Word of the Week

February 20, 2024

Creativity

I. What does it mean?

(noun) The production of ideas and objects that both novel or original, and worthwhile or appropriate; that is, useful, attractive, meaningful, or correct

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From late Latin creare meaning "to make" and the Greek krelnein meaning, "to fulfill". Both sense-definitions relate to crescere, meaning "arise, be born, increase, grow". The original meaning of creativity was "to make grow", the modern definition essentially means to "make up something new and valuable", thus transforming what is into something better.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

While creativity is often linked to intelligence, adaptability, and imagination, this was not always the case.

The concept of creativity hit popular discourse in the late 18th century during the Romantic era, where it was the esteemed preorgative of art and the sister of originality. This necessarily ran at odds with the traditional conception of intelligence as contemplative nous, related to concepts and rote.

From the 20th century, with developments in neuroscience, creativity was claimed as fundamental to science, and to intelligence. Creativity was the foundation of the adaptive and ductile observation, tied to the notion of active and executive intelligence. It was deemed as essential to neuroscience as to psychology precisely because of the primacy in both of a faculty that allows someone to a see a solution when there is not.

The agglomeration of intelligence and creativity has corresponded with a steady increase in writing and discourse.

(Read more)

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Is generative AI creative?

One argument is that a process of production must be heuristic or open-ended, rather than algorithmic. That is, there cannot be a definite path to a unique solution. Even if that is so, there is substantial debate as to whether these heuristics can be codified into the machine learning of large language models.

Whether we get there because we believe creativity itself is algorithmic, or because we see that the heuristic is codifiable, accepting the potential of generative AI to be creative opens the door to a conversation about opportunities rather than resistance.

Indeed one of the biggest opportunities of AI is to augment human creativity and overcome the challenges of democratising innovation. It can supplement the creativity of employees ad customers, and help them to not only produce and identify novel ideas, but also to pressure test or argue with their own conceptions. It can be uses to challenge bias, assess ideas, refine and collaborate.

For AI to be creative, that augmentation must lead to something"better", in the sense that what arises is both novel or original, and worthwhile or appropriate. The apprehension about its creative metis lies more in the assessment of this, than in the nous of the algorithm.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Creativity has etymologically two functions: first, to make, and second, to fulfill. It follows that in order to create, something novel must be formed, and that formation must fulfill. While much is said about the process for making something novel, less is said about the normative assessment of what is to be fulfilled.

The very concept of betterment is entirely contextual against that which the improvement is made. It follows then that creativity is not simply novelty for its own sake, but executive novelty: the capacity to define and then execute what "good" means. How we get there - through AI, personality, intelligence, adaptation or any other faculty - exists severally from this a priori question of what we are getting to.

What can you fulfill in your life by doing something new?

____________________________________________________________

February 14, 2024

Morality

I. What does it mean?

(noun) Principles concerning right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From late Latin moralitatem meaning "manner, character" and from Latin moralis meaning "proper behaviour of a person in society", literally "pertaining to manners". It translated from Latin mos meaning "one's disposition", which in plural, referred to "mores, customers, manners, morals".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

"Morality" was first applied to literally refer to manners. The association of those manners as being of the "right behaviour" developed in the 14th century.

From the late 14th century, the concept of morality as "right behaviour" evolved further to the rules of right conduct. By the 1680s, those rules were normatively linked to rights and duties, such that laws themselves could be "founded on morality".

Importantly, morality and laws are not necessarily predicated upon each other; they are several and distinct units of rules that heavily inform the essential rightness of the other. As William H. Prescott said in the "History of the Conquest of Peru":

"When there is no free agency, there can be no morality. When there is no temptation, there can be little claim to virtue. Where the routine is rigorously proscribed by law, the law, and not the man, must have the credit of the conduct".

The preoccupation with morality in modern discourse has increased since the 1980s, after a period of steady decline from Prescott's assertion in 1847.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

As the war in Gaza continues, the question of moral responsibility looms large through every escalation.

In Gaza, there are tents but no poles. Water purifiers, medical supplies, fuel, and poles, are among the items that many argue have been blocked from aid trucks into the region. At the heart of the issue is the question: are these items for civilians, or for Hamas? Those items that may have both civilian and military purposes, or "dual use potential", are scanned.

War, understandably, and perhaps inevitably, flattens thinking. Trying to hold a morally expansive perspective on war, in which two truths can be held at the same time, seems necessary. This moral tension sits in understanding the humanity - the manner of the hand, the customs - at the core of every action.

The moral horror of children dying does not exist within a circumscribed circle of left or right politics. It is a human problem, where the moral high ground is flattened when by exposing our immense capacity to inflict harm upon, and help toward, each other.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Moral action is objectively aspirational for most people. The question begs, how do we know an action is moral? If morality is manners codified as rules, then morality is like manners, a "a matter of the hand". It follows then that the assignation of morality may not even be available to an action if it exists outside of a custom, or a matter of the hand. Indeed, if morality is taken at its etymological root, and it is the codification of "right" customs, then we may be asking the wrong questions of ourselves. Instead of asking whether our actions are moral, we may ask: are our customs right?

Interrogating our customs first begins with interrogating our agency. We choose to behave in certain ways as free agents, not because those actions are easy but because they are right. Understanding the essential rightness of the action might be at the heart of simplifying the moral tension of existence. That rightness is innate, as morality may be.

How many of your customs or habits do you believe are essentially right?

____________________________________________________________

February 7, 2024

Magic

I. What does it mean?

(noun) The secret power of appearing to make impossible things happen by saying special words or doing special things

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From late Latin magice meaning "sorcery, magic", it stemmed from the Greek magike from magos meaning, "one of the members of the learned or priestly class". The PIE root magh meant, "to be able, to have power".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

"Magic" was first commonly adopted in the 14th century as something influencing or predicting events and producing marvels using hidden or supernatural forces. It was the domain of high spirits and priests, synonymous with witchcraft or drycraeft, from dry "magician", and from Irish "drui "priest, magician".

By the Middle Ages, magic bifurcated between this supernatural domain of the priests and the natural domain of scientists. The latter neither involved the agency of personal spirits, nor priests. Indeed, in a model developed by British anthropologist Sir James Frazer, magic was characterised as an early stage in human development, superseded first by religion and then by science. Magic was considered more or less legitimate and was used in scientific explanations as much as the manipulation of natural forces.

First, then, as a noun, and by the 19th and 20th century, as an adjective and a verb, the word has been on the steady increase. Although magic has an ambiguous relationship with religion and science, it is rooted in the main institutional, social and intellectual traditions in Western history. When magic graduated from an evolutionary model toward more context-sensitive interpretations, it was born into the language as much as the mental models of the West as both a bridge and barrier between religion and science; and so has continued to preoccupy the predilection of our fantasy and our fact.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

The EU has passed its first regulation on Artificial Intelligence, the AI Act. As regulators debate the guardrails for its regulation and roll out, the jury is out as to whether AI is entirely secular, entirely mystic, neither, or both.

Artificial Intelligence can do some things better than humans: it will beat you at Texas Hold'Em and read your lips while you flail. As Arthur C Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". To those whose diseases were diagnosed early, or whose meetings were transcribed without so much as raising a biro to a notepad, it may well feel that way. AI may be modern sorcery.

How can the thicket of math, calculated quickly, be magic? The anthropology of magic involves two parts: manipulation of symbols, and the realisation of an extraordinary change. Both of these are true, in the maths of AI as much as the mindfulness of those who feed the algorithms.

So it is that the anthropology of magic tells us how people create and use Artificial Intelligence. Fundamentally, in obtaining ideals - those which sit outside of the ordinary, ineffable and transcendental - we believe we see magic. The machine learns, not so much to supply needs so much as realise wants. Regulation's role may be to draw the sandbox around those wants.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

The very origins of the word magic raise questions about the ways in which one person's religion is another's magic, and vice versa. The answer may be that it is both and neither.

