is beside the Voltaplatz tram station and for me, there seems no better place in the city to live.

In the evening, 2 minutes walking and suddenly I am beside the river.  A pathway filled with people barbecuing, drinking, swimming, socializing or just sitting together discussing their lives. It is truly something out of a contemporary Woody Allen film.   Just steps over the river and I find myself in a park with soccer nets, a beautiful double basketball court, and lots of open green space for picnics or other games.  I haven’t experienced an evening yet when this park wasn’t overrun with people.  Incredible.

Downtown is a 20-25min walk but if I am in a rush, rarely, I’ll jump on the #11 tram which is part of the most efficient public transport systems I’ve ever experienced.  From my discussions with locals, all of Switzerland is like this; trains, trams, and boats all coordinated into one orchestra of order.  It’s really quite impressive.

And speaking of quite impressive… Swiss prices.  Oh man.

Now, I’m not talking about the, “Wow, what a deal! I’m really impressed.” type of feeling.  I’m talking, “WTF! How are you snakes charging me 4 CHF ($4.50 US) for an espresso and getting away with it?! That’s impressive.”

I’ve learned to associate grocery shopping and evening dining in Switzerland with walking into a local pick pockets meeting with a blindfold on.  But interestingly enough, I’ve also come to enjoy that all of the products sold in the country are of a higher quality, and their prices are inflated because their wages are as well.

But aside from the financial achievements of the country, Switzerland so far, has been everything I had hoped.  This country may not claim the penchant for passion that Spain or Italy cling to as national treasures, but they certainly make up for it in civility and perspective; Characteristics that are overlooked far too often.

And though I look forward to returning to the mighty city of Barcelona in August, right now, Basel is treating me like a kind old friend and I am perfectly fine with that. J

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