Supporting or Enabling

I’ve been drawn to the field of psychology for most of my adult life. In fact, before stumbling upon a copy of “Freakonomics” my freshman year my plan was to major in psychology. Alas, I ended up majoring in economics instead (I certainly don’t regret that, but it is interesting to think about how my life would have gone if I stuck with my original plan) but I still read books on psychology frequently and ponder the issues of the mind.

Due to some recent reading, I’ve been wondering about where the line is between being a support system for someone and being an enabler for negative behavior. It seems to be such a gray area with no clear answer, but I can’t help but wonder if some people (with the best intentions) end up hurting someone long-term as they attempt to provide short-term support. There are two scenarios that pop into my mind.

The blow off valve
Sometimes, in order to change our lives, we need to face the full consequences of our situation. We need to feel the emotions and direct our desire for change at the actual problem, but when we have a friend that allows us to vent to them it can actually prevent us from taking action. Take, for example, a person who is in a bad relationship. Maybe it isn’t anything abusive but two people really aren’t compatible together long-term and they even recognize it. But, instead of ending the relationship they vent to their supportive friends. This venting literally releases pressure and allows the relationship to continue when it really shouldn’t. Would the friend be making the right choice to withhold support in hopes that without a method of venting the relationship will end as it should?

Minimizing the Situation
We all want to support our friends and tell them that they are loved, but we aren’t really helping them if we aren’t honest with them. If a friend has a behavior that is harming their goals or health then we maybe we shouldn’t be supportive. Telling someone that their drinking, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, weed habit, video game playing, masturbation, constant shopping, etc isn’t a big deal is doing them a disservice if they have expressed a desire to get healthier, stay sober, be thrifty, create art, etc. Support is more than telling someone that everything will be okay or that their behavior isn’t a big deal isn’t being a real friend, even if the action isn’t a big deal when viewed in a vacuum. Sometimes support is less important than accountability.

Anyway, that’s the random shit on my mind as I try to get back into the habit of writing daily. The second situation seems easier to manage than the first, but I don’t necessarily know how to handle either one that well. I try to be a great friend and confidante for the people in my life, but I am worried that maybe I’m doing more harm than good…

Got a question or comment for me? Send your questions or comments anonymously to this form and I’ll address them.  My life is an AMA and no subject is off-limits. I want to know what is going on inside that head of yours. 

Words Shape Mind

Got a question or comment for me? Send your questions or comments anonymously to this form and I’ll address them.  My life is an AMA and no subject is off-limits. I want to know what is going on inside that head of yours. 

Yesterday, I shared a couple images on Instagram of some food I made with a caption about how I saved money by making my own curry instead of going to a restaurant. It was a pretty bland post that I mostly shared to get a little serotonin boost from the likes and to signal the things I’m interested in (vegan food, exercise, home cooking, etc). In response to the post someone made a comment that kind of irked me though. I’m paraphrasing because the comment was deleted, but the person said, “People who eat at restaurants are pussies”.

Yep. That actually really bothered me and I responded with, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that word on my posts.” He quickly deleted the post but I wish I would have handled the situation differently. Instead of asking for self-censorship (which I think is valid in some circumstances on a private forum like Facebook) I should have explained why his comment bothered me and turn into a learning experience.

I can’t turn back the clock, but I can use my blog to explain why I don’t like his comment. It really comes down to two primary issues, the first being the word “pussies”. Using a body part that is primarily attributed to a group of people who have been systematically held down in society by men with something negative is problematic. The statement this commenter seems to be making is that eating at restaurants is a sign of weakness and a synonym for weakness is the vagina. Throughout our culture, many derogatory words are associated with females and this is a subtle way to dehumanize women and justify subjugating them.

The second issue I had with the statement is that there is a value judgment to be made about someone for an action that harms nobody (and is, in fact, beneficial to many people). People eat at restaurants for many reasons but I can’t think of one that implies a moral failing. And I’m sure my many friends who currently, or have in the past, work in the restaurant industry would be financially devastated if we started viewing those who patronize restaurants as morally weak.

The words we use matter. Not only because others will make decisions about us and our character based on our words, but because our mind is shaped by language. Our perception of the world is influenced by the words we use, both vocally and in our thoughts. If we view people as “pussies”, “retards”, or “faggots” for doing something differently than us then we are building neuro-pathways that connect people with moral failings. We will start to see women, the handicapped, and the LGBT community as something inhuman, unworthy of respect, or filled with moral weakness simply because of their genetics and not because of their actions.

