Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Altruism vs. Self-Preservation

About 15 years ago,
Jack Johnson wrote a song about things we know are bad -- war, plastic bags, wasting water -- and how we compartmentalize them in our heads to make ourselves feel less bad.

You're too good lookin' and mistooken
You could watch it instead
From the comfort of your burnin' beds
Or you can sleep through the static

We'll say: "It's only two plastic bags... maybe we'll get a rain barrel if we can find one that doesn't take up too much space... I feel awful about the war in Ukraine so maybe I'll send a donation... "

Charles Darwin thought humans have two competing instincts: self-preservation and the impulse to help (altruism). Humans as a species are biologically predisposed to act selfishly and in the interest of self-preservation. As a result, 
humans are incapable of acting purely altruistically because it would lead to their own extinction.

But really, does any rational human think we can't toggle between the two and even lean a little harder into the altruism than the self-preservation? We talk to our kids about kindness and inclusion and don't be a bully. Then we involve them in activities to recycle and plant things and donate food. Sure, those are fairly easy platitudes with some low-impact actions -- especially compared to "The Ukraine war is awful with major global implications so I will sign up to to join a war zone rescue effort." Those are extreme examples, but sometimes the toggle line can be hard to find.

Today I'm thinking about the "walk the talk" sentiment, if you can't tell. And along with that, I'm thinking about navigating that fine line between altruism and self-preservation... am I being altruistic "enough"... does my $100 donation really help anything... maybe I need to watch/read more news so I can contribute meaningfully to conversations with others... ?

I don't have a lot of extra time so the "enough" question for most topics is always rattling around in my head. I try to be generous but I can't give $100 to every cause I care about. And I already consume A LOT of news, which, even as a former journalist, begins to have a numbing effect and causes anxiety and other troubling feelings. Then self-preservation quickly becomes an obvious necessity.

I guess I answer my own questions from a well-intentioned, empathetic, mindful point of view that needs to do some self-preservation to keep going with any good deeds. And probably a bit of "something is better than nothing" and "lead by example" and "if it helps just one person it's worth the effort."  

So today I land on: altruism needs self-preservation and vice versa. After two years of a pandemic, so much tragedy and unrest, we are all wounded in various ways. But I think empathy and compassion are also right at the surface in most of us. Still, in order to help others we must also help ourselves. We just need to remember which way to lean a little harder when we're able.

Shock an awful thing to make somebody think
That they have to choose pushing for peace supporting the troops
And either you're weak or you'll use brut force-feed
The truth is we say not as we do
We say, "Anytime, anywhere"
Just show your teeth and strike the fear of God
Wears camouflage, cries at night and drives a Dodge pick-up
The beat and stop hogging the feast
That's no way to treat an enemy

Research suggests being socially mindful is the “default setting” for people and that acting in their own interest (or against another’s) takes more effort.

Patriotism and altruism won't sell the COVID vaccine. 
"Save yourself" is the most effective sales pitch. 

Is the news cycle stressing you out? Here are four tips.

The 10 friendliest animals on earth. 

Amanda Gorman print on Etsy

Friday, February 18, 2022


Here I am on a February Friday morning, 2022, sick with something-not-covid. So much has changed since the last time I was here... writing, thinking, surfing, sharing. Today I'm thinking about change. The constant it is, the opportunities it brings, the problems it causes.

We're in the midst of "school choice season," where we need to tell our public school district which school we want our child(ren) to attend for the upcoming year. For the past five years, we have pretty much ignored this choice season because we love our K-5 community school and my daughters have thrived there. But this time we are fully engulfed. Change is imminent. 

Riloh is headed to 6th grade so we need to find a middle school that is "the best fit for her and our family." I put that in quotes because it feels like the directive that someone has said... me? Our school leaders? Parent friends? I don't know, and I struggle to put applicable criteria to its meaning.

