The Disintegration of the Community: Why We Feel Alone Even When Surrounded By People

community


Do you feel like you’re a part of your local community? If your answer is “no,” you’re not defective, this is actually how many people feel today.

According to sociologist Robert Putnam in his classic book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, our sense of community has significantly declined for the past half century.

A central concept throughout the book is the idea of “social capital,” which is defined as how strong a network of relationships is within a given community.

Communities that are high on social capital tend to be more trustworthy and cooperative. Neighbors talk to one another and help each other out more. And citizens are highly active in their schools, churches, and government institutions.

Communities that are low on social capital tend to be less trustworthy and cooperative. Neighbors don’t feel as connected with one another and are more skeptical of each other. And citizens are less active in their schools, churches, and government institutions, sometimes choosing to not participate in them at all.

Robert Putnam shares a plethora of research in the book showing how “social capital” has been on a steady decline since about the 1960s. As a whole, across all demographics, people vote less, go to church less, and are less likely to have each other over for dinner or attend community events.

The title “Bowling Alone” is in reference to the specific decline of bowling leagues over the past few decades. Bowling leagues have traditionally been a great way to build social bonds, create connections with your neighbors, and feel like you’re a part of your community.

These types of opportunities to build social capital within our communities seem to be growing less and less. Why?

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How to Destroy Performance Anxiety and Deliver an Award-Winning Show Every Time

performance anxiety


We don’t often think of it this way, but life is often like one big performance.

Whether it’s delivering a lecture, going on a date, or meeting a new person – we are often called upon to present our “best self” to others. And how we present ourselves can have a tremendous impact on how happy and successful we are in many areas of life.

This is also where “performance anxiety” comes in. We all feel at least a little nervous before giving a presentation to a big class or going on a job interview, because we want to look good to others. This fear is also completely natural – it stems from our common desire to be accepted and liked by others.

In Steal the Show: How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life, Michael Port gives a fantastic breakdown of how to become a better performer in both your professional and personal life. He gives you the tools to break through performance anxiety by ultimately teaching you how to become a more skilled and competent public speaker.

Throughout the book, Michael Port integrates his experiences as a trained actor, professional speaker, and marketing consultant into a fantastic guide on how to “steal the show” and nail all your performances in life, no matter what they are – a speech, an interview, a date, a music performance, or anything.

In this article, I’ll share what I’ve found to be his best advice for improving your public speaking and communication skills, from silencing your critics to using the power of “as if” thinking.

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Systems vs. Goals: Why Sustainability Is More Important Than Temporary Success

systems


When we set goals, we actually set ourselves up for failure.

Typically we make a declaration to ourselves such as “lose 20 pounds” or “make a 6 figure salary.” Then we work our butts off to reach these specific goals. We might even set a deadline for ourselves like “before the summer starts” or “by the time I reach 30.” Put that extra pressure on.

If we’re lucky and we do achieve our goal, our work isn’t done. We must also sustain it. If you lose 20 pounds – your goal is technically reached – but if you gain the 20 pounds back then it’s almost as if you never succeeded at all. It might even sting more than a straightforward failure.

This is why, according to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, “goals” tend to be short-term thinking, while “systems” tend to be long-term thinking.

Therefore, if you’re looking to make a sustainable change or improvement to your life, what you need to create or find is a system that works for you (not a goal, which is ultimately temporary).

Unlike goals, having the right systems in your life can energize you and sustain you long into the future.

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The Power of Koans to Destroy Conceptual Thinking and Provoke Enlightenment

koans


According to Zen philosophy, there are two sides of reality: the phenomenal one and the essential one.

Our phenomenal reality is the one we are most familiar with. It consists of everything that we sense (what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell) and everything that we think (our concepts and beliefs about the world). It is fundamentally a world of duality that begins with our distinction between “self” and “other.”

The distinction between “self” and “other” is the birthplace of consciousness itself. And in this phenomenal reality, we experience the world as something different and separate from it. We experience that stubborn ego (“me” or “I”).

Our essential reality is a recognition of our “Oneness” or interconnectedness with everything. It transcends the duality of senses and thought – and it transcends the duality between “self” and “other.” It is a reality beyond concepts that can only be realized through direct experience with it.

The experience of this “essential reality” is the ultimate goal of Zen. It’s enlightenment itself. But in order to experience it, we must be able to destroy our conceptual and dualistic thinking that stands between the phenomenal and the essential.

One popular tool Zen monks practice to provoke enlightenment is the use of koans. These are short anecdotes, paradoxes, or riddles that are designed to get one’s mind beyond dualistic and conceptual thinking.

The Gateless Gate: The Classic Book of Zen Koans is one of the most influential collection of koans. It shares 48 koans that were originally compiled in the 13th century by Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Each koan is designed by itself to create an experience of enlightenment.

On the surface, koans are often purposefully illogical and nonsensical. This is because the function of koans is to help the student break through the phenomenal world and into the essential world. If one approaches a koan from a phenomenal perspective, it will be impossible to understand it.

It’s common for zen masters to provoke through paradoxes, irrational thinking, and misdirection. These are done intentionally to help students break through their desire for logic and reason and thus become more open to enlightenment.

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Existential Silliness: A Refreshing Perspective on Depression and Life’s Absurdities

existential silliness


Life is too complicated and too confusing for any one mind to fully grasp it.

It’s even more complicated and confusing if you suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, or mood disorders – which often make you feel that you have even less control over your life than the average person.

It often seems that reality does what it wants to do and we are just here for the ride. There’s no sense in trying to control it. There’s no sense in trying to explain it. There’s no sense in trying to find meaning in it. It just is what it is.

The philosophy of existentialism tells us that there’s no inherent meaning in the universe or life itself, thus it’s up to us to create our own meaning. There’s a branch known as “absurdism” that takes this idea to an extreme: because life has no inherent meaning and it’s impossible to explain why anything happens, we have no choice but to embrace the absurdity of life itself.

At times, I think it’s healthy to embrace the absurdity of life too. There’s so much of it that we can’t explain and can’t control, so why not step back, observe it, and think to ourselves, “Wow, what the hell is really happening here?”

In fact, I find the absurdness of life to be a great source of entertainment and humor when it’s properly embraced – I like to call it “existential silliness.”

There’s a popular chapter in Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms… where Allie Brosh describes her own experiences with depression. Many people say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever read on the subject, and I think she perfectly hits on the value of embracing “absurdity” and “existential silliness,” especially in the face of debilitating depression.

For those unfamiliar with her style, she’s known for making comics with a very simple and crude Microsoft Paint-type feel to them. They are often super silly and funny, but they also have some amazing kernels of truth and insight.

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