I think we each have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to closely watch our words and to improve our thoughts. This wisdom has been passed down from before the time of Christ and seems to be universal. We should watch our tongues and be aware of our thoughts, and work hard to improve both and better the worlds. I have failed at this many times in my life, and I am sure I will continue to fail, but simply being aware of my words and the subconscious effect they may have on my mind has been a valuable exercise. And I hope that others will try to be aware as well.

 

Thoughts on “The Dead Zone” – *Minor Spoilers*

I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” today, and holy cow, I really enjoyed it. Reading it reminded me how much I enjoy King’s writing style and really reignited a fire in me to read more of his works. While he is primarily known for his horror stories (many people forget he wrote “Shawshank Redemption”, arguably one of the best films ever made), he has a wide variety of genres that he taps into. King is not a horror writer, he is a character writer. He is skeptical of plots and instead he puts characters into a universe and just lets things play out.

This method feels more real to me, and in a sense more “true”. But, of course, that means that the good guys and bad guys are not always easy to identify and the endings are not always happy or satisfying. King was once asked how he felt about the ending to The Dark Tower series and I think his response sums up most of his work, “it ended the way it should end.” There are sometimes loose ends, sometimes the bad guys win, but that is how life is. Writing like that is what separates entertainment from art. Art is concerned with being true and entertainment is concerned with pleasing an audience.

Anyway, onto “The Dead Zone”. The basic premise of the book is the protagonist gains the ability to see things about the future and the past when he touches someone or certain objects. During one experience he realizes that a rising politician was going to become President someday and would start a nuclear war, killing millions. It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story.

It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story. I am sure we have all thought about this and many people say yes, they would. But I wonder how people would really act. For one, ending a human life is not easy. It is unlikely that a time traveler would be looking down the scope of a gun and see Hitler in the act of hurting someone… acting in self-defense is relatively easy compared to shooting someone while they are playing with their puppy or taking a nap or eating dinner.

Second, most people want to believe they are noble and will sacrifice their own life and safety for “the greater good”, but rarely do people really go through with something to any real degree. How often have we all heard that either Obama or Trump is “Hitler” or a fascist or going to destroy America? If people truly believed that then there would be assassination attempts all the time, but it doesn’t happen because people either don’t believe it or they are not willing to risk their own safety for the greater good. I actually think it is mostly the former… I think people like to bitch and moan on the internet but don’t actually believe what they are saying, or maybe most people are cowards.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book. It is a true work of art that makes you wonder what you would do in a fictional situation and how you will live your life in the real world with the knowledge we have. Is there a point where any of us would risk our safety to stop someone from doing harm? Would we stand by and watch an assault? A rape? A murder? Do we cut back on unnecessary purchases to donate money to refugees? Blood to the Red Cross? Hours to a homeless shelter? What is our comfort, our time, or life worth, when others reap the benefits? How comfortable should we be with the way we live our lives (and in some ways waste our lives) when others are living in discomfort? Art raises questions, art makes us uncomfortable, art puts a mirror in front of us, art uses a story to show us truth, art inspires us to play in that universe and write our own truth, and King is a damn good artist.

Pea Protein!

Today, a 2-year supply of protein powder arrived at my house. 40 pounds of pea protein in a bag arrived at my door and really, I couldn’t be happier. It may seem kind of strange but this purchase represents a combination of personal identities that I really value.

The economist in me marvels at the efficiency of the purchase. By buying this product in bulk I reduced the cost of one serving of protein powder (30 grams) to about 23 cents. When I use Orgain each serving costs more and has less protein (about $1.25 for 21 grams) and even using a plain soy protein from Trader Joe’s costs about 40 cents (and was discontinued).

So, if I have one serving of powder per day I will save $340 per year over Orgain. But, this isn’t just money I’m saving because I can reinvest that into my future. I can put that money into a retirement account or buy bitcoin with it. Or maybe that just means I’ll take some extra time off each year. There is just such beauty in the efficiency of lower prices, it is literally saving moments of my life to spend on other things instead. Time is money and I just bought more time.

