Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Integrative Behaviors

I told my wife the other night that she was more “integrated” than I was as a person. She asked what I meant, so I explained.

Every one of us has different aspects to our personality: who we are at home; who we are with friends; who we are at work; who we are when we’re sick; who we are when we’re sad; who we are when we’re  having sex; who are we when a cop pulls us over; who we are when we’re grumpy; etc.

For most people, these various aspects are not that far apart from each other. Who one is when melancholy isn’t that different from who one is when excited, etc. I’m not saying that these states don’t feel different, just that who we are when we are in these states remains more or less constant. If we think of the self as a hand, the fingers are never far from each other.

For others, myself included, however, there can be a real divergence amongst our selves. This divergence expresses itself most clearly when we regret what we do in certain states—the thing we say or do in anger; self-destructive coping behaviors when depressed, and so on. The fingers, in this case, seem to belong to different hands.

I once described enlightenment as “being the same person to everyone we meet.” Such enlightenment is the fruit of integration. We attain this integration through integrative behaviors, behaviors in which we are one with what we’re doing as when we are engaged in physical exercise, meditating, immersed in a meaningful task, or reflecting on ourselves and speaking honestly.

We undermine this integration when we engage in dis-integrative behaviors—when we dissemble, when we cultivate secrets and scheme, when we indulge and hide our addictions.

For some, achieving the integration of which I speak seems effortless, a simple and organic aspect of their nature. For others, it requires hard-won self-awareness and ongoing effort. However easy or difficult it may be, I firmly believe that it is one important goal of human being.

It Doesn’t Get Better, You Have to Make it Better

Commiserating with a friend about jobs a few years back, it turned out that while we both expressed dissatisfaction with our then current situations, we were also pessimistic about finding attractive alternatives. [Ironic aside: Neither one of us is at the job we had then. For my part, the gigs I’ve done since have been, in many ways, better. – Matt]

This struck me as ridiculous and I said,  “You have to tell yourself, ‘It is not possible that this is the best possible job for me. In fact, that idea is absurd. There has to be something better’.”

To this day I believe these words to be true. There is always a better situation that could be happening. And, frankly, this better situation will sometimes come to pass of itself; as if by magic or a miracle, things will “get better.”

But most of the time, you actually have to make things better. You have to do something different, something new, something better.

Are you in the best possible situation right now? The best possible relationship? The best possible house? The best possible job?

The answer, by definition, has to be, “No.” Even the best situation is, like everything else, at the mercy of entropic flux and subject to perpetual change. In other words, even the best situation could be better (free from the gnawing worm of transience, for example).

You can always make your situation better. This I accept, at least, as an article of faith.

That being said, there is no imperative that dictates, “You have to make it better.”

Perhaps, while not the best, your current situation is good enough and, frankly, you realize that wherever you are, you stand astride the threshold which separates “It could be better,” from, “It could be worse.” It’s up to you to choose the side from which you can draw the greatest inspiration or consolation.

If you want to make things better, work to make things better.

To be the best is naturally grand, and recognizing best-ness, acknowledging and admiring it, is commendable.

But make not of the best, or even the better, an idol. And do not, in your idolatry, become as a hungry ghost.

Remember: It could be worse.

Good Enough Is Good Enough, OK?

I heard someone today say, “Nowadays, good enough just isn’t good enough.”

I disagree.

Good enough, by definition, is good enough. If it weren’t good enough, then it wouldn’t be.

But behind the statement is a more general cultural consensus that one should never “settle for less” and, instead, strive for the amazing.

“Go big or go home,” they say. (“Go for the gusto or don’t go at all,” they used to say.)

Why? Why do we have to be amazing? Why do our experiences need to be amazing? Our homes? Our cars? Our jobs? Our sex?

It’s as if dissatisfaction, rather than the result of circumstances every now and again, should serve as the desired state.

Whatever happened to appreciating things the way are, in all their unamazingness, and being happy with enough?

If things are bad, we should work to change them. (Or leave them as they are. I’m not here to tell you what to do.)

If things are good enough, shouldn’t that be good enough?

