If you’re looking for a practical, good-for-you guide to keeping your sanity in our complicated, overstimulated society, look back…way back…to the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism. You’ll be in good company. Stoicism is all the rage in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street— Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates often are described as following Stoic principles—and in books, online courses and live events. Why follow a way of approaching life that dates back to around 300 BCE? Human nature still is pretty much the same—people want love, wealth, children and respect, and they still are afraid of disease, natural disasters, poverty and being spoken ill of. As much as ever, people today need a framework to orient themselves, set priorities, appreciate the good and handle the bad.
Stoicism may sound simple, but once you start to apply its principles every day, it’s remarkably liberating.
Stoicism is not about suppressing emotion (à la Star Trek’s Mr. Spock) or being so self-reliant that you don’t need anyone. What it is about, fundamentally, is recognizing that each of us can control only our own judgments, decisions, intentions and behaviors—we can’t control outcomes. If you’re not successful, learn from it and move on. It’s that two-part approach— living in the moment but always striving to become a better person—that gives this philosophy its edge. When making major decisions, Stoics consider the following four “cardinal virtues”…
Practical wisdom: The knowledge of what is good and bad, and what needs to be done.
Courage: Not just physical courage but also the moral courage to face daily challenges with clarity and integrity.
Temperance: The exercise of self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.
Justice: Treating others fairly even when they have done wrong.
At the root of Stoicism is respect for other humans. The ancient Stoics were the only major group of free people at the time who were openly opposed to slavery and who thought that women were full-fledged human beings. Here’s how classic Stoicism might help you approach some very modern challenges…
In his keynote speech at the Securing the Enterprise 2018 conference in Cambridge, MA, BT Security president Mark Hughes said that when it comes to the threats enterprises and government are facing, the global network is telling us that old strategies don’t work.
In the face of ongoing cyber-attacks, mounting privacy concerns and daily data breach announcements, the current cybersecurity technologies fall short, according to Howard Shrobe, associate director, cybersecurity at MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), and principal research scientist, MIT CSAIL. In order to effectively move forward in the direction of “where we need to go,” the industry needs to develop a more formalized approach that combines design and analysis methods.
“Our approach is based on three key elements,” Shrobe said. “Collaborating closely with industry for input to shape real-world applications and drive impact. Leveraging the breadth and depth of CSAIL security researchers to approach the problem from a multi-disciplinary perspective. And creating a test-bed for our industry partners to implement and test our tools, as well as have our researchers test tools developed by our partners.”
To enable security transformation, enterprises should first assess their structure, said Hughes. “Put the team responsible for delivering change at the forefront of your strategy.” Given that there are lots of threats, those threats turn into risks, which have a very tangible bottom-line impact.
“Those risks are changing rapidly, so much so that in a matter of weeks, the risk profile changes. Using known, well-understood risks and putting those into a cyber context is extremely useful,” Hughes said.
Given that the risks are changing all the time, one key to building an effective security strategy is adaptability. “Prepare to constantly evolve,” Hughes said, but it’s also important to realize that there is no endpoint or perfect solution. When organizations realize that protecting everything all the time is ineffective, many turn to red teaming, which Hughes said yields interesting outcomes that allow organizations to assess and then prepare to evolve.
The next step in enabling security transformation requires internal engagement so that you are building knowledge and advocacy of security at all levels of your organization, said Hughes. From there, the company is well positioned to understand its risk and take the necessary steps to fully assess its security landscape and prioritize and protect the areas that would be most impactful in the event of a security incident.
I get where this comes from: the landscape is dynamic.
But the problem with the “old strategies” isn’t in the strategies … it’s in the people who failed to implement them well if at all, which presupposes that the strategy was well defined and communicated to those expected to execute. Too many managers chase “shiny objects” and the “next big thing” and any number of magic bullets based off of information provided by sales people, consultants, and think tanks.
Organizations who implemented the “old strategies” well, from governance to people to technology, got to focus their limited expensive security resources on higher value security issues earlier and overall matured faster than their counterparts.
Organizations ahead of the curve and those ready to improve embrace the fact that security is a program, not a project. There is no finite end date. There’s no banner on an aircraft carrier to let you know that the mission is accomplished. It’s on going, just like a business – your business – competing in the marketplace.
I hate politics. It’s the third rail of dinner parties and family gatherings and tailgating. It makes for an interesting time at the bar, though, but I digress.
That is to say, I love politics but I hate the emotion people choose to assign to politics.
Like DNA, most people share 99% of the same political beliefs. We argue and debate the 1% of the iceberg we choose to see.
“Wait,” you say. “Paul, you’re insane. We argue any number of issues on TV and on line and in coffee shops and at my Walmart.”
But we don’t. At least not in America.
The most immediately impacting politics are local – town councils and selectmen and local government. These are the folks responsible for snow removal, trash pickup, local ordinances, and the things that will impact you today or next week. Few people bother to know what’s happening in these chambers let alone know who is doing the deciding.
Don’t forget that there’s probably a separately elected school board. The local prosecutor is elected as are a bunch of other offices like sheriff and the water board.