The stoic in me loves that I’m resisting the urge to focus on taste instead of nutritional needs. Part of being human is our ability to resist our carnal urges and do what is best for us in the long term. Sure, the protein powder doesn’t taste great by itself (though, mixing it with some cocoa and peanut butter powder or some fruit helps with that), but the point of food isn’t always to taste good, sometimes it is just to provide fuel and nutrients. There is value in making our lives simple and not always celebrating with rich food. Sure, there are times when a great meal is deserved, but those meals are even more enjoyable when they are rare. Food is a tool for human happiness and we shouldn’t let our hunger define our behavior. Balance in all things, but we primarily should eat to live, not live to eat.

The minimalist in me loves removing one more unnecessary decision from my life. I don’t need to worry about purchasing a major meal component for two years. That decision is made already. I enjoy the fact that I eat the same balanced meals every day, it is beautiful to me. For the same reason, I love only wearing the same jeans and t-shirts every day. My nutrition, like my clothing, can go on autopilot. I don’t need to keep up with trends or worry what other people think, instead I do what is healthy for me.

Putting decisions on autopilot helps make me a better person and more productive. It frees up mind space to write and create and enjoy the beauty of the world. A dollar saved on food is a dollar spent on adventures. Actually, I wonder what other food I can buy in bulk to save money and time. I think I can get my food and social costs down from about $300 per month to $200 per month. If I do that I put another $1,200 in my pocket each year. Yeah, that’s a good goal.

Here are the purchases I make regularly and it looks like there are some opportunities for savings:

  • Fresh produce (bananas, broccoli, onions, garlic, potatoes, spinach, kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots) – I buy these weekly and probably can’t get them in bulk but I can start growing some of them in the garden to save some dollars, and gardening is fun
  • Frozen vegetables and berries – These I could buy in bulk (probably) but it would require a new freezer. I have to run the price of the freezer and increased electricity costs to see if this is justified… probably not.
  • Seeds and Nuts (almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and brazil nuts) – These could probably be purchased in bulk and frozen to save some money if there is freezer space
  • Legumes and Rice (black beans, brown rice, kidney beans, brown lentils, pinto beans, red lentils) – I think this is the biggest opportunity for savings, I’d need some air tight containers
  • Spices (many) – probably not much savings here, I buy spices at the local Latin American market for $1 for several months supply
  • Nut milk (soy, almond, cashew… whatever is on sale) – Probably not any savings here 🙁
  • Supplements (creatine, beta alanine, taurine, ginseng, bacopa, choline, l-theanine, 5-HTP) – this is probably the best opportunity for savings, purchasing as a bulk powder instead of pills is super cheap, just need an airtight container to hold things in a cool, dry, dark place.
  • Non-edibles (toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, soap, toothpaste, etc) – I already purchase most of these in bulk using Prime Subscription so there is some good savings but it is worth revisiting.

Which brings me to my final identity that all this appeals to… self-experimentation. Life is about seeing what you are capable of and pushing the limits. Running marathons and living on pennies and climbing mountains and taking psychedelic drugs is part of the human experiences. Pushing ourselves to the limits and taking risks is how we truly live. It may seem silly to get all of this out of a purchase of protein powder, but each action we take reflects our life philosophy and those actions can either be explicit and analyzed or they can be unreasoned and based on primal drives.

6 AM

I am not a morning person.

When my alarm starts buzzing at 6 am it takes all my effort to get out of bed and as the haze of sleep starts to clear up I often ask myself the same questions.

Why wake up at 6 when I work from home?

I ran yesterday, why run today?

Can’t I just be more productive at night instead of pushing myself in the morning?

These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers very clearly… I wake up because I want my life to be more than what I’m paid to do. I wake up because yesterday’s run is part of a lifelong habit and not an excuse to be lazy today. I wake up because I know that I won’t be productive at night if I sleep in, that just isn’t how I work.

Every day there are two finite resources at work: the hours in the day and my motivation to be great. Both of these resources count down regardless of whether I am being productive or not. My drive to write, create, and exercise will be less at 5 pm than it is at 7 am, even if I don’t write, create, or exercise during that time. Mornings are where the magic happens, particularly when it comes to things I find difficult.

There are certain things that I know I will do each day, regardless of circumstances. Maybe they are things I love to do, like reading or listening to podcasts, or maybe they are things that I need to do, like work for pay. Either way, I don’t need to worry about getting them accomplished, they will happen even if I am low on motivation. It is the tough things that I need to knock out in the morning because those are the things that I’ll find excuses for or neglect in the evening.