Today's popular "scientific" world view is several and distinct from magic because it is the child of enlightenment rationalism and the scientific revolution. Ironically, the lineage of the parents of modern rationalism is Reformation pragmatism. They owe their existence to the Renaissance experiments in magic that led to the modern triumph of reason, and the rejection of that which proved them to be true.

If magic is not mysticism so much as unexplained ability and power, then it makes sense that those who command it are prophets of impact. Whether that impact ascends to religious heights or roots in the grounds of science is a coin toss in perception and a sleight of hand of context; it is magic.

What is one thing - outside of the ordinary - you are able to do this week?

____________________________________________________________

January 31, 2024

Culture

I. What does it mean?

(noun) Way of life

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From latin cultura meaning "a cultivating, agriculture", and figuratively meaning, "care, an honoring". The past participle stem of colere meaning "to tend, guard; to till, cultivate" informs both the countable and uncountable permutations of the noun.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

While the countable sense of "cultivation or rearing of a crop" stems back to the 1620s, the figurative sense of "cultivation through education, systematic improvement and refinement of the mind" was not common before the nineteenth century. The concept of culture as the tending, guarding, tilling and cultivating of the mind and its tastes became synonymous with the intellectual side of civilisation.

So it was journaled by William Butler Yeats in 1909:

"For without culture or holiness, which are always the gift of a very few, a man man renounce wealth or any other external thing, but he cannot renounce hatred, envy, jealousy, revenge. Culture is the sanctity of the intellect."

Since that time, "culture" has been on the steady increase in modern discourse, reaching its peak at the turn of the millennium.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

What caused the drug overdoses to 3.5X in 5 years in one of the most esteemed global cities? In 2018, San Francisco's drug overdose death rate was roughly equal to the national average. Last year, its death rate was more than double the national level.

Much has been said about the relationship between social stigmas, policy, taxation and health outcomes in restricted retail spaces - be that tobacco, alcohol or narcotics. As the social and legal penalties that follow addiction have loosened in San Francisco particularly, a culture of "love the sinner, hate the sin" has permeated. Abstinence, it is argued by many, is not always the correct goal. Safety, alternatively, is.

Underscoring this cultural shift is another culture at play: a fundamental liberalism predicated on bodily autonomy that differentiates it from other similar legal schemas in more conservative countries. The rise in overdoses and drug use may be correlatively, if not causally, tied to that cultural panoply.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Culture is often an inductive process in our daily lives. We move through a process of reasoning from specific observations to broader generalisations about the way of the world we occupy. We do this because it's fast and easy, and provides order and meaning to the seemingly mundane and repetitive motions of daily life.

For example, inductively we read the day: We rise to an alarm. We go to work. We attend a work out class. We eat a meal. We watch television. We sleep and repeat. So we live in a culture of grinding.

The alternative is to take culture as an input and not an output. Here, we can chose to move deductively: culture becomes a practice of cultivation that harnesses the energy of purpose. This is difficult. We need facts that are definitely true.

For example, deductively we read the day: We live in a culture of curiosity. We feel the weight of our body shift as the alarm rings. We taste the grounds of a coffee. We observe the asymmetry in our left and right sides as we run on a treadmill.

If culture as deduction is chosen, then culture is no longer the remit of few (as Yeats suggests), but accessible to everyone, anywhere, any time. Moreover, it is amorphous and changeable. The singular, mundane motions take on intellectual importance and cultural significance. You, as a person and life, are culture.

What way of life are you cultivating?

____________________________________________________________

January 22, 2024

Settle

I. What does it mean?

(verb) To decide or arrange something finally

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From the noun setl meaning "a seat", it was applied in Old English as setlan, meaning " to place in a fixed or permanent position; cause to sit, place in a seat". The fixing or "seating" of something as by purpose or intention became common in the 1620s, and in the subsequent century came mean something "put beyond dispute or established by authority of argument". Hence, to settle meant literally to put to a seat, resolve, determine and come to a decision.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The Proto-Indo-European root sed meaning "to sit" has been extended from the physical meaning of placing in a seat, to the metaphysical meaning of placing from a disturbed or troubled state to one of security. In that sense, the word has been used as much as verb describing a physical actions (i.e. to settle in a place), or idea (i.e. the argument was settled) as it has as an adjective to describe a person (i.e. a settled baby).

The sense of "establish a permanent residence" was recorded by the 1620s, while the meaning of "plant with inhabitants, colonize" was recorded by 1702. The attachment of settlement to land quite literally then means to sit, with security, beyond doubt. At the turn of the 18th century, the sense extension of the word moved physical to a legal concept, meaning to "secure title to (property, etc) by means of. a deed, etc)." Thus, "settle" attested to place something beyond dispute - be that a state of security in the mind, body or dominion. The word has been on a sharp increase since the 1980s, with a recent surge in post-colonial studies.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

The concept of settler colonialism has surged over the past two decades, in case studies of political structures, moral codes and legal architectures from Australia to Israel. The scholarly analytic defines settler colonies as those colonies (in some cases nations today) which were founded on the premise of sending settlers to different locations in the world. The concept emerged from post-colonial studies, often from the point of view of those formerly colonised, to describe a structural form of colonialism in which "existing inhabitants were displaced by settlers claiming land and establishing a permanent society where their privileged status is enshrined in law".

Settler colonialism is charged in discussions of Israel, both in the context of its current settlements in the West Bank and in the processes that led to its founding as a Jewish state. It is too, as Australia approaches renewed debates about the celebration of its national date.

The polemics are morally and politically loaded gun, which is not a historical master key. The scholarly analytic does crack the window to not only the formation of physical territories, but the metaphysical territories - be that legal or political - that form nation-states.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Our acts to "settle" could be both a structure, and an event. The concept of settling provides a heuristic to understand the actions that secure us against the socio-political structures that give us security.

It is important that settling (either in the affirmative or intransitive sense) does not necessarily define who we are as a people opposed to another, but it may explain the asymmetry in our sense of right, security and authority.

It is important to note that, contrary to etymology, what is settled is not necessarily above disrepute.

What are the honest sources of your security? Why?

____________________________________________________________

January 17, 2024

Certain

I. What does it mean?

(adjective) Strongly believing something; having no doubts

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From the Latin certus meaning "determined, resolved, fixed, settled" of things whose qualities are invariable. It is a variant of the past participle cernere, meaning "to distinguish, decide, sift, separate".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

In the 13th century the word "certain" was used to describe things that could be "placed beyond doubt" or quite literally sifted or separated from doubt. By the mid 14th century, the word was transferred to people, meaning "full of confidence in one's knowledge or judgement".

The Latin certus was indefinite in the sense that things existed beyond doubt but the nature of those things was not definitely designated. As the word evolved in English discourse through the 18th century, it thus adopted a euphemistic use, which, when associated with a designated thing, described the nature of that thing with some disdain. For example, as in a "woman of a certain age" ("an old maid"), "a woman of a certain description" ("a disreputable woman), or a "certain weight" ("obese").

Since the outset of World War II, "certain" has been on the decline in modern literature, while its antonym, "uncertain", has been on the steady increase.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

The certainty of our times is not foregone. We face arctic temperatures across the US while birds fall from the trees under crippling heat in Australia. Donald Trump faces 91 criminal charges while leading the contention for the presidential candidacy. War threatens or rages like fires tempting the political breeze around the world.

How do we have no doubts about the times; and beyond this, how can we trust, with certainty, what is reported about the nature of these times?

The answer, it is posited, may not be to seek certainty at all, but rather to lean into its antonym. A recent randomised study gave people with generalised anxiety disorders individual therapy focussed on reducing their aversion to uncertainty by increasing their experience to unknown events in small doses. The result was to divorce uncertainty with weakness and instead increase participant's tolerance and resilience.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Is uncertainty the greatest of our governing fears? In times of fear and anxiety, we tend to gravitate to simple terms, decisive solutions, and a governing need for closure, regardless of the facts.

If we can accept that certainty itself exists outside of the paradigms of nature - and indeed, mocks that certain nature - then we come to understand that lack of doubt is an outlier not an aspiration, and the absence of certainty is the norm for nature, human or social.

