Gatekeepers in our lives

Who is it that gives approval, letting things happen and changing the lives of the rest of us? Those whose decisions, somehow, carry weight. Who are in those positions and how’s their role exercised? Is it done based on individual perspectives and inclinations, or by applying specific ways of thinking in any particular area? Given we all tend to stand within pre-existing bodies of thought, how free or inclusive is this likely to be?

Maybe we’re all simply gatekeepers, in our own corner of things? Within our personal lives and those groupings – family, workplace, friendships – where our views count. Each of us deciding what we’ll let in, give power, or allow to happen. As if we’re all just passing judgement; accepting or rejecting whatever passes before us; forming our own ideas of what it means and if it matters.

At the level of society, we’ve perhaps always had people or institutions in such roles: those shining their light on things while others listen. This sense of societies having places where voices can be heard; and, ideas as to who should be speaking. Although, at this point in time, it’s all just seeming quite set in its ways with positions established, arguments worked through, and little more to say but agree or disagree.

How are we to become conscious of these power structures and the intentions or awareness of those filling them? Because, who’s to say whose perspective is perfect enough to be considered definitive? Who knows enough of everything to truly judge how things stand and what’s for the best? Whose version of reality gets to win out, between these voices?

Increasingly, it’s seeming hard to say what things mean and how much they matter: whose views are to determine our ideas of the realities around us, into which ours are woven? Given such decisions shape our actions, conveying “our” sense of meaning to all those on the receiving ends of our judgement, it’s interesting to imagine exactly where our thinking – or, confidence – are coming from.

Isn’t reality a strangely interwoven web? So many lives and ideas flowing together. Different personalities, priorities and experiences glancing off one another to reflect, deflect or amplify things in any number of complicated directions. This doesn’t seem a simple, linear situation where one-size-fits-all judgements are likely to work. How are we to accommodate or resolve such complexities?

For some reason, it’s also seeming increasingly easy to pass judgement and assume reality should bend to meet our pre-existing ideas of how it must be. Aren’t we encouraged to think that way? To constantly cast forth definitive statements, carving “life” up with whatever lines we feel inclined to draw. While that way of approaching things may “help” in many areas, isn’t it inherently divisive?

Maybe, though, it’s simply where we stand, as humans: our minds being that threshold for deciding how we’ll see and respond to life. In which case, the burden of examining our thoughts and understanding their context perhaps just falls on us all.

Notes and References:

Life as adjustments in meaning
Pieces of the puzzle
Can each be true to themselves?
Relationships & our place in life
Uniting us through a world of fantasy
Ways of being & what’s getting left out
What’s at the heart of society?
Can you be social when you’re alone?
Seeing what things mean

Ways to share this:

Risk in spinning wild theories?

Out of all we might think about life, how much does it matter what we choose to believe? Our minds being where we each create our own framework for reality, it must make quite a difference which things we let in and build our lives upon. Culture being, perhaps, that set of ideas with which we interpret, judge and respond to the world – the overarching backdrop for our existence.

It must add up? All the theories, facts, doubts, certainties, convictions and assumptions we’re using to approach our daily lives and all the choices, actions and conversations that fill them. Our fundamental worldview being that lens through which we’re understanding all we see and determining our responses within it; this repository of all our working definitions and the spectrum of options we feel are appropriate.

Aren’t our ideas on life pooling every day, in various ways? Coming together through economic systems, consumer decisions, social interactions, attitudes, gestures and words. Each person bringing their sense of meaning and worth to every single thing that they’re doing in this vast, free-flowing dance between countless individuals spanning our increasingly connected world.

Sometimes it seems quite staggering: the interconnectedness of modern life and difficulty in separating all the distinct bodies of thought converging on any moment. This sense in which we’re often now all talking at once, attempting to discuss everything from every angle within this one conversation. As if the world’s awareness is striving to expand to the point of matching our new global realities.

In that, aren’t we being untethered from earlier, more limited perspectives? Abandoning the neat little insular stories that could previously unite communities around “their” version of events to find our way into something that can somehow accommodate “other” takes on the same situations. This strangely complicated need to allow differing perspectives within one space.