Whether it is creating a new habit, running five miles, or calling my credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate, it must be done early or it won’t get done. The rest of my life, the habits I’ve developed and the work I know I need to be done can wait.

So, that’s why I wake up early because if I don’t then my life will drift along in mediocrity. I won’t meet my potential, I won’t experience as much of life as I possibly can, I won’t know my limits because I tried to push through them. Whether it is using my mind and body to transform my body or to write a book or to gain financial security, my mind and body are at their best in the morning.

It sucks sometimes, but truly living requires early rising and when you rise early there are plenty of hours in the day.

The Next Chapter

Since posting about my annual “failures” last week I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to move forward. By next July do I want to have accomplished the things I didn’t last year? Or are they things that are no longer important to me and I should quit? Are there other things I want to commit to accomplishing? Last year’s failures fell into six basic genres that each require a different response.

  • Author – My book isn’t an audiobook yet, but I can change that. Starting today, I am going to make this my priority. I’m going to record every single day until I have a recorded draft of the book. It may not be a perfect recording, but good now is better than perfect never. Once complete, I’ll listen to it (shudder), make any major changes or re-recordings, and then submit it to Audible. During this process, I will also be able to give my book another look for any potential edits. I will also start working towards “going pro”, which is going to require a shift in mindset as well as some practical changes in my life.
  • Fitness – I’m going to keep running daily and working out regularly. I think implementing a monthly “glutton weekend” can help prevent me from entering major periods of sloth. I’ve got an 8-week workout plan I’m using and this October I’m going to start seeing a personal trainer. I also have some running goals that will get me to the 100-mile run level. Oh, and I’m committed to a mountain climb next year which is motivating me to stay in shape so that I don’t die.
  • Finances – I’m getting into a pretty good groove when it comes to saving money and earning money. For the next year, I’m going to keep working on cutting out waste and increasing passive income to get to the point where I could stop working (I won’t because I love my job and the people I work with) and still maintain my lifestyle.
  • New Practices – I am not sure how to integrate new practices in my life that I know are valuable but I also find difficult. I never regret yoga or meditation or language practice after I accomplish them, but it is difficult to motivate myself to do them. I think part of the problem is that I’ve committed to too much and maybe I need to focus on just one thing to get into and prioritize it above all else. I need to jump into it first thing in the morning when my mental fuel tank is full and I’m less likely to justify skipping it. I don’t need a lot of mental energy for work, the gym, or running because I know I’m going to do those regardless of what other circumstances are going on, but by the end of the day it is difficult to get the mental energy together to do something like meditate, so I need to do it first thing in the morning (well… maybe after a cup of coffee)
  • Facebook – The biggest time and energy suck of them all. I’ve come to accept that I have a bit of an addiction and my use of it is generally unhealthy. I’m going to schedule reasonable time for Facebook (probably 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening) except when I am posting a blog post. I’m also going to only check Facebook Messenger once a day. I need to constantly ask myself “is what you are doing at this moment helping you accomplish your dreams?” and when it comes to Facebook the answer is almost always “No”. Sharing articles of interest and talking with people is great, but scrolling mindlessly or getting in stupid debates with people I’ve never met is a waste. I would be better off reading, writing, cooking, gardening, exercising, working, masturbating, yoga, cleaning, meditating, etc.
  • Vegan – I think I’ve found a workable solution to my temptation problem, at least for the situations in which I can prepare for. I’m going to start eating my largest meal of the day directly before going to places where temptation is going to be and I’m going to carry a bag of almonds with me. Hopefully, this will keep both my physical hunger and my psychological oral fixation at bay to provide support for my ethical strength.

So I guess that is where I stand for the next year. I’m not sure the exact path I’m going down for each of these goals, I imagine it will vary with each one and many of them will have a bunch of sub-goals and reward systems to help move me up the mountain. I wonder if it would be beneficial to break down a proposed system for each of these six sections, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow in another blog post. I find writing things out to be helpful but I don’t want “being busy” to replace “being productive”. Oh well, I guess I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.

I haven’t answered any questions or comments lately and would love to hear from you. So, if you’ve got a thought or question submit it to me anonymously at  www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH and I’ll respond. 

The Rest of the Story

Yesterday, I posted a spontaneous update to Facebook and Instagram. I realized that this week was the one year anniversary of when my partner and I decided to stop our 2-year bike adventure and I wanted to share/celebrate some of my accomplishments. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I consider the last year of my life to be the best one I’ve ever had. I don’t think there is anything wrong with publicly sharing our successes… people do it all the time in large ways and small, we share graduating college or mastering a new skill or writing a book or how our kids are doing.

