Monthly Archives: September 2012

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Those who know me surely know my biggest and most favorite hobby is playing video games. I could go on for a good while explaining when my passion for them started, how my video game interests have evolved over time and why they’ve been so important to me (and at some point, I probably will write about it) but I want to talk about one in particular. It is by far one of the most important video games to me of all time.

Mass Effect is a science fictional, story driven third person shooter / role-playing game. You play as Commander Shepard. Early on in the story, you are warned of a race of sentient machines, the Reapers, hellbent on wiping out all advanced organic life. You are responsible for saving the galaxy and putting an end to the Reaper threat once and for all.

Now, that’s a very crude summary of the story but I only wanted to very basically outline it and I also didn’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s interested in playing.

When I started playing the Mass Effect series (it’s a trilogy) I actually started with the third installment. I had always heard great things about the series and it had just come out so I decided to just go with it. Needless to say, I was blown away. As soon as I finished the game I immediately went and bought the first one and played that. I beat it, excited to get the second. So, I did and I beat that too. Then, I went on to beat the third one for a second time.

This pattern actually went on for about two and a half months. I continuously beat each game over and over (I’ve beaten each game three times now [that’s nine total times between all three games]). I remember one time I was playing the first one and I played for 18 hours straight. I was absolutely hooked on this game, totally and completely enthralled by the story (I think I’m starting to make myself sound like a freak but I promise this is getting somewhere!)

I couldn’t help but ask myself “Why?” Why was this game so much different than any other game? What made this one so… appealing to me? Initially I chalked it up to incredibly great story telling, but it wouldn’t be until just recently that I would find the answer.

Liara T’Soni, an Asari, is one of the main characters of Mass Effect

Let’s talk about a science fiction story. Star Wars. You can go up to just about anyone in the world and ask them what the story of Star Wars is about and almost anyone will be able to tell you “It’s about the Sith Empire wiping out the Jedi and Luke Skywalker leading the rebels to bring the Empire down”. And it’s great. It’s one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time, in fact. There’s a very distinct difference between the two stories, however.

In most (not all, but most) science fiction stories, humanity is depicted as a common people in a vast, galactic community. They may even be a major super power. They are no less common then any other intelligent race. In Mass Effect, this is most certainly not the case. Humanity is a very young race. They’ve only been apart of the galactic community for a few decades while other races, like the Asari and the Salarians (the founders of the galactic community) have been around for thousands of years. Humanity actually has to prove itself to the other races that they are ready to be a part of the galactic community. Many don’t think they are. It isn’t until the very end of the series, after countless efforts and endless adversity that humanity is respected among the other races.

It’s also only set about 150 years into the future. This really added a level of realism to the game. It actually got me thinking. I found myself constantly pondering and wondering what’s out there. I realized just how many possibilities there are. What if there are other intelligent beings out there? Galactic communities being created all over the Milky Way, inter-species friendships and relationships being made. While we’re sitting here, stuck on our rock, fumbling over our petty differences.

It sparked a profound interest and passion in Astrophysics. It’s also what led to my “A better me, a better humanity” initiative. It showed me the importance of focusing on our future, of banding together as a single, unified and collective group to move our species forward towards prosperity and happiness, to learn, grow and improve ourselves as much as possible. It helped me truly realize that our future is in the stars and I want to do everything I can to contribute in getting us there.

All because of a single video game. That’s why it’s different for me. It presented an idea that I had never thought of before. It quite literally changed my life and the way I view humanity, and the future, for the better.

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How a video game changed my life

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Humility at its finest

This man is José Mujica. He’s the president of Uruguay and has been since 2010. I just learned that he donates 87% of his salary to charity. He drives an old school Volkswagon Beetle, which is his only asset. His wife owns the farm they live on. Here’s what he said when asked about it: “I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less”.

When I read that, it really resonated with me. I believe that kind of attitude is the kind of attitude a leader should have. He doesn’t put himself above those who follow him, instead he walks among them. How can you lead someone to happiness and prosperity if you do not truly understand them? And how can you understand someone who you place beneath yourself?

I believe the reasons for most of the world’s major issues are greed and corruption. You can’t drive down the street without seeing it. Gas prices continue to rise while oil companies are sitting on billions of dollars. Major corporations who do everything they can to nickel and dime their consumers. I believe all of this corruption and all of this greed is due in part by a severe lack of humility.

You see, when you lack humility, you start to place yourself above others. You develop a sense of superiority to those around you. This inevitably leads to a lack of compassion. When that happens you lose the ability to relate to others and you begin to focus only on yourself. This is when greed and corruption set in. When you don’t relate to other people, and can’t feel sympathy for their pain and suffering, it’s suddenly easier to hurt them for your own personal gain. You can’t possibly lead a group of people (or a country, for that matter) when you can’t feel what they feel, or rather, when you simply don’t care about what they feel.

