Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wax Philospohical #2: Psychology of Service


If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.
- Emily Dickinson


I love this poem, quite a bit. Emily Dickinson reminds me here of what George Eliot said, "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?" I wonder…why do we feel this way? Why do we want to help people?

A large group in the world of psychology would disagree with Emily and George here. "We are conditioned, unchanging hedonistic creatures ,” say many psychological thinkers; “We are nothing more than the firing of neurons in our brain that have organized themselves based off our genetic predispositions and subsequent environmental conditioning. This conditioning has caused us to seek our own pleasure and minimize our own pain. We live for our survival. If you dig deep enough you will see that every kind thought or action has a selfish origin. Hedonism rules supreme and you cannot change this."

Ayn Rand
Well...isn't that right? I was born and conditioned this way, and I can't change. This conditioning teaches me that the world hurts and I need to alleviate my personal pain as best I can. I've learned that as a human being I want things, and so I try to get them for me. Isn't that right? Consider author Ayn Rand and her book, The Virtue Of Selfishness. In this book Rand presents the idea that selfish living, or "good" selfishness, is the greatest of virtues while altruism is a vice that is destructive to society. In another book of hers, The Fountainhead, her character Howard Roark plays the egoist, and he succeeds in his life by focusing on his own happiness. He does not live for others, nor does he live off them, and he asks no one to live off him. Isn't that right?

No.

I forcefully submit this answer. Sorry to all you Any Rand cultists. Let me explain, because I think Rand is close in her thinking, but enough off the mark to be wrong.

Bad news for you too Paul Simon, because no man is an island, and no man can do it on his own. We are an interconnected world of beings that depend on each other. In our childhood we must live off our parents. We depend on them. This is so much a part of us that as infants we cannot even regulate our own body temperature. Without affection and being held by our parents we would easily die of exposure to cold, even in a warm room! Then we grow up and others depend on us. Our families and our friends need us. We need relationships and the connections that come with them. We cannot be alone and without love. We are not robots. I admit there are moments where we must take care of ourselves. I need to make money to pay my rent so I can live. If I focused solely on others I would die. There is need to understand and take care of oneself, but we would be better people, the world would be a better place, if in addition we  sincerely sought to help one another. What if I worked so I could earn money to pay my rent so I can to live, and I lived to help other people? I'm certainly not perfectly doing this, but its an interesting thought isn't it?

Scene from "A Man For All Seasons". Moore
and his daughter
Now this is a hard way of thinking in the world in which we live. "People just aren't like that." I've heard said. In response I think of quote in the movie, A Man For All Seasons, delivered by the character that plays Sir Thomas Moore. He is at risk of being executed for standing up for what he believes in. His daughter berates him and tries to make him give in, calling him a hero. His response is, "If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that avarice, anger, pride and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes."

Now I'm not saying we should seek to be heroes. That would defeat the purpose, but we should seek to stand fast and really love other people. The question is, if we love someone, what is best for them?

I submit that we live for others. That is what life is about. This thinking, of complete selflessness and absolute concern for the help of others, reminds me of the bodhisattvas. These are people in the Mahāyāna Buddhism belief who have attained enlightenment, but instead of breaking from the wheel of life, they have turned their focus towards working for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings. A bodhisattva is one who has a determination to free sentient beings from samsara, or the continuous flow of life, and its cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. This type of mind is known as the mind of awakening or bodnicitta.

C. Terry Warner, founder of the Arbinger Institute and author of the phenomenal book, Bonds That Make Us Free, talks a lot about our relations with other people. He talks about how we all have a moral sense and when we don’t follow the promptings of the moral sense we betray ourselves and damage relationships around us. The best way to view people, Warner says, is in what is called an I-Thou relationship which we attain when we follow our moral sense.

Martin Buber. I don't mean
any disrespect, but I really
like his beard, and his way
of thinking.
This is an idea adopted from Jewish theologian Martin Buber. The theory is that there are two ways to look at a person, “I-It” and “I-Thou”. In an “I-It” relationship we see other people as objects, either as vehicles to our goal, obstacles to our goal, or irrelevant for they aren't connected to our goal. The other way to see someone is an “I-Thou” relationship, where we see them as real human beings with goals, needs, dreams, and wishes that are just as important as our own. We can then live for the sake of another person. I want to point out that one must have an understanding of both parties in this relationship, the “I” and the “Thou”. If one is too focused on the “I” the relationship becomes imbalanced, and a similar thing happens if one understands the “Thou” with no concept of the “I”. Both must be in equal conjunction.

