On Craft and Accomplishment

While Nick Offerman is a comedian best known for his role as Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec, his Netflix special, American Ham, holds a surprising amount of wisdom. Mainly because Nick Offerman is a funny man by nature, not by affect. He isn’t fooling anyone while up on stage. He’s just being himself and that’s why his comedic efforts come across as thoughtful as well as humorous.

There’s one specific part of his comedic shtick I’m the most curious about, and it’s not because it’s funny–remember that wisdom?

Nick Offerman believes strongly in craft. I touched on this a little yesterday, but only in regards to routine. A craft is like an extreme hobby. Mr. Offerman believes everyone should have a craft, or an extreme hobby that is just for them.

A craft is something you love. That you lose yourself in. That you do everyday or nearly everyday. It’s a discipline. It’s a thing you master. It is a mastery. For Nick, it’s carving. He makes canoes in his spare time–awesome canoes and chairs and other wooden things. He’s so good at it that Ron Swanson’s character adapted the craft.

I like this piece of wisdom. Maybe I like it because it legitimizes my obsession with writing. Or maybe because it puts emphasis on the worth of dedication. I think the dedication you have to a craft, whether it’s woodworking, writing, playing music, baking–keeps people on a straight and narrow path, one that helps them be more focused and present in the rest of their lives. And, perhaps, that’s what a dedicated craft does more than anything else, it redirects our focus. It slows our minds in this technological age. In this consumer culture in which we are programmed to think buying equals accomplishment. But, in truth, it doesn’t at all. True accomplishment is something you create through a long process of dedication. A true sense of accomplishment isn’t instant. It is the culmination of your efforts. Of your dedication. True accomplishment is something you earn–you don’t buy it.

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Have We All Abandoned Them?

When you walk or bike or drive the streets of Seattle it’s impossible not to notice the people with signs. Many of them are common enough in any city. “Anything Helps,” is a popular one. So is, “Disabled Vet.” Some of them look like veterans, some of them are just kids that have found themselves on the street. Some of them might think it’s cool. Might feel like they aren’t part of the system. But the truth is, most homeless people in Seattle don’t want to be homeless. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, no matter how you look at it. I mean, there are tents along major roads that are peoples’ permanent residents. The cops don’t bother them. They don’t move. There are tent cities under the overpasses. The other day I cycled by a minivan that was obviously someones home. It turns out, in 2015, the homeless population in Seattle rose by 20.8% (head count of 3,123 in 2014, head count of 3,772 in 2015), and this doesn’t even count the 6,000 people who are lucky enough to have a bed at the homeless shelters in the city. That’s a huge rise, especially for a single year. You might think some of the people are just lazy and don’t want to get a job–but that’s not true. Go down to one of these tent cities I’m talking about around 7am, and you’ll see many people climb from their tents in nice clothing, on their way to work. It’s not that they are lazy, that they don’t have ambition, but it is because they don’t have enough money. A single bedroom apt in Seattle goes for at least $1,000 per month. A room in a house will be at least half of that. Many people who are homeless just don’t make enough money for rent. They can buy food, but limited hours due to automation at low paying jobs such as grocery stores, and such, have made a homeless population boom in the city. While some of them are incapable of getting a job due to disabilities, mental illness, and addiction, our current system doesn’t have enough resources to get these people functioning again. Before you name a resource you know of, think about what that resource demands of someone. Then ask yourself: Can someone who is mentally ill or strung out navigate that system?. While there are some resources that the disabled and mentally ill can utilize, many of them are in no position to navigate the bureaucracy that comes along with it. A mentally ill person who can’t make appointments can’t become rehabilitated. Someone who can’t drive may not have the means to get to the places he or she may need to be.

What I’m trying to say is this: some people cannot help themselves, and so it should be up to our society to help those you can’t. I mean, what kind of world do we want to live in, really?

Homelessness is a self perpetuated cycle. If you have no home, you can’t get a job. If you have no job, you can’t get a home. If you’re not mentally stable it’s likely you can’t understand what help there is out there, and if your disabled you can’t always jump through all the hoops to get the help you need. All of these combined make a very difficult situation to deal with. Homelessness increases crime, crime increases incarceration, incarceration is a massively expensive endeavor, and many of these people are not necessarily bad people. They are just people who fell through the cracks of what we call society. Who are we, to let this happen to our own people? Have we all abandoned them?

The Fallacy of Primitive Cultures

Yesterday I brought up the term “primitive society,” which I feel as though I need to address. Primitive society, primitive culture, primitive civilization. All those terms marginalize and oppress peoples and ways we don’t understand. There is no such thing as a primitive culture. There maybe be cultures that we find barbaric, and barbarism is certainly something humanity as a whole is trying, with varying degrees of success, to leave behind, but I do not think a society or culture is any less complex simply because they do not have the technology, the scientific knowledge, or governmental system that developed countries have. Even tribes that live in voluntary isolation in the amazon rain forest have complex social structures, they speak complex languages that are capable of expressing an infinite number of ideas that have never been expressed before (which is one of the things that defines language: the ability of original thought converted into sound). Not for a moment do I buy the idea that a small community of people living in the Himalayas have a less complex human experience. They may be more content in their lives, resigned to the fact that they are where they are and most of them will not leave their village (though this is changing), but they have made peace with their lives–even the parts of their lives they do not like. I don’t mean to say people should settle. No. But I do think there is a culture within western society to give up on something if it isn’t immediately fulfilling. One of the reasons for this is because there are a lot of things you can do within out society that can fill up your time, distract your mind, and make you forget–for a little while–how alone you are. I’m not a fatalist in the fact that we are alone. I think people feel alone, often times when they are not, and feel connected in times when they are actually alone. For instance, you can feel connected easily with Facebook or Twitter, but if no one responds to your updates and posts–well, how connected are you? Of course, this brings the question of: What is more real, the feeling of connectedness social media can give, or the reality of the fact you’re sitting alone.

(This blog is no different)