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I try to avoid talking about politics for the most part, because virtually nobody is open to changing their minds about anything. In times like these, though, these conversations seem unavoidable. Of those conversations, I've found approximately two people who I feel are reasonable when they talk about politics. I agree mostly with one of them and with the other I agree on some things but disagree on many big ones (we favored different candidates in 2016).
I think that our country is doing great (and has been for a long time), but that doesn't mean that it's without its problems. One of the problems that concerns me most is that politics have become a team sport, with fervent allegiance to one's party being more important than the policies it enacts. Worse, neither side will concede anything to the other. The other side is evil and does everything wrong, we do everything right.
If we could talk more reasonably with each other, perhaps we could find compromises, respect people who hold different beliefs, and understand that most people are trying to do what is best for themselves, their families, their friends, and the country.
The first thing that needs to change is that both sides need to admit that their solutions have downsides, and that the other view is generally based on logic and good intentions.
For example, I personally believe that any woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason, at least through the first or second trimester.
However, I don't think that there's a clear point at which we can say a baby is an individual. I'd argue that it's not at conception, but I've seen illustrations of fetus development in the third trimester and I think I'd personally have a problem encouraging an abortion of a fetus that looked that much like a baby.
Republicans don't hate women, and Democrats aren't wanton murderers. They just disagree on when a fetus becomes a baby, and possibly the rights of that organism versus the rights of the host. Although I'd be comfortable with many abortions that the average Republican wouldn't be, I should also be able to understand why they wouldn't be comfortable with them and respect that.
So if I were to discuss abortion with someone who was against them in all cases, I would admit the cons of my stance and the pros of theirs, while arguing that the pros and cons of my stance made it better for the country. If they're calling me a baby killer while I'm calling them a religious zealot who hates women, we aren't being reasonable.
Another example would be Obamacare. I personally don't like Obamacare and would like to see it repealed. However, I don't have the right to advocate for that stance unless I admit that if it were repealed, some people would die. Likewise, if you're in favor of Obamacare, you must admit that many people are paying far more money for insurance before, and that it is affecting their lives in serious ways.
Now we can talk about the cost vs benefit, as well as alternatives. I personally loved the old system (although it had serious problems, of course), but would also be open to fully socialized medicine. In my mind the cost vs benefit for both of those is better than what we have now.
It's also important to admit when you don't really know, rather than agree full force with whatever your party believes.
For example, I don't have a strong opinion on the so-called Muslim ban. On one hand, terrorism doesn't seem to be a huge problem here (when you look at the total number of deaths compared to almost any other way Americans die), so it doesn't seem like letting in refugees and other travelers would cause any problems.
On the other hand, I have zero classified intelligence, the president has all of it, and all recent presidents have thought that terrorism is a huge problem. So temporarily blocking immigrants from countries which intelligence says are more likely to be sending terrorists seems like a reasonable approach if we agree with the premise that terrorism is a big problem.
If you are arguing this point and are unwilling to concede that banning immigrants from these countries is not going to mostly be banning innocent people who could contribute meaningfully to our country, I think you're not being reasonable. At the same time, if you think the ban is derived from racism rather than classified intelligence, I also think you're not being reasonable.
If you want to discuss politics and your goal is not to get into a shouting match where you can feel self-righteous and superior to your idiot friend (who you, curiously, respect in every other field), maybe your primary goal should be to be reasonable. Accept that your friend's motivations are probably benevolent, that there is a trade-off in every decision, and that reasonable people could believe that different sides of that equation carry more weight.
Is it worth providing women with easy access to abortions, which will certainly improve their health and economic well-being on average, if the cost is that we are killing organisms that many people believe are humans? I think so, but I see the other side.
Is it worth providing healthcare to every American at a high cost through a confusing process? I don't think so, but I see the other side.
Is it worth temporarily banning immigrants and travelers from certain countries our government thinks are high risk? I have a weak opinion that it's probably not, but am mostly sure that I don't have a well-informed opinion and that no other civilians really do either.
In all of these cases, as well as so many more, it's important that we acknowledge the benefits as well as drawbacks of each plan and discuss those rationally. I think that's how we help narrow the divide between the parties and elect politicians that are palatable to both sides. Is that possible? I'm not sure.
Photo is a cool salami slicer in the middle of the restaurant at Laci Konyha in Budapest. Go for lunch when it's way cheaper than dinner. Amazing food and experience.
I love when readers suggest posts, because it takes away the part of my job where I try to guess what would be most interesting or useful. A couple weeks ago a reader named Wolfgang said: "I'd love the read a post about reconciling adventure and productivity sometime."
One of my good friends nudged me about the suggestion saying that he'd like to read that post as well, so here we go.
I should start by saying that one of my very favorite things about life is that we can all have our own goals and make our own decisions and simultaneously coexist. So this post reflects my own goals, which may be very different from yours. If anything in the post is universally applicable, it's the process by which I come to my decisions, not the decisions themselves.
When I think about my life so far, the parts that stick out are the quality time I've spent with friends and family and the work I've done that I feel is useful or important. That's really about it. Of course I remember movies I've seen, food I've eaten, and things I've bought, but those are hills compared to the two mountains of quality time and good work.
As I've written before, I think that one of the most important skills one can have is basic competence. It doesn't sound as appealing as programming, writing, or engineering, but it's a rarer skill, and thus more valuable.
Most skills are clearly defined and can be easily taught, which makes them easy to commoditize. Competence, like social skills, is something that's less easy to define and teach. It's more of a personal exploration.
