Notes: The living voice, counts for a great deal

"Honor those you quote by practicing their wisdom and then quoting yourself; be not a mirror but a sprouting seed." I was compelled to publish that thought after seeing popular quote after popular quote retweeted and shared on the Internet.

The importance of practicing the wisdom behind popular quotes instead of simply sharing and forgetting them is paramount. I believe the best way we can honor the authors of those quotes is not by sharing their wisdom, but by practicing it.

After I published my thought, my friend Amit shared the following passage from Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, which gelled very well with this train of thinking (the following was written about 2,000 years ago):

But in the case of a grown man who has made incontestable progress it is disgraceful to go hunting after gems of wisdom, and prop himself up with a minute number of the best-known sayings, and be dependent on his memory as well; it is time he was standing on his own feet. He should be delivering himself of such sayings, not memorizing them. It is disgraceful that a man who is old or in sight of old age should have a wisdom deriving solely from his notebook. ‘Zeno said this.’ And what have you said? ‘Cleanthes said that.’ What have you said? How much longer are you going to serve under others’ orders? Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity.

Produce something from your own resources. This is why I look on people like this as a spiritless lot – the people who are forever acting as interpreters and never as creators, always lurking in someone else’s shadow. They never venture to do for themselves the things they have spent such a long time learning. They exercise their memories on things that are not their own. It is one thing, however, to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said. ‘Zeno said this, Cleanthes that.’ Let’s have some difference between you and the books! How much longer are you going to be a pupil? From now on do some teaching as well. Why, after all, should I listen to what I can read for myself? ‘The living voice,’ it may be answered, ‘counts for a great deal.’ Not when it is just acting in a kind of secretarial capacity, making itself an instrument for what others have to say.

Create to Share

Have you ever seen a baby get excited about a new toy and then almost immediately turn around and hold it up with bright eyes and a big smile, pleading with you to share in the excitement? The baby has no expectations, only a desire to share.

When we share without expectation, we're sharing love. When we create without expectation, we're creating with love. But if we put a condition on sharing the things that we create -- I'll share this if you give me that -- then we disconnect from the ultimate reason that we possess the power to create: to share love.

That doesn't mean we can't receive something in return for what we create. Receiving in return for creating isn't the same as creating with the intention of receiving. The latter is based in scarcity, the former in abundance.

Like the baby pleading to share in the joy of discovery, we instinctively want to share what we love. When we do something because we love it, the act of doing it becomes enough. When we create with the intention of sharing, everything we receive in return becomes a gift.

Exercising Life with Fun and Play

Kids playing football in Pokhara, Nepal

It's one thing to see less fortunate people on the street and have the urge to help them, but it's something else entirely to have almost one hundred children staring at you hoping that you'll do something to improve their future.

It was my second day visiting the schools in Nepal and I had been greeted like a king and given my first-ever public speech a few hours earlier. I was feeling extremely moved and inspired by how I might be able to help so many people.

As I hiked from the first village of Kahule to the even more remote village of Bhalche, the strangest thought came to me: How could I fulfill this urge to dedicate my life to helping improve the world and still justify skydiving?

For that matter, how could I justify doing anything recreational or fun that wasn't directly related to helping others? Continue reading

Create and Share Value

Do you add valueless content to the digital world? How much of what you say or write is only valuable to yourself? How much of it consists of you complaining or bragging about what you've done (or even worse, what you're currently doing)?

I know I'm guilty of it: Sometimes when I’m alone and my mind is idle, posting something, anything, to Twitter and knowing that someone somewhere will read it gives me a sense of connection. But that's being selfish. How much does spewing useless information into the world actually help me (or anyone)? It makes me “feel” a little better in the moment, but does it really do anything for anyone long-term?

The Internet makes it easy for us to keep sharing useless stuff that we think is important because we don't see anyone’s reaction to what we're offering. If you stood on the sidewalk and asked strangers to listen to how your day went, how many people would care? With the in-your-face feedback that you’d receive on the sidewalk, how long would it take you to realize that what you're offering is valueless and adds nothing useful to the lives of others?

On the Internet, you don’t see when someone grumbles at that self-centered, narcissistic paragraph of text you’ve written; you don’t see all the eyeballs that pass over and dismiss your carefully crafted jumble of words.

Being in a constant mode of providing value requires changing your mindset. Yesterday, for example, I went for a walk to clear my head. Towards the end of the walk, I decided to post something on Twitter to share the refreshing experience. At first, I wrote:

"Just finished a nice walk outside in the cold. It really cleared my head.”

Then I realized I could provide more value to others by rephrasing the message:

“Got a lot on your mind? Try taking a walk outside when it’s cold and focus on nothing but your breathing and the movement of your legs.”

Now which of those two posts would you rather read? Which provides more value to world?

Be someone who creates value, not noise. If you find something of value, rebroadcast it (but don't become a repeater just rebroadcasting someone else's voice; create your own voice). If you feel you rarely have anything of value to share, try changing your perspective. If you still have nothing, don't share information simply for the sake of sharing. Sharing is good, but sharing something that only adds to the noise is not good.

Before you publish something you’ve written for Twitter, Facebook, or a blog post, ask yourself if what you're writing would be of value to anyone. If not, don't pollute the digital world by adding to the noise.

Be someone who provides value:

  • Ask yourself how your observations, activities, and experiences could be useful to others.
  • Rephrase valuelessness to provide value through making suggestions or offering advice.
  • Try seeing things through someone else's perspective; would a stranger be interested?
  • Only create or share when you think it will provide value; don't create or share for the sake of creating or sharing.
  • Rebroadcast value, but don't become a rebroadcaster; build your own voice through personal observations.
  • Change your mindset to reflect someone who provides value.

It’s amazing how easily valuelessness can become valuable by simply changing the perspective and intention.