Posted in Life & Happiness

Growing Pains

Growth is such an important aspect of life. From a young age, we are encouraged to grow in all senses of the word.

We eat well and drink milk to grow tall and strong and healthy. We study to grow and cultivate our minds. We find a job and learn financial skill to grow our savings. We chase our passions and interests to culture ourselves and grow our character. We devote time and energy to upskilling and pushing ourselves to our limits to grow our careers and capabilities. We learn to love, to hurt, to dream and yearn, to lose and to self-soothe to grow our emotional intelligence.

All in all, the world tells us we must grow, grow and grow. Almost to the point of an obsession.

In some ways, it’s true – we must strive to keep growing as a person. Think of the countless people who stop growing after reaching adulthood. Instead of reading, thinking, introspecting and connecting, they choose to live in an echo chamber, spouting off misinformed opinions and closing their minds to any new experiences or viewpoints.

When we don’t challenge ourselves to grow, we cannot achieve flow state and instead become lazy and unmotivated. We run the risk of becoming stagnant or regressing.

In this sense, encouraging our own growth is one of the most useful life skills we can obtain as a young adult. No one other than ourselves will truly care about our growth as a person. This is why goals, systems and insight are important in life.

However, growth also comes with stress.

To grow, we need to put in time, energy and resources, such as money. Sometimes, it is hard enough surviving life, let alone thinking about growing. Sometimes, depression and anxiety gets the better of us and we are in no mental state to strive to thrive. Sometimes, we are barely keeping up with life’s numerous demands, meaning that growth could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

Think of growth in nature. Barely anything grows perpetually. Plants will grow in the summer, then recede for the winter, saving up energy for the next summer. Mountains grow with plate tectonics, then erode with the weather. Even economies will go through cycles of growth and depression, while even the most mighty empires rise and fall. In fact, the only thing in nature that only grows is cancer.

Simply put, uncontrolled, continuous growth is unsustainable.

If a plant was to only grow upwards, it will collapse under its own weight. Businesses that grow beyond their capabilities will stumble and fall as they exhaust resources, or end up relying on shady, unethical practices.

The take-home message is this: it is okay not to always be growing.

Of course, we should strive to never stop growing on the whole, but this should be sustainable growth. It is okay to take a step back for every two steps you take forwards. It is even okay to feel like you are taking one step forward, one step back. Sometimes, it is not a ripe time to grow, like a seed biding its time through the winter.

Be kind to yourself and be patient. Whether you are going through the most amazing growth spout or feel like you are at your lowest point, this too shall pass.

Image credit: Growth Spiral by Seb McKinnon
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Posted in Philosophy

Zero-Sum Game

Game theory is the study of using mathematical models to understand how rational decision-makers would strategically act in a given environment. One concept from game theory is that of the zero-sum game, where there is a finite amount of utility shared between players, meaning that if one person gains something, another must lose something to balance it out.

A classic example is a game of competitive sports, where there can be only one winner. For you to win, someone else must lose. A zero-sum game can have as few as two players (such as a singles tennis match) or many players (such as a game of poker, where every dollar you win is a dollar taken away from the other players).

From a young age, we see many examples of zero-sum games. We play sports and board games where there is a clear winner. We are marked on curve and compared to our classmates in exams. We compete for jobs and romantic partners. Competitiveness is driven into us and is sold as a survival skill.

This leads us to be prone to zero-sum thinking which can lead to many biases. Some studies show students acting more competitively and less inclined to help their peers if they were graded on a curve (e.g. percentiles), rather than grade categories (e.g. A, B, C). We think that if someone is a jack of all trades, they are masters of none, because surely no one can “have it all”. Many people oppose immigration because they believe that immigrants will take the finite number of jobs and houses. Some people negotiate aggressively in a deal, thinking that “your loss is my gain”. In severe cases, people may even sabotage others to increase their gains.

However, life is not always a zero-sum game. Game theory also describes non-zero-sum games, where the net balance of utility between all participants can be higher (or lesser) than zero. Simply put, in a non-zero-sum game, there can be more than one winner and sometimes, everyone can be a winner.

