Seeing what sticks – Day 19

I was speaking with a good friend today about my previous blog post, and ended up discussing my general learning style. I thought it would be good to capture some of my thoughts in written form for future reference.

I have very strong beliefs. Glancing over some of my recent blog posts, this is probably obvious to anyone who reads them. Thankfully, my education helped me to understand two things: First, I can't be correct about everything. Second, the best way to learn is either to reason through the problem or to experiment with possible solutions. Typically when approached with a problem, if I have some idea of the answer, then I can ask questions and reason my way to a possible solution. If I have no idea, I try to grasp the context of the question and then start throwing random ideas at it as quickly as possible to see what sticks.

Recently I've picked up Microsoft PowerBI and ended up down the rabbit hole of the M language. I've never used PowerBI before, so I immediately started throwing random things together to see what worked and then searching the internet whenever I ran into an error that I didn't understand. Because of this (and my background in web design and backend programming), I was able to gain a lot of knowledge very rapidly.

Another example is when I join a new team, rather than spending time talking with my fellow teammates (I admit, this is a shortcoming), I instead grab a task from the backlog and see how they react when I deliver it. Did they think I went too slow? Did I skip a process step? Was there an assumed requirement on my side or theirs? Was one team member very happy/angry about how the story was delivered?

Typically I only have to fail a few times during this period of "throwing things at the wall" before I hit upon the expected process or mental model needed to keep working. I also tend to build a very in-depth knowledge of a complex system because I'm always finding new ways to provoke and observe it. Sometimes I find some information that appears to contradict one of my strong beliefs. I then have to reason out if they contradict, how they contradict, and which is more correct.

What I'm really bad at is writing down the knowledge and the reasoning process behind it. Hopefully, this post and future blog posts will help fix that.

Perfect or Good Enough? – Day 18

I often hear people quip, "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'". In particular contexts, this statement makes good sense. Don't allow perfectionism to prevent you from finishing a task or a project. Since we don't know what perfect looks like, we may be spending time adding an unnecessary feature. However, this statement is often said as a truism, as if it could stand on its own without additional clarification or context. In this last sense, I heartily disagree.

A thing is perfect when it cannot change without ceasing to be perfect. This seems like stating the obvious. Definitions usually are obvious. However, the conclusions drawn from them are often surprising. The word "good" however, tends to resist definition because to define it puts you in a particular philosophical camp. In this case, I'll lean on Thomas Aquinas, and say that a thing is good when it is desirable for its own sake or useful for achieving what is desirable for its own sake. (yes, it's confusing). With these two definitions, though, we suddenly see that the statement "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'" doesn't make sense. Something which is perfect would be extremely desirable, otherwise it wouldn't be perfect!

Now, there may be some balking at that last statement, but let's consider the following:

  • When working on a task, it can be done less well or more well
  • It is naturally more desirable for a task to be well done and less desireable to be less well done.
  • Having a task perfectly done would be the most desirable
  • the more desirable a thing is, the more good it is
  • Therefore having a task perfect done would be the most good

Again this is probably obvious and pedantic, and yet here we have to be careful. Are we humans capable of accomplishing any task perfectly on our own?

No, we can't. We can't accomplish anything good on our own.

This would require a much longer conversation to truly dig out of this problem, but I'm tired, so I'll jump to the end: We are only capable of accomplishing good when we cooperate with Perfect Goodness Himself. And He will only accept perfection.

Take a retreat – Day 17

This past weekend, I was blessed to go on a silent retreat that followed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It was incredibly fruitful and a good reminder of how far I have to grow to be an "icon" of Christ. If you have not yet experienced such a retreat, then I heartily recommend it. If you have never gone to a Catholic spiritual retreat, GO! If you aren't Catholic, well, you're missing out.

The Mercy of Learning – Day 16

This isn't a shock to anyone: I'm not perfect. We can confidently say that nobody is perfect (well...there are two technicalities, Jesus and His Mother Mary, but they are special cases that emphasize the point). This means that the information with which we perceive the world is limited. Even if the information itself is clear, our perceptions may be distorted due to physical, mental, moral, or spiritual handicaps. To borrow an analogy: it doesn't matter how strong the signal is if the antenna is bad.

Spending time teaching my kids, I've realized that there is mercy in the fact that we can learn despite our handicaps. We may refuse to learn, but it doesn't change that we can learn.

This ability to learn runs counter to a strict narrative that we impose our wills upon the world. There is a certain give and take where we must first learn from the world around us before we can begin to shape it. And then we can only change the shape in a certain way, otherwise, it falls apart. Throughout, our understanding of ourselves and the world changes. We learn.

This ability to learn also means that we can correct our mistakes. Seeing the wrongs that we have done, we can correct our course and seek to fulfill the demands of justice. When we observe the faults of others, we should provide some space to allow them to learn (within reason). Perhaps they will also course-correct. Just because some people said or did some nasty things at one point in their life doesn't mean that they can't repent and deserve cancellation.

This thought process came from a reflection on the following realities:

  • God is perfectly just and all offenses against Him, no matter how small, are worthy of complete separation from Him.
  • Being fallen, Human beings offend God every day through sin.
  • Through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, God has mercifully given us a path to salvation. We start on this path by the Sacrament of Baptism
  • God mercifully gives us the time to repent of our repeated offenses against Him and to reconcile ourselves with Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We have the time. Let us thank God for His mercy. Let us use this time wisely.