It is important to note that the “I” in an “I-It” relationship is different than the “I” in an “I-Thou” relationship. The person that we are when we see others as objects behaves differently than the person that sees others as real human beings, and we love them.

Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Jesus commands us to love each other. He says in Matthew 16:25-26, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Then link this to what a prophet, King Benjamin, said in the Mormon Canon of scripture in Mosiah 2:17, "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." 

These are the things that form my paradigm and my motives. We find true joy by serving God, and we serve God by serving others. We can truly serve others by understanding ourselves, by seeing others as real people, and making a conscious choice to do what we can to help.

What do you think? I would really like to know?

Elder Ballard

In my last post on service I spoke about my church’s General Conference meeting we had recently. Another speaker that struck me was Elder Ballard. He gives the example of bees, and how they work and their impact. An interesting fact that he shared was that in the lifetime of a bee it will produce only one twelfth a teaspoon of honey. This is a figure that seems small, but with the combined efforts of other bees making honey this adds up. Elder Ballard then goes on to apply that to us. "Imagine what the millions of Latter-day Saints could accomplish in the world if we functioned like a beehive in our focused, concentrated commitment to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
             The Savior taught that the first and great commandment is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. …“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37, 39–40). The Savior’s words are simple, yet their meaning is profound and deeply significant. We are to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together, united as followers of Christ, anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us—our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens. 
             As the Epistle of James notes, service is the very definition of pure religion (see James 1:27)."




Monday, October 22, 2012

Kahuna Big Stick


As a college student, it goes without saying that I am poor. That is just the life we all lead, and its not that big a problem, I eat, I have a place to live, I'm doing really well. I am also paying for this trip from my own pocket. However longboard equipment gets expensive. I have been petitioning help and I would like to introduce one of my sponsors.




Paddle Handle
The rubber blade
I've been wondering how to get more endurance and mileage out of each day, and I thought a stick to push with would be good. At first I contemplated using a crutch, or a broomstick with a rubber tip. Thankfully, a company that saw where they could help stepped in and gave me some assistance  Kahuna Creations is a company that makes longboards and also a really cool little invention they call the Big Stick. Its like a paddle, but at the end there is a rubber blade of sorts that you can use to push off the road. A genius idea. They helped me out in acquiring two sticks, one for me and one for Kenton.

I have been nothing but impressed with them and their product.

I got the adjustable stick which will be helpful to carry on my backpack on the trip. It is much more sturdy than I anticipated and the rubber end is quite durable. I've been able to go on rides for four or five miles and my feet never touch the ground. It adds a whole new element to longboarding! It is also a really good core and arm workout. I went out for an hour when I got it and I was beyond sore the next day. For distance longboarding this thing is a must-have.

I really love having it. I get some funny looks sometimes, but I like to think everyone is just jealous of how awesome I am.

Over the weekend a friend and I went up Provo Canyon to ride around and look at the fall leaves. It was so beautiful we decided to take some pictures while we were up there, we rode a casual three or four miles. It was a perfect day, and using the Kahuna Stick was a lot of fun.

My lovely friend and photographer, Jamie Wheeler. She's a little upset
 because I made her wear a helmet.
The fall leaves were amazing. 
I feel a little vain with this montage of me. 
I hope you are all of jealous of the beautiful day I got to spend. 

Few things make you as happy as spending time in nature, riding your board, and
spending time with good friends. Good day.

Thanks Kahuna for the help. I really appreciate it. 


Monday, October 15, 2012

Allow Me to Wax Philosophical #1

Bear with me on this one.

I've been thinking a lot lately. My life is busy. I work part time as a teacher, I go to school full time, dating as well as other social commitments, I have a volunteer responsibility in my local church which takes up huge amounts of time, and this longboard project just adds to it. Quite a considerable amount too. I wonder occasionally, "Why am I doing this longboard for charity thing? What am I thinking? I've got way to much on my plate without having to worry about this too. I don't have time to blog, to contact schools, to get sponsors. Why did I decide to do this?"

I was pondering on this the other day while mowing the lawn (mowing the lawn and taking a shower seems to be the moments of meditation where most of life's insights come to you. The Shower Principle) and I realized why I want to go one this adventure. Rather than give you a huge rant few will ever read, I've decided to give you my thoughts in parts. This is installation #1 of the motivations of service and adventure.

I've talked before about my desire to go on an adventure and why I want to serve a cause in this adventure. One reason why I want to go on this trip is, well...it will be a lot of fun. Lots of hard work and pushing a board, but traveling in a beautiful place, camping, talking to people. Sounds like a blast! However, like I've said before, doing something of this magnitude and commitment just for kicks isn't a good enough reason.