The best example of this is the mutual benefit born from cooperation. Zero-sum thinking may dictate that you must conquer your neighbouring tribe because they are your competition, but throughout history, cooperation, peace and harmony have prevailed as the winning strategy, because it results in greater net gain.

Happiness is also a non-zero-sum game, where just because someone else is happy, it does not take away from your happiness. But for some reason, some people cannot stand to watch others happy, or feel they must be happier than those around them. These people constantly try to “one-up” others, not recognising others’ happiness, or even sabotaging others and making them feel bad because they can’t stand to see other people be happier than them. This is an extremely toxic, unnecessary behaviour, that should be unacceptable in any kind of relationship, particularly between friends or family.

The far healthier behaviour is to be happy for others’ happiness, regardless of your life situation. This is why compassion is one of the keys for happiness. Realising that we can all find our own joy and contentness and help each other find happiness is a key step in being sustainably happy.

1 + 1 = 3

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Posted in History & Literature

Whaling

The Faroe Islands are a group of islands between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although a small nation, they are known to the outside world for their tradition of whaling – specifically pilot whales that are native to the North Atlantic Ocean. The media often show photos of bloody shorelines with a line of whale carcasses, decrying the so-called “inhumane hunting” of the whales. The dramatic scene and cuteness of the whales seems to appeal to the masses and has caused quite a controversy regarding the Faroese tradition, known as grindadráp. However, the media often tells a misinformed story regarding the whaling. One thing to know is that Faroese whaling is fundamentally different to whaling seen in other parts of the world, such as Japanese whaling. 

The Faroese have been killing pilot whales for food for the past millennium and have done so in the most humane and sustainable way possible. Despite popular belief, the pilot whales are not endangered and in fact overpopulated in the North Atlantic Ocean. As they are carnivorous, an overpopulation of the whales causes a shortage in fish. Fishing is the major industry in the Faroe Islands and constitutes their livelihood; so ironically, the pilot whales can endanger the Faroese people by consuming all the fish in the surrounding sea. Thus, the Faroese kill a small portion of the whale population (roughly 0.1%, a completely sustainable rate) to balance the ecosystem while protecting their most important industry and their livelihood.

Faroese whaling is not commercial and only enough whales are killed to provide enough food for the people (equally distributed to the participating families). The killing is not for fun or money, but simply to support the lives of the people. As such, the Faroese have also come up with the most humane way to kill the animals.

When whaling season starts and the pilot whales come near the shore, “drives” are initiated where a semi-circle of boats herd nearby whales towards the shoreline (only whales near the shoreline are killed). When the whales approach the shore, the people use blunt blowhole hooks that catch the whales without causing wounds (unlike harpoons and spears) and draw them closer to shore. Only adult males are drawn in (no females or babies) and only enough that can be killed swiftly are drawn in.

Once drawn in, the men quickly use their knives to cut the spinal cord and artery supplying the brain, killing the whale within 15 seconds of being beached. It is the quickest and most painless way to kill the whales and only those who have been trained to do it properly are allowed to kill. As a major artery is cut and whales are big mammals, a large volume of blood is released, dying the sea a bloody red colour.
The whales are then divvied up equally, with no part of the whale going to waste. As only nearby whales are killed, sometimes no whales are killed for years.

Unfortunately, due to pollution in the ocean, there have been increasing levels of heavy metals such as mercury found in the whale meat. This is endangering the health of the island population and the deeply engrained tradition of grindadráp. The saddest part is that the pollution is from industrialised countries such as USA and European countries, not the Faroe Islands. Yet the Faroese have to put up with bigotry from those who do not understand the culture, process or the reasoning behind the tradition. If anything, it is by far more humane and sustainable than killing animals after a lifetime of captivity then sending them to a slaughterhouse.

It is extremely important to see the truth behind controversial issues such as this, as more often than not the truth is shrouded by bigotry and subjective comments by people who have only seen the issue through some photographs on the internet.

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(Notice the single, deep horizontal slash through the dorsal aspect of the spinal cord, just before the brainstem. Such a cut would immediately sever any pain signals and cause almost instant unconsciousness due to ischaemia of the brain.)

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