Remember, THINK

I have a file where I keep a collection of pithy quotes that I want to remember. One of my favorites is:

THINK before you speak. Ask:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

I spent a few minutes tonight trying to determine where it came from. Several sites attributed a shorter criteria to the Buddha. “Before you speak be sure that what you say is True, Needful, and Kind.” I suppose that just about covers it. It is nice if what you say is helpful and inspiring. It is critical that it is true, needful, and kind.

So many situations in life would be improved by remembering these things. So often we talk as if we were talking to ourselves. We don’t stop to think that others don’t have the benefit of our perspective. Words are such a treacherous medium. It is extremely hard to say exactly what we mean and just as easy to mean one thing and say it in such a way that it can be misconstrued. And in my experience, anything that can be misconstrued, will be.

The other side of the coin is to listen carefully to what people say. Try to see if they really mean what they said or if they were trying to communicate something else and misspoke. Don’t assume malice when ineptitude might explain what was said. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification before you allow their words to hurt you. And, if you discover that the hurt was intended, be quick to forgive.

That is the advice that I aspire to follow. I often fall short of that aspiration. But I acknowledge my failings and resolve to do better the next time.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.


Whenever I want to add something to my daily routine I try to find something else that I am already in the habit of doing, like brushing my teeth or walking the dog, and tying the new activity to the one that I’m already doing every day. This has worked fairly well until just recently. I’ve found that I’ve run out of time in which to add new activities.

This puts me in the awkward position of choosing. Which of the old habits is no longer achieving its purpose? Which has become complicated beyond its utility and can be trimmed some? It is surprising what a creature of habit and ritual I am. It is hard to question your routine and throw out those habits that you have outgrown.

I think it is a process of growing, shedding your cocoon so that the lighter, more essential you can emerge and glisten in the sunlight. That’s what I keep telling myself as I fumble through my routine looking for the inessential. I’ll regain my balance. It just takes thought and honesty and a touch of courage.

It’s Turtles, All the Way Down

I have a strange geography in my head that only has a cursory relationship to the actual geography of Paducah, Kentucky and its surrounding area. I walked the streets of Paducah so I have a direct sense of where things are and how far apart they are. I drove the roads of western Kentucky and southern Illinois so I have a relative sense of how far apart things are there. When those two gestalts get mixed you have a warped sense of distance.

I walked five and a half miles in Madison, Alabama last night. I walked down roads that I have driven for years. I have a new perspective on them now. It gives me the same kind of warped sense of distance that I was describing that I had of Paducah. It is born of the perception that, when you are driving in a car, it is an extension of your body. Even though it’s capabilities far exceed your own.

When I think of it, I have the same kind of warped perception of the rest of the world. It seems that the places that I haven’t been are compressed into near nothingness while the places that I have been are scaled according to how I have experienced them, whether on foot, by car, or by airplane.

That must be why they say that travel expands your mind. It has to grow to encompass the new geography that you have added to your experience. In a similar way, books add virtual geography to your mental landscape. I have to admit that the universe of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dune are as real to me as this universe ever was.

Music occupies a strange geography comprised of a completely different set of dimensions. Instead of east, west, north, south, up, and down, music has dimensions of key, modality, pitch, tone, volume, and harmony. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some of them but they are just as tangible to me as the physical dimensions of geography.

By extension, I can imagine geographies of flavors and smells, of tactile dimensions, or of shape and color. But there is one mental geography that I travel in that may not be quite as universal. I also have a geography that inhabits my head. It is a geography of software.

This strange geography is composed of places with infinite layers of interpretation. It exists in my imagination and is built out of bits and bytes, addresses and registers, data buses and input/output ports. On top of those analogs of hardware constructs are abstractions like variables, queues, stacks, objects, dictionaries, and myriads of others. These pieces are cobbled together into active algorithms that are the machines that inhabit this strange mental geography.

We have problems with nomenclature in this strange geography of the mind. It is constructed out of abstractions that are intended to be metaphors for the real world phenomena that they represent. The difficulty arises when different people use the same metaphor to describe two different abstractions. Or just as confusing, use two different metaphors to describe the same abstraction.

The situation is made even worse by the fact that we have a penchant for bundling up a collection of abstractions and encapsulating it in an opaque black box that is embedded in other, higher level abstractions. As the programmer unwraps those black boxes to attempt to understand the system, the fractal nature of the system becomes clear. Each layer of abstraction is a universe in its own right.

Having realized this, I struggle to decide what to do with it. It informs my private conviction that the universe is quite likely a simulation that runs on some immense computer in a laboratory in some quiet corner of another simulated universe. This recursive embedding of simulation inside of simulation may go on indefinitely. There may not even be a reality as we conceive of it. We may all just be dreams within dreams of a disturbed super computer.

It makes as much sense to me as the other creation myths that we have been asked to accept on faith throughout the ages. In the final analysis I think that the best that we can do is to love each other and be kind to each other. The universe is whatever it is and is most definitely beyond our limited understanding. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to understand it as best we can. But we should be humble about our fundamental inability to comprehend its enormity and strangeness.

Tom Fox, American Hero

Today has been what Pam, my darling wife, terms a kitty cat day. I got up later than usual and took my time with my morning routine. I sat drinking coffee and talking with Pam. I was telling her about my burst of writing since I started blogging again and she showed me a piece of mail that she had received from the Wider Quaker Fellowship.

It was a pamphlet written in memory of Tom Fox, a volunteer in Iraq with Christian Peace Team. He recorded his experiences, before he was kidnapped and subsequently killed, on a blog titled Waiting in the Light. His life was inspirational, but the reaction to his death was even more so. He didn’t want to sacrifice himself but he was prepared to do what ever was necessary to follow his calling to help the people of Iraq.

I felt compelled to read the memorial portion of the pamphlet out loud but when I got to the portion about his memorial service, I got choked up. It was a very touching story. I recommend reading some of the posts in his blog. He was a great and courageous man.