Where can you lean into uncertainty without doubt?

____________________________________________________________

January 10, 2024

Adventure

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) An unusual, exciting, or dangerous experience, journey, or series of events

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From Latin adventura meaning, "(a thing) about to happen", it is the future participle of advenire, meaning "to come to, reach, arrive at". This suffixed from the latin root, "venire", meaning "to come", and "ad" meaning "to". The PIE root "gwa" means, "to go, come".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

Prior to the 13th century, adventure was used to indicate "a wonder, a miracle; account of marvelous things". In Old French, it meant "chance, accident, occurrence or happening".

However, between the 13th and 14th century, the meaning developed through "risk; danger" (a trial of one's chances), and "perilous undertaking".

By the 1560s, the Old French and feudal notions coalesced and the word came to mean "novel or exciting incident, remarkable occurrence in one's life". The definitional augmentation of the PIE root as meaning "to take" and the latin extension of danger as "chance" has informed its application since: adventure means to take chance.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Because the claim of transgression in a mapped world seemed increasingly implausible, popular narratives shifted adventures to the periphery of the civilized world (colonial literature), into magical parallel worlds (fantasy), or in different galaxies (science fiction). In these modern stories, the hero overcomes something in an illusion of coherence, usually subject to a trivial narrative pleasure principle.

In modernity, adventure tales are often fantastical, trite or edge; stories form in the absence of adventure or danger and in the character-led journey.

As the world closed its borders and edges during COVID, the reality of geographical transgression folded, as did the spirit. Now, as the world rears its collective head, the information revolution is changing how we work and live at supersonic rates. Our journey into modernity, one day at a time, one breath at a time, is itself an epic adventure; one we understand largely through fantastical forms yet live in the most mundane moments of our day-to-day, ever evolving, world.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

The root of the word stems from the notion of going or coming; whether the miracle, risk, novelty or chance of that going or coming deems it an "adventure" is, in large part, a consequence of the time in which the experience is being described.

In its earliest application, adventure was, a priori, a miracle: an adventure is one where going and coming is a miracle. In modernity, there is a necessary danger or risk associated: an adventure is one where going or coming is a dangerous, unusual or exciting experience.

The association of danger presupposes something to be overcome, usually in an unrelatable or unrealistic realm. However, it is our narrative's precise insistence on what is overcome that indicates a moment of truth in our stories of modern adventure. This is a kind of truth in fantasy that even modernity cannot relinquish. There is danger and chance in overcoming challenges big and small, imagined and real. There is also novelty and miracle. In all cases, there is adventure.

What challenges - big or small - can you face with a spirit of adventure?

____________________________________________________________

January 3, 2024

Authentic

I. What does it mean? 

(adjective) Not false or imitation; real, actual

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From Latin authenticus, meaning "original, genuine, principal", and extended from the PIE root combining autos "self" and sense "to accomplish, achieve".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

The Medieval use of the word meant "canonical, authorised", with a sense of "entitlement to acceptance as factual". The modern use extends the Ancient Greek and PIE root meaning the accomplishment of self mastery, with a sense of "one acting on one's own authority".

The former Medieval definition could be taken to mean that the contents of a thing in question are authentic if the thing corresponds to the facts and is not fictitious (hence "trustworthy" or "reliable"). The latter modern and Greek use could be taken to mean that the reputed author is real and the author's hand is unedited (hence "unadulterated" or "genuine") (see more).

As such, as the word has evolved, it carries twin meanings: something that is not false, and something that is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character.

The Merriam-Webster word of the year for 2023 was "authentic", owing to its high search velocity. Lexicographers credit the increase with stories and conversation about artificial intelligence, celebrity culture, identity, and social media (see more).

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Authenticity is the aspiration of brands, social media influencers, and celebrities; so much so, that there is a real business behind the aritifice and calculation that goes into the production of social media videos and brand marketing. Money follows "authenticity" as the gold standard for building trust.

Celebrities, not least of all the Times person of the year, Taylor Swift, made headlines for seeking and expressing their "authentic voice" and "authentic self". The "trademark authenticity" has birthed a cultural phenomenon, and a lucrative one at that.

As the cogs of time rotate us forward into a new year, many mark the moment with resolutions and intentions to live more fully into themselves. Authenticity is something we aspire to, and something we demand, not least in our performances and our politics.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Is a thing or person authentic if it is genuinely performative?

The performance of a thing does not, a priori, change the fact of it. A vase of flowers can exist on a shelf under flattering light and still be a vase of flowers.

However, the act of performing one's self-hood changes the provenance of that self-hood by porting the person into a performer. The person Taylor Swift is on stage is not necessarily the person she is at home on her couch.

When a person plays a role they become a character, necessarily formed by how they are seen by their audience and not by how they master themselves without that performance.

What then, of the person who becomes themself only when they strut their hour upon the stage of life to their audience? If a person chooses, in full mastery of themself, that they want only to be seen as a character, is that person authentic? It is an uncomfortable truth that they may be them, only as they wish to be seen.

The answer may not be in provenance but in choice. This a choice to master one's provenance. Acting on your own authority might be the highest act of authenticity.

What will you authorise yourself to do this year?

____________________________________________________________

December 13, 2023

Live

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To remain alive.

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From Old English liven meaning "to be alive", and from PIE root "leip" meaning "to stick, adhere". Old English life literally meant "animated corporeal existence", where "live" then came to mean, "to stick to the opposite of death".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

The pathology of a life well lived correlates with the increasing use of the word from the 1980s.

While it literally means "continue to remain", it was imbued with a sense of "vitality, energy in action, expression" in the 1580s with an intensified sense that to live is to "have life abundantly". This concept was extended by the 1770s to mean the "vivifying or animating principle", or that which gives life rather than continues it.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Life expectancy has increased from 47 years in 900 to 79 years just before the pandemic, driven in part by significant declines in infant mortality. However, the gains in the United States have been muted compared with that of other wealthy nations, attributable in part to different social policies that reduce access to health care or increase exposure to gun deaths.

Today, the gap in life expectancy between men and women in the United States is at its widest in nearly 30 years, with women averaging 79.3 years compared with 73.5 years for men. This is in part driven by 2X higher opioid overdose death rates, compounding with a greater risk of diabetes, heart-disease, and rates of homicide and suicide.

Covid compounded this difference. While the average life expectancy has increased 2.4 years over the year since COVID, the population has only recovered about 50% of what was lost in average life expectancy over the years 2019-2021. There are an array of conditions that pose grave risks to health that offset the fall in covid deaths.

Violence, alcohol, suicide, homicide, accidents and opioids: it's not an esoteric experience, but it begs the esoteric question: how well do we live?

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

The quality of animation defines life. To live is to hold onto that animation, and so to hold onto life itself.

The root of animation is animare, meaning "breath". In the 1500s it was conflated with the concept of spirit, and so the act of living became synonymous with the act of giving courage or spirit. The act of a breath can be singular or circular, mindless or mindful, easy or forced, momentary, and never eternal; just like life itself. Ironically, if a breath is held in spite of itself, that will end life. So too is it true that to hold to life in spite of itself, without the mindfulness of what it means to animate, will end life.

When we lose our sense of living, the root of living well and breathing well is found in the same bud. The two are tautological: be mindful not absent, be consistent not contrary, be graceful not aggressive, and do not hold on in spite of breath or life; be with both, or not at all.

Is the goal of life to live long, or to breathe well?

____________________________________________________________

 

December 6, 2023

Educate

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To teach somebody about something or how to do something

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From Latin educatus meaning "bring up, rear, lead forth", it is related to the PIE root ex meaning "out" and deuk meaning "to lead".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

While the primary sense of the word is to "draw out or unfold the powers of the mind", the mid 15th century application pivoted the meaning to "bring up (children), train". By the 1580s, educaten came to mean "provide schooling", and was removed from the cerebral latin intention to a more visceral experience of training or supporting a child.