Maybe you’re in a state with county government, which many do. That’s another government making laws and ordinances that have a direct immediate impact on every American’s life. Most do not know that they have a county government let alone pay attention to what it does.
Unless you live in a major city with a robust press, you have to find out what these folks are doing.
Which brings us to the state. This is where the press starts to pay attention and things get competitive. Public radio and some non-profits probably cover state politics, but the press rarely does.
All the attention goes to the federal, which is sad. Anything they do takes time to implement and even longer to measure the effectiveness one way or another. And to change or reverse something? It’s easier to fight tide – because of emotion.
And at the federal level they debate and potentially pass about %1 of U.S. law and ordinances. How? They compete against 50 states and a bunch of extra-territorial possessions and thousands of county and local governments.
As we approach Election Day in the U.S., let’s remember that the United States are made up of 50 independent entities that chose to join a federal model to address common concerns like defense, welfare, international relations, and interstate commerce.
How your drinking water is handled or what your kids are taught in school typically happen further down the stack.
I’ve written previously about some things journalists and news organizations can do to try strengthen audience trust at a time like this. But that’s only half the equation. It’s also a good time for a refresher for citizens on what constitutes a healthy, constructive conversation about the work we produce.
For some, what follows may be obvious; to others, it may seem laughably naive. But journalists don’t like to let important things go unsaid. And, if these points feels achingly obvious, surely you know someone who could use a reminder, or a young person who never learned them in the first place.
Here are a few dos and don’ts for how to respond to the press.
DON’T commit or condone violence against journalists.
Violence against journalists is unacceptable under any circumstances, no matter what the President tweets and says at his rallies. Sadly, we live in an era where this long-unsaid truth needs to be stated clearly, frequently, and unequivocally.
Freedom of the press not only appears at the top our nation’s Bill of Rights, it’s enshrined in Article 19 of the UN’s 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the “freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” And so if you commit an act of violence against a journalist you’re not only breaking the law, you’re committing a breach of values shared (in theory, at least) by Americans and people around the world.
Nonviolence may be the lowest bar to clear when responding to a work of journalism. But it’s also not productive to personally criticize the journalist who produced it. This means refusing to comment on a journalist’s age, appearance, gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, education, outfit, or anything else about them, when responding to their work. In all cases, stick to the work, not the person.
This, of course, is Human Decency 101, but it applies especially to journalists, who conduct their work in public about sensitive subjects. And, if you’re responding with any trace of good faith (a big “if,” I know), staying focused on the work will actually help get your message across. Washington Post media columnist and former New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tells me she makes a point to respond to reader emails. “But I do not answer the ones that attack me,” she says. As soon as they get personally insulting, “I tune out.”
To that I’ll add: many journalists are perfectionists who take great pride in their work, so if your goal is to cause emotional pain, pointing to flaws in what we wrote is often more upsetting than any ad hominem jab, anyway.
DO know that feedback is essential to journalism.
Listening to our audience isn’t some optional, take-it-or-leave-it aspect of journalism; it’s a vital part of what we do. This is both ideological—you’ll find calls for audience feedback throughout the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the American Press Institute’s “What Is Journalism” digital library—but it’s also practical. While we strive for accuracy and excellence, journalists are often assigned topics cold, and trying to establish expertise quickly. Or we’re simply working on extremely tight deadlines. Slip-ups are inevitable, and we need your help spotting and correcting them.
So, if we got something factually wrong, tell us so we can fix it quickly. And if there was something wrong in the bigger sense—in the way a piece was framed or presented, or if there are subjects or stories we continue to miss—tell us so we don’t make the same mistake twice. Journalists are overworked, and it may take us a moment to respond. But an upside to our workload is that we rarely run out of opportunities to try to do better next time. As Sullivan explains, “For the most part, we’re idealistic still, and we want to be improving, growth-oriented, [and] constructive.”
DO read/watch/listen to the full article before responding.
This one is pretty self explanatory: if you didn’t complete (or even begin!) the piece, you’re really in no position to give a constructive response. At least give it a skim?
DO be as specific as possible.
The least helpful criticism simply makes sweeping claims about “the media,” a term that, as the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi has skillfully explained, is “so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning.” One notch better (but still essentially useless) are blanket statements about an entire news outlet or a particular reporter. In contrast, the best feedback zeroes in not just on a specific article, but the specific place that was incorrect or ill advised, and, when possible, backs up its claims with evidence or a detailed explanation.
Once you toss some of these specifics on the table, we can begin to have a productive conversation, which is what NPR’s Steve Inskeep was getting at when he recently tweeted to the president: “Thanks for writing. If a specific NPR story concerns you, feel free to name it and we can go to the transcript. All work is public at http://npr.org . If there is no specific story of concern, that is its own answer. I’ll continue doing my job as a citizen.”
DO remember that journalists are human beings acting in good faith.