Recently, my church just had something we call General Conference. For one weekend all the members attend or watch series of meetings where the Prophet, Apostles and other church leaders speak to us. They teach doctrine and share what they think the church members need to know. I really enjoy this semi-annual meeting, and, this time especially, two talks really stuck out to me. I will discuss one of those in this post and the other at a later date.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared some thoughts. In his talk entitled "Of Regrets and Resolutions" he spoke about regrets many people in hospitals express as they reach the end of their lives. He says, "[A] regret of those who knew they were dying may be somewhat surprising. They wished they had let themselves be happier. So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial. The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.
          "We do matter.We determine our happiness.You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.
          "My wife, Harriet, and I love riding our bicycles. It is wonderful to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature. We have certain routes we like to bike, but we don’t pay too much attention to how far we go or how fast we travel in comparison with other riders.
           "However, occasionally I think we should be a bit more competitive. I even think we could get a better time or ride at a higher speed if only we pushed ourselves a little more. And then sometimes I even make the big mistake of mentioning this idea to my wonderful wife. Her typical reaction to my suggestions of this nature is always very kind, very clear, and very direct. She smiles and says, “Dieter, it’s not a race; it’s a journey. Enjoy the moment.”
         "How right she is!
          "Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable.
         "Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end?
          "Do we listen to beautiful music waiting for the final note to fade before we allow ourselves to truly enjoy it? No. We listen and connect to the variations of melody, rhythm, and harmony throughout the composition.
          "Do we say our prayers with only the “amen” or the end in mind? Of course not. We pray to be close to our Heavenly Father, to receive His Spirit and feel His love.
         "We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.”"

I often see myself and other people making this mistake. We say, "I'll be happy when I graduate, or when I get married, or after the semester, after this midterm. I will be happy sometime, but not right now." When I start feeling this way, I feel the need to pause and look at my life, my wonderful family, my friends, my life situation which is such a precious gift. I have many blessings, and I need to remember that. I need to remember that I can be happy now. There are things I can do now that can bring joy. One reason I wanted to do something out of the box is to shake myself from the routine, and from focusing on being happy when I graduate college, or when I get married, or when I catch up on sleep. Because the reality is, I'm at a wonderful time in life and I can enjoy that time and have great experiences. I don't want to get caught up in the routine grind of things and forget to enjoy life.

Another regret President Uchtdorf explained was that, "Perhaps the most universal regret dying patients expressed was that they wished they had spent more time with the people they love. Men in particular sang this universal lament: they “deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the [daily] treadmill of … work.” Many had lost out on choice memories that come from spending time with family and friends. They missed developing a deep connection with those who meant the most to them. Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.
         "Is it?"


This is a sentiment President Uchtdorf speaks of a lot. That we would do well to slow down and take a moment for the things that matter most. I have a friend who is quite an accomplished young lady. Smart, pretty, capable. She is quite impressive, however, she is so busy, and she wears this as a badge of honor. I think she is really great person, but we are only capable of a very shallow friendship. Whenever we get together she only has time enough to hang out for an hour maximum and I hear much about the things that keep her busy, and when we talk she forgets things I've said to her and forgets things she has told me. She is with me, but not really there with me as she is distracted by her many things in life. She has a lot of growing up to do. At first I thought I may just be boring to her, but other friends of hers have expressed the exact same sentiments, that they felt they weren't as important to her as her busy life, outward image, and accomplishments she so dearly desires to have. Her friends feel this way up until they no longer desire to be her friend. Its sad how we lose sight of that which matters most, meaning, other people. 

This also frightens me because I'm busy. President Uctdorf continues to say, "I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished. I can’t see it. Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time."

So the thought is to spend time with people we love. So how does adding one more responsibility to my life give me more time for the people I love? Well, by doing this project I get to spend time and effort on people I love; other people, most especially the Romanian people. I also had the chance to make more friends with people who have found my blog and asked for help in learning to longboard. I've spend time with family and friends as they help me with this endeavor. Its been fun.

Also, I've found that it can be easy, especially in my stage of life, for a person to become fully focused on oneself. My schooling, my education  my grades, my grocery shopping, my entertainment, my time etc. etc. This is the norm, look out for #1 right? This project helps me to look outside of myself towards others. I am very anxious to be able to raise enough money to hire a tutor for the abandoned children. I've met many during my time in Romania and they need this help. Stopping and helping others allows me to stop and appreciate my own life. I've been blessed in a way that is almost stupid. Life is been charmed it seems. Its hard, its difficult, but I eat, I have home and clothes, I have family and friends, I have an education. This evaluation helps me be grateful, and to be grateful is to enrich ones life. 