Complicating things further during our first active choice season in six years, our beloved elementary school is changing start times in the fall. The change is significant -- from 9:30am to 7:30am -- and we are pretty certain that means we'll need to find another option for Daphne. But as a rising 4th grader who has endured so much change and uncertainty in her elementary school career, this seems incredibly unfair to her. Getting Daphne to school by 7:15am, however, also seems incredibly unfair to her. And me.

I'm mostly a positive-outlook person for most things. I'm excited for Riloh to become a middle schooler, stretch her wings and watch her practice her take-off to independence. I'm excited for Daphne to become the older kid in her school and feel the confidence she has earned in knowing her way around without the help of her big sister. 

I guess change requires risk. Leaps of faith. Expectation that change could bring more change. These are all things I've long been okay with but for some reason it's much harder to make changes now. Do I blame this on the pandemic? Don't we blame all the hard, bad, frustrating, unpredictable things on the pandemic? I definitely want to blame something.

I thought maybe writing this out could be helpful with processing change. It hasn't been, not today. Let's talk about butterflies, the ultimate experts of change. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Today She Wrote: VOTE

It's Primary Day in Minnesota. I'm lucky to be part of a community that is full of people who LOVE to vote. Voting days feel optimistic. Even if we don't agree on who is the best candidate, we're all focused on considering our hopes and vision for the future.

Find answers to your questions about primary voting here. And here's your polling location. NOW GET OUT THERE AND VOTE!


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Little Better

Here's a great song with a great message sung by Maggie Rose, who kills the vocals in this live acoustic track:

The world wasn't broken in a day
And it ain't gotta stay this way forever.
But you ain't gotta change the whole damn thing, 
You just gotta leave it a little better.

"Rose wrote the bulk of 'Change the Whole Thing' firmly entrenched in the divisive current political atmosphere. She's seen a lot of rage, but, more disturbingly, she's seen apathy -- people upset with the world around them, but unwilling or lacking the conviction to chisel away at making a difference. Tweeting displeasure, but doing nothing. 'Apathy is my biggest pet peeve,' Rose says. 'Apathy is the enemy of artistry.'"

T-shirt on Etsy

Saturday, February 8, 2020

So Much Winter

It’s mid-February and my cabin fever has spiked, predictably. Minnesota winters are cold and snowy and icy and last a long time. And it’s about this time of year, every year, I check in with my dad and sister to confirm who lives here only because the rest of us live here.

So what does one do for the many months of winter, besides complain about it? There are thousands of articles, blogs, podcasts, talk show segments, and pep talks from friends and spouses with encouraging ideas about how to “embrace” winter. I should try harder to be less crabby.

I think it really comes down to this: my love for summer is far greater than my distaste for winter. I love Christmas, first snowfalls, warm beverages, occasional downhill skiing. But I love, LOVE fresh warm air, sitting on the deck, icy drinks, flip-flops, extra daylight hours, green growing things everywhere...

If you are a winter lover, please know I mean no disrespect. I don’t fully understand you, but I respect your opinion. And I will try to get a better attitude about this incredibly long season, at least until my moving truck arrives <wink>.

Here are some winter/snow loving folks doing creative things:

This artist walks in the snow all day to create beautiful designs.

Snow art

Here’s what people in the happiest cold-weather countries do. This article points out, “If you look closely at the World Happiness Report for 2019, you’ll notice the top 10 is peppered with cold-weather countries that deal with even lower temperatures and longer periods of darkness than most parts of the U.S.” Mkay!

Five jobs for people who love winter. (Only five?!)

This man might love tropical summer more than me.

Read about "Arctic diamond" ice used for the most impressive ice sculptures in the world.

"Arctic diamond" ice blocks
Sweatshirt on Etsy
Tory Burch sandals

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Must Listen

Here's my latest earworm... Loving Her by Katie Pruitt. I cannot stop listening to this performance.

But if loving her is wrong
And it's not right to write this song
Then I'm still not gonna stop
And you can turn the damn thing off.

Here's why
 some songs get stuck in your head.

Rainbow Hearts Print
Grace Farris illustration
Meri Meri Rainbow Girls Belt