One of the beautiful things about the world we currently live in is technology allows us to celebrate with each other and be inspired by each other. Those magic moments allow us to live and experience a taste of thousands of lives, but lives aren’t always happy and successful and it is important to be realistic about our struggles.

So, this blog post is complete the story of my last year a bit by sharing some of my struggles and failures.

  • I expected to have converted my book into an Audiobook and consider myself a professional writer. Neither of those things has happened. The audio recording has stalled out because I keep procrastinating and letting the perfect defeat the good. Instead of making the time to create I look at that microphone and come up with excuses. I don’t view myself as an author and there is an internal dialogue that tells me my book isn’t good, that it doesn’t count because it is a memoir, that all my ideas are unoriginal, that self-publishing is cheating. I often blog to put off my creative writing.
  • While I’m happy with my current fitness level I have had a lot of struggles staying motivated and consistent. This is particularly true for a four-month period when I basically didn’t exercise, ate too much, and drank too much. Looking back, I think this was a period of mild depression for me.
  • Financially, I haven’t been as wise as I should have been. I’ve blown money on stupid video games, I have purchased books that I didn’t need and probably will never read, I bought pizza and beer in moments of weakness, etc. I wanted to be approaching debt free at this point but each month I still seem to rely on my credit card for that final week or so and have only been making minimum student loan payments. Part of this is that I’m torn, it seems wiser to invest in Bitcoin and Ethereum than pay off my student loans because the growth is larger than the interest rates but that sword is still dangling over my head. On a positive note, I seem to have replaced frivolous spending with more spending on investments, which is probably a good thing.
  • I have been unable to get a yoga, meditation, or new language practice going. On a good week I meditate and practice a language 7 days and go to yoga once, but I rarely have a good week. Most weeks are 2-3 times for the meditation or language and no yoga. I see the value in these practices, I read the articles and understand the logic, but when the time comes for me to do them I make excuses or distract myself with stupid stuff.
  • I still spend WAY too much time on Facebook. I haven’t found a great way to deal with that yet. My life is so short and valuable and it hurts my soul to know that I waste it scrolling and liking and sharing articles unnecessarily. I could get so much more accomplished if I could trim this deadtime.
  • My self-control fails when I’m offered free, non-vegan pizza. I’ve identified as a vegan for several years now but recently I have had a very difficult time saying no to temptation (forgive me father, for I have sinned). I am working on coming up with a strategy to address this, but I’m disappointed in myself. I don’t have a lot of ethical standards but “minimize harm” is one of them and consuming animal products increases the market for harm.

So… those are my big failures in the last year. I know that no year will be perfect. I’m excited to see where I am in June 2018, I know it’ll be a hell of an adventure. I don’t have any real particular goals but maybe I can get this debt down, climb Mount Adams, have saved enough for eye surgery, and finish another book or three. Blargh. I keep thinking about actually writing down some actual goals. I just finished reading “The ONE Thing” and I’m currently reading “The 10X Rule” and one of the threads that runs through both books is setting awesome, specific goals and shooting for the stars or else you will be wandering without direction or fall below your potential. Maybe I will do that… I think Tim Ferris recommends it too in his book (but I might be mistaken).

Anway, I’m still in search of the system that really works well for me long-term. I’ve found one for my body, but not yet for my productivity. I feel like I’m on the verge of one though that melds the valuable insight from The 10X Rule, The ONE Thing, The 4-Hour Workweek, On Writing, and The War of Art. The journey continues…

Want to hear my thoughts on something? Wanna help me out by providing me inspiration for a post or story? Think I’m wrong and want to yell at me about it anonymously? Send me a message!  www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH 

“How can you tell if someone….”

There is a pretty common joke out there that has always kind of bothered me, but I never really sat down to think about why. Usually, the joke goes something like:

  • How can you tell if someone at a party is a vegan?
  • Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

Vegan can be, and is often, replaced with cross-fitter, paleo, Christian, atheist, libertarian, conservative, rescued a dog, volunteers, LGBT, parent, Dallas Cowboys fan, etc. Really, any group can be the butt of this joke. The point of the joke seems to be two-fold (neither of which is particularly funny).