The concept of being "well educated" was first attested from 1855.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Drawing out the powers of the mind as opposed to (dis)proving clinical curriculum arguably lies at the heart of what makes a pedagogy valuable. In the red corner, the humanities struggle to ascertain their value outside of asserting the value of inquiry itself. In the blue corner, the sciences ascertain their value in logical correctness and binary process.

Etymology suggests that an open and contemplative mind is an educated one. Whether that is valuable in itself is unclear.

The task of humanists is to lodge the anti-defensive. It is to invite, to welcome, entice, excite and engage. When we let humans be humans, we allow the spirit that animates us to flow through our lives. That spirit is energy itself.

As post-secondary studies undergo a critical review through the anti-elitist lens of reductionist credentials, the question begs: What is the value of education?

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

The latin evolution of the word extended the concept of education from "leading forth" to "rearing up". The former presupposes an opening of a pre-existing carnal knowledge through a contemplative mind. The latter suggests a hierarchy for the acquisition of knowledge set by a pedagogy.

Schools and higher education battle with the implicit divergence in these two approaches. There is no authority that the primary sense of education is to unfurl the mind. The answer likely lies in the Cartesian nature of the mind itself. How we see our own minds first determines what can be seen or "brought out" (whether that is through leading with a push or raising with a pull).

What can you bring out in yourself to educate someone else?

____________________________________________________________

November 29, 2023

Assiduity

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The quality of working very hard and taking great care that everything is done as well as it can be

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

From Latin assiduitatem meaning "continual presence", it evolved from the verb assidere which literally meant "to sit down". The PIE root contains "ad" meaning "to", and "sedere" meaning "to sit", so combined means "be constantly occupied, sitting at one's work".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The word has been on the steady decline since the 1530s, when the meaning, "to sit down" was extrapolated to a noun to mean "attention, devotion, consistency". Whereas industry keeps at work, leaving no time idle, assiduity sticks to its seat, working quietly on a particular task with determination to complete it in spite of its length or difficulty. It is noble, quiet perserverance.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The late Charlie Munger's almanack purports three truths: (1) Try to deserve what you want; (2) Avoid working for anyone you don't correctly admire; (3) Work only with people you enjoy.

On the third, Munger anchored in assiduity as a founding premise, saying "I like that word because to me it means: "sit down on your ass until you do it". I've had marvelous partners, full of assiduity, all my life. I think I got them partly because I tried to deserve them..."

The art, for Munger, was balancing assiduity with agility. The best performers are of course consistent. However if a leader or investor is principally consistent at the cost of all else, they risk rigidity. The balance of focus and reliability is the holy grail of decision making.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Consistency, as much as change, renders success. In an algebraic paradox, inversion solves the problem that resists a solution. So it may be that instead of asking: which force will render the life I deserve?; ask the inverse: what will really fail in life?

Continual presence is not, itself, the silver bullet. That will fail as much as it will succeed. The quality of showing up, reliably, without qualification or grandeur, will not. Choosing to dance with adversity and loss, accepting the things that cannot be changed and changing the things that can, will not fail. Sitting down to do the job, even when the job is hard or long, will not. These are mindful, equanimous practices that should not be entered lightly. If we believe Charlie Munger they should be tied to the life we seek to deserve.

What can you sit down and do today that will take you closer to the life you deserve?

____________________________________________________________

November 22, 2023

Altruism

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The fact of caring about the need and happiness of other people more than your own

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From Latin alteri, meaning "other", and extended in the French altrui meaning "of or to others"

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The word was coined and popularised in the 1830s to extend the concept of a relationship "of or to others" to a state of being, specifically "unselfishness, devotion to the welfare of others, the opposite of egotism" (see more).

Prior to the French philosophical popularisation of altruism as an ethical conduct, it was a noun that meant "change or difference in some way", where that change was always in relation to another. The addition of "ism" to the root "alter" is therefore significant. It denotes the word-forming element which makes nouns a practice, system or doctrine.

While it surged through the 1830s to the turn of the century with philsophical discourse, it is only just now returning to the heights of use. Much of this is rooted in the threading of the philosophical schools: nepotistic altruism, reciprocal altruism, cultural altruism and pure altruism.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

If you haven't been paying attention to the OpenAI saga, you're forgiven. There's a lot of jargon and detail that is hard - and perhaps unnecessary - to follow.

OpenAI's board fired its chief executive, Sam Altman, in a surprise on Friday. By Monday, the shrewdest CEO alive acqui-hired the second shrewdest CEO alive.

Open AI's mission to achieve safe artificial intelligence for the benefit of the world has not changed. There was a fundamental disagreement, it seems, in the balance of safety and growth. Those board members who have ties to effective altruism, may argue that preventing the threats that may render AI's outstripped ability a threat to human survival are a top priority. Those who argue that the same progress can benefit society promote moving faster.

Are responsibility and pace at odds? How ought we control or code for the moral heart of AI tools, and who can we trust to define that code?

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Effective altruism distils ethics into an overriding variable: do the most good. For most humans, as for their technology, ethical praxis is neither predicated upon, nor a guarantee of, the maximisation of good. In fact, that may fatally oversimplify the ways interacting in the world can be valuable, virtuous, or "good".

The root of altruism implores us to consider our relationship to another, and the change we can bring. When altruism became a practice, that relationship became one where the happiness of another was privileged over the self. One's own projects and attachments are accorded a value only insofar as they enable the general good, or the good of the other.

The question begs, does moral necessity exist within us, or outside us? Are our lives and virtue an end in themselves or a means to a greater good?

In the case of effective altruism at the intersection of artificial intelligence, we must ask whether and when an external arbiter of good drives value. Then, we must decide if that's a value we want in our world.

What value are you bringing to the world and yourself, through your service to others?

____________________________________________________________

 

November 13, 2023

Loyalty

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The quality of being faithful to someone or something

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From the Latin legalem, from lex "law", its development in English is feudal via the notion of "faithfulness in carrying out legal obligations; conformable to the laws of honour".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The feudal sense development of the word, which linked loyalty with legal fidelity, was expanded upon in the 1530s. Here, it came to mean "true or faithful in allegiance" in a more general sense, applicable in first instance to the subjects of sovereigns or governments before extricating in a more general sense to dogs and lovers.

The peak of its use coincided with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and again at the eves of both World War I, and the Cold War. Since then, it has been in sharp decline in western literature, now at its lowest use in the last two centuries.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Josiah Royce, a 19th century American philosopher, argued that the good human life meant loyalty, in the sense of "the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause". You are born into a world of choices, you choose which to grip to as you arrive and rise in the world, and give yourself away to it realising that doing so is more important than your individual pleasure or pain (or as Royce says, the certain misery of "fleeting, capricious, and insatiable" desires).

Loyalty is energy in motion and belief in action. It binds us, because there are always others in service the same cause. It defines us, because underneath our communities there is an absolute unity to life. This is "a city of sight": a sense of ultimate unity, of human brotherhood and sisterhood, the overcomes pessimism and divisiveness.

No community, from Gaza to GOP, is immune from the weaponisation of loyalty. Much has been said about the role of loyalty in unifying action. Much has been said about the moral codes that underly that loyalty.

How should our cities be governed when war is over? What is the city of sight, when we are loyal to loyalty itself?

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Trust and confidence are predicates of faith and consequences of loyalty. Loyalty differs from mere allegiance, which covers conduct only. It is a matter of both principle and sentiment, conduct and feeling.

The twinning construct, "royal" has its PIE root in "reg", meaning "to move in a straight line". The causes and people we bind ourselves to are rarely linear. The quality of fidelity to something bigger than ourselves must be constant. This becomes the highest act of integrity to hold true to the city of sight in us all. If Royce is right and the city exists, if not in our lives but in our lived experience, then it is one of ultimate fidelity to harmony - a state that necessitates the participation of a diverse whole. That does not mean blind allegiance to difference. Conversely, it means commitment, trust and confidence in diversity, and the harmony we have the opportunity to create within it.