Justice and Charity – Day 15

Yes, it's been a few days. Because the Lenten practices are not observed on Sundays or solemnities, I figured it would be alright if I skipped posting for the Solemnity of St. Joseph. I was also ill over the same time, so I was grateful for the additional rest.

This is a bit of a difficult topic, especially considering the current climate to claim injustices and violated rights for everything imaginable. Yet it seems as though every time we manage to get one solution settled in place the solution is then claimed to be part of the problem and additional work (and additional money) is required to set it right.

I was listening to one such presenter when I was struck by the constant emphasis on personal autonomy. The presenter proclaimed that true justice would happen when people habitually treated each other as autonomous human beings who can make their own decisions. Now, there are obvious cases where this breaks down: Babies or those grownups with the mental (and occasionally physical) capacity of babies. But that wasn't my initial thought, it was "Where does charity fit in this view?"

I happen to be using charity in a few different senses here, so let me go through and define what I'm saying:

  • Justice: Giving to others what is their due. E.g. giving a laborer his just payment for his work, punishing a criminal for violating the law, etc.
  • Charity: Willing the good of another. E.g. Ensuring that the laborer is happy in his work, providing shelter to the homeless, or simply cheering for your child at a ball game.

To give a stronger contrast:

  • Justice: "He who does not work shall not eat"
  • Charity: "When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink"

What is interesting is that justice and charity are not opposed to each other. Justice applies to the obligations that I can claim from others, even to the point of a gun (Don't believe me? see just war theory). Charity applies to the goods that I seek to give to others. The direction of each is reversed. Pursuing one without the other is to court disaster, ensuring that neither goods that charity wishes to bestow nor the rights that justice seeks to ensure are realized. When the two are united, then mercy is possible, where the rights that must be ensured are tempered by knowing the goods that must be preserved and achieved.

However, even this only speaks at the natural level. At the supernatural level, we have a historical event that speaks not of personal autonomy, but self-emptying for the sake of the beloved. This alone would shatter the ideal of "treating persons as autonomous beings who can make their own decisions". It instead demonstrates that we are not merely autonomous beings. We are loved persons who are called to give ourselves in a self-emptying way back to Him who loved us first. "For whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life, for My sake, will find it."

Meditation on the Crown with Thorns – Day 14

"What was his crime?"
A smooth and quiet tone
of one who was bred fine
yet chills to the bone.

"An insurrectionist, who styles himself a king."
That small smile that freezes blood
thinking further torments that would bring
the prisoner's cries in a flood.

"A king you say? He who drips with gore?"
His smile broadens to a mirthless chuckle,
"Go find a robe and scepter"
He carefully wraps his knuckles.

"From that thorn bush will I fashion a crown."
grinning we begin our gruesome task
crossing that bloody ground
doing what was asked.

The prisoner is untied, a reed thrust in his hand.
Round the fresh wounds wrap a soldier's cloak
No, he need not stand.
and spikes of man's production jabbed in the brain with a stroke

We bow and spit, snatch and hit.
yet even with our new attack,
he remained quiet.

Alright boys, let's send him back.

Meditation on The Scourging of Christ – Day 12

Another day, another insurrection
They always crop up around this time
This one even got the High Priest's attention
That Galilean? Oh, this is prime.

He came marchin' in with great fanfare;
Got too big for his britches.
Strip him to his underwear.
When we're done he'll need more than stitches!

All right boys, let's get to it.
chain him to the pillar there.
Which tool to use from our kit?
such fun to have, so sad to share.

The lash descends

What, no flinch? don't worry that will happen soon
then three and four, five, six, seven
He's quiet still by heaven
you would think we were hitting him with a broom

Shame on us if we don't make him cry
The others would think we're soft
We cannot bear to be scoffed
So all the harder we try.

Over and over the lash descends
anger, fury, rage, all our might and main
We feel we are going insane
for, from the prisoner, no cry can we rend.

The silence deafens and it roars
enraging us to torment more
until gasping we step back
after giving him no slack.

What About “You” Time? – Day 11

This question came from a coworker when I laid out my approach to the world. As I saw it, there were four interdependent areas that I operated in: Faith, family, community, and career. My goal was to ensure that I fulfilled my duties in each, and allow each to inform the others. His question completely threw me, as it wasn't something that initially made sense. He then explained that these were all things "outside" of me and he was wondering if I had set time aside for myself. (It's been a while, so I might be getting this wrong). I've spent a few years thinking about it and came to the following conclusion: Everything that I have is a gift. I have no right to "me" time. I've been given a stewardship, and woe is me if it is not in order when the Lord comes. Thankfully, I'm not seeking to do this on my own (honestly, I can't) for He has provided for everything. I pray that when my time comes, I can say like St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me".

Meditation on The Agony in the Garden – Day 10

The rising darkness calmed the chaos
That filled the streets of Zion town
The insects chirruped 'round us
as we walked toward higher ground.
Desirous to see the flood of Jewish pilgrims
arriving from all around.

A cry cuts the quiet night.
"Let this cup pass!"

Peering 'round an olive tree
We struggle in twilight to see
a man in throes of agony.
like one cast out by the tide
fearful of the sea.

Torches! A crowd comes crashing by, arms glittering in the light.
Flowing toward the man, ready for a fight.
A kiss and crash of sharpened steel
The crowd reels.

The man in pain controls the field
And heals the harm from him who wields
Then, calmly yields.

The crowd seizes him and then
flows back towards the town again,
the chaos from which it came.