Beauty cannot be random

This article caught my eye today:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/trending-now/mystery-behind-deep-sea-crop-circles-off-coast-165833308.html

I’ve reflected often on why a natural organism with certainly not much mental facility can create an intricate and beautiful work like this. Spiders do it too with their webs. And how is it that “beautiful” is commonly shared by all things great and small? To me it screams CREATOR! for what or who else can put this in the heart of a humble little puffer fish? A bunch of random events over billions of years? Sorry just doesn’t pass my common sense test. Which reminds me:

He has made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has put eternity in men’s hearts, so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Words

Words are the most powerful force known to mankind. A word can either build or destroy in an instant. Entire nations can rise or fall on a few words. And friendships can be lost in a moment with a few choice words. The United States constitution provides protection and freedom for us to say whatever we want. However just because we’re free to say something doesn’t mean it’s free to say it. Yes, free used with two different meanings. To make it clear what I mean would be to say: Just because we have liberty to say something doesn’t mean it’s without a cost to say it.

While we have a great liberty as US citizens I believe it has led to undisciplined behavior and responsibility for the words spoken. If I can understand the cost, and value, of what I say then it will be a good tool to measure what I say. Two thoughts come to mind:

” Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6

and one that recently caught my attention and really made me think was a statement made about an angel of God:

“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 9

If Michael has boundaries in what he says to the devil then how much more should I be diligent and wise in talking to ordinary folks? The answer is self evident.

Simple is difficult

Wait, what? How is “simple” and “difficult” equivalent at all? Culture generally makes things complicated because in the complexity it’s easy to deceive and be deceived. I think of complexity like a web spun and weaved with many intricacies and threads. Try tracing one down and you quickly get lost and then “caught” in the web of complexity. My experience is that complexity is easy and if you want to get philosophical for a moment I believe related to the Law of Entropy that all things decay into randomness including our system of thought.

To reach simplicity requires real work…a lot of work in most cases because the web of complexity must be untangled and set aside. As I have been reflecting recently on an old admonition “LEARN to do good”, followed by a list of SIMPLE things that are good:

  • seek justice
  • Defend the oppressed
  • Take up the cause of the fatherless
  • plead the case of the widow

I have been asking myself the question: why do those things largely go undone? And I return to the statement in the beginning, I must LEARN to do them. It’s going to take real work to make them part of my thinking and practice. In the process I’m also going to have to set aside the cultural definition of “good” as some complex set of things achievable by only a few or those that are ultra smart, or ultra diligent, or ultra whatever. I can do that list of simple things any day and every day.

So then why do those things go undone? Bear in mind any answer that justifies why they are NOT done is complexity speaking and the deception that so easily ensnares our thinking.

Truth is simple

I have come to a basic conclusion in life that one of the critical tests of truth and wisdom is how simple it is to express or explain. Which is very different from how I started as a young engineer years ago where my very livelihood was built on fixing complex things. But even in engineering I have come to appreciate that the ingredients of a truly successful engineering solution are simple things, not complex ones.

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying:

Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.

I didn’t know he said this until after his death recently but you can see this embodied in Apple products. I am often chided by my engineering colleagues for using so many Apple products since from their perspective they are “dumbed down” or inflexible. And then I take my iPhone out and do a basic test case side by side with their “better” phone, and most of the time I am done with the task much faster than my friends with their “better” phone. As I tell people, I use Apple products because they are simple to use……they just work.

My experience is that this principle extends to many other subject areas: life, relationships, politics, and religion. Looked at from the negative point of view, many deceptions are built on complexity for the simple reason to confuse and distract from the real story and truth. Some deceptions are not intentional or willful. The complexity vs simplicity principle remains the same but in those cases we use a different word: fallacy, something generally accepted but is not true.

A caution in this is that simple does not mean easy whether taken from the perspective of sharing truth to others or accepting simple truth ourselves. Why? From the perspective of the truth sharer, reaching the simplest form in order to express truth is hard work with a lot of cutting away to reach that point. Alternately, from the perspective of the truth receiver, it may be simple to understand but very difficult to accept the intuitive and natural conclusions that a truth requires.

This reminds me of an old consulting story I heard years ago. An older, retired businessman is asked to give a lecture at a conference and asked his fee for the service. He responded with 3 options:

Option 1 – a 60 min lecture for $5000

Option 2 – a 30 min lecture for $15000

Option 3 – a 15 min lecture for $25000

As any writer or spokesperson will tell you, the shorter the time you have to deliver a message, the more time it takes to hone and sharpen it to the ideas and concepts that truly matter. Truth is simple!

