Listen to the experts

I've contemplated all the recent frenzy around the vaccines. Well, I should say the 2020-all-year-round frenzy in almost every thing, area and topic but let's breathe & stay calm for the moment. My birth country - France - was proudly last in the 'intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine' rankings. What a vote of confidence.

Meanwhile I was reading a good book - which was first a documentary - called: The Media The World And Me. A common theme was: how to (re)build trust?

I feel 'trust' might be the most & biggest missing component in today's society. Who to trust? Why? What to trust? How to learn to trust? How to regularly check where our trust is going?

I came across Arnold Schwarzenegger's comment when he got his vaccine.

I said this to someone in the comments, but I think a lot of you need to hear this.
I always say you should know your strengths and listen to the experts. If you want to learn about building biceps, listen to me, because I've spent my life studying how to get the perfect peak and I have been called the greatest bodybuilder of all time. We all have different specialties.

Dr. Fauci and all of the virologists and epidemiologists and doctors have studied diseases and vaccines for their entire lives, so I listen to them and I urge you to do the same. None of us are going to learn more than them by watching a few hours of videos. It's simple: if your house is on fire, you don't go on Youtube, you call the damn fire department. If you have a heart attack, you don't check your Facebook group, you call an ambulance. If 9 doctors tell you you have cancer and need to treat it or you will die, and 1 doctor says the cancer will disappear, you should always side with the 9. In this case, virtually all of the real experts around the world are telling us the vaccine is safe and some people on Facebook are saying it isn't.

In general, I think if the circle of people you trust gets smaller and smaller and you find yourself more and more isolated, it should be a warning sign that you're going down a rabbit hole of misinformation. Some people say it is weak to listen to the experts. That's bogus. It takes strength to admit you don't know everything. Weakness is thinking you don't need expert advice and only listening to sources that confirm what you want to believe.

This is beautifully written. I agree. My only concern goes towards people, institutions, systems that have a big audience and don't care about lying. They don't care about trust. They don't care about their impact long-term on other people's minds. They are dangerous. I don't think it's a good tactic to fight them directly. Our best option is to educate each others, giving our trust sparingly and staying alert. Utilmately, not being afraid of a 'I don't know' or another 'I changed my mind'.

Few recent examples that made me laugh [kinda].

My wife is pregnant. She needed a drug for something specific. I went to the pharmacy, explained what she was going through, told them she was pregnant and they gave me drug X. Few days later, she was still suffering. We called the doctor and told her everything, she recommended drug Y. I went to the pharmacy again and got it. We read on the package later that day that this drug wasn't recommended for pregnant women. We called the doctor again: "yeah but no worries the drug company just has to put this on the package for the insurance company, but of course in your case, this is harmless and exactly what you need". Hmmm. Interesting. Great way to build trust for sure [towards the pharmacy, the doctor herself, the drug company & the insurance company].

Politicians are the best at this. Sorry the one below is in french only. But @ 1min04, french minister literally declared "risk of importation - of coronavirus - from Wuhan is close to 0" & it goes on like this. Even worse @ 3min54: "the blue mask protects from nothing". Well it didn't age well [original footage was from late January 2020].

So, I'm all in to listen to the experts but honestly, it's getting harder & harder to know who's one.

My own tail end

I remember the first time I saw the human lifespan laid out in weeks by Tim. I wouldn't be able to describe exactly how I felt but I was intrigued nonetheless. Then I saw the pdf printed out on a friend's fridge. Somehow, I found it cool. Like a good reminder you only live once, not for so long, so you better make it count.

Later, I read The Tail End [Tim's work again]; what a slap in the face. I wanted to visually lay out few of my own tail end for a while. I finally took some time this weekend to do it. I took 90 years as my own lifespan.

Below is my own life in weeks.
Green cells: weeks I've already lived. White ones: weeks I've left. Darker green ones: weeks I've lived with limited freedom [i.e I was still living at my parents home]. Lighter green ones: weeks I've lived with unlimited freedom [living by myself; I was literally able to do whatever I want].
Grey cell: mid-life. Pink cell: when I started dated my other half. Blue cell: when our son is born.

