I need to change

I need to change my attitudes.

It’s really easy for me to think my way is the best.

Heather and I recently bought a used car to make our lives less complicated. We carefully chose the model that had the very best balance of fun and fuel savings. And we love it.

I also have taken a lot of satisfaction in the thought that this is a car that few people choose. It’s fun to be off the beaten path.

But I tend to look at other cars and attack their lack of practicality or wasteful use of fuel. And then I judge their owners for their shiny, new vehicle-of-choice that does not fit my narrow set of parameters.

So I’m working on changing my attitudes.

“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (from here).


Lawyer overkill

warning label from CD package

It all started with spilled coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through.*

Well, not really. Our American tendency to sue for everything probably started long before that.

How many people would buy a CD and give the thin plastic wrapper to their baby and say, “Play with this wrapper – it will do you no harm”?

Anyone who reads magazines today is used to flipping past pharmaceutical ads that use two full pages of fine print after the actual ad that could be summed up in one simple sentence: “Use of this drug is possibly dangerous, and you should consult with your doctor before using.” The television equivalent is 10 seconds at the end of an ad that are some of that fine print, read at 300 words a minute.

Please, please, America…

Just don’t be stupid.

* That incident happened in 1994. And she won the case.


Not porpoises but cows

Bentley Continental convertible

“Gray accent leather on the doors and the top of the instrument panel is called Porpoise, but, like other hides, it comes from land animals and not sea creatures” – from a Car and Driver article about the Bentley Continental GT V-8 S.

Why is it that the thought of someone killing porpoises for our use is more repellant than the thought of someone killing cows for our use?


When I was a kid, Flipper was a TV show about a friendly sea creature that came to the rescue of different people every week. Think Lassie in the sea.

I don’t know of any TV shows about friendly cows.

The quote about Bentley’s choice of an upholstery name made me think of the whole veganism culture and philosophies – one end of the animal rights spectrum. Porpoise killers might be the other end of the spectrum.

And then I thought of my friend who is a cattle rancher in Oklahoma. She loves her cows more than just about anybody I know. And yet she sells them to be slaughtered.

I don’t know how to reconcile all these things.

  • The photo is courtesy of the Bentley website and is used without permission.
  • If there are any modern TV shows starring animals, I wouldn’t know them, since I watch very little mainstream TV.


escape“Escape from your already fabulous life.”

That’s an assumption a luxury hotel chain made about all of us. Or maybe they are pitching to the group of readers who feel that they do have a fabulous life and don’t care about the rest. Or maybe they want the rest of us to think, “Well, my life isn’t fabulous – but I do like it!”

If your life is fabulous, why would you want to escape? I guess that living a life of ease, where everything is catered to and all wants met, gets boring.

We all need change. Kittens don’t stay small forever. God created seasons for a reason.

Embrace change. If it’s a hard change, see what you can do to find the beauty in the pure white snow. Even when it’s freezing outside.


Because I’m selfish

motorbike riders in Phnom PenhI love freedom. But when freedom costs me something that could be easily avoided, I pause.

For people living in the US, depending on your state, you can ride a motorcycle with out a helmet. It’s super enjoyable to zoom along with the wind in your hair.

But then that driver doesn’t see you, he turns into your lane – and your dreams of motorcycling disappear into years of surgeries, physical therapy and pain.

This is not theoretical – a good friend of mine experienced that. And he was wearing a helmet.

So here’s the selfish part of the equation… when the helmet-less rider ends up in the hospital with years of medical appointments ahead, it costs me. My insurance premiums rise.

The same holds true for bicycle riding.

I have to admit that I am not super rigid on that – sometimes when I go for a quick ride to the corner store on my (slow) mountain bike, I don’t put on a helmet. And yes, I know that most accidents happen closest to home.

So I leave it up to you where you draw the line between your freedom and your responsibility to society.

The photo is Creative Commons licensed by Sara y Tzunki (Cecilia e Francesco) and was taken in Phnom Penh.


Variety and uniformity

a collection of vinyl records at a thrift shop - copyright 2016 by paul merrill

We love variety. We love uniformity. This contrast in our wants and needs is intriguing.

The familiar can be comforting – knowing that something will always be there. And yet, we love change. Few people would choose to have the same meal three times a day. We love listening to different tunes. A change in seasons is often welcome.

And yet everyone has different needs for variety and uniformity. Some people are content with no change, ever. On the other side, our ADD culture pushes us toward constant stimulation, which requires never-ending change. I’m probably closer to the wanting-variety end of that spectrum.

My need for constancy is reflected by the fact that I’ve been married 26 years. Yet there is endless variety in my wife. (Women are so different than men that I will never figure her out!)

Finally, variety is a luxury. In America today, we have far greater choice than kings and queens did 400 years ago. We can get fresh fruit 365 days a year. When I lived in Africa, my friends in rural areas did not have that luxury. If mangoes weren’t ready to pick, you didn’t eat mangoes. If they were ripe, you ate a lot, for several weeks straight.


From wealthy to semi-criminal

Categories of wealth in London

It’s amazing to look at the progress we’ve made.

This legend is on a map of London from about 1900. Neighborhoods of the city were blocked off into the levels of wealth represented by their residents.

Such a map would never exist today. We all categorize people we see, but it’s not polite to even say those categories, except to the most trusted of friends.

In America, we have gated communities. You can’t drive in, unless you are given the code or are invited. You are categorized as resident, friend of resident or not welcome.

I lived in gated communities in Nairobi, Kenya, for five years. The disparity between my relative wealth and that of those not welcome was vast. Heather and I tried to do all we could to break down that barrier, for a few.

Now that we’re living back in America, the gate between us and them is more powerful. It’s time. Our memories fade and the need to help has become less urgent.



three color spectra - copyright 2016, paul merrillI’m a huge fan of the idea of spectrums. So many aspects of life can be described by spectrums.

Spectrum 1:

Pleasure seeking: Some people put pleasure so high on their priority list that they are willing to die for it (heroin addicts and canyon-jumping motorcyclists).

Pain avoidance: Some people are so averse to the idea of pain that they refuse to leave the safety of their bedrooms.

Spectrum 2:

Ideology: Some people believe in their cause so much that they are willing to die for it (Muslim terrorists).

Lack of beliefs: Some people are so open to worldview that they don’t believe anything.

Spectrum 3:

Chaos: Some people are willing to have thirteen children and let the crumbs fall where they may.

Neatness: Some people wipe the table under their guest’s plate before they have gotten up.

Spectrum 4:

Germs: Some people never wash their hands.

Sanitation: Some people wear gloves in public.

I think everyone has tendencies to fall on one side of the center in each of these spectrums. (Note that I am using extreme examples. Humanity is like a bell curve – most people fall into the middle.) We all move around on spectrums during the course of our lives – or in the course of our days.

A beauty that lies at the extremes is that some of those people push the envelope of human experience – and that can benefit everyone.

Psychologists sometimes dump various spectrums under blanket names such as “autism” or “OCD.” But the human experience is enriched by people living off the center of spectrums.

Footnote: I know that some say the plural of “spectrum” is “spectra.” But “spectrums” is also acceptable English, these days.


We need the perspective of others

face made up of trash cansHipster coffee shop. Fun visit with family.

My daughter noticed the face that their trashcan and recycling bin made.

I never would have seen that on my own. But after seeing her perspective, I never can look at that corner the same way again.

We need others to show us things we don’t see.

Sometimes I need to ask, and sometimes another perspective is volunteered. Either way works fine.