First, it is (apparently) some sort of social faux pas to discuss things that are important to you with others. Whether it is how you achieve health, your ethical beliefs, or your lifestyle, these are things that shouldn’t be discussed with people who might disagree with them. How dare someone want to talk about things that are important to them? How dare they want to have a conversation with people who might disagree? These people are clearly fools and should be mocked behind their back (or to their face) for having a life that differs from the norm.

Which brings us to the second post, this type of joke seems to be meant as a tribal way to keep people on the outside, which is particularly harmful when that group is a minority in the culture. It dehumanizes them and ridicules them for trying to be part of society, it creates an unnecessary barrier to entry into social gatherings because it tells them that they aren’t welcome (or they must hide who they are and what is important to them). It also reduces people to a single-issue, it puts a label on them in a way that discourages us from seeing them as multi-faceted, intelligent, complex people.

Now, I don’t think that the joke itself is really oppressing anyone, but nothing lives in a vacuum. These types of jokes when repeated amongst an “in-group” build up in our subconscious to the point where we start to internalize the lessons: that people shouldn’t talk about things that are important and that people with views/lives that differ from the majority should be mocked. I think it is important to reflect on why we think certain things are funny (just like we should reflect on why we find certain things frightening or sexy or exciting) and to possibly make conscious corrections when we discover that the source of our emotions and response isn’t a good one.

These jokes are also a reflection of our culture that encourages tribalism unnecessarily. The fact that someone can tell the joke and nobody speaks up and says, “I don’t get it. Why is it funny that someone with a different point of view would talk about something they are passionate about?” Instead we all chuckles and think, “Yep! Those damn parents can’t stop talking about their kids.” When we should be thinking, “Wow, that’s cool that they have something they are passionate about, I wonder what made them decide to live their life that way. What life experiences have they had, what books have they read, what internal debates have they hosted in their mind that led them to shape part of their life around that activity or role? I wonder what else they are interested in, maybe we share some commonalities as well as these areas of disagreement where we can grow together.”

Was this post dumb? Do you want to tell me why anonymously? Or maybe you have a question about sex, drugs, or rock & roll (or really anything) you’d like me to answer. Shoot me a message at the following link and I’ll blog about it! www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH     I’ve had a great time writing about a variety of subjects in the past.

Feedback (6/24)

This post is a response to anonymous questions and comments I receive via SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH) or from private messages. I love responding to these, so if there is something on your mind, good or bad, please send me a message. No subject is off limits and here is a link to previous questions or comments I’ve received and responded to.

Okay, I meant to respond to this request last week but I ended up running out of hours in the day. I had a couple of work deadlines, a dentist appointment, and I went out a couple of nights with some friends. I hope the author isn’t too annoyed with me.

Hey, Peter, I have been following you on Facebook for a few months. I accidentally stumbled on your page and am really glad I did. My question for you is about the legal age of sexual consent and what your thoughts are on them. In NJ the age is 16 but for other states, it is as high as 18. I tried to find out the reasoning behind the decision on the age but wasn’t able to come up with much. I did look up what the ages were in other countries and for the most part, it was 16 or younger. A surprising amount of countries had their consent age set to 13 (Spain being one of them). Personally, I don’t understand why it would be anything older than 15. Punishing someone who is of sound mind for wanting to have sex with someone older just because of their age seems unnatural to me. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks in advance.

Hi, Facebook friend! I’m glad we stumbled together (probably… this was submitted anonymously so maybe I don’t like you, but that’s unlikely). One of my favorite things about social media is that it can bring people together who may have never crossed paths a decade ago. Facebook sucks sometimes, but overall it is a net gain for the world. Though, I could certainly have a healthier relationship with it than I do. But that’s true for a lot of things in my life, including alcohol, sex, and other awesome life experiences.

Anyway… I’m rambling. On to your questions.

Oh man, this is actually kind of a complex issue. My short answer, the age of consent laws in the US are often (though not always) well-intentioned but, like the infamous road to hell, the results aren’t good. There are ways our society can address teenage sex that would be an improvement.

Now for my long answer, I think there are a lot of factors in play but the four major issues that come to mind first to me are how our justice/legal system operates, the rights and cognitive abilities of children, and sex negativity. I’ll tackle each issue individually but they all overlap.