Yet, despite all that, our ideas must still be filtering out into the realities we share? Into the content of our conversations and nature of our interactions as our beliefs or concerns spill over into our responses. Everyone’s daily lives filled with the evidence of how others are seeing things and the consequences their choices created.

Almost as if, untethered from those earlier more commonly held narratives, we’re all free to live within whatever version of reality we choose to believe. Our minds being distinctly our responsibility, it seems entirely possible people could reach the point of living in quite different worlds: interpreting the same events in significantly different ways, stringing them together with a wildly different sense of what it all means.

With thought, can’t we take a few strange turns and end up trapped? Suggestions accepted becoming the walls of our prisons as we struggle to find our way back to what life was before we saw it that way – reality, naturally, having distorted to “fit” our new ideas about it. Given how much our ideas inform our approach to reality, don’t we have to be quite careful over what we let in?

Notes and References:

Thought, knowledge & coherent vision
All that we add to neutrality
Voices within cultural life
The relationship between statistics & reality
What are we building here?
Culture’s conversation as a way of life
Seeing what things mean
Uniting us through a world of fantasy
Life as adjustments in meaning

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Uniting us through a world of fantasy

What is it we’re doing in imagining things that aren’t quite true yet bear a startling resemblance to reality? All these stories, characters or worlds we take in, go along with and make part of our lives. Almost this whole other realm existing around our heads, peopling our minds with concerns and emotions that aren’t quite our own.

There must be a purpose to it, given how it tends to be one of the hallmarks of civilisation: the tales we tell to symbolise, inspire or remind us where we’re from and what should matter. As if “to be human” means to have an overarching storyline in mind that unites us with community and sets us on good paths. As if we “need” the narrative, the compelling vision of what life is or could be.

Where such stories come from may be impossible to answer – the history behind all these strange and magical tales that grew up around humanity, filling its souls with belief in the value of their existence and the potential for their development. What we believe seems such a powerful thing: the lens through which we’re interpreting reality and options we feel able to offer in response. (Notes One)

Sometimes it seems that “what fills people’s minds” is truly where the future lies. That colouring our perceptions in a certain light might effectively serve in bringing that vision to life as our thoughts and responses filter through into society each day. All these subtle assumptions or conclusions about anything’s value, worth or significance.

Seeing “our world” represented through culture – taken into that world of fantasy to be safely worked through for our observation – seems such an interesting process. That we might listen, watch, read, and have such content brought to life through our perceptions and imagination, just as reality itself makes its ways into our minds, thoughts and beliefs. An alternative, symbolic reality we might learn from.

What are we to make of it? Are we to identify fully, crafting our life or self around its suggestions? Does it simply wash over us, filling our souls with fear, judgement, relief or powerlessness? Should we hold this at arm’s length to reflect on what it’s offering before deciding what our real-world response should be? The individual interaction with culture seems fascinating.

At times, it seems like a world filled with reflections, reference points or representations; a place we might look to understand ourselves, our world, our choices and their consequences (Notes Two). Perhaps a place that seeks to weave together past and future, drawing those threads into this present moment where we decide what we’ll do – our understanding and our hope forging paths we then walk.

It just seems such a powerful thing, this gateway into the human mind. What we make of it and where it might lead can seem deeply significant: much as this could unite us all through compelling visions, it must also have the potential to divide us up into realities of our own making.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Culture, thought & coexistence
Note 1: Going along with what we see
Note 1: The stories that we hear
Note 1: What’s the idea with culture?
Note 2: Culture as what we relate to
Note 2: What are we building here?
Note 2: Culture’s conversation as a way of life
Note 2: Do we need to understand the past?
Note 2: Being conscious of our constructions

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Culture, thought & coexistence

In life, what are we supposed to think? It must be this basic step behind existing as thinking beings: that we have a certain set of ideas in mind against which we’ll interpret all we come across. Like a lens or backdrop of unquestionable thoughts which colour everything we see and how we will see it. This underpinning language we speak that ensures we’re all, more or less, on the same page.

What is that worldview? It must be that many of us, especially now, are walking around with quite different ideas in mind – looking out at the world differently and responding to it in different ways. As if we’re all starting to speak an increasingly personal language; perhaps struggling to relate to those operating from slightly or dramatically different perspectives. Isn’t it all about communication?