How loyal am I and to what?

____________________________________________________________

November 8, 2023

Gratitude

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From Latin "gratus" meaning "thankful, pleasing", it first came from the suffixed form of PIE root "gwere" meaning "to favour". The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root forms all part of words like congratulation, grace, gratify, gratis; a family of nouns taken to extend favour.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Gratitude first entered discourse in the mid 15th Century and was taken to mean "good will". By the 1560s the concept of will was combined with the concept of "thankfulness".

It is generally treated as a duty, thought not in the sense that the duty is to act in a certain way but rather to feel a certain way. The benefactor cannot demand gratitude like a creditor can demand repayment. Instead, it must be given benevolently, as a feeling of love or honour for the benefactor, and for a thing one cannot meaningfully repay.

As secular forces replaced monotheistic forces in 20th century pedagogy, the duty to act in quid pro quo eclipsed the duty to feel gratitude. So it was that the word has been in steady decline for the last century.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The skeptics may be right that gratitude is commodified. Gratitude journals are for sale, thanksgiving is performed on socials, the power of now is sellable self-help. The importance of counting your blessings may feel like cold comfort in the middle of global crisis.

Dr Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher, writes, "To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth".

Exactly because we sit face to face with economic maelstrom, wanton violence, and deep social discord, gratefulness is not only necessary, but essential. Why? It is a choice: a prevailing attitude we practice not for immunity but for perspective. Losses flow in and out of our lives. Trial and suffering refine our perspective. This was how Thanksgiving was born and grew as a national holiday. Prosperity is not given, happiness is not ensured. Counting what you have, not what is taken away, builds resilience through a full and fruitful frame of reference in the present.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Where does gratitude sit in a world where positivity is toxic, and optimism is tragic? The answer may be in the realisation that the sources of 'bad', just as 'good', exist outside of the self. Gratitude is a praxis as much an outcome: the practice of acknowledging that you have goodness in your life, and that other people - or higher powers if you believe in them - have helped you achieve that goodness.

If gratitude is a duty to feel, and that feeling cannot be demanded but rather cultivated, then we hold all the power not just to express but to build it like a muscle. That will come from the stacking and layering of perspective, big and small, from life's moments, good and bad, and the enduring knowledge that will exists outside us as much as it does within us.

What is one thing you are grateful for this week and why?

____________________________________________________________

November 1, 2023

Fulfil

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To do or achieve what was hoped or expected

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From the Old English fullfyllan borrowing from the Old French complet or Latin completus, meaning "completion". In Old English the same root was taken to mean "make full, take the place of", in reference to physical spaces like rooms or ships.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

In the mid 13th century the word "fulfill" evolved from its latin root complet and was applied to the concept of prophecy (i,e, "a self-fulfilling prophecy"). At this time, the application of "fulfilment" to the concept of prophecy was likely caused by conflating the Latin implere, adimplere, (from the Latin impleo) meaning "implement". So it was that fulfilment became synonymous with an action: to do, perform, carry out; satiate, satisfy, gratify.

The concept of fulfilment (the noun) has been on the steady rise since the turn of the 19th century. This is in contrast with the concept fulfil (the verb). The prophetic nature of the concept has evolved beyond religious or spiritual praxis to agnostic mindfulness, mission and self-actualisation. It has also underscored the business models of major tech: Amazon is perhaps the highest form of fulfilment, at least by value, for the milennial.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

How does a Bezos and Gates backed company servicing top CPGs like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Anheuser-Busch go from booming business to bust in twelve months?

Convoy Inc, a startup valued last year at $3.8Bn after raising $260million, announced this month that it is shuttering its core operations.

A low rake, high service cost, low multiple business model buttressed against a dependency on the cyclical demands for fulfillment. Twin forces conspired: the rotation from growth to value by investors putting pressure on the bottom line, and a post-pandemic drop in delivery demand.

 

"Last mile fulfilment must modernise", so we hear from shippers, carriers, and the market. Fulfilling that modernisation may be a long road, marked with perfect storms. Low margin businesses predicated on a promise of growth must navigate cyclicity. Those that verticalise their growth and profit pools to weather storms are most likely to last the distance. Fulfilling the industry vision requires the stacking and layering of short term efforts in a long term journey.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

Fulfillment is a dubious gift. If attainment marks an end, then fulfillment is only approached when one nears the end of their hope or achievement: be it the last mile of a delivery, the end of a race, or the end of life itself.

It is marked by the feeling of satiety, satisfaction and gratification. This is separate and distinct from pleasure: the end of a process, as opposed to a means in itself. Fulfiment necessarily causes itself: there must be a process to pursue its attainment, else the satiety will not exist.

 

Where can pause to admire the journey to fulfilment you are on right now?

____________________________________________________________

October 25, 2023

Kind

I. What does it mean? 

(Adjective) Of a sympathetic of helpful nature

(Merriam Webster Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From Old English (ge)cynde meaning "natural, native, innate", from the Old English cynn (also kin), meaning "family". Although it rarely appeared without its prefix, Old English also had it as a word-forming element -cund meaning "born of, of a particular nature".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Sense development evolved the word from meaning "of natural feelings, of nature" to "well-disposed" c. 1300. The twin notions of a natural disposition on the one hand, and compassion, love, tenderness on the other, inform the adjectival application of "kind" today.

"Kind" has steadily increased in application since the turn of the century. Tied to the fundamental nature of God, and extended to mean love itself, kindness has become the wrapper through which we describe how humans relate.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Rather than being squishy, minor or obtuse, there is a sweeping scientific case for kindness that puts it at the centre of social change.

It produces oxytocin, colloquially known as the "love hormone" which is in turn cardio-protective: decreasing bloody pressure and cortisol. It also increases elevation, an emotion for prosocial contagion, which improves cooperation.

Is sympathy a distraction from the meatier heart of injustice? Is self-care a substitute for systemic change? The science suggests that, to the contrary, witnessing an act of kindness can improve the capacity for social connection and action. Evolutionary biologists suggest that being high, or the mere act of ascending, reminds us of lofty ways of thinking and behaving. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more kindness we see, the more likely we are to be kind, and the more kindness we promulgate. When we do so, we are more likely to cooperate, and more likely to live in our fundamental nature.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

When we show kindness, especially in the face of cruelty, we ground in our nature. Cruelty is the anti evolution; kindness the antidote to a diminished heart.

Our connected spaces set the stage for how we relate to one another. If our life is a series of performances, in which we are constantly managing the impressions we give to others, then how we relate as a collective will set the script for our life's show. If we relate through cruelty, we will certainly descend to nihilism and dis-ease. If we relate through kindness, we will cooperate and ascend to our loftiest nature and fullest heart. In either case, the impact of the choice we make will compound over time, and affect us all.

It follows: if you can't be good, be kind.

What is one thing you can do this week to be kind in the face of the cruel?

____________________________________________________________

October 18, 2023

Empathy

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The ability to understand another person's feelings

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

It is a translation of Greek "empatheia", meaning "passion, state of emotion", from the assimilated form of the the latin "en" meaning "in", "pathos" meaning "feeling", and "kwenth" meaning "to suffer".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Empathy is a term from a theory of art appreciation, that maintains that appreciation is dependent on the viewer's ability to project their personality into the viewed object. The 1909 English translation of the German concept Einfühlung, meaning "feeling into", applied "empathy" to a claim about recognition of other persons.

Empathy in terms of "otherness", at least in the Freudian application, is fundamentally a connection between an ego and another. This is a function of cognition as much as it is emotion.

Since its inception in English nomenclature at the turn of the 20th century, it has been on a steady increase, with application extending beyond art theory to sociology and psychology.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The dis-ease on the earth right now renders most daily life both trivial and essential; our daily habits are both acts of irrelevance, and an expression of absolute privilege. This is the hideous irony of a world at war, and of people living and being in spite of each other.

