Tag Archives: Work

What if everything you know is wrong?

Be loyal, and oppose. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

What if it turned out that the world was flat? Can you even show beyond doubt that it isn’t?

We don’t know what we don’t know, and we think we know what we think we know.

A person who goes around questioning everything is called crazy.

And yet, the opposite of crazy is conventional wisdom, or common sense.

Common sense says that it’s good to go to college, vote, drink milk, buy a house, and work your way up the corporate ladder.

I’ve done all of these things, and I don’t recommend any of them. I think some of the things recommended by conventional wisdom are crazy things.

In the Parliamentary system, there is an official, loyal opposition. The duty of the loyal opposition is to show that the people in power are wrong.

The opposition is called loyal because challenging power is valuable, even necessary.

I think it should be someone’s job in society to challenge powerful ideas.

Each week this person should write an article on topics like:

– your school grades don’t matter
– the experts are wrong
– democracy is a bad idea
– economic growth is dangerous
– dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together

I don’t think dinosaurs and people ever walked the earth together, but apparently some people do, and it may be worth understanding why. Or maybe not.

I don’t know what I don’t know, but by definition the person who does know will think differently than I do.

They might also be crazy.

Sometimes however the loyal opposition is going to be right.

After all, college may in fact be a waste of time, and voting may not make a difference.

– Find something that, your whole life, everybody has accepted uncritically as good
– Come up with all the reasons it isn’t
– Turn those reasons into opportunities
– Invent a product or service or new conventional wisdom that everyone fixated on the old conventional wisdom can’t see, because they think they know what they think they know and don’t know what they don’t know.

This is how all human progress works.

What I’ve learned by looking at trees


HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED, as I did recently, what determines the seemingly random pattern of tree branches?

A case of “every which way,” it appears. One branch projects confidently toward the sky—another launches tentatively in one direction, suddenly adopting a new trajectory.

A life is the same.

I know this, because I can see my own life in these branches. That little ragged outgrowth that goes nowhere? That’s a girl I dated in high school. The long, straight branch which stops suddenly? An office job I once had. The fat branch with many small off-shoots? My writing career. The trunk? That represents my upbringing: the formative experiences which established my values, outlook, and dreams.

To this day, my trunk is nourishing the new branches which sprout in my life.

I noticed that there are a lot of dead-ends on a tree: but look at those branches, and you’ll see many outgrowths. Again, I think of the times I’ve come to the end of a path. Maybe it was a goal I didn’t reach, or a job I didn’t get.

When you’re standing at the end of a path you thought and hoped would go farther, you only see  losses and failures—the job you didn’t get, the money you won’t make, and the things you won’t be able to do and have because you won’t get that paycheque.

Looking back, you can see that those endings are in fact launching points, like new shoots from a branch. My first business, which I created in high school, was the result of having the doors to gainful employment shut in my face. Within a month, I had more business than I could manage. I made more money and was far happier than I would have been in a job, but I felt depressed and defeated all the same when my plan to be hired by someone else didn’t work out.

What I learned by looking at trees is that you can reverse engineer the process, applying it to your future. You can look forward as well as back. Today I see “dead-ends” and “failures” as intrinsic to the organic process of creating a path of your own.

A tree is the sum total of its experiments in reaching the light, and rarely (if ever) is this effort a straight line from vision to reality. We humans, however, seem to be addicted to the idea that life works (or at least should work) as follows:

Aspirations ———> A Well-Laid Plan ———> Goal Achieved!

I know this kind of thinking has often been applied by me. Many times, I’ve been disappointed and discouraged because I haven’t been able to draw, and then pursue, a straight line from Point A to Point B. Even when I’ve “known” life is more complicated than that, I’ve acted as if it weren’t.

The prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light. All that apparently crazy, here-there-and-everywhere is in service of the tree’s need for sun. And that’s why I’ve changed my thinking, as well as my way of creating a path.

You see, the tree is on to something—and I think I know what it is.

I’m not talking about creating 10 new businesses or launching 50 new projects. I’m not suggesting you should run, willy-nilly, in every direction. That’s certainly not what I do. Instead, I focus on activating as many potential trajectories in my life as I can, by nourishing relationships in my life and business. Just as the prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light, my prime directive is to nurture my community, every day.

The second thing I do is to introduce as much variety into my life as I can. I take long showers. I go for walks in the woods. I meet with, and talk to, as many interesting people as I can. When I really need to be productive, I get away from my desk.

Because here is the worst way I’ve found to be productive:

Sit at Computer ———> Work Eight Hours ———> Get Results

And yet that’s still how we see work, as a linear process.

