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In which John does something, and then starts to think about doing something vs. doing nothing.

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text:

I also have a podcast. It's called The Anthropocene Reviewed. Maybe someday we will do live shows to benefit Partners in Health. I'll try to make it something worth doing.
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Good morning Hank it's Tuesday.

(0:02) Last night I did something. Specifically, I attended a live recording of one of my favourite podcasts, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. And it was such a lovely evening of thinking hard about stuff that matters and I emerged from it feeling different and more hopeful about the human enterprise.

(0:17) Like it's been spring for a couple weeks here in Indianapolis but driving home last night, I finally felt like it was spring and I kept thinking about the E.E. Cummings poem the begins, "Spring is like a perhaps hand that comes carefully out of nowhere".

(0:31) Anyway, all of this was quite a contrast from my usual Monday nights in which I do nothing. For me, doing nothing means not making an active choice to do something. Generally in my case this means, after the kids go to sleep, I scroll through Netflix for, like, 20 minutes trying to find something to watch, and either do find something to watch or else go up stairs to read a book.

(0:50) Doing nothing can be lovely of course, but generally I don't actively chose to do nothing, it's sort of like a passive thing that happens. It feels like the default state of affairs or the natural way of being. Doing something feels like making a choice and doing nothing feels like not making one.

(1:08) Slightly off topic, but there are many places in my life that feel like this. For instance, every day I take a medication for my mental illness, but taking the medication feels like doing something and not taking it feels like doing nothing. And the same is true of making the active choice to get a flu shot or to engage in philanthropy or to plant seeds in my garden. In all these cases, doing nothing feels like the default, it feels like it isn't a choice.

(1:31) And if I look for choices telling me to do nothing, I will find them. There are plenty of sources out there to tell me that my medication wont work or isn't worth the side effects, or that the flu shot is dangerous, or that philanthropy never does any good, or that gardening is a waste of time. They may not be the most accurate or authoritative sources: the flu shot is safe, I am definitely better off taking my medication, philanthropy can be an excellent way to improve people's lives and gardening is only a waste of time if you don't enjoy it; but because passive choices feel natural to me, I'm vulnerable to misinformation telling me that those choices are virtuous.

(2:06) I struggle to make active choices every day, but the thing is, passive choices are also choices. Not taking medication that has been prescribed to me is a choice, and an unwise one. Staying home to watch Netflix is also a choice for me, sometimes a wise one, other times less so.

(2:23) The truth is, most nights, I need to be at home, in a kind of metaphysical quiet, resting and recovering. But I need to see those times as the choices they are, rather than some default or natural setting, which they aren't.

(2:37) Years ago, a mayoral candidate in Birmingham, Alabama had a campaign slogan that's become kind of a catch-phrase in our family. The slogan was, "Larry Langford: Let's do something!" Not, like, something prudent, or something good, just something. Now of course, this is a horrible campaign slogan, and indeed the candidate in question would go on the be convicted in a huge bribery scandal, but lately I've been thinking a lot about that slogan. Like, while we're here, we're going to do something, a lot of somethings actually, and doing nothing is not a way out of the responsibilities and opportunities of personhood.

(3:11) Whether I'm playing board games with my family or watching recordings of a podcast I love, my days end up better when I remember that I'm not choosing between doing something or doing nothing, I'm choosing which something to do.

(3:24) Hank, thank you for doing this something with me for the last 12 years, I will see you on Friday.