Then I laid out few linear stuff. Like amount of books I still have to read - if I continue to read 2 a month = 1368.
If feels like a lot. Still - as Tim wrote it perfectly - I'll have to:

accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest.

I haven't played any video game for way too long [I used to be an avid gamer - and I collected a lof of video games systems as well]. I told myself earlier that 2021 should be the year I start to play again. A good pace seemed to be a game a quarter. In this scenario, amount of games I still have to play = 228.

Amount of soccer world cup finals I still have to watch = 14!

Now comes the most important part: relationships. Which is also the scariest one because nothing is linear here. I wanted to highlight 2 examples below. First one is with my mum. I can pretty much say I've seen her everyday of my life until a bit more than my 19. Then, I only saw her 5 days a year on average. If I'm lucky enough & she lives until her 90, it means I'll be 66. Below are the amount of times left to see & enjoy each other face-to-face.

That one was a shock. I'm in the last 3% of my time spent [physically speaking] with my mum. Tim wrote:

When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.
This made me realise one thing in particular. I better enjoy my time with my own kids as much as possible right now. By the time they turn 18 and decide to leave our house, we'd have spent almost 90% of our time with them!

Last one I laid out. One of my best friend I met when we were 11 y/o. We pretty much saw each other 5 days a week from our 11 to 18. Then, we both travelled a lot and we're now living in 2 different continents. If I look back the past years, let's assume we see each other 3 days a year on average. Being the same age & lucky, we'll both live until 90. Our time together looks like this.

I was shocked too. We're in our last 10% time spent together.

I don't see a better conclusion & takeaways than Tim's ones below.

1. Living in the same place as the people you love matters. I probably have 10X the time left with the people who live in my city as I do with the people who live somewhere else.

2. Priorities matter. Your remaining face time with any person depends largely on where that person falls on your list of life priorities. Make sure this list is set by you—not by unconscious inertia.

3. Quality time matters. If you’re in your last 10% of time with someone you love, keep that fact in the front of your mind when you’re with them and treat that time as what it actually is: precious.

My experience donating books

I started last summer to count my stuff. As beautifully written by Mathilde here "[...] knowing I have too much is something, knowing what is too much is something else". At that point, I was able to put an exact number: I had 187 books. It felt too much.

Right away I decided to tidy this up and started to screen them all. Few questions were in my head to help me pick up which ones to discard: (a) do I think there is a 90%+ chance I'll re-read it again in the future? (b) am I even able right now to 'sell' that book to anyone? [i.e I remember enough what this is about and/or the emotion it created in me] (c) if one of my best friend were to visit me today and ask for a book to read, would I be proud enough to recommend that one? If the answer was anything else than an easy 'yes' [to all 3 of these questions], I'd discard the book.

Result's below. I today own 86.5 books [.5 because I co-own some of them with my other half]. And yep, I also love magazines and I do plan to sort them out next [even though I bought a new one 2 days ago].

To get rid of them in an easy & efficient way, I chose to give all of them away for free. I put few pictures on our local Buy Nothing group and few days later, 3/4 of them were out of the house.

The smiles and happy faces I got from people who came to our flat to pick up the books and the few minutes discussions downstairs to share few anecdotes [if any] made the whole experience very meaningful. Overall, I felt great. Almost 3 months later, I still feel great about this but I also don't really know how I should buy and deal with books in the future.

I decided that - going forward - a book should be either a learning or an entertaining experience. Period. So I literally said goodbye to the books as a piece of decoration or furniture at home. In other words, no such room for me as Karl's one below.


Yet, when I look at this, I've to admit I find it beautiful. I wonder why. I mean, is it only because I'd truly find beautiful that mix of colorful paper? In this case, such a room becomes beautiful whatever the titles would be pile up inside. Or is it more due to what books represent in our society? Like a way to tell people 'hey look how smart/cultivated I am - I read so much' or this kinda bullshit shortcut.


Here's something Naval says at min 6 that struck me.