If culture’s a language – a broadly accepted and agreed upon set of ideas and their meaning – how can we now talk to others? Sometimes it must seem we’re simply in different worlds, seeing different things and drawing them together into quite a different sense of what’s going on and what matters most. This disconcerting feeling that we each have somewhat different realities within our heads.

Looking to the past, it seems convention once gave societies much simpler, more controlled versions of events: accepted narratives that may have served to unite people in one, broadly coherent conversation. As if, stuck on the railroads of established thinking, we could at least move forward together. Limitation or control perhaps giving strength and direction to whatever path we were walking.

Not to say we might be better going back to that; but where do we go next? In place of certainty, it seems we now have doubt and argument: all struggling to have our version heard and, hopefully, accepted. As if “meaning” is now built from the consensus of he who shouts loudest or crafts the most powerful case.

What happens to society if we all go our own way? As if the contents of our thinking don’t shape the reality we share. Won’t we fall out of step with one another? Perhaps ignoring those we can no longer speak with so easily; imagining that fear of rejection might coerce them to give up their own ideas and join us. Culture, then, as a battleground carving us all up into new tribes by our thinking.

Aren’t our ideas a frame for understanding the past and approaching the future? The story we accept and make our foundation – an overarching backdrop into which everything else must fit. How’s that to work if we’re all choosing our own perspective? Globally or personally, are we ever right to push our take on events over that of others? In many ways, it seems such a recipe for conflict.

Given we share space, within which our ideas bear consequences, what kind of conversation is this to be? Within our own heads or between us, the ways we approach reality must carry quite considerable weight.

Notes and References:

Seeing what things mean
Threads, becoming a united whole
Living through the changes
Somewhere between ideals & realities
Channels of information
Being conscious of our constructions
Can each be true to themselves?
The thinking behind technology
Deepening understanding
Life as adjustments in meaning

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Being conscious of our constructions

How aware are we of the realities we’re living within? Their initial reasoning, their alternatives, their implications or risks. All these activities we’re engaged in that somehow weave their ways into, behind and throughout our increasingly common existence. From the “simple” societies of times past, how did we get to this point? And, how’s what we do now perhaps different from all that went before?

Sometimes it seems we’re living in a building we’re forever constructing. That, while the structures are there, we’re always needing to reinforce the walls, the functions, the purpose of it all – filling it with our understanding, our intention, our commitment to upholding all that’s important within the social forms we received from the past. This ongoing maintenance that perhaps goes along with almost anything in life.

Aren’t we handed many, many things by society? Its patterns, stories and standards becoming the habits or beliefs which shape our existence. Almost as if there’s this reciprocal relationship between self and society where forms and ideas surround us and we make our choices within them. Society as this environment we’re born into, much as we are into nature.

In many ways, we seem defined by it: by the opportunities and thoughts available for us to engage with. That we’re living in this manmade world of social structures, needs, laws and desires where things play out as they will, given the human nature which fills them. As if society is built for, around and upon us; the choices we make within it being the world we then inhabit.

How “are” we to fill it? Thinking mainly of ourselves and the life “we” can carve out? Looking to the system as a whole – the healthiness or viability of this overall way of life? Focussing on the edges and how “this” sits alongside others and all that our lives rely upon? Considering how things “work” from any conceivable perspective? Holding to our highest values and how they might best find full expression here?

It sometimes seems that life’s meaning is a question “we” must answer: that we’re not handed the formula, the structure, so much as asked to engage in its active creation. That we’re perhaps not “right” to simply go along with things and make of this what we will – passively accepting the world as we found it – when we could serve to insist on everything working well from all angles.

I think it taps into that niggling question of life as a conversation we step into – that we’re called on to respond, to craft our own statement of life’s meaning through the choices we make. That our participation is what makes all the difference as to the direction things are likely to take: our sense of what’s acceptable or admirable informing the reality we’ll then live within.

Much as self-interest might also define us, grasping what our lives are serving to create – and, concerning ourselves with all the details – seem just as fundamental to the idea of being human.