The wounds in Israel are deep and cautionary. Now, they play out in our social media, on our screens, in our homes, and bring to reality that which might once have been reported as intangible legend. It is a chapter of humanity many of us wish was never entered, and would sooner close. There is no ambiguity in the horror, but there is the capacity for empathy.

"Whenever there is a mass loss of life, objectivity is essential. The wars we fight are over imaginary lines. But the lives we lose are as real as the people we love." Feeling into the object; the truth that a citizen is not their country just as they are not the extremists who occupy a land; is essential. Feeling into the subject; the reality that history is arriving now in the lives of real people; is crucial. Empathy is a necessity.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Empathy can be understood as both a cognitive and emotional exercise. It is not agreed whether those twin strings, when pulled, inspire blinding emotion that precludes rational thinking, or inspire compassion that drives social change.

Today, empathy extends beyond our capacity to connect to an objective other through an emotional projection. It has become our capacity to connect to a subject, by seeing our own emotion in the form of the human other. When we empathise with a form, be that object of subject, we feel ourselves in the world around us.

Faced with a choice, we can live in and through this world with unyielding dignity, or with stubborn emotion. We can choose to practice empathy only as cognition, or only as emotion. Or, we can take our energy and project it in the world, and in so doing choose what we want to see reflected as the life we feel and the ego we occupy.

What is the world you feel yourself in?

____________________________________________________________

October 11, 2023

Empower

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To give someone the power or authority to do something

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

It comes from the latin "in" meaning "into" and "potis" meaning "powerful; lord". In potis, the twin participles of "powerful", taken to mean "able, capable, possible", and "lord", taken from the Sanskrith patih meaning "master, husband" combine in the applicable meaning "one who is capable" and its synonymous application with "lordship". Empowerment, that is to say, moving someone into power, is a relatively new concept.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

While the concept of "power" in language predates Vulgare Latin, it wasn't commonly adopted until the French synonymised it with military discourse in the 14th century.

However, the concept of empowerment, which imbued the assignation of authority, dominion and capability by one person to another, only entered discourse in the mid-17th century. It was then used by Milton, Beaumont, Pope, Jefferson, Macaulay in meditations on man and his mind, before hitting an exponential curve of adoption in the 1980s.

The rise of radical and feminist discourse deconstructed the twin participles of capability and dominion and added a third, the imbuement of those traits by one to another. Empowerment was anchored in a pedagogy that prioritised the perspectives of oppressed peoples such that they could not only express themselves but gain power and overcome the domination to which they were subject (read: conscientisation, the precursor to "empowerment")

Today, in modern nomenclature, the concept of self-empowerment is deeply popularised. Here, the oppressor - the mind in the hegemon - is given scope to express itself, and overcome itself, through meditation, mindfulness, or any myriad of "self help".

(Read more)

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Today alone, you're likely to receive between 4,000 to 10,000 marketing stimuli. If you live in a Western capitalist economy, and you are female, you are statistically more likely to be served stimuli that promises empowerment. These offerings could span wide; from Pure Barre to divorce, from Taylor Swift, to climate action.

Women's empowerment is neither practice nor praxis, but a product. The message is not about increasing potential as much as it is marking identity - selling it in fact - and accepting it for what it is, as it is.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Empowerment borrows from conscientisation and then replaces power with pleasure, communities with crowds, objectivity with subjectivity, and capability with validation. The oppressor is the self, forced to live in modernity; the vilified is the self, forced to be itself in this modernity. We take the fundamental dominion of individualism, package it, pay for it, and promote it as empowerment.

When empowerment becomes a product for sale in the economy of self-actualisation, the result is an apotheosis of feminism that is punishingly individualistic. Said a simpler way: our worth is reduced to our market value, and that value is not measured by strength but by social capital.

How can you give your community authority to act on something they are uniquely capable of doing?

____________________________________________________________

October 4, 2023

Hope

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To want something to happen and think that it is possible

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From early 13th century meaning, "to wish for (desire)", it evolved in the Old English meaning, "have trust, confidence".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The Old English meaning "trust, confidence" was endemically tied to the Abrahamic Bible, where hopian meant "to hope for (salvation, mercy), trust (in God)". Until that point, it had simply meant the fact of desire, without necessarily, the justification that the desire would be satisfied.

"Hope" in the sense of both desire and trust it may be fulfilled has been steadily increasing in modern discourse since the run of the century. In fact, the current peak of "hope" in modern discourse was only last matched at the turn of the 20th century.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Muscular hope is the refusal to the accept what is, the ability to transcend mere intelligence, the insistence that things could be different, and the robust practice of that difference.

The climate debate shows this clearly. Jane Goodall notes this well in the paradox of our time: the most intellectual creature on the planet is the one destroying its only home. In such a paradox, there must be hope for something more: the desire to change the status quo, and the belief that that is possible.

In an extraordinary moment in history, we now have the tools needed to alleviate reliace on planet-heating fossil fuels, yet there remains indecision to act. On the back of Climate Week in New York City, there is still cause for hope. There is still a path to zero emissions by 2050 with fossil fuels use set to peak before 2030 as countries set records for climate-friendly renewable technologies like solar power and electric vehicles. This muscular hope is what is needed to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Hope is a muscle. It is neither idealism nor blind belief. It's an imaginative leap from the cleverness of the mind to the compassion of the human heart.

In every field of endeavour, there are people working generatively with the challenges before them: meeting them, rising to their best human capacities - at least on their good days - and creating new possibilities. These are not publicised. These are not investigated. These are not photographed, or followed. They are as real and important as the landscape that fails us or corrupts us.

What challenge in your life can you meet not just with intellect but with compassion?

____________________________________________________________

September 27, 2023

Stoicism

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The ability to stay calm in the face of harship without complaining

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

The Latin stoics took the origins from the 12th century Latin "patientia". The general meaning of a stoic was "a person not easily excited, a person who represses fears or endures patiently". The adjectival form came to mean the repression of feelings, as opposed to the quality of firmness in the face of hardship.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The meaning originated in the 12th century as literally meaning "the quality of suffering". It was not until the 14th century that the abstract noun formed to include the quality of "quiet or calmness in waiting for (the quality of suffering) to happen". Constancy in exertion, that is, the ability to endure this suffering, was a 15th century inception. It has been on the steady decline in modern nomenclature.

The notion that "patience is a virtue" is credited to English poet William Langland in his 1360 poem, "Piers Plowman" about a man in search of faith. The allegory personifies Biblical virtues. Around the same time, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in "The Canterbury Tales" that "patience is a conquering virtue... but virtue can hurt you".

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Stoicism surfaces as much in the mundane as it does in the spiritual; it transcends religion, race and creed. It is a practice when the train is late, and an act of self-compassion when we ask for forgiveness in Yom Kippur. The centre piece of both is a resilience that defines the human spirit. While the word is not often used in popular politics, the resilience that defines it underscores cooperative diplomacy.

"Building Resilience through Hope" was a theme of UN High-Level Week. Against the background of the COVID pandemic and global insecurity, the General Assembly opened by imploring member nations to act with greater urgency and ambition to accelerate Sustainable Development Goals to recovery.

The greatest challenge, it was said, is not the quality of suffering, but the need for more effective, resilient, steadfast international cooperation to transition to a better future. Prima facie cooperative diplomacy, but at its core, resilience, and perhaps, a sprinkle of patient stoicism.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Three pieces are presupposed in the virtue of patience and the practice of stoicism: the presence of suffering, the quality of calmness, the practice of firmness. The supposition is that this trinity produces endurance, builds character, and extends from the Spirit. That is to say, it is a command, not a suggestion; a higher form (a noun), not a passing practice (an adjective).

Suffering and calmness conflated may assume passivity. Unyielding suffering may assume stubbornness. The trinity assumes a commitment to something higher - an expression of the resilience of an equanimous spirit - to rise above the mundane, and even race, creed, religion and politics itself - and act steadfastly toward something better.

Where in your daily life can stoicism be strength?