When people are putting a photo on Twitter or Instagram of ‘look at my pile of books that I’m reading’, it’s a show-off thing, it’s a signalling thing. The reality is I’d rather read the best 100 books over and over again until I absorb them rather than read all the books.
Now - even though I stand behind that mindset 100% I still find challenging now and then not to pile up a new book [or magazine] and to give it away as soon as I finished reading it - unless that specific title should enter my top 100 of all time. Then I wonder what that number should be. Should I hold on to 10 books at home? 20? 50? 100? Few days ago I realised how space played a huge role in this answer [in my answer at least]. If I live in a tiny house or a van, my answer will literally be different compare to a few floors mansion. That lead me to think about my kinda perfect home in terms of space. Do I really want to live in a big flat for instance? Why? To pile up more stuff at the end cause I'd need to fill up all this space? Should I intentionally dramatically limit the size of where I live [at least the indoor size let's say; outdoor would be different; I'd use a garden to play or relax; not to pile up stuff]?

Okay - I digress now. It's not about books anymore.

There is only now

How come most of us feel always trapped between the past and the future? Emotionally speaking it means we constantly oscillate between regrets [what we've done or not] & anxiety [what will come]. Most importantly, we forget to focus on the only one thing we control, the #1 thing we can act on, the only thing that truly exists: the here and now.

Unless you're living in a cabin off the grid you might have heard of The Last Dance documentary lately.

I personally had very high expectations for that documentary and I haven't been disappointed. This is a must-watch. One thing I didn't expect though was the introduction speech of the last episode, emphasizing one of the most important Jordan's character trait: how he's a master of the present moment. Mark Vancil - author of Rare Air - is talking:

Most people struggle to be present. People go and sit in ashrams for 20 years in India trying to be present. Do yoga, meditate, trying to get here, now. Most people live in fear because we project the past into the future. Michael’s a mystic. He was never anywhere else. His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast, shoot a basketball. His gift was that he was completely present. And that was the separator. The big downfall of a lot of players who are otherwise gifted is thinking about failure. Michael didn’t allow what he couldn’t control to get inside his head. He would say, ‘Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken yet?
That last rhetorical question isn't to be underestimated. Mike Greenberg even calls that one 'one of the most profound statement I've ever heard' - full reaction below.


Below is an extract from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less written by Greg McKeown [yep, you can guess, this book resonated a lot with me].

It's natural and human to obsess over past mistakes or feel stress about what may be ahead of us. Yet every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now.

[...] It is mind-bending to consider that in practical terms we only ever have now. We can't control the future in a literal sense, just the now. Of course, we learn from the past and can imagine the future. Yet only in the here and now can we actually execute on the things that really matter.

Onwards.

What matters most to you?

Everyday I go pick my toddler up at kindergarten. I fasten him on the back of my bike and we go for a ride. We stop in a different park each day and take time to play, eat, look at the fishes or turtles [sometimes]; we basically explore what the city has to offer.

From the time I leave home to when we're back, it takes on average 2 hours. I made the choice early on to always switch on the plane mode on my phone during that time. That looked simple at first. Now I realise how important it was. I don't blame the parents we see who're just on their phone constantly while their kids try to interact / tell / show them something. I definitely know where that comes from. I feel sad for them though. We have such a hard time connecting to the present, the here & right now. It's a skill we all have to learn & practice.

When we're eating and you look at your phone, you're telling me 'that notification - while not knowing in advance what it is exactly - is more important than you'.

When we're talking and you keep screening the whole room for something / someone else, you're telling me 'I don't care about you'.

Like any skill, the less you practice, the harder it gets. And at the end, without even noticing it, you're just letting anything else dictate your life and you lose everything & everyone that matter most to you.

Below is a story I read last month from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less written by Greg McKeown. This is the Dad I want to be.