Don’t confuse me with the facts

I have a good friend at work that I often debate investment strategies when we meet. Over the years I’ve found a large number of engineers hold an assumption that scientific analysis can provide an “edge” in investing. Now don’t ask him what he needs to analyze, as I often do, but he holds onto this assumption in the face of very stark quantitative evidence. You can easily find data that compares the performance of active mutual funds to a benchmark index such as the S&P 500. For 2008, over 70% of all active mutual funds trailed the performance of the S&P 500 over the previous 5 year period. So, if a mutual fund manager that focuses on investor return every day of his life and a majority of the time underperforms, why does my good friend still hold on to the assumption that scientific analysis provides an edge in investing?

This story, and others like it, have given me a lot of food for thought about the underlying thinking of people and myself in particular. There is a stated assumption of microeconomics: individuals are rational. In other words a person will make the best decision weighing the benefit to themselves. But as my good friend demonstrates, people don’t always think or act rationally even in the presence of evidence. Why is that?

Another example is the buying behavior in the grocery store versus a car lot. I had a professor that used to own a grocery distribution business in Tennessee. To demonstrate this contrast he would describe how a typical consumer would go through the aisles and make decisions about what to eat based on only a few pennies difference in a can of green beans, price is king. However, take that same person and put them on a car lot and now decisions in the hundreds of dollars are no big deal because the style of the car is appealing. Yet, the choice of green beans bears a risk of health consequence but isn’t a factor in the buyers mind going down the grocery store aisle. I repeat this same pattern in decisions and choices all the time. I don’t always think or act rationally.

The same “rational person” problem exists in all sorts of subjects that have high emotion involved such as politics or religion. I don’t have to turn into Spock and purge myself of all emotion in the face of my moments of irrationality. Basic wisdom and truth are my best resources that will serve me in all situations regardless of subject, time, or place:

  • Learn how the world works – don’t be naive about people, places, and things
  • Learn discretion – how to assess the situation and make the best choice
  • Obtain prudence – foresight of what happens in light of my choices and decisions
  • Get good counsel – many points of view provide sound understanding
But Solomon beat me to this a few thousand years ago and said it far more efficiently when he said in Proverbs 1:
4 To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

Prudence is not just a name

I’m a “word person” much to the chagrin of my family. Some would say it’s because of the childhood influence of a father as a college English teacher but I think my sister would disagree since her mastery of the English language was a bit underwhelming. (Love ya sis!) At any rate, I am extremely attentive to the use of the English language in American culture and constantly amazed at how it is butchered and tortured. I won’t get on my soap box about the basics of “your” versus “you’re”, that’s just a side show to how key concepts just get lost because there is no clue of the word itself.

The picture is just some random person with the real life name Prudence, I have no personal knowledge of this person at all. But I’ve been surprised by some people that think Prudence is just an odd name for a person, literally no awareness of it as a real word. So, if Prudence is not just a name, what does it mean? Prudence involves the concepts of foresight and discretion. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prudence

This relates to “life at the poles” because when a subject involves more than one principle, prudence comes into play and from personal experience life rarely is reduced to utilizing just one principle or truth. Why is prudence important and not just the ramblings of some dude that’s an admitted word person? Because I think that our culture has largely lost the notion that prudence is even valuable let along important.

When a culture begins to think that there are no risks in life or that the risks are “manageable” then why is there a need for foresight? Likewise, in a society steeped in personal liberty like America, then why is discretion needed? These are just a couple of questions that highlight how culture can blind us to core truths and start the process of redefinition by first forgetting what a core truth even means. I can guarantee that anyone that has lived a fair numbers of years of life realize that risks are not completely controllable (just ask the folks in Fukushima, Japan about nuclear reactors) and ignoring my impact on other people for the sake of my liberty leads to a pretty unhappy life.

Life is an extremely expensive teacher with a cost that does not have bounds. The only way to lessen that cost is to obtain prudence. As Solomon said of his sayings of wisdom in Proverbs:

“To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion”    Proverbs 1:4

Continuing the metaphor of life at the poles, not all of life is reduced into black and white. That may come as a shock for some people as it bleeds over into the subjects of business, religion, and politics. An example of this point is a statement I found one day:

“”Do not drink the cleaning solution” would be a rule of prudence. This rule would not be considered a moral rule because while it is not morally wrong to drink cleaning solution, it does serve your best interest to avoid doing so.”

And before you brush that off as a contrived example, think why adults teach children about cleaners and manufacturers put child safety caps on the bottles. Because some are naive about what the liquid is and it’s harmful effects if ingested. And there in is why Solomon sought to give prudence to the naive; not about trivial subjects like cleaning fluid but about things pertaining to life. I can be quite the child at times about life and need some help to remove my naivete before I end up paying yet another expensive life lesson.