Notes and References:

Things with life have to be maintained
The beauty in home economics
Culture’s conversation as a way of life
If environment shapes us…
Shaping the buildings that shape us
What are we building here?
Losing the sense of meaning
Understanding what we’re all part of
Conversations we agree to have
And, how much can we care?
Nothing short of everything

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Looks, human life & all its worth

Why is that we see appearances as “meaning” something about the value of what’s inside? As if the surface speaks the truth and we’re somehow right to judge worth on that basis; that we don’t perhaps stand to be sorely mistaken by doing so. Aren’t appearances notoriously misleading? So easy to fake, one way or another, and create impressions that, while they may serve us, aren’t necessarily meaningful in any real way.

That said, it’s perhaps only natural we judge by appearances, as how else can we? It’s so much easier to look to the surface and form opinions on those terms than to spend time patiently exploring and evaluating the interior life of any given entity. Perhaps we “need” some code for how to be and how choices will be viewed in order to live alongside one another. Maybe that’s simply a large part of all culture “is”.

We certainly seem encouraged to approach things that way, with all this focus on branding and so forth. As if this whole quite necessary process has become strangely deconstructed and knowingly played out in modern life. Often, it’s simply portrayed as “how things are”: the way the world works; the game we must play; the options we have. This vast spectrum of choices that represent who we will be.

Isn’t it likely to leave most people feeling bad about themselves, though? Especially given how the attributes of youth seem those most often held up as the standards for admiration. Leaving almost everyone to chase the impossible dream of never getting older – cursing the passing time for diminishing our worth in the eyes of the world.

Even before the notion of age comes into the picture, though, it seems few will ever naturally meet the strange and ever-changing standards we’re set. As if we’re all destined to never quite measure up – and, if we do, that it’ll only be a matter of time before that thing becomes dated. This sense in which we’re all perhaps chasing our tails trying to gain the ongoing approval of this type of society.

The idea that almost everyone might be living their lives feeling undervalued or misjudged by their community seems strange. All fretting over the exterior and worrying about how others see us. “Our worth” being this shaky asset as we pedal after unattainable targets in a bid to keep our heads above water.

How often does how we feel on the inside truly match how others are seeing us? Our appearance being a genuine reflection of our interior life in all its complexity, richness and worth. This state of complete comfort as we feel the judgements of others correspond perfectly with who we’re trying to be, all that matters to us and how we wish to be understood. Maybe it’s an impossible task? For our image to match our selves.

Why then do we judge, casting everyone in the light of simplified assumptions? What are we really saying by living our lives that way?

Notes and References:

Seeing what things mean
Can each be true to themselves?
Rich complexity of human being
Valuing people more
Treading carefully in the lives of others
Beauty is truth, truth beauty
These ideas we have of one another
Who gets to define us
Thought, knowledge & coherent vision

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All we project around gender

Of all the topics that seem to be becoming increasingly difficult to discuss, for some reason gender appears near the top of the list. Maybe it’s simply as fundamental as anything else? This deeply personal, significant difference between people, their perspectives, and the expectations placed on them. A simple yet complex way of dividing things up and pointing out all the many and various qualities that make us human.

In a way it seems fascinating how much humanity is divided: that this simple philosophical concept of “human” can be broken up into so many beautiful and unique variations. That “what divides us” often overwhelms “what unites us”. Aren’t we part of the same picture? All the many ways human “being” can flow into and through all we find around us. This endless diversity of human existence through time and space.

Yet, around it all, we seem to have such fixed notions of how things should be – all these expectations, labels and criticisms we so freely apply to others; all the strangely insistent ideals we’re faced with in cultural life; all those persistent assumptions that seem so deeply woven into social and personal relationships. All these “ideas” about what it is to be feminine or masculine.

Isn’t it strange? That we’d imagine all the complexity of either side could be reduced to a simple set of expressions. This idea that groups should all be, look, think, act or relate a certain way – and, that anyone who doesn’t is somehow mistaken or flawed. There may be functional or cultural conventions dictating how people should “be” and what kinds of choices are admirable or acceptable, but how meaningful is it all really?

Sometimes, as with many things, it seems so superficial: all the ways body, clothes or appearance are seen as saying something about any given individual. This whole conversation of “types” that projects so many expectations and judgements upon us all. It’s a weird game. Especially when every choice we’re making is being packaged as some branded sense of “who we are” – a real commitment or statement of identity.