A woman named Cynthia once told me a story about the time her father had made plans to take her on a night out in San Francisco. 12 year old Cynthia and her father had been planning the 'date' for months. They had a whole itinerary planned down to the minute: she would attend the last hour of his presentation, and then meet him at the back of the room at about 4:30 and leave quickly before everyone tried to talk to him. They would catch a tram to Chinatown, eat Chinese food (their favourite), shop for a souvenir, see the sights for a while and then 'catch a flick' as her dad liked to say. They then would grab a taxi back to the hotel, jump in the pool for a quick swim (her dad was famous for sneaking in when the pool was closed), order a hot fudge sundae from room service, and watch the late, late show. They discussed the details over and over again before they left. The anticipation was part of the whole experience.

This was all going according to the plan until, as her father was leaving the convention centre, he ran into an old college friend and business associate. It had been years since they had seen each other, and Cynthia watched as they embraced enthusiastically. His friend said, in effect: 'I am so glad you are doing some work with our company now. When Lois and I heard about it we thought it would be perfect. We want to invite you, and of course Cynthia, to get a spectacular seafood dinner down at the Wharf!' Cynthia's father responded: 'Bob, it's so great to see you. Dinner at the wharf sounds great!'

Cynthia was crestfallen. Her daydreams of tram rides and ice cream sundae evaporated in an instant. Plus, she hated seafood and she could just imagine how bored she would be listening to the adults talk all night. But then her father continued: 'But not tonight. Cynthia and I have a special date planned, don't we?' He winked at Cynthia and grabbed her hand and they ran out of the door and continued with what as an unforgettable night in San Francisco.

As it happens, Cynthia's father was the management thinker Stephen R. Covey who had passed away only weeks before Cynthia told me this story. So it was with deep emotion she recalled that evening in San Francisco. His simple decision 'Bonded him to me forever because I knew what mattered most to him was me!' she said.

Photo by Olivia Bauso

Look, I'm 95% vegetarian

For a bit of context, I'll start with a historical fact: I'm a meat lover. I don't really know when & how it started but as far as I can remember, meat - and especially red meat; cooked rare obviously - has always been my ultimate favorite meal. I mean it. Even as a kid, if I had a choice between candies / ice creams / cakes / chocolate mousse [you name it] and a plate with a piece of beef cooked rare and some pasta.. phew! the choice was very easy: gimme the damn plate! And still today, if I'm in a restaurant with a great 'steak tartare' [raw meat] it's really hard for me not to order it right away.

Photo by Liuda Brogiene

I remember few times in some restaurants well-known for serving big portion of meat, I was only 7 or 8 y/o and I always asked what was the record of the biggest piece of beef eaten by someone - few kg always - and asked to be served this exact portion. Now that I think about this, I don't even know where that comes from. Sure, my grand-ma loved red meat as well and was always stoked to cook some but I don't have the feeling she ate more of this than anyone else in France actually. My mum then wasn't a big meat eater. There is something in our french culture though. I mean, a good meal - in the traditional sense; when you're invited somewhere or in the restaurant - implies some meat most of the time. I tried few times in the past, go serve something to people with no meat at all in the plate, most of them would look at you in surprise and asked if you haven't forgotten anything.

Then, growing up, there has been a first shift: I wanted to eat 'very good' meat only. Like the one you'd find only in the local butcher shop and not the one you could buy at the supermarket. Sure it cost way more but I told myself the story that I loved meat so much I didn't care about the price and I was consequently totally ready to decrease my consumption of other stuff [I didn't smoke, I'd buy some glasses of Pastis in the bar - pretty cheap alcohol usually in local french bars - instead of fancy cocktails etc.].

Then 2 things happened: I moved to Singapore when I was still in my early twenties and I started to watch few documentaries about the whole meat industry. The latter made me deeply uncomfortable & questionned my own impact in that supply chain. The former changed my meat consumption entirely. While I still consider Singapore as one of the best place in the world for me in terms of cuisine, I don't remember it as especially good in terms of red meat. It was more about chicken, pork, fish, seafood etc.