And no, I don’t expect our world leaders to donate 90% of their salary so they can make as much as I do. But I do believe it’s important, especially for them, to be humble. They must be the most humble of us all, in fact. This is obviously not the case, but I can’t help but ask myself: “What if all our world leaders were as humble as José Mujica?”

I hope to one day see the answer to that question.

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I came across this blog and found it to be super interesting. She makes a very good point. I can speak from experience that it’s really easy to fall into a pattern of avoidance, of doing what’s easy to predict to avoid negative outcomes. We can’t be afraid to move forward, to keep going. No matter how terrifying the future might seem sometimes, we have to take a risk and jump. We have to hope that we’ll be fine on the way down and land on our feet. And, if we don’t end up landing on our feet, we figure out how to get back up, learn from it and keep moving forward.

The Perpetual Vagabond

Last night I went to watch the swifts in Portland, who every September on their fall migration roost in the chimney of Chapman School in NW Portland. Watching the swifts is one of my favorite fall activities in this city, as hundreds of people come out with their families and friends and have picnic dinners on the steeply sloped hill, while watching thousands of birds swirl into the chimney at sunset. It’s a beautiful community event and I try to go see it at least a few times during the season.

But, last night turned out to be more than just a nice night of watching the beauty of nature and the strength of community. I learned something about myself that took me by surprise and has left me a bit unsure of where to go next. It came about during a conversation about past relationships, in which I said…

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Quitting… For good this time

If I were to say “I’m going to quit smoking” to some of my friends, I would probably get a “How many times is that now?” type of response. I’ll be honest, I don’t like hearing that. But, it makes sense. I’ve quit smoking and started back up more times than I can count. It isn’t surprising that some people have lost their faith in my determination to quit. Well, I think this time is going to be different.

It’s ironic, actually. The other night I was smoking a cigarette after reading about how second-hand smoke kills people. Now, I’ve always known that second-hand smoke was harmful to other people. It’s not something I’ve denied before it’s just something I never put a lot of thought into. I started really thinking about it, though, and it started to disturb me. I started thinking more about it and I came to realize a few different reasons for quitting that have really created motivation to quit for good.

  • By smoking, I pollute the atmosphere. By polluting the atmosphere, I negatively impact this planet which subsequently impacts humanity.
  • I contribute to second-hand smoke which has been a proven cause of death. I don’t need to explain how that is negatively impactful on humanity.
  • Smoking shortens my life span. It makes me unhealthy, which effects my capacity to be happy during the time I’m around. If I’m unhappy, or at least not as happy as I can be, I won’t be able to spread as much happiness as possible to those around me. And the shorter my lifespan, the shorter amount of time I actually have to spread happiness to others and positively contribute to our future. This is an indirect, but still a very real, impact on humanity.

Now, I’ll be honest, it’s really easy to say: “What does it matter? I’m only one person, I’m not contributing enough to actually harm humanity.” Well, technically, that is very true. I’m only one person in a world with seven billion others. The problem, however, is that a very large majority of people feel the exact same way. The collective decision of all those individuals to continue smoking is enough to significantly harm humanity. That is when I truly started to realize the potential of a single individual. I began to understand that, in order to move our species forward, to improve humanity and make it the very best it can, we must start at an individual level.

It was at that moment that I was inspired to start my “A better me, a better humanity” initiative. I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to contribute as much as humanly possible to the well being of our species and our planet.

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The significance of one

A lot of wise people will tell you that a single person can indeed make an impact. This is not some secret. But, coming from personal experience, I think that feeling that we as individuals can’t make a big impact by ourselves could be deeply seeded in a lot of people’s outlooks. Mine too. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It may not seem like it, but for humanity to change for the better, efforts need to be made at an individual level. That is how humanity will move forward. Only once we each contribute to the betterment of humanity on an individual level will be able to make larger impacts on the direction of our species, of our advancement and overall prosperity.

Now, I don’t mean to discredit larger scale initiatives in any way. These are  incredibly vital in the betterment of humanity, I simply mean to imply that those larger scale initiatives wouldn’t be possible without multiple individuals cultivating their efforts into one. This is how pretty much every single organization is formed. It starts with a single idea, a single passion, a single person.

To start…

I was talking with a couple friends from work today about the future of humanity and they both suggested I start a blog to write about my ideas and thoughts and outlooks/philosophies on life. To be honest, I was hesitant at first. I didn’t think anything I had to say really needed to be written about. But, they convinced me to at least try it out so here I am.

I guess I just want this blog to help motivate people to do their part in moving humanity forward. I think we’re at a turning point in history and it’s time for all of us to step up and set ourselves up for a prosperous future. I imagine if I have these thoughts and outlooks then there must be at least one person out there who feels the same way and if this blog helps motivate that person to make one positive change on humanity as a whole, this will be worth it.