No Reason to Stop

Standing on the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Friday night at 1:30ish, watching undergraduates stagger around aimlessly and shout at/to each other, I turned to my friend saying, “I’m gonna call it a night, even though, frankly, there’s really no reason to stop.”

“Now you see how I’m living,” he replied.

Just a moment before he had remarked, “Alcohol is a god to them.”

But earlier still in the evening he had said, “Love doesn’t tell; it asks.”

Three Worlds

We live in three worlds.

The first world is the world of our direct experience. I consider this the “really real” world; it’s literally where we live. That being said, I consider our dreams an integral part of this world.

The second world is the world of our knowledge. This is both a mediated world—we know it through the stories we hear or the things we watch and read, the media we consume—and a world of conjecture: based on what we’ve learned, we make educated guesses or informed assumptions about how the world works or the existence of those parts we may or may not ever experience.

Finally, there is the world that we will never know through direct experience (imagine a point just adjacent to the center of the earth or the specific thoughts of a stranger we will never meet) or learn about from any mediated source or even imagine to be real.

Freud described the psychoanalytic journey in these terms, “Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.” (“Where Id was, Ego will become.”) Life can be similarly described as a journey by way of which we slowly expand the first two worlds and thus claim more and more of the third.

All imperialistic connotations of this formulation aside, it should humble us. Not only is much of this third world unknowable in principle, perpetually falling beyond our grasp, but we inevitably and inescapably belong to it (in a way that it will never belong to us).

Let’s Talk

3184815166_1b775d1817_mI’ve never been a big fan of the “reality is an illusion” perspective, though I certainly understand it.

If we equate reality with our perception of reality, for example, then we are naturally deluded, for that perception is a product of our sense organs, our neurological infrastructure, and, I’m told, our race, class, and/or gender.

If, on the other hand, we say, “Reality is what is really there regardless of how it is perceived or whether it is even perceptible in the first place,” then we simply concede that our normal state of conscious awareness is, at best, a useful representation of the thing (reality) itself. That may not make it an outright delusion, but it at least makes it something like a practical hallucination.

The curious thing is that these hallucinations, these delusions, can be shared, even massively so (think of religions, nation states, the cult of celebrity, etc.). I would even go so far as to say that the process of sharing our delusions actually serves as a helpful corrective. We get closer to “what is really there” whenever we engage in a conversation with others concerning what seems to be there or what we assume to be there.

At least, that’s what my work as an independent professional (or, “thought ronin“), has taught me thus far.

If you want to get as close as possible to understanding what someone else wants, what they’re after, and how they would like you to help them, then you got to talk it out. And the more you talk it out, the more real everything gets. (I’m referring to actually talking here, conducting an email correspondence or swapping lengthy voice-mails does not count.)

Of course, sometimes you just don’t want to get real, finding the familiar cocoon of delusion far more comforting and far less vexing. But that’s another issue we should talk about.

Image Source

Publish and Perish

There are many reasons why my academic career didn’t pan out, but among them is undoubtedly the fact that I didn’t publish very much. For example, I never turned my dissertation on the Baader-Meinhof Gang into a book (though part of my research did end up in an obscure, Canadian journal called, Border/Lines).

When I did publish, it was essays like this one on the politics of gangsta rap.

Now, of course, I “publish” pretty much every day!

Life is so strange.

Thought Ronin

3156136099_c30649532e_mI’ve been a “thought ronin” for going on a year now.

In the same way that the lone gunslinger is a staple of the Western, ronin (“masterless samurai”) have been staple figures, and frequently protagonists, in samurai films from the very outset of the genre – an early epic of which was in fact entitled 47 Ronin.

My favorite anime film, Ninja Scroll, is the tale of a ronin, as is the more recent and rather austere The Sword of a Stranger, not to mention Kurosawa classics like Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai, to name but a few examples.

In other words, my sense of what a ronin is comes mainly from the movies (and Hagakure).

[As a total aside, it’s interesting to note that many of the most celebrated samurai films of recent years – such as the work of director Yoji Yamada, maker of the masterful Twilight Samurai – are not about ronin at all but instead about the plight of the low-ranking samurai who often had to ply a trade (e.g., building and selling umbrellas, for instance) to supplement their meager stipend. I read this as an allegory for the plight of the “salaryman” in contemporary Japan – but what do I know about it?]