Justice/Legal System – In many cases our justice and legal system are set up in a way that is convenient for lawyers and politicians but reduces the rights and freedoms of citizens. This happens whenever a law is based on an action instead of a result. I understand the need for objectivity in the law and on the surface things like “If an 18-year old has sex with a 15-year old then a crime is committed” seems to be objective and fair, but it fails to address the purpose of a legal system: to address harm. A better way to treat teenage sex would be to only punish sex that causes harm, but treating this issue based on result instead of action would certainly be difficult. It is easy to prove an act happened but more difficult to prove that act resulted in certain harm (at least in the case of sex).

Not all laws are written this way. In fact, some criminal acts are based almost entirely on result instead of action. Take, for example, the difference between assault and attempted murder. If I decide I want to murder someone, plan to do it, and then walk out on the street and shoot someone in the chest the crime I am charged with depends on the whether the person survives or not. My intention and action (pulling the trigger hoping to kill) are not relevant to whether I am charged with murder or attempted murder. In fact, the specifics for why one person would die and one person would live is irrelevant to the charge. If I shoot someone with a clotting disorder and they die because their body can’t clot blood I will be charged with murder, even though I had no idea they had this disorder and I didn’t give them that disorder. But, if I shoot someone who is healthy (or larger or something like that) in the exact same spot but they survive then I am charged with a lesser crime. In this case, the degree of harm decides the charge, not the action.

I would like to see sex treated the same way. Harm should exist in order for an action to be criminal. Basically, who is the victim? If there is no victim then there is no crime (and no, I don’t think parents can claim their child is a victim in a way that overrules how the child feels about the act). But, that brings us to the next topic…

Rights and cognitive abilities of teenagers – Teenagers do not have the same cognitive abilities as adults, but where we draw that line (16, 18, and 21 depending on the act they wish to engage in) isn’t based on science or individual evidence. Instead, we base it on political expediency, convenience, and tradition. We seem to recognize that teenagers can make major life decisions at 16 like operate a 3,000 machine that is the third leading cause of accidental death in the US. Or, at 18, teenagers are allowed to buy cigarettes (probably the most dangerous habit in the world) or join the military. But, we don’t think teenagers should be allowed to buy alcohol (which is probably a post for another time). But, when it comes to sex things are all over the place.

I think the real question we should ask ourselves is “is this teenager capable of making healthy decisions with regards to sex?” Basically, can they recognize unhealthy power dynamics? Are they capable of voicing their desires and saying no when necessary? Do they understand how to use birth control and ask for help and the risks associated with sexual activity? But, instead of asking those questions and implementing institutional changes to address them we have decided to take the convenient way out and just slap an age on the act.

I think things would be greatly improved if we treated age of consent in a similar way that we treat driving. With driving, we recognize that there is a general age where most teenagers are capable of making responsible decisions but then we also provide an education on the subject and test fluency. Perhaps, we could have some sort of “sex license” where having sex with a teenager without one of those licenses is a crime (this is clearly imperfect and kind of sounds silly but I think it would be an improvement).

For example, maybe the “age of consent” issue turns into a licensing issue. When a teenager turns 15 they are eligible to get a sex license that would allow them to have sex with people over the age of 18 without it being illegal (of course rape, assault, etc. would still be illegal but just the act of sex wouldn’t be). In order to get this license, the teenager would go prove fluency in STI and pregnancy convention, communicating desire, saying no, etc. I think the biggest thing preventing any system like this is that a teenager would likely need parental consent for this license because we don’t recognize them as having full rights (hmm… this would probably be a good post in the future too) and, in general, parents are sex-negative.

Sex Negativity – A lot of adults in the US are terrified of sex, particularly of the idea that their children are having sex (spoiler: they are). Instead of providing a thorough education many parents do what my parents did, they ignore the issue and hope for the best. Or maybe they do passive aggressive things like leaving a copy of “Choosing to Wait: A Guide to Inspiring Abstinence” on the bookshelf and they suddenly decide to start cleaning their teenager’s rooms in order to throw out any porn they find. Teenagers look to their parents for guidance and in order for teenagers to make healthy, responsible decisions regarding sex it needs to be discussed in a realistic way. For most of human history, teenagers were having sex, getting married, and raising children, but some sort of puritanism runs through the US that denies this reality.

I think a lot of the laws in place are really about sex-negativity. Adults either want to legislate away the problem (which is impossible) or they don’t want to have a rational discussion about it and change the laws. I understand that this would be political suicide for someone. Any politician that wanted to reform age of consent laws would be accused of wanting to have sex with teenagers. So, unfortunately, I don’t think things are going to change much. I’d rather us have a better system but I don’t have any hope for change.