The fact is that we are addicted to straight lines and old ways of doing things. I know how hard it is to let go. I’ve made painful adjustments. I used to believe in things like:

Go to School ———> Get An Education ———> Work Hard ———> Succeed


Get an Agent ———> Find a Publisher ———> Write Books ———> Make Money


Get Hired by a Newspaper ———> File Stories ———> Get Paid ———> Retire

None of these things have worked out as advertised. I’ve only been miserable and unfulfilled pursuing them. It took a painful adjustment, and months of study and effort, to let go of the old ways of thinking. And that was after years of emotional work, gradually getting to the place where I could admit that what I was doing wasn’t working—and would never work.

Going in a new direction is hard. You may have a decade invested in that branch of yours. It may be the favourite branch on your tree. Maybe it’s the only branch. You probably imagined it soaring one day above the canopy, into the full and glorious life-affirming sun of a new day. But what if it doesn’t?

If you build your life on the principle of abundance, each day nurturing a wide network of relationships, being open to many possibilities—sending out many branches—you’ll never have this problem. You’ll soon realize that your life is, like a tree, the sum total of its trajectories, explorations, and so-called “dead-ends.”

A tree, like a life, is nothing less than the sum of its experiments.

Second Thoughts About the Word Bullying


TODAY I LOOKED UP the word bullying in the English As It Is Actually Used Dictionary:

Bullying, vbl. n. [bʊlɪɪŋ]: A word that by 2014 was being used by some adults to describe what all the adults were doing to all the other adults, everywhere.

On any day in any news source, there are articles about adult bullying, as well as commentaries and anecdotes and calls to put an end to it, wherever it happens, which according to some people is everywhere.

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The Secret Life of Work

Here are some general observations of the work that goes on in a modern city. To begin, everyone is in a hurry. Most people I’m guessing are engaged in some sort of bureaucratic enterprise, and the rest are downtown to serve them coffee. In the morning a pack of buses hurries about, now and then disgorging itself of suits and umbrellas and PDAs. Regarding the work itself I have the following thoughts.

One used to think of major industries when it came to jobs. For example, in small towns work meant the steel or auto plant. Is this still the case? Ottawa was known as Silicon Valley north and Nortel was a major employer. However, Government was a larger employer, even during the boom. So there are still only a few truly dominant employers, with one being undeniably at the front. The one-industry town is not completely obsolete.

Most of the folks running about at 8 am in Ottawa are white-collar workers. If you ask them what they do you will likely get a vague answer. It seems to me to come down to this: they move around bits of information.

In a nasty mood, when I am most doubtful concerning the busy-ness, I may draw certain conclusions. The first is that most of the middle class-people who earn over $30,000 a year-are economically superfluous. They are necessary as consumers but survive only through a combination of inertia, tenacity, political clout, and good fortune. I sometimes think that everything done by the professional classes will become automated, sooner than we suspect. The question I am addressing is What do people do?

I am not trying to glorify the Working Man, but I consider it a fact that the most low-paid, dirty, and unpleasant work is the most necessary. You must have food, sewers, buses, roads, toilets, clothing, and heat. Someone must kill your dinner and clean up afterward, and that someone is generally a person of the lower classes. They are hidden away from professional view, high up in the air, or deep in the belly of the earth. They are getting filthy to keep things nice. Nor have the working classes disappeared as technology advances. There are more technocrats than ever in a place like Ottawa, and I’ve noticed they like to eat, which means also they shit. So there is a person, probably a woman, who cleans the toilets at minimum wage. If she does not show up for work, it means things get rather unpleasant. But what happens when the $60,000-a-year professional does not show up? Something does not get photocopied and filed. For much of a professional’s time at work consists of throwing words and numbers into the bureaucracy’s maw and afterward writing reports about it, that is, producing more words and numbers. All of this takes time and effort; it is work.

I am aware that this is a jaundiced, probably unfair view. We need information and clerical services. However, the recent love affair with information needs some critical examination. The 2000s encouraged us to believe that information would be the commodity of the future. I am not trying to work up pity for the poor working folk at the expense of professionals. I am merely suggesting this was a superstitious notion. For what it is worth, I have noticed that the higher up one goes in the pay scale, the more one encounters the intangible and mysterious. No one at $80,000-a-year, or even $40,000, can say ‘I make buns’ or ‘I scrub the shit off toilets.’ Rather, they are ‘supervisors’ of ‘processes.’ They direct implementation of long-term strategic co-ordination. This sort of language is a bit like being given a Hubble Space Telescope snapshot in response to the question Where do you live? Look at the professional job description and you will see hardly any concrete nouns. Just as paintings came to look less and less like worldly objects as painters consciously liberated themselves from the work of representation (better done with the newly-invented camera), so too résumés lose reference to the physical world as professionals liberate themselves from the vulgar matter of physical labour. Abstraction is a perk of the educated. Only at $20,000 must you toil in the concrete, and in the porcelain too. [- July 1999, updated February 2010]