Latest Commonplace Additions


The system-vs-goals model

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If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

[O]ne should have a system instead of a goal. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

Scott Adams, 2014

From the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life


Continually debating people and never winning

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If your view of the world is that people use reason for their important decisions, you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration and confusion. You’ll find yourself continually debating people and never winning except in your own mind. Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.

Scott Adams, 2014

From the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life


A continuous effort to make sense of things

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Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

Robert Darnton, 21 Dec 2000

From the article Extraordinary Commonplaces


Individualized lifestyles deeply brutalizing to the human spirit

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Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. A modern soldier returning from combat – or a survivor of Sarajevo – goes from the kind of close-knit group that humans evolved for, back into a society where most people work outside the home, children are educated by strangers, families are isolated from wider communities, and personal gain almost completely eclipses collective good. Even if he or she is part of a family, that is not the same as belonging to a group that shares resources and experiences almost everything collectively. Whatever the technological advances of modern society – and they’re nearly miraculous – the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Social resilience

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Recent studies of something called “social resilience” have identified resource sharing and egalitarian wealth distribution as major components of a society’s ability to recover from hardship.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


The group of people that you would both help feed and help defend

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Two of the behaviors that set early humans apart were the systematic sharing of food and altruistic group defense. Other primates did very little of either but, increasingly, hominids did, and those behaviors set them on an evolutionary path that produced the modern world. The earliest and most basic definition of community – of tribe – would be the group of people that you would both help feed and help defend. A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word; it’s just a political entity that, lacking enemies, will probably fall apart on its own.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Ceremonies are designed to

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In all cultures, ceremonies are designed to communicate the experience of one group of people to the wider community. When people bury loved ones, when they wed, when they graduate from college, the respective ceremonies communicate something essential to the people who are watching.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible

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Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.

Alan Kay

From the remarks Parc discussions with Alan Kay


Mastery of Inner and Outer Worlds

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Mastery of the inner world, with a relative contempt for the outer, must inevitably lead to great catastrophe. Mastery of the outer world, to the exclusion of the inner, delivers us over to the demonic forces of the latter, and keeps us barbaric despite all outward forms of culture.

Carl Jung, 1962


The new form of the problem of identity

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The individual is forced to turn inward; he becomes obsessed with the new form of the problem of identity, namely, Even-if-I-know-who-I-am, I-have-no-significance. I am unable to influence others. The next step is apathy. And the step following that is violence. For no human being can stand the perpetually numbing experiene of his own powerlessness.

Rollo May, 1969

From the book Love and Will


Between Stimulus and Response

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Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight, however slight it may be, on the side of one particular response among several possible ones.

Indeed I would define mental health as the capacity to be aware of the gap between stimulus and response, together with the capacity to use this gap constructively.

Rollo May, 1963

From the article Freedom and Responsibility Re-Examined


Four Sentences that Lead to Wisdom

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There are four sentences that lead to wisdom. Do with them what you will.

  • I am sorry.
  • I was wrong.
  • I don’t know.
  • I need help.

Louise Penny

From the book The Madness of Crowds


Economies that make us thrive

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Today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive; what we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow.

Kate Raworth, 2017

From the book Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist


Exponential growth in a finite world

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Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

Kenneth Boulding, 1973

From Congressional Hearings on Energy Reorganization Act of 1973


No Philosophy of Family Life

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In other words, while social conservatives have a philosophy of family life they can’t operationalize, because it no longer is relevant, progressives have no philosophy of family life at all, because they don’t want to seem judgmental. The sexual revolution has come and gone, and it’s left us with no governing norms of family life, no guiding values, no articulated ideals. On this most central issue, our shared culture often has nothing relevant to say—and so for decades things have been falling apart.

David Brooks, March 2020

From the article The Nuclear Family was a Mistake


The great primeval contract of eternal society

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Society… is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular State is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath whith holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.

Edmund Burke

From the book Reflections on the Revolution in France


We need governments to provide clear pathways

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Capitalism has the power to shape society and act as a powerful catalyst for change. But businesses can’t do this alone, and they cannot be the climate police. That will not be a good outcome for society. We need governments to provide clear pathways and a consistent taxonomy for sustainability policy, regulation, and disclosure across markets. When we harness the power of both the public and private sectors, we can achieve truly incredible things. This is what we must do to get to net zero.

Larry Fink, 2022

From the letter Letter to CEOs from Larry Fink in 2022


Your company’s purpose is its north star

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It’s never been more essential for CEOs to have a consistent voice, a clear purpose, a coherent strategy, and a long-term view. Your company’s purpose is its north star in this tumultuous environment. Putting your company’s purpose at the foundation of your relationships with your stakeholders is critical to long-term success.

Larry Fink, 2022

From the letter Letter to CEOs from Larry Fink in 2022


Workers demanding more from their employers

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Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism. It drives prosperity and creates a more competitive landscape for talent, pushing companies to create better, more innovative environments for their employees – actions that will help them achieve greater profits for their shareholders. Companies that deliver are reaping the rewards.

Larry Fink, 2022

From the letter Letter to CEOs from Larry Fink in 2022


The Power of Stakeholder Capitalism

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Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism.

Larry Fink, 2022

From the letter Letter to CEOs from Larry Fink in 2022

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