____________________________________________________________

September 20, 2023

Influence

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To have an effect on the way that someone behaves or thinks, especially by giving them an example to follow

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

A compound of "in" meaning "into," and "fluere" meaning "to flow". Until the 1650s it was applied as a noun, formerly as an astrological term to refer to the streaming etherial power from the stars that, when in certain positions, act upon one's character or destiny.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The range of senses in Middle English was non-personal, immaterial and unobservable, referential to any outflowing of energy. From the 13th century, influence was linked to the stars, and by the 14th century, evolved to refer to energy from the flow of elements like water.

That the range of senses could be personal, and that one individual could have the capacity of producing effects on others, only entered language in the 17th century. Since then, influence as a verb, referential to one person's power over another, instead of noun, referential to the ephemeral, has been steadily increasing.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The power of intelligent media to influence politics, economics and the social world is well recognised. Whether that same media has the power to change beliefs is still out.

The algorithms powering Meta's products like Facebook and Instagram, Alphabet's search engine Google, or Chinese owned TikTok, have all been in the cross hairs of lawmakers, activists and regulators for years. Many have called for the algorithms to be abolished to stem the spread of polarising misinformation or damaging social addiction.

Recent studies suggest that while these platforms influence discourse, they do not seismically change consumer beliefs.

A powerful dissemination and curation machine? Certainly. An influence of energy akin to the stars? Questionable.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Language and culture are symbiotic. The two inform each other. The widening vortex of meaning ascribed to the ephemeral - be that belief in the stars, the plant of the gods - gave way for the language of influence to fall from a higher power to a personal power. So it is true that with the rise of secularism, humanism and science, we saw influence by the stars above reassigned to influence by the stars on our screens.

The flow of force from influence presupposes a power ascribed to the source of the influence. If this is true, then perhaps we are not empty vessels, helpless against the flow of information that streams upon us from our media or our mouths. Instead, we have the power to consciously or otherwise ascribe that source a power by choosing to believe in that which we want to be influenced by. Aligning belief to value to senses may be the most powerful way to influence our own behaviours, characters and destinies.

Do you believe in the forces that influence you?

____________________________________________________________

September 13, 2023

Brave

I. What does it mean? 

(adjective) Willing to do things that are difficult, dangerous or painful; not afraid.

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From the 15th Century French "brave" and Italian "bravo", meaning "splendid, valiant, bold", it's roots are unclear. It likely stems from the medieval latin "bravus"meaning "cutthroat".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used?

The application of the word is highly culturally contextual. While French, Italian and Spanish 15th Century origins privilege "valiance" and "courage", Old English applies "rashness", "tempest" and even "depravity" to its meaning.

The concept of courage through danger appears to conflate the two meanings, though its popular use is more correlatively linked to popular literature than it is to world events.

IV. Why would I hear about it?

There is no shortage of difficulty, danger and pain. Nor is there a shortage of fear. There are moments in time that bind us where the human spirit triumphs over both. The twenty-second anniversary of September 11, marked by twin rainbows over the World Trade Centre sites on Monday, bound in a breath the bravery of the collective human spirit from that day in 2001.

Mayor Eric Adams, who was serving as a New York police lieutenant in 2001, reflected this week: "The greatest thing about New York City in America was not what happened on 9/11, but what happened on 9/12. We got up, teachers taught, builders built, and we continued to show we were not going to bend or break."

Today, that bravery must be told and retold to the 100 million Americans not yet born on 9/12/01, but who rose on 9/12/23 with the same spirit.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it?

It was said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man, said Nelson Mandela, is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Perhaps bravery is not in bold cutthroat noise as the Old English suggests, nor in thunderous valour as the French alludes. Perhaps bravery is the silent splendour of perseverance. It is the humility of the human spirit that says I am both unimportant and essential. I will rise again, again, again. When we stack these as habits, together we forge a braver kind.

What small act of bravery can you practice today?

____________________________________________________________

September 6, 2023

Patience

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The ability to stay calm and accept a delay or something difficult without complaining

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

An abstract noun from the latin "patientia" which means "the quality of suffering or enduring; submission". It evolved from the adjective "patientem" meaning "bearing, supporting; suffering, enduring, permitting; tolerant," but also "firm, unyielding, hard", and was first taken to apply equally to persons as to rivers.

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Literally meaning "the quality of suffering" in its 12th Century inception, the conjugated meaning "of quiet or calmness (in waiting for suffering)" was first adopted in 14th Century nomenclature.

The 20th century neither popularised this quality, nor glorified its being met with equanimity. In fact, the current frequency of use was last replicated 120 years ago, after which time "patience" has been in steady decline.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The practice of patience is the modernists' antihero. It is trite because it is true. Our world is one of instant gratification. In such a world waiting is not seen as an ability to be crafted but a complacency to be maligned.

Success is doing the reasonable thing longer than most are willing. It must be trained not tried. In a world we queue for social media stars to capture a reel, new brands are shifting norms with "slow" fashion; sustainability at a price the Gen Z capitalist is willing to front. As Mathilda Djerf launched her first runway at New York Fashion Week, she set a tone where sustainability has a cost, patience is a value that has value, and people are prepared to wait to belong to a community, and pay.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Stubborness and grace are adjacent rooms in the house of patience; a house of virtue. The difference is whether the home's foundations are forged from ego or equanimity.

As life abates darkness, it invites us to wait with firmness or fluidity. The ego will index to endurance, firmness, and resistance and call it virtue. The equanimous mind will index to support, grace, and movement and call it nothing.

Two truths can be held at the same time. Vipassana Dhamma teaches that equanimity is not about reacting, but considering; not deprivation but compassion; not resistance, but love. It follows that both states - stubborness and grace - can liberate from suffering itself if both are free from reaction, forged in observation, and born to patience.

 

Where can you liberate yourself from suffering through the practice of patience?

____________________________________________________________

August 30, 2023

Success

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To achieve something; to have the result or effect that was intended

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

A compound of "sub" (next to, after) and "cedere" (go, move). From Latin "succedere" meaning "an advance, a coming up".

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The inception of the word in the 1530s meant "result, outcome", but it took 50 years to ascribe to that meaning "accomplishment (of results)". Three centuries later, and accomplishment was further assigned to "a person or thing". To succeed came to mean a person or thing's accomplishment.

In 19c French literature, success was almost unanimously ascribed to art, not ego. "Succes de scandale" ascribed art dependent on its scandalous character. By the turn of 20c, the attachment of personhood and accomplishment to results was so strong, success was synonymised as virtue. The "moral flabbiness" of such an origin caught eyes of academics aware of the etymology, but the desire to name and claim results succeeded.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

English language synomised accomplishment with outcome, and then attached its ego to result. We call that result "success".

Sport exemplifies "success"; be that a movement to results, accomplishment of outcomes, or a virtue assignable to an individual. The FIFA Women's World Cup is a shining example.

If we take the original latin root, those who succeeded in the World Cup stacked and layered training habits to move the team forwards. To succeed, it follows, was in the training and process toward results, not simply the accomplishment of them. Enter the US Women's team, who remained scoreless for one of the longest droughts in their World Cup campaigns, but burn as an undeniably bright and bar-shattering star in the sporting galaxy.

If we take success as accomplishment, then it is only met when trial meets tribulation, and is forged in victory. Enter Australia's newest national heroes, the Matildas. The team accomplished incredible upsets in their campaign with the grace and dignity of superlative warriors, but ultimately did not take the crown.

If we take success as many of us do in modernity, then it is an outcome tied to a person or group, be that by scandal or otherwise. Enter not just the Spanish team, who played nobly to victory, but their Chief, now shrouded in scandal, but incontrovertibly successful.

We may rightly ask: if success is a virtue, are we right in how we decree success (or are we morally flabby)?

V. How could I think about it? 

If success is about the movement toward a result, then it will never be found in the outcome. If we can divorce our egos from accomplishment, and sever virtue from that outcome, we strip success back to something we can not only control but gain power from.