In a world in which reporters are called “scum,” “disgusting,” “enemies” and much worse, it’s worth stating—and restating—that journalists are human beings. We are flesh-and-blood people with spouses, friends, parents, children, pets, memories, hobbies, and mortgages. We like pizza. We pay taxes. We go to the gym and take out the trash. And if you’re inclined to leave an angry voicemail or slide your thumb across your throat at us, it’s important to remember: that’s someone’s brother or sister. That’s a human being, with a heartbeat, a birthday, a favorite song. Don’t believe those who tell you otherwise.
And, beyond our basic humanity, the vast majority of us are trying to do as fair and accurate of a job as possible. Northeastern University journalism professor and longtime media reporter and critic Dan Kennedy tells me that, of the hundreds of journalists he knows or has written about, he can probably count the number of bad apples he’s encountered—people who plagiarize or fabricate—on one hand. The rest “are absolutely trying to do the best job that they can, oftentimes under very difficult circumstances,” he says.
You can take Kennedy’s word. Or you can look at what happens when people run afoul of the expectations of the industry and its employers. Listen to the This American Life episode “Retraction” exposing Mike Daisey’s narrative corner-cutting in an earlier episode of the show. Check out the 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair stories on serial fabulist Stephen Glass, or the New York Timesdeep-dive on Jayson Blair’s “low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” Read the lengthy report from this publication about Rolling Stone’s disastrous UVA campus rape story.
Each of these stories reflects an industry that holds accountability, accuracy, and reputation as its highest principles.
DO support us, if you appreciate our work.
I’m sure I’m far from the only journalist who, years later, can quote verbatim lines from positive reader feedback. (One email included the unforgettable phrase, “Please keep writing.”) These words fill our emotional gas tanks and remind us why we do this work. It certainly isn’t the pay.
So, if you learned something from a piece of journalism, or you were moved or challenged or entertained by it, take a moment to mention that to the person who created it. Don’t assume that someone else has said something. Somehow, thanks to the wonders of the human mind, notes like this can cancel out the memory of a thousand nasty comments.
And if you’re feeling grateful, words aren’t the only useful form of praise. Subscribe. Donate. Defend us in conversations. Support organizations like CPJ or Freedom of the Press Foundation. (Or CJR.) Journalism is hard work that, though often accessed for free, costs enormous time, labor, energy, and money to produce. If you appreciate what we do, we’ll gladly take whatever support you can offer in return. Even pizza.
Regardless of your political preferences and beliefs, a robust journalism corps in multiple respected sources is quintessential to promoting, protecting, and defending the Constitution as one party or partisan group ascends.
Remember, journalists are human and make mistakes as do publications. The measure of them is how well they do on the whole and how well the respond to such mistakes.
At first, the problem seemed straightforward and the solution relatively simple but as usual with complicated software—especially software performing a security function—things turned out to be more difficult than they originally appeared.
You should read the article to get the whole story but the TL;DR is that if you use Emacs to browse the Web and you live in a country where, as RMS put it, there are thugs with torture chambers spying on you, you should be very concerned. For most of us, there doesn’t appear to be as much danger, although there is still some threat. In any event, a consensus, more or less, was reached and changes will probably appear in Emacs 27.
I don’t want to re-open this particular issue but I would like the maintainers to err on the side of privacy. No one these days needs to play the dictator card. We’re all being monitored, so some measures need to be the default.
While parts of Emacs 27 I dread, I look forward to seeing how this develops.
This weekend and last (26-27 Oct & 03-04 Nov), the Kanda Used Book Festival took over the main drag surrounding Jimbocho Station.
The Kanda Used Book Festival is one of the largest annual events in the Jimbocho district of Kanda—renowned as a town of used and antique books. The organizers go further to claim it’s the largest event of its kind in the world.
For the festival, bookshelves are placed on the sidewalks of the area’s main street (Yasukuni Dori), creating a long corridor of books that faces the local bookstores. In addition to the street market, a variety of related events are scheduled during the festival, including a Special Used Book Sale Fair (at the Tokyo Used Book Kaikan underground hall)—featuring rare and valuable books—and library seal workshops.
A delivery service is also available for purchased books, so you can buy up lots without having to worry about carting your loot home.
As my well documented (and commented upon) deficiencies with my Japanese studies have no quick fix, I choose to look upon this as an advantage: the number of English language books is limited so I won’t blow my whole month’s budget on books I might not get around to reading until the next Kanda festival.
And yet, I still managed to spend a healthy sum of ¥2200. But the rewards …
The Discourses and Manual, Vol. 1 by Epictetus
Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Translated by George Long
The Story of Old Japan by Joseph H. Longford
Moral Essays, Vol. 3 by Seneca (Loeb Classical Library)
In all cases they are first editions and except for the Ogilvy and Seneca tomes are over 90 years old. All are in remarkable shape for their age, even the Epictetus one with the Japanese handwriting in it. The author of those notes was both tidy and brief – the notes only continue for about 10 pages.
All in all, I am pleased with my purchases. I could have gone down a deep dive on Robert Lewis Stevenson, for example. The likelihood of actually reading those was slim, so I wisely if begrudgingly resisted purchasing them.