In conclusion, the first reason for why we serve is to slow down from our daily hustle and bustle and find some joy in a moment we spend outside of ourselves, as we focus on someone or something that we love. As we do so we become more grateful, we develop meaningful relationships and our lives are further enriched.

What do you think? Why do we serve other people?



Monday, October 8, 2012

Longboard Helps: How to Change Bearings

A few weeks ago Freya, my scooter, was damaged in a parking lot while I was at work. I finished my shift to find that someone had moved her, knocked off the mirror, and added a few new scratches. To make it even worse the scooter would not start. Therefore I was back to longboarding to get around. Carrying the big Sector Nine board around campus gets a little tiring and so I was looking for something smaller for school. I settled on a blue Stereo Vinyl Cruiser which I found for a pretty good price.

Its a nice little board, very old school, and very fun to ride around. However the stock bearings it came with were junk and wouldn't spin very fast. I replaced them with new bearings and decided to take the opportunity to explain about skate bearings.

For the longest time I had no idea what bearings were, how to clean them, or how to replace them when needed. I've decided to help out all the budding boarders and explain it now. Your board has the deck where you stand, under the deck are the metal trucks. Your wheels attach to the trucks, however, rubber wheels don't spin too well against metal. In between the wheels and the trucks are the bearings. Metal rings that have little metal spheres inside. This spins which allows your wheels to spin. After time the spheres wear out or get dirty and you need to replace the bearings.



How to Change Bearings

All you need is your board and a small wrench with which you can take the bolt off the end of the trucks.


Take the wrench and carefully unscrew the bolt off the trucks. Then take your wheel off. Be careful because there will be two small washer rings called bearing spacers, be sure not to lose them. 

Carefully unscrew the bolt...

...and take the wheel off the trucks

Then, all you need is the trucks and your wheel. Angle the bearing on the very end of the trucks and push carefully on the wheel. The bearing should just pop out. 



If you want to save the old bearings, for another board or just to
clean them, be very careful not to push too hard and damage
the bearings


Then you take your new bearings and push them into the wheel. They might not go in all the way just by using your fingers. Do not pound on them to make them fit better! Instead, put the wheel back on the trucks and tighten the nut as far as you can and this will push the bearings in all the way. Then loosen the nut until the wheel can spin freely and wiggle a little bit on the trucks. You have just succeeded in replacing your bearings. Congratulations. Its not too bad is it? But if no one every told you, you would have no idea. Now get out and ride on your board, after an hour or so the bearings should be broken in enough and spinning beautifully.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Speaking of Safety...When Bambi Attacks!

I was at work just yesterday when someone told me of a longboarding accident they had heard about on the news. It was not the kind of longboard accident I had ever heard of before, or even something I had been afraid of in the past. Going 40 mph in a practice run for a downhill race, a longboarder was knocked off of his board...by a deer. This seemed funny to me after my recent post on safe riding. I guess you can't think of everything while you're out there. Good this this kid was wearing a helmet.

I had a video posted on this but it has been removed. Click on the news link above to see another video on it.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Longboard Helps: How to Brake

Unforgiving rock hard asphalt. Covered in little gravel pebbles and tar. 20 grit sandpaper surface. This is what is waiting to welcome you if you fall off your longboard. This is not a welcome most wish to have. Longboarding can be a very fun sport, but if not done safely it can cause serious injury or even death. One thing to keep in mind is that the faster you go, the harder you fall. Therefore it is paramount that you keep your speed in check.

If you get going too fast not only does your danger level build, but you may experience the dreaded SPEED WOBBLES!!! (Dun dun duuuun). At certain high speeds and with certain board set ups, your board will start to uncontrollably pitch from left to right and eventually throw you off. Take this poor sad man for example. He had a bad case of the speed wobbles, and the lucky guy was stupid enough NOT to wear a helmet. Bad decision every time! He's lucky he missed the car and made it to the grass.


I remember my worst case of the speed wobbles. I decided it would be a good idea to put my longboard trucks on my skateboard. Then, stupid and without a helmet, I decided to bomb a hill. I was surprised at how sharp my turns were on my board. However I forgot that the shorter the board, the less stable at high speeds, and soon my carving turned into wobbling. The full force of my stupidity hit me and I wondered what to do. I decided to bail before I got going too fast. I jumped off my board...took two running steps...tripped...did a flip....landed on my back and rolled four or five feet where I came to a stop on the curb of the road.