The Brain is a Body Part

The following post is about mental health. These are my experiences and are in no way meant to be prescriptive for other people. I realize that the issues we each deal with are complex and varied, and that my experiences are likely very different than others. This is not a post about how to solve mental health problems, it is simply a post about things that seem to have worked for me and how my body seems to function.

We tend to separate the brain from the body. At best, we see the two as having a symbiotic relationship but we also treat them as independent and operating in a vacuum. When I first realized that I had some mental health issues that needed professional help I saw a therapist and started my own research. There was a lot of information about medication and therapeutic techniques to help both the foundation of my problems and some of the ways it has manifested itself (trichotillomania, suicidal thoughts, depression, etc) but I can’t recall ever having a discussion about overall health practices.

Eating right, drinking water, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly was never mentioned by my therapist as something that I should be doing. Looking back, I feel like that is a huge gap. My brain is a body part and the practices that keep my heart and lungs healthy, strengthen my muscles, maintain a healthy level of body fat, and provide vital nutrients to my organs are also beneficial to my brain health (which is the physical location of mental health).

Looking back, there appears to be a clear correlation between my mental health improving and adopting healthier habits (even though I adopted those healthier habits for other reasons… mostly to get laid). While I think I have a fairly healthy lifestyle now (see below for details), it started very incrementally. Adopting little practices like going for a morning walk for 15 minutes outside before breakfast or replacing soda with carbonated water or turning off computer screens an hour before bed started a snowball effect towards better body health (which includes the brain). I’d guess that it has taken five years or so for me to get to the point I am now, and that journey has had many struggles, but the difference between my mental health now and in 2012 is night and day.

I guess I just think it is a shame that I’ve never had a therapist sit down with me and go over my diet or exercise routine. I know that therapists aren’t dietitians or nutritionists or personal trainers, but having a base knowledge in these subjects (or partnering with professionals in those fields) could be incredibly beneficial to the parents. Medication helps, therapy helps, meditation helps… but other things help as well. Cutting out bad food helps, drinking water helps, getting outside helps, running helps. At least that is my experience.

So, what are my health practices like now? Every day is imperfect, but here is what an ideal day would look like. Looking at the list of daily practices it seems like I do a ton of stuff, but when I cut out Facebook and shitty TV I actually end up with downtime at the end of the day for more reading or an evening walk.

Daily Practices
Outside exercise in the morning (anything from a 10-minute walk to a 7-mile run)
Stoic reading – a short, daily exercise
Write (journaling, blogging, fiction writing, anything at all)
Meditation
Work on a new skill (foreign language, musical instrument, coding, etc)
Sleep from 10pm-6am (8 solid hours, though I’ve been waking up early recently and I’m not sure why)
Weight lifting or yoga
Read daily
Cold shower or bath – sometimes 60 seconds, sometimes 15-minutes
1-2 additional daily walks, usually during lunch and after work

Diet – ~1,800 calories (No, I’m not hungry all day. Yes, I get plenty of protein for health and muscle growth) – Carb/Fat/Protein = 55%/25%/20% (~Grams 260/55/95)
8 cups of water
2-3 cups of coffee
5 cups of green tea
3 servings of nuts/seeds
3 servings of fruit
3 servings of non-leafy vegetables
3 servings of leafy vegetables
2 servings of legumes
2 servings of whole grains
1 serving of nut milk
1 serving of plant-based protein powder
1 serving of nutritional yeast*
B-12 supplement*
Choline supplement*
8/16 intermittent fast (I have an 8-hour window to eat, usually 10am-6pm

So, that’s where I am right now and I feel like my body (including my brain) is the healthiest it has ever been. If you have any practices that you have worked for you I’d love to hear about them, I’m always looking to improve and experiment. Leave me a message on SurveyMonkey.

*These are due to my vegan diet and may not be necessary for others. Though, I highly recommend running your daily diet through a program like www.cronometer.com to discover any nutrients that may be lacking. I was shocked at some of my deficiencies and some of the nutrients I was getting too much of. For me, focusing on calories or the fat/carb/protein distribution was not the best way to find a healthy diet. Instead, I started with the needed vitamins and minerals and build a diet that met all my needs, the rest just fell into place and I ended up with around ~1,800 calories that was 55% carb, 25% fat, and 20% protein (260 grams, 55 grams, 95 grams)