Filters & Prayer
Your kids don’t worry that lying on top of you during Outrageous Acts of Science will be inappropriate or unwelcome. Affection from offspring is immensely rewarding, as it’s raw — no objective, no expectation, no filter. Just a natural urge to feel your warmth and be closer to someone they love, and loves them.
My oldest reinforces this authenticity when several minutes later he declines the offer to wash the car with you. He’d rather play FIFA 2018. Yesterday, our seven-year-old told us he “feels love” when he touches his Wenis (his name for it, not ours) and when he sees dogs. His brother, who never agrees with him, nodded as if this is a universal truth.
School, discipline, and parenting are mostly about constructing filters so your kids stay in swim lanes, stay out of jail, fit in, and chart a path toward a True North. Teens, around their parents, become experts at filtering everything you say and finding all the impurities in everything you do. Every thing. As we spill into adulthood we develop more filters in dating, at college, at work.
There is a freedom and cathartic release, as you get older, to tolerating cracks in the filters, making them more porous, your actions and words more genuine. My filters had little problem expanding at work and with service employees. I’ve been incredibly open with people who didn’t perform up to my expectations, the standards for the job, or the cab fare. Direct, constructive feedback is valuable. But my “feedback” has been the (non-) gift that keeps on giving.
Always quick to remind the guy — who’s probably supporting three kids on 40K/year — that it took 40 minutes to get my room service. Or expecting that if I’m working at midnight, the 24-year-old who works for me should be as well. I try to compensate for the former by tipping generously, but that’s paying it backward — I worked my way through high school and college (as a waiter, valet, and busboy) and see myself in every service worker. But 25% is no excuse for being a jerk. Trying to fix this.
I’ve been around enormously successful people since a young age, mostly through work, and have known many on a personal level. There is an arc to being an asshole. The aspirants (people trying to make a living) are generally nice and not expectant. I don’t know if it’s the humility you develop not having reached economic security, fear of pissing off the wrong gal or guy, values, or if it’s reflexive, as many spend time in the services industry. The near-successful (where I’ve spent most of my adult life) tend to over-index on the asshole meter, as our insecurity and anger at not having made the jump to light speed, can turn to expectations and actions that vainly attempt to highlight what a big fucking deal I am.
The super-successful people I know are usually nicer, more generous, and generally better mannered. The billionaire jerk portrayed in movies and TV is mostly a cartoon — animation of something that isn’t real. I’d like to think generosity and manners are a signal and cause of success. But I believe manners are also a function of other factors: i) billionaires have more to lose. Being a jerk to an Uber driver when you’re the CEO of Uber can and should cost you billions, and it did;1 and ii) you take stock of your blessings and have an easier time being less of an asshole. One of the nice things about aging is that while some filters are renewing (“Do I really need to criticize this person?”), others are coming down, making it easy and natural to compliment others.
I’m 100% certain there is no god. At least not the Morgan Freeman / Lifetime channel / Fox version of God. However, I do pray. Just as writing down your goals makes them more likely to come to fruition, being grateful has been proven to increase health and life expectancy. Writing about your aspirations and articulating all the things you’re grateful for is a form of prayer.
I’m more committed to prayer in the company of others — being transparent about my objectives and expressing gratitude. Or, more often, being specific about how impressive they are. As a younger man, I felt complimenting other men was somehow a zero-sum game. That acknowledging their achievements and attributes took away from mine. So small.
Time with my boys and exercise have been effective antidepressants. Increasingly adding a third, prayer in the form of appreciation/admiration. It’s not charity, as it makes me feel important, healthy, and confident to praise others. Still a long way to go, as my old insecurities die hard.
We all have good intentions that don’t lead to action. We have an even greater reservoir of admiration and good thoughts about others that get caught in the filters of insecurity and fear. To not let that dam burst is to cut life short and shortchange joy. There are so few absolutes. One of them: Nobody ever says at a funeral, “He was too generous, too kind, and much too loving.”
Life is so rich,
1 Uber’s valuation dropped $14B between their 2016 valuation of $68B and their 2018 valuation of $54B, after Kalanick’s 2017 PR nightmares and resignation. Kalanick owned 10–12% of shares, so his loss would have been $1.4–1.7B.