In the inverse, when we attach our ego to outcome and assign our value as our achievement, we outsource our power and we remove ourselves from its virtue. We do this every day, apparently willingly, always paradoxically. We are not what we produce, yet we call that our success. And if we are what we accomplish, that does not make us virtuous. What we produce is definitionally not who we are, but what resulted from us. Success, then, never becomes us.

 

Where can you reassign your value to the quality of the input and not the gravitas of the output?

 

____________________________________________________________

 

August 23, 2023

Integrate

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) To combine two or more things so that they work together

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

A compound of "integrare" (make whole) and "tangere" (to touch). From Latin "integratus" meaning "to render whole, to bring together the parts of"

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

While the word dates back to the 1630s, the meaning "put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole" originated in 1802. This concept of (re)constitution to the whole was extended in the 1940s with the steady increase of "segregation", a back formation of integration.

Post World War II, the rise of "integration" and decline of "segregation" in nomenclature correlated with the popularisation of "integrity" as a value and verb in Western language. The popularisation and weaponisation of wholeness and integration remains persistent in etymology.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

The process of combining two elements to make a whole presupposes two things; first, that totality is possible, and secondly, that human touch can bring together the constituent parts of totality, to their totality.

While it is well opined that segregation is a vehicle through which poverty is transmitted and reproduced, integration requires the enormous and perhaps insuperable ability of the human hand of policy to avoid its own human follies, replete with the political and logistical errors of past.

As integrationist politics re-enters the US political foray, we may rightly ask: Who is afraid of integrationist policy?

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

Plato explores the pursuit of wholeness in the speech of Aristophanes in the Symposium. The premise is that in original nature, humans are whole, split in two when their ambition and strength catch the ire of the Gods. 'Love' is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.

Whole for whole's sake is not of itself the goal of love; it is the capture of the true strength of parts in balance. Can we segregate or divorce that which was never in balance to begin with? Can we integrate participles of the whole through love alone, devoid of the follies of human nature?

How can you integrate the parts of yourself through love?

 

____________________________________________________________

August 16, 2023

Wonder

I. What does it mean? 

(verb) A feeling of surprise and admiration that you have when you see or experience something beautiful, unusual, or unexpected

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

In old English wunder meant a marvelous thing, miracle, object of astonishment

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Either the world is filled with more wonder, or humans enjoy, or need, to ascribe it such meaning. "Wonder" and it's permutations have increased in social nomenclature over the last 100 years, and continue to do so. The traditional houses of wonder - those of organised religion and woship - are in decline. The celebration of wonder, whether through mindfulness, nature, randomness, or otherwise, seems to be not only innately human, but inherently important to our survival.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

There is a thought gaining increasing support that "traditional schools, the education system, and even our way of raising children, replaces curiosity with compliance". When obedience preys on creativity it eats the sword it fights with. In an age of knowable rules, human distinction is born in feeding the brain what it wants to learn. It is born in the celebration of the childlike awe of life itself.

Enter the wonder school. A new school in Wichita flipping traditional curriculum on its head with a Socratic appreciation of learning for learnings sake.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

When we expect perfection, we live in polarity with wonder. Perfection is knowable, reconcilable, rational, and an expectation. While it is well conceived that wisdom begins in wonder, our education and professional systems hero perfect outcomes as the highest form. Perfect grades, perfect outcomes, perfect records.

What if our systems privileged wonder? Wonderful curiosity, wonderful inputs, wonderful legacies. What choices would we make differently, for our children and for ourselves? What fears might we release if we had the freedom to wonder?

What would you do differently if you freed yourself to wonder?

 

____________________________________________________________

 

August 9, 2023

August

I. What does it mean? 

(adjective) Impressive; making you feel respect.

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from? 

From the Latin Augustus, meaning "consecrated, venerable, majestic, magnificent, noble"

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

Beyond marking the eighth month of the Roman calendar, the adjectival application of the word has steadily increased over the last twenty years despite remaining colloquially cringe. Sharing the latin root aug* meaning "to increase", it refers to the preoccupation with the elevated, noble and consecrated. The offices held by the august personage of the zeitgeist remain closely correlated to institutions of power (the church, the parliament, the court). The personalities and politics remain distinctly different.

IV. Why would I hear about it? 

Donald Trump, one America's most august personalities, was arraigned last week for a a third indictment. Even as he sped out of the Federal Court on Friday, he led his Republican rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination by wide margins.

Federal prosecutors will seek to hold Trump to account for what they argue is a "refusal to adhere to core democratic principles". The trial takes place on hallowed ground now shaken, the foot of the Capitol, at the intersection of personhood, performance and politics.

(Read more)

V. How could I think about it? 

We increase through the impression we make, the venerability we deserve, and the magnificence in which we are perceived. It follows then, that we are as much how we are seen to be as who we are. The way to grow may be to show, and to be shown.

If this matters to us, there are lessons to be gleaned from those we in turn respect. Why do we follow who we follow? An office of control is an easy outward signal of something the mass deems venerable. When our confidence in that office flounders or fails, does our respect still follow with the person who held it? If it does not, interrogation is warranted: the innate quality of power is not synonymous with the fact of control. We owe ourselves precision in understanding why we esteem what we esteem, if we are to in turn command august reputation.

How can you centre the qualities of those you hold in august esteem to amplify yourself? 

 

____________________________________________________________

August 2, 2023

Imagination

 

I. What does it mean? 

(noun) The ability to create pictures in your mind; the part of your mind that does this.

(Oxford Dictionary)

 

II. Where does it come from?

A compound of "imago" (image, likeness) and "imitari "(to copy, imitate).

(Etymonline)

 

 

 III. When is it (un)used? 

The steady increase of "imagination" in social dialogue has returned the word to a frequency only matched in the 1860s. Both were periods defined by seismic socio-political shifts, correlatively tied to technological step-changes (the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the use of machine guns in the American Civil War in the 1860s; the election of the first Black President, and the rise social media through 2010s).

 

 IV. Why would I hear about it?


The sentient value of artificial intelligence is the core of its coming of age. It is becoming clear that A.I replicates, scales and expedites mental work. Industry conversation fast follows to the implications for human work. Invariably, humans must focus on what A.I can't do, so revealing who we are and what we have to offer. Imagination is a key distinguishing feature: the ability to conceive an imitation through lenses coloured by uniquely visceral human experience. Is A.I. capable of humanistic imagination? The verdict is out.

(Read more)

 

 V. How could I think about it?

 

In modernity, we take imitation and assign creativity as its meaning. No truer or clearer is this than in social media; replicable, repeatable, scalable images printed, reprinted and performed.

It may be, as Karl Lagerfeld suggested, that the highest creatives are the best curators. If that is true, then creation is the transfer of ideas and images, neither made nor destroyed, but imitated, alchemised and blended in novel ways. As social and technical forces confluence, this accelerates creative change.

 

What images can you alchemise to (re)imagine your world? 

 

____________________________________________________________

July 26, 2023

Judicious

I. What does it mean? 

(adj) Careful and sensible; showing good judgement

(Oxford Dictionary)

II. Where does it come from?

A compound of "ius" (right, law) and "dicere "(to say).

(Etymonline)

III. When is it (un)used? 

The turn of the decade in 2012 saw the rapid decline of the words "judicious", "judicial" and "judge" in language. In the same month of Barack Obama's re-election, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence against the Palestinian-governed Gaza strip. "Hot take", "deadname" and "escape room" were recognised in the Oxford dictionary as new words. 

IV. Why would I hear about it?

Israeli lawmakers advanced parts of a contentious plan by the right-wing government to reduce the judicial power of the Supreme Court, defying threats - by protestors of economic disruption, by international allies of diplomatic ramifications, and by military revisionists of refusal of duty. 

(Etymonline)

V. How could I think about it?

Discretion, prudence, balance, and wisdom are synonymised in the body politic. All of this is implied in the word. Where virtue and decision meet, so too, we assume, is the system of law that regulates us. Now, nation states face a re-assignation of the judiciary, and in so doing, of the very institution of wisdom.

Were we wrong, all along, to conflate wisdom and reason in the judiciary?