I lay there bleeding, groaning and wondering why I ever did something so dumb. My little brother came racing by me on his board, "Mason! Are you okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!!!!!!!!!!" And he shot right by me as I lay there in the road. I eventually pulled myself off the curb and onto the grass and waited for my brother to come save me. Five or ten minutes later he returned and was somehow surprised, after my ragdoll asphalt acrobatics, that I was still laying down. He took me home and I was fine except for some roadburn and bruises. I am lucky beyond all reason that I didn't hit my head. When I flipped I really should have slapped my forehead on the ground. I got a lucky chance, and I've always worn a helmet ever since.

I can tell you from experience, check your speed, stay in control. Going fast is fun, you do look cool, until you hit a rock and go flying, or get speed-wobble-thrown and get all cut up. Controlling your speed is one of the first things you should learn.

"Mason, hold on a second," you may ask me, "there are no brakes on a longboard. How on earth can you control your speed. "Good question," I respond, "there are a few ways. Lets talk about them."

Ride It Out or Bail
If you feel confident enough you can just have faith and keep riding until your board slows down. If you're on a hill that levels out at the end you may be able to hold fast and ride it out. If you feel uncomfortable my advice is to bail before you get going too fast. Jump onto some grass. The sooner you get off, the slower you'll be going, and the risk of injury is minimized.

Skidding
If your board has a kicktail you can push it down to the ground and use that as a brake. I would suggest getting a tailguard if you prefer this method or else the road is going to eat up your board. To be honest I would not suggest this method of slowing down. Lifting your two front wheels off the ground while going at high speeds is not the brightest or safest idea.

Sliding
A fun but more expensive way to slow down is to slide. Basically your board goes perpendicular to your direction of motion and your wheels slide sideways on the road and you slow down. Its fun, and it looks really cool. I suggest looking up some videos on how to do this. It can get a little pricey because it causes damage to your wheels, causing flat spots that bump as you ride, and sliding-gloves are recommended as well. This can add up. This video below shows some pretty cool slides as well as some impressive footwork.


Carving
Turning your board from one side to the other, or carving, will slow you down. The harder you carve the more you decelerate (my physics teacher would hate that I just used that word). This is a lot of fun for riding  and a preferred method of braking. Carve those hills! My one word of advice is not to play "Chicken" with the curb because you lose every time, the curb won't move out of the way, and Bonnie Tyler will not sing about her hero.

Windbraking
If you are going at a speed of 25 or more miles per hour you can stand up and spread your arms, pull your jacket out wide, just do everything to create as much wind resistance as possible. Certain companies sell "sails" you can buy, the problem is that wind conditions have to be near perfect, and one crash will tear up the "sail" material. Windbraking won't stop you but it may slow you down just a bit. There are still better methods however.

Brakes on Your Board
Some companies do make brakes for your board. I'm not sure how well they work but they look cool. You can check them out here Skatebrake.com and Brakeboard.com.

Foot Braking
Besides carving this is my preferred method of braking. Basically you are dragging your foot on the ground and this slows you down. This can bring you from high speeds to a standstill if you want. You need good balance because what you do is take your back foot (or whichever one feels most comfortable for you) and you drag it on the ground. Start by putting the front pad and toes on the ground and slowly lower your heel down and try to apply pressure using the whole surface of your sole. As you can see from my earlier post on shoes, this does eat up the sole of your shoe. However, I think its better to have asphalt damage to your shoe than your face. This is why I recommend going with a cheap pair of shoes, a pair you bought specifically to trash. Practice foot braking because, in my opinion, it is the cheapest and best way to slow down.

Kahuna Big Stick
An ingenious idea of a "paddle" for riding was used by Kahuna Creations. It is basically a paddle handle on one end of a stick and vulcanized rubber on the other end. This is primarily a propulsion device, but it can be dragged on the ground to slow you down. It is a lot of fun to use for pushing forward or braking, I would suggest anybody getting one. Dragging it for braking does cause some wear on the rubber but you can buy replacements for pretty cheap.

Now that you know all of these methods, get out and practice them. They will make you a more dynamic rider, and really increase your fun when you aren't falling and getting injured all the time. Most important though, WEAR A HELMET!!! Safe speeds and safe riding is no substitute for a good helmet. You can go brain dead moving at five mph or fifty. Wearing a helmet is your best tool to minimize injury. My personal favorite are Triple 8 helmets, and I'll explain why later, but just get some sort of lid on your head.