Anyway, I called myself a “thought ronin” because everybody wants to be a thought leader and I guess I wanted to subtly mock that aspiration (having always been partial to the guru or “cult leader” angle).

On a more serious note, I was stating allegorically that, having served as the retainer of a thought leader and possessing many skills necessary to effective and ongoing thought leadership, I was for “out there.”

Finally, I thought the mass unemployment of “white collar workers,” including members of the intelligentsia such as myself, following on the Global Financial Crisis (is that still happening, btw?) analogous, mutatis mutandis, to the mass unemployment of samurai after the Battle of Sekigahara.

I mean, what did you think a thought ronin was?

It’s Not About Money

Better a debtor than pay with a coin that does not bear our image!
– Friedrich Nietzsche

3236020116_9af37066a0_mI’ve never been motivated by money.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have been motivated by money to the extent that having money, or a relatively constant source of it, was necessitated by the need for food, shelter, and a modicum of creature comforts.

More precisely put, I’ve never been motivated to undertake a particular course of action or engage in a particular pursuit because it could potentially or even reasonably result in the acquisition and/or accumulation of wealth. I’ve just never cared that much about having money or having the more luxurious and extravagant things the enjoyment of which money so famously facilitates.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always viewed money as kind of hassle, albeit the kind of hassle that you have to deal with because, eventually, you run into other, bigger hassles that require money for their ultimate or timely alleviation. Put another way, money is the “ur-hassle” (which may be the source of money’s status as the root of all evil).

The strange thing about money, of course, is that it isn’t really anything. It has the kind of being that the philosophers and theologians refer to as “contingent.” Money, which in this era of floating exchange rates and electronic funds transfer has even lost its traditionally material substance and standard, depends on a host of non-financial entities to retain the appearance of value and fungibility. In the absence of these entities – rule of law, a functioning state, an implicit social contract, etc. –  money is quite literally not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Now, you will frequently hear folks say, “Money is the only way we have of measuring value.” While I tend to bridle at the simple equation of money and value, I get the point. If someone is willing to give you money for a good or service, you know it is worth something, as opposed to nothing. If, on the other hand, they would take it if it were free but pass it by if they had to pay, we can safely say that whatever value they may ascribe to it is so capricious as to be negligible.

Closer to the truth is something a CEO I once knew used to say, “For businesses, money is like oxygen: oxygen isn’t the point of life, but without oxygen, no life.” This fits my own notion that the most basic goal of any business is to stay in business. Money can help you achieve that goal, which is why people frequently confuse it with the goal, but it is not the goal.

This sentiment was reiterated by the Joker in The Dark Knight when he said, as he set a towering stack of bills alight, “It’s not about money; it’s about sending a message.” This spoke to me because I’ve always valued the currency of language, thought, and sentiment above all else and have thus been drawn to prize the achievements, or at least the efforts, of writers and musicians, thinkers and teachers, firebrands and demagogues.

To my cost.

Image Courtesy of jondresner.

Content and its Discontents

1176663820_ecc5f27a17_mThe other day I posted, “5 Rules for Creating Content that RULES!“, which I wrote with PJA’s Mike O’Toole. We were walking a fine line because we wanted to talk about ways to effectively conduct content-driven marketing but, at the same time, we said that your content strategy had to flow from your marketing strategy AND that content itself, in order to be useful and ultimately shareable, had to be created with the audience in mind.

In other words, if you want to create content that rules, actually creating content is the last thing you should do.

The underlying message is: Don’t confuse means with ends. The goal of marketing is not to pump out advertisements, for example; the goal is to market products and services and use advertising or pricing or merchandising or channel management or whatever to do that.

But there is another, more subtle message underlying the aforementioned message: For content to be of use to you, it has to seem like you created it primarily for others. That is, if your content is too obviously self-serving (by being “salesy” or overtly promotional), even if others could use it, they will probably choose not to.

If you are going to give something away (valuable information, useful tools, practical insights, etc.) in order to get something, you have to give it away without expecting anything in return. I think there is some kind of life lesson in here somewhere.

Image Courtesy of dogeared-1144.