But What For Newsletter - No. 017

2020, a Love Story, Bruce Lee, Christmas Gift Giving Rules, Listening More and Getting Better

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Latest from But What For?

(Underlined titles are links to full articles)

On Old Age, Richard Feynman, James Stockdale, Charlie Munger, Jordan Peterson & Fountain Pens + Favorite Books of 2020


(Underlined titles are links to sources)

  • Takeaway: Invest in growing together with those that you love

With all the loneliness out there, I wanted to share a love story about two people I've never met. The story begins with a book, and that book begins: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."…

It's a 1969 English hardcover. I bought it used from @russellbooks in Victoria, for $7.99 "as is." It's not in great shape. It had, of course, previous owners, and those owners are what this story is about: Herald & Kathleen Stendel

  • Takeaway: You will never get any more out of life than you expect

Like Oliver Sacks, who carried a notebook everywhere, Lee always had a tiny 2×3″ pocketbook with him, which he filled with everything from training regimens to the phone numbers of his pupils (who included trainees like Chuck Norris and Steve McQueen) to poems, affirmations, and philosophical reflections. Even his handwriting, meticulously neat and measured to fit the tiny page, radiates Lee’s formidable discipline and orderliness.

But perhaps the most notable portion of his pocketbooks — or day timers, as they were called — were his affirmations, reminiscent of the rules of conduct Nobel laureate André Gide penned in his youthful journal and of artist Eugène Delacroix’s diaristic self-counsel. In these notes to himself, Lee articulated his personal philosophies aimed concretely at his own growth but resonating with universally applicable insight into our common psychology, behavior, and human nature.

With special permission from the Bruce Lee estate, here is an exclusive look at several pages from his 1968 pocketbook, penned shortly before Lee’s twenty-eighth birthday, each transcribed below, beginning with Napoleon Hill’s “Daily Success Creed,” which Lee copied into his notebooks:

As part of a much larger study of social change in Middletown (Muncie, Ind.), a random sample of adult residents was interviewed early in 1979 about celebrations of the previous Christmas. This paper describes the unwritten and largely unrecognized rules that regulate Christmas gift-giving and associated rituals in this community and the effective enforcement of those rules without visible means. A theoretical explanation is proposed…

THE TREE RULE: Married couples with children of any age should put up Christmas trees in their homes. Unmarried persons with no living children should not put up Christmas trees. Unmarried parents (widowed, divorced, or adoptive) may put up trees but are not required to do so…

THE WRAPPING RULE: Christmas gifts must be wrapped before they are presented…

THE DECORATION RULE: Any room where Christmas gifts are distributed should be decorated by affixing Christmas emblems to the walls, the ceiling, or the furniture…

THE GATHERING RULE: Christmas gifts should be distributed at gatherings where every person gives and receives gifts…

The most powerful reinforcement remains to be mentioned. In the dialect of Christmas gift-giving, the absence of a gift is also a lexical sign, signifying either the absence of a close relationship, as in the Christmas contact of cousins, or the desire to terminate a close relationship, as when a husband gives no gift to his wife. People who have once learned the dialect cannot choose to forget it, nor can they pretend to ignore messages they understand. Thus, without any complicated normative machinery, Middletown people find themselves compelled to give Christmas gifts to their close relatives, lest they inadvertently send them messages of hostility…

In sum, we discover that the participants in this gift-giving system are themselves the agents who enforce its complex rules, although they do so unknowingly and without conscious reference to a system. The dialect, once learned, imposes itself by linguistic necessity, and the enforcement of its rules is the more effective for being unplanned.

  • Takeaway: Sometimes the best way to sell yourself is to listen

They don’t always want to hear that, but I didn’t want to hear anyone’s guidance either when I was 23, so I get it. I spent a decade banging my head against a wall before I decided to let the opinions of successful people in…

So shut up. You don’t actually know anything. You have book knowledge. Tax code knowledge. Clerical knowledge. Big deal. Everyone in the industry has that. What you lack is people knowledge. Life experience. You don’t have that yet. Listening to others helps you gain that. This is the important part, it’s happening now…

That monologue you’ve prepared about how great you are and how much you know is a slow-motion trainwreck. I know, because I used to deliver that very same monologue myself. It’s a baby blanket. A crutch to lean on. Lose it. Stop talking, start listening.

And watch what happens next.

  • Takeaway: Focus on taking one step forward at a time

Well, that was interesting. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Painful. Difficult.

Have more people ever been happier to see a year go away? I’m posting this a few hours early just to clear the decks a bit faster.

Our attitude doesn’t have to be driven by the outside world, but sometimes, they overlap. The outside world provokes, persists and insists on changing the story we choose to tell ourselves.

And one reason we invented the calendar was to keep the outside world at bay as we reclaim agency over how we’ll choose to act – to respond instead of to react.

For those of you keeping track, 2021 is the product of the prime numbers 43 and 47. If you were looking for a reason to be optimistic, that’s as good as any.

Thanks for caring and thanks for leading.

Here’s to justice, health, and peace of mind as we choose an attitude of possibility and resilience in 2021.

Take care and have a great week,

— EJ

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