Ultimately I read the book Eating Animals from Jonathan Safran Foer and this has been the 'coup de grace'. From then on, I committed to become a vegetarian. I don't remember which year it was exactly but I'd say sometime around 2012 / 2013. Since then... arrrrgh such an up & down journey. I experienced some periods of few months without eating meat at all [record was probably while in Berlin; something like 8 or 9 months total], and then, I landed in France for few days or weeks visiting family, ate a good tartare and - even though I tried intentionnally to keep my consumption as low as possible - went on eating meat for another 6 months. One thing I found hard back then was the very low choice of vegeterian options in french restaurants for instance [on the opposite side, being a vegeterian in Berlin was easy, so much yummy choices everywhere - even in a burger restaurant]. Like you get the menu and the only option is some type of salad while you could order a cheeseburger... for someone like me, it was literally impossible to pick up the salad [oh, yep, one thing to consider: the salad costs the same price!]. Obviously it has changed a bit.

I don't try to find me any excuse actually. Now that I write this, I think I just approached the whole thing the wrong way. I didn't want to be seen as a 'troublemaker' as well when I was invited somewhere. My mum always taught us that, as guests, you just eat politely everything you got served. Period. So I felt uncomfortable telling people, friends, even my family 'hey I changed my diet, no more meat for me, oh you cooked too much beef, well, too bad, I won't eat any of it anyway'. In retrospect, maybe I should have. I don't know. I think I have a deep problem with orthodoxy in general. Life should be flexible and I feel that the more orthodox you'd be, the more judgmental you might become and at the end, others would reject even more your beliefs. It's weird when I think more about it. Years later, I know some people still felt angry that no meat has been served at a specific family dinner because of us [my other half shared the experiment]. Or some stories I got from people who offered a vegetarian meal during their own wedding and people were mad it wasn't a 'proper special-meal'... hmmm at what point everyone just loves to fight and becomes so close-minded anyway? I digress.

I'm a bit older now [yep, harsh reality]. I might be a bit wiser too [I hope]. Ultimately I know myself more. I know how I react to challenges, new habits, change in general; I know how finding my own pace is the most important thing; I understood how discipline and rountine / rituals are keys [and not bad words to avoid only]. So when I started to try the app No Meat Today - and got lucky enough to talk to the founder & discovered his own story - it became a no-brainer. The goal of the app is dead simple: track your meat consumption. I set up a daily reminder at 9pm to input if yes or no I ate meat this day.

Few months later. Here's my status.

And since the beginning of this year, I tend to eat meat once a week only. So if we take the month of June as an example [like on the screenshot above], 3 meals a day x 30 days = 90 meals. 4 meals with meat out of 90 meals means a bit less than 5%. So I started to say 'yep I'm 95% vegetarian'.
In july so far, I've eaten meat only twice so I might be on track to almost 98% hehe.

And you know what - yep you can guess - I feel freaking good. I found out that being 95% [or 98% sometimes] vegetarian was my perfect equilibrium. I know that I can go the long way at this pace. It resonates deep down. I feel complete, in harmony with who I am and what I believe in. I even went hunting a year ago to see for myself what it meant to kill an animal to eat. That experience has been very interesting, in a lot of different ways - that's worth another post by itself.

Anyway, I know some hardcore vegan would hate me; some radicals would make fun of me or just debate if the formula itself 'XX% vegetarian' would mean anything at all. The thing is: I don't care. I know that I succeeded to decrease my meat consumption dramatically. After all, if the whole world turns 90%+ vegetarian tomorrow, the impact would be pretty huge right away. And guess what: if more people would introduce the change this way, it would sound way easier, almost sexier right away for more people. More importantly in my case, I found a pace I'm able to follow & commit in the very long-term. And that's where the biggest impact lies at the end.

95 / 98% vegetarian over the next 60 years will be so much more impactful, powerful and meaningful for me than a short period of 6 / 9 months as a vegan and then... nothing.

Black Lives Matter

I'm enraged by the current situation. I'm deeply sad that we are still guilty of such injustice. I'm concerned by the lack of empathy. I sometimes wonder wether we're truly able to be humanist - as a society.

Now I'm obsessed with one thing everyday when I look at my 1 year-old son: what can I do exactly / what should I show him / how to make sure he's actively & fully part of something much better. I believe my wife and I are capable of such a thing. Actually, we have to succeed. 