If the labels weren’t so rigid and heavy – all the mannerisms, colour preferences, anticipated interests – could this whole thing not flow a little easier? If, beneath notions of male or female, we had a clearer space for simply being human. Might it not be that we’re all far more complex internally than the forms currently being offered to us by society or culture?

Almost this sense that the boxes we’re offered – the images, assumptions and ideals cast upon us – may be too constrictive, leaving little room for all the nuance of individual self-determination. That we’re effectively making a complex set of realities far too simple and prescriptive. Also, that we’re perhaps far too inclined to define one another based on appearances, while lacking the opportunity it takes to truly understand.

Between the inner and the outer of it all, where’s the balance that might let each person freely be who they truly are?

Notes and References:

These ideas we have of one another
Visual language and spaces
Understanding what we’re all part of
Valuing people more
The beauty in home economics
“Women who run with the wolves”
Value and meaning in our lives
Living through the changes
Ways of being & what’s getting left out
Deepening understanding

Ways to share this:

Do we need to understand the past?

How much do we need to understand all that’s gone before us? All the ideas, events, experiences or intentions that invariably shape so many details of our everyday lives in the present. Sometimes it seems easy enough to forget about it, to say there’s more than enough in the present to occupy our minds, but what does it mean to do that? What are we leaving behind if we simply plough on with “how things are”?

It’s interesting to imagine how much the past influences us – to what extent we’re effectively living within all of the thought processes preceding our own. All those projects, theories and solutions others dreamt up and set in motion around various aspects of our lives, subtly informing the ideas we have in mind as much as the systems we’ve woven into each day. That whole convoluted heritage of human society.

Of all the thought flowing through our history, can we really just pull the plug and forget about it? All those intriguing ways ideas spread, grew, cross-pollinated and evolved through various communities, places and periods of time. Things hiding away, forgotten about, only to emerge at later moments in new forms; taking people on different journeys to arrive at different points. All the errors and successes of those paths.

Isn’t it an incredible, weaving conversation? All the minds that’ve been inspired by certain ideas – notions that’ve spawned civilisations and galvanised people to fight for specific principles, ideals or ways of life. Thought, in strange ways, having woven its way through time to the point where we’re each standing in the present day.

The idea that we might now step away – break the chain of understanding and transmission – to walk forward with only the fruits of modern civilisation sometimes seems strangely daring: can we cut those ties and be sure of where we stand? If history’s the arc of all the beliefs, facts and forces that’ve led humanity to this point, what would it mean to leave that path with only our currently accepted narratives about it?

Would we still have a thorough enough understanding of existence and the modern world’s place within it? Will we still have enough knowledge to constructively engage in redressing whatever pressing matters still need to be addressed? If the past’s a mysterious place filled with distant personalities, trains of thought, ideas and their imperfect expression, can we still grasp the full complexity of it all?

Sometimes it seems the past is simply a complex jumble with “truth” buried somewhere within it – ideas that might’ve been working themselves out behind the scenes, hoping to make their way through and into our lives. Also, that modern life’s convenient retellings might sometimes be clouding over the reality of it all with strange assumptions, conclusions or implications. As if our true path, the value it holds, may be obscured.

If the past’s a chain we hold our place in by understanding, what would happen if our grasp of it became skewed, distorted or incomplete?

Notes and References:

Learning all we need to know
The thought surrounding us
Integrity and integration
Does technology oversimplify things?
Shaping the buildings that shape us
Learning from the past, looking to the future
Do the “lies” blind us to truth?
Detaching ourselves from the past
How fast can it all unravel?
How quickly things can change

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Ways of being & what’s getting left out

Of all the possible ways to be human why zero in on any one particular style of being and make that “the way to be”? As if we’re really just looking for the perfect archetype, the perfect manifestation of any given attribute, rather than embracing the richness diversity confers to our collective existence and the ways in which rising to “meet” difference may even make us better humans.

And, from that starting point, there are clearly many directions this could go, but what’s on my mind at the moment is personality differences such as being reserved and thoughtful or gregarious and dramatic. These basic traits of how we are – how we see things and relate to the world around us – as explored in Susan Cain’s fascinating book “Quiet”.