I define competence at the ability to get an undefined task done in an efficient manner. The skills that go into that are primarily time management and ability to learn. Someone who is very competent can take a random task in a field in which he's not an expert, figure out how to get it done, and then complete it. He won't be able to do it as well or as quickly as an expert, but that's not the point. The point is to not be totally helpless when working outside of your comfort zone.
So what does it take to be competent?
Now that I spend so much time in Budapest I get a lot of requests for things to do there. I'm not always the best at replying quickly, so I figured I'd write a blog post with an exhaustive list of all of my favorite places.
If you're not going to Budapest, you might think this list doesn't apply to you. But Budapest is the Best Place in Europe, so you should read it to understand why, and book a trip there!
Around half of these recommendations came from my friend Mark Webster, a friend-of-a-friend I was introduced to when I came to Budapest this summer. He gave me a big list of places to go and 90% of them became my favorites.
If you've been reading my blog for a long time, you may have noticed that I have some common traits with adrenalin junkies. I've climbed cranes and towers, jumped freight trains, bungie jumped, ridden a motorcycle etc.
I think that these activities, some more than others, are valuable. I remember climbing "the most dangerous trail in the world" in China and thinking hard about how I was literally one step away from death I was standing, without any safety equipment, on an eight inch wide board nailed into the side of a mountain. One step and that would be it.
In facing death so closely you gain an appreciation for life. You think about how fragile it is and how lucky you are to have it. There's a difference, though, between appreciating those sorts of experiences and needing them.
There are enough holes in my claim to being a minimalist that I think the label is up for debate, but a lot of the philosophy appeals to me and has been integrated into my own life. One of my favorite parts of it is the quest to require as little as possible. I have a lot of things I like in my life, but I could also be good without any of them.
The thing about investing money is that it's pretty hard for an individual to do much better than 5-15% per year consistently, depending on your risk tolerance and connections (my best investments have been putting money to work with friends' businesses). Five to fifteen percent is pretty good, but it's inside-the-box thinking to stop there. What else can we do with our money?
As a disclaimer, I have a good portion of my money in investments that make a return like that. It's good to grow your cash and I'm not saying you shouldn't. But what if you diversify your portfolio beyond earning a financial return?
After all, the point of money is utility, so why aren't we thinking one step further and thinking about how we can earn the most utility on money?
I love to find situations where my capital is preserved, grows a little, or is consumed very slowly, but which yields me a lot of utility as a result. For example, I bought my RV for $18k, plus probably $15k over its life in repairs, and maybe another $6k in improvements. I sold it last week for $30k, so I lost $9k over the eight years I owned it.
A little over a year ago a reader bought enough copies of Superhuman Social Skills to get a free one-hour coaching call. The call went well and I could tell that she was serious about making change. I hadn't considered doing coaching on an ongoing basis, but she asked and offered me enough to make it worth my while, so I agreed.
Since then it's been a really great arrangement. She's made tremendous progress so far, I feel invested in her life and enjoy seeing the results of a little bit advice mixed with a lot of diligence and commitment to her goals on her part.
So I'm going to take on two more clients. A good candidate would be someone who has read a lot of my blog and resonates with my way of thinking and my approach to life and is willing to put in the work. I think I have the greatest ability to help with habits, social skills, and living an authentic and satisfying life. If you feel stuck or plateaued or constrained by options, this may be for you.
Here's what my one current client has to say:
EDIT: The RV is sold, pending receipt of payment. If anything changes I will email everyone back and update this post, but I would assume it's not available. The new buyer also has a tricked out Rialta and I will share a link to if he decides to sell it.
I've kicked this decision down the road by a year or so because emotionally I don't want to part with my RV. I've put hundreds of hours into it, as well as a lot of money, but I'm spending so little time in San Francisco that it's about time I admit it doesn't make sense for me to keep it. So,time to take that leap into the next phase of my life and put it up for sale.
If you've been thinking about the RV lifestyle and want to live in the RV that started the Rialta craze, here's your chance. Or if you just want a cool RV or a pied-a-terre in San Francisco, this could be for you. I'm really hoping that a reader buys it because I'd like for it to "stay in the family", and maybe someone continues my work on it and takes it to the next level.
Living in the RV was one of the best decisions I ever made. I've saved tens of thousands of dollars by having it, it helped me appreciate minimalism, and it was a ton of fun. Many other people who have followed in my footsteps have said the same of their decision.
And just like that another year has passed! Every year of my life has been better than the last. I used to believe that this was a nearly universal experience, as every year you should become smarter, learn from your mistakes, build on your successes, deepen your relationships, etc. But I talked to some people who told me that their years are up and down. Very hard to comprehend, barring some major death or catastrophe.
Anyway, I like to write my annual wrap-up because it helps me get perspective on what I was able to do in a year, how I progressed, how I met or missed my goals, and it lets me set a little bit of direction for the next year.
I really fell in love with Budapest as I mentioned in my annual wrap-up post last year. In May I had the idea to buy a place there with friends (not so original, as I've already done things like this), and I went there in August. Within six weeks we had closed and moved into the new place!
I switched to Linux a few years ago. Four, I think. It wasn't my first time— I remember driving with my friend Phil to pick up a Slackware Linux CD in 1997, being very excited about how different it was, and then switching back to Windows a couple weeks later when I wanted my computer to be usable again.
That's not a knock against Linux, but it was a complicated process to get it running properly and I didn't persevere through the process.
This cycle repeated every year or two. Each time I was heartened by how far Linux had come, but would regress back to Windows after some period of time.
This time it stuck, though. I was surprised when I was still using it two, then six months later. I was surprised when after a year Windows felt foreign to me.