Below are first thoughts we had, we'll go through some iterations for sure, we'll need to confront this against reality, to adapt and progress. I read a lot of good intentions these past few weeks but haven't gone through much things towards babies, kids & education as a whole. How school should start tomorrow to teach differently for instance? I haven't read anything impactful on the topic so far; which saddens me. How everyone at home should start right now to raise awareness among the whole family? The list goes on.

I do think that education is key here. After all, as parents [but not only, as grand-parents as well, as godfathers, friends, brothers & sisters, aunts & uncles, teachers, etc.] we do set up examples & give some backgrounds & context for generations to come. My son isn't born racist. I see him today treat 100% equally his black & white friends at kindergarten. If we're not active & intentional though, I'm afraid he might become at some point. Because it's sneaky, it's part of our culture. Let's pause. Writing this hurts me. I want us to change. Then, I want his generation to finally experience a real humanist & peaceful world.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the topic, your realisations too, your own blindspots, your actions. It'll obviously be a continuous work-in-progress on our end.

In no particular order:

  • we want our son to develop strong ties with some black kids; since I don't believe we could force any specific friendship or love; we could influence his environment though; and that's where it becomes a number game at the end. Few areas we're thinking about: geography [which type of neighborhood, city, country are we living in], school, social activities [like personally I met most of my black friends through boxing].
  • this applies to ourselves as well; today our son is playing with a black friend because we met her parents and became friends with them. Though we realised we don't have a lot. Let's be more intentional with this.
  • speak out against anything racist we will hear - always; coming from anyone; 'jokes' included; no matter the context: family, professional, etc. And let's be radical about it.
  • get deeply involved in the historical lessons our kids will get along the way; and always provide few other angles. I remember how enlightening it was for me during my years in Singapore to read & learn about World War II through a South-East Asian angle, it felt like a totally different event [and it was a humbling experience].
  • be extra-careful with the set of aspirational examples he'll get growing up [like these athletes, artists, leaders, entrepreneurs, etc.] - this one looks challenging and will also depend on the geography I think but this is very impactful. Growing up in France in the 90's I realise: highest politicians = all white; leaders in biggest corporations = all white; black people? hmmm... few in the soccer team, few artists here & there - this is bad because it doesn't reflect the reality of the french society.

Photo by Kadir Celep - we used to live in this neighborhood in Berlin

The dinner party of our dreams

I think we bought this book few years ago, while randomly wandering around Berlin. It's called Me, You, Us by Lisa Currie. With such a title, baseline & cover, obviously it caught our eye [& easily convinced us].

We decided to slowly fill it up recently - we set a routine like one page a week more or less and I've to say: this is really fun. One of the latest page was titled: the dinner party of our dreams and the goal was to create the 'guest list'. So the way we approached it was: 'okay we already experienced the most amazing dinner of our lives: our wedding one. Period. But if we got the superpower to invite everyone we wanted right now, what would that guest list look like'.

I want to share it here for few reasons: (a) I'm a deep fan of the 'tell me what you eat/buy/watch, I'll tell you who you are' things so I find that fun here to see what that guest list could tell about me, us, at this moment of our lives (b) because obviously we change over time I wanted to keep it here and be able to get back to it in few years, see who else I might invite (c) I'd find it interesting if some of you would share yours in the comment [or send it to me directly as you prefer].

Here it goes:

  • there are both of us
  • Jesus
  • Magellan
  • Freud
  • Maria Montessori
  • Marie Curie
  • Yuval Harari
  • 2 of our friends
  • Dolores Abernathy

Yep, that's what we could call a fantasy kind of dinner.

Looking at our list right now, I could quickly extract few themes that I know are currently running wild in our own minds and that we find particularly interesting: adventure, myth, cult, education, science, psychology, subconscious, friendship, love, history, rebellion, freedom, change, exploration.

I do think it reflects us. Let's see how it evolves.

Zeng Fanzhi -- The Last Supper, 2001