Looking fairly broadly at introversion and how it sits within the West’s preference for overt individualism and self-presentation, the book paints an interesting picture of how well we’re actually valuing other ways to be human. Why would we praise just one way of being, labelling over a third of our community as in some way flawed?

At its core, it seems to touch on our relationship with reality: that some are more inclined to “go out” to the world and act within it, while others feel the world more strongly making its mark on them. Almost this basic stance of how we stand in the world, how it affects us, and how we find or establish meaning there. The myriad ways human minds meet reality and make sense of it.

Sometimes it seems, in every area, we operate on spectrums between whatever we define as the extremes. Each person, in any given scenario, perhaps shifting their self-expression to meet their environment: confidence, openness, observation, reflection and action altering along with our understanding of the situation. Like equalisers, attempting to balance the inner with the outer; self with other; listening with speaking.

It’s interesting, then, that we might completely discount those more inclined to quiet observation. As if we’ll only listen to those who play the game, join the fray and operate on those terms. Won’t that be pushing a lot of people off balance? Encouraging them to be different from who they are in order to have a place at the table. How would we ever get the best of anyone that way?

While it may not be the biggest problem in the world, doesn’t everything count? Ideally, wouldn’t human society embrace the perspectives of all those living within it – all the diversity community contains – so as to reach a fuller understanding of all it might mean to be human? Idolising one way of being over any other just seems destined to create division, impatience and pressure to conform.

Almost as if we might never know some people; never having found ways to communicate beyond our ideas of how things should go. Going past the limitations of our own being, maybe we grow to appreciate all the other ways to be humans.

Notes and References:

“Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, (Penguin Books), 2012.

These ideas we have of one another
Do we live in different worlds?
Sensitivity & the place for feeling
Treading carefully in the lives of others
Value and meaning in our lives
Everything culture used to be
Words & relating as paths to change

Ways to share this:

Culture’s conversation as a way of life

If we all thought and behaved in the ways modelled for us by culture, what would life be like? All that we took in becoming forces capable of transforming society, for better or worse. Every suggestion an example or condonement of how to be: how to view things, judge and act towards them. Is that what culture is? The palette of options from which to construct ourselves and build our community.

As if we might adopt any one of these examples and make that how we’ll live: the attitudes, gestures, language, assumptions we’ll weave into daily life to inform our relationships and set the tone for who we are. Shaping how we might see people, the thoughts we’ll have about them and interactions that’ll soon become part of everyone else’s lives.

Yet aren’t we surrounded by increasingly questionable suggestions? Strangely unsustainable and unwise ideas for how to live, either socially or environmentally. Ways of being that, if adopted, could cause fairly significant amounts of strain on society and all the lives tangled in its web; relationships between genders or generations perhaps veering off into uncharted territory.

Or is this a conversation we’re better off participating in rather than imitating? A slightly one-sided perspective that relies on us bringing something more to the table. Like a mirror held up to society, reflecting on us and asking that we consider what it’s offering before deciding how we will be in response. Almost this collective mental process where we can contemplate ourselves as individuals living within the whole.

As if culture might be the place we go to make sense of life: its activities providing the insight and oversight we need but that reality rarely supplies. This vital conversation running alongside society, drawing out the threads and pulling together the bigger picture with all of its details and significance. A place of representations, possibilities and scenarios playing out safely set apart from the risks of everyday reality.

In the confines of our minds can’t we consider things we’d never choose to do? Options we might wisely file away as unethical, inappropriate or dangerous. The takeaway perhaps being that much of what we’re seeing paraded before us may be best viewed as cautionary tales of entertaining yet otherwise unhelpful notions of how we might be.

This sense in which culture can spark a conversation, a further digestive process around what’s offered, wherein we might conclude its examples are terrible ways of being that fly in the face of so much of what social life demands of us. That we don’t have to agree with or accept these suggestions unquestioningly so much as call up our own thoughts in response to it all – our own decisions around how we will live.

Ideally, then, would we all respond the same to what’s put before us? All judging culture’s representations the same way – in light of the same understanding of what’s healthy or constructive for individuals and community – before letting things filter back through us into society.

Notes and References:

What are we building here?
The battlegrounds of our minds
Nothing short of everything
Treading carefully in the lives of others
Going along with what we see
Navigation, steering & direction
All that